Had Nishi been defeated in the Measure R vote on Tuesday, I believe that this would have been the beginning of the end of the measure as we know it. Measure R gets a reprieve by the resounding victory for Nishi, but people are continuing, for the first time, to really ask questions about the long term prospects for the venerated measure.
Those who argue that Measure R worked as designed in Nishi are only looking at the outcome and not the process. Probably the biggest discussion over the next two years will be should Measure R be renewed and should we consider changes? In my view, we only preclude the possibility of changes if we wish to be dogmatic and arrogant enough to believe that we cannot improve upon a measure that will actually really be tested legally and otherwise for the first time after a project passes.
I have been surprised by the number of people and the type of people who have questioned Measure R even after Nishi passed. Supporters can ignore this only at their own peril.
For years, we have heard the argument that Measure R produces better projects. We now know without a doubt that this is not true. Both sides acknowledged this.
Colin Walsh repeatedly made the argument that the council brought back the project, “And when they did, every single member of city council agreed that this project was inferior to the project that was voted against two years ago.” Matt Williams frequently cited the comments by council while noting that he voted for Nishi in 2016 but not in 2018.
Lucas Frerichs said, “I’m not sure that anybody is 100 percent totally satisfied with Nishi 2.0. I know I’m not entirely satisfied with it. For me I think still I think Nishi 1.0 was superior in many ways…”
Will Arnold said, “This is a reduced project from the project that we had in front of us 2 years ago and like others on the council have said there were a lot of things I liked about Nishi 1.0 that I’m lamenting aren’t part of this project, in particular the innovation piece.”
Bottom line – both sides agree – the second Nishi was not as good a project as the first Nishi and clearly we have Measure R to blame for that.
As we pointed out yesterday, the developers attempted to address reasons why Nishi lost in 2016 and they ended up eliminating the innovation center component, limiting access on Olive Drive to avoid the traffic problems at Richards, and eliminating the for-sale housing component.
Where I disagreed with the opposition is that I believe the need for student housing and the fact that Nishi 2018 addressed that problem even better than previously trumped the loss of the innovation center and commercial opportunities.
However, from an objective view, it is fairly clear that Measure R did not produce a better project, it produced a project that could better pass a vote of the people. There is a difference.
Whether you agree or disagree with the previous Measure R votes, they all came down to big issues. The first Nishi hinged on three key issues – traffic on Richards, lack of affordable housing, and air quality concerns. But when two of those issues were completely taken off the table, we ended up with a campaign that attacked things like air quality, the fiscal analysis, and process.
When it became clear that those were not going to defeat Measure R, we got a series of weird arguments. Colin Walsh put forward the idea that Nishi would build day care centers and preschools on the site. He put forward the idea that the affordable housing would never be built and they could change fundamental portions of it with a 3-2 vote of council. There was the idea that even though the project baseline features preclude a project without an agreement from UC Davis, they could somehow build the project and then sue for access.
The bottom line is that the campaign and others in the community threw out a bunch of weird scenarios and essentially used them to sow confusion. There was one conspiracy theory thrown out after another.
The good news for the community, I think, and really regardless of which side you come down here, is that the public did not buy into those weird scenarios.
I really don’t understand why the opposition couldn’t just say, we don’t like housing at Nishi, we prefer student housing on campus. If you agree, vote with us against Nishi.
Okay, I do understand, that wasn’t going to be a winning issue. But I think that’s part of the problem here – the fact that Measure R makes this into a ballot measure and a political campaign means it is no longer just about planning, it is about making a political argument for and against a housing project.
The reality is that Nishi addresses the two biggest concerns, and many in the community were concerned about the student housing crisis and voted accordingly. Nishi 2018’s opposition did not have the cards to play that they did in 2016. That’s understandable, but to make a series of weird and at times irresponsible arguments in order to defeat a project at all costs is not good for the system.
During the campaign I made the point that there is a structural flaw to Measure R. We see this perhaps more in student housing than elsewhere, but that is that the residents of Davis get to vote in a Measure R election. That sounds fine until you realize that the people who live in Davis, most of them being in the ownership class, already have a place to live in Davis and most already own their home.
The people likely to live in Nishi – most of them did not get to vote on this project. The students living on campus can’t vote. The students forced to move outside of the city due to lack of housing opportunities can’t vote. The future students can’t vote. And even many current students are registered elsewhere because they just don’t have the ties to Davis.
The result is that we have created a system where the people who can vote for this housing project are people that would never actually live in this housing project and many of them do not need this housing project.
I don’t have a good answer for this – but it creates an asymmetry in the incentive structure.
Should we look at changing Measure R? That will be a two-year-long debate. There are clearly those who believe Measure R works as designed, works fine, and do not want to see it change. However, Gloria Partida, the likely first place finisher, has argued that Measure R has the unintended consequence of changing Davis as it hopes to prevent Davis from changing.
A point I have made is that Measure R is completely unproven. We have never seen its provisions challenged in court. So we may not know what needs to be changed.
I think a key thing we need to do is have a community discussion and figure out what works and what doesn’t work about the current system and then see what things the community is willing to support in terms of changes.
—David M. Greenwald reporting