While it seems unlikely that the same day absentees will impact the outcome – in fact they may be more likely to expand the lead – Nishi still faces legal challenges, but for now it is set to become the first successful Measure R project under the city’s nearly two-decade old growth control measure.
The race may have been hotly contested once again, but from the moment the first absentee ballot results were released, the outcome was really never in doubt. It received 60-40 support in the first returns and never fell below 59-41 in any of the releases.
With all the precincts, it leads by 2164 votes or 59.8 to 40.2. It seems highly unlikely that those results will change.
In 2016, Nishi lost by around 700 votes. The developers came back to the voters two years later with a modified and re-worked project that figured to address the main concerns of voters.
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs explained, “With Nishi 1.0, the community had outstanding concerns – including potential traffic impacts at Richards/Olive and the lack of affordable housing.”
He added, “To their credit, Tim Ruff and John Whitcombe went back and addressed those concerns, which is why the Planning Commission, city council, and now Davis voters, have seen fit to approve Nishi 2.0.”
The Vanguard spoke to John Whitcombe on election night before the final results came in.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “It’s nice to prevail. I’m just happy I stuck with it, it’s been 25 years.”
Now 77 years old, he saw this as a big thing, “You want to finish what you start as you go through life.
“The lesson of this election is perseverance is important,” Mr. Whitcombe added.
The biggest difference this time from 2016, Mr. Whitcombe explained, was that “there was a recognition on the part of the community as a whole that there was a tremendous housing shortage. The poster child for that was students.
“I think people recognized that maybe it was bad enough, we ought to do something about it,” he said. “To do something about it in an environmentally conscious, sustainable way that did not impact existing neighborhoods… And maybe even help traffic. All of those things kind of came together.
“Student housing next to campus,” he said.
The Measure J campaign held their party at Bistro 33. That is the site of the former City Hall and John Whitcombe’s father once served on the Davis City Council.
“Forty-six years ago, almost to the day,” he said, “I was 50 feet from here in that building over there. There was a city council election that same night, it was 1972. Up until then, Davis had been governed a group of farmers, downtown business guys… we were a little town.”
From 1960 to 1970, he explained that Davis grew by 10,000 and that caused things to really change. In 1972 a slate of UC Davis folks ran for election, including Bob Black who was ASUCD President, Joan Poulos who was married to a law professor newly arrived at the school, and Dick Holdstock, the environmental leader – all swept the election, changing Davis politics and the city forever.
“That was the night that Davis became a university town,” he said. “That night spawned the 1972 General Plan.”
He explained that it was a collaborative plan with the university and everyone bought into it.
“It was hugely successful,” he said. “It was too successful because, what happened, the town got to be such a great place, no one wanted it to change.”
He said, “Because we didn’t want it to change, we didn’t continue the visions that were part of that plan.”
Mr. Whitcombe added, “What’s happened is that there are people who are trying to build a wall between us and the university. They’re so concerned about growth… that they really don’t want to be a university town anymore.”
He sees the night as a rejuvenation of Davis as a university town.
In the two years between the original Nishi project that was defeated and the current project, the concerns over student housing have grown. UC Davis has released its LRDP, it has committed to adding 9050 beds over the next ten years. The first stage of that will be 5200 units scheduled to come online in 2021.
The city for its part has already approved student housing at Sterling and Lincoln40. It will soon be asked to approve housing at Plaza 2555 and Davis Live Student Housing. With the approval of Nishi by the voters, the city will be looking at perhaps 5000 beds in the city.
Still, this is far from a done deal. Colin Walsh and Susan Rainier in March filed a CEQA suit against the city. They have also challenged the affordable housing provisions.
In a March email to the Vanguard, Ms. Rainer stated, “My concerns are clearly stated in the No position on the ballot.”
She argued, “It is not fit for human occupation.” Ms. Rainier added, “It would be a fabulous place for (a) sun-tracking photovoltaic array that would be in the Community Choice Aggregate portfolio. Being bound on all sides by freeway and railroad would prevent theft and hook up to PGE high power (which) is right there.”
The petitioners argue that there is new information and new circumstances which have come available and which constitute a change of conditions and should necessitate a new or revised EIR.
They argue that “the revised project will create new significant impacts on the environment that were not previously identified,” and “the revised project will create a substantial increase in the severity of a previously identified significant impact,” and “there is new information of substantial importance that was not previously available, which shows a new significant impact, substantial increase in the severity of previously identified significant impact, or mitigation measures that were not considered would substantially reduce one or more significant effects on the environment.”
For his part, John Whitcombe says he has not had a chance to consider the lawsuit. “I haven’t paid any attention to it, I’ve had other things on my mind,” he said. “We’ll take a look at it and see what it’s about.”
Tim Ruff said, “Thanks to all our supporters and volunteers – it takes a major (and costly) effort to get the facts to the voting public, many of them blind to the real issues and vulnerable to the tactics of misinformation.
“While I thank our supporters wholeheartedly, I have to say land planning by initiative is a horrible process,” Mr. Ruff said. “However, fortunately, opposing these projects purely as a political strategy does not guarantee someone a city council seat, so I am grateful for that as well. Thanks council, for your perseverance, planning commission, and thanks to our outstanding Yes on J crew and the voters.”
Mayor Robb Davis said, “In passing Measure J, the community acknowledges the great need for housing and the appropriateness of housing that allows people to walk, bike and use transit to get their destinations.
“This is the kind of housing that we should be building in these times to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse the generations-long trend of car-centric sprawl. It is a good project that meets a critical community need. Combined with other housing projects that the City Council has already passed (and still others that will come before the next City Council) we are addressing a basic human need: housing.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting