The Nishi Gateway Project slowly slides toward the ballot box

NICKI PADAR / AGGIE
NICKI PADAR / AGGIE

$300 million development project faces city council, voter decisions

The City of Davis is deliberating on a $300 million development called the Nishi Gateway Project which would create a new residential, business and research space in South Davis. On Nov. 17 the Davis City Council, in a 5-0 vote, asked to see more specific proposals for the project before allowing it on the ballot for voter approval in June.

“Over the past three years, the City, UC Davis and Yolo County have been collaborating with the property owner to explore development of the Nishi property as a component to a mixed-use innovation district which could include lands that are owned by UC Davis” said Katherine Hess, community development administrator for the Davis Department of Community Development and Sustainability.

Hess said that the City Council adopted five goals when reviewing the Nishi proposal, which include creating jobs for Davis residents and the city’s businesses, building high-density urban residential development, making the entrance to Davis look more appealing, increasing support for downtown and increasing tax revenue for the city.

“The planning commission will be making a recommendation to City Council in the next couple of months. We’re working on a schedule that would allow the council to place the applications on the June 2016 ballot,” Hess said.

Support for the project among Davis residents has been far from unanimous, according to Hess, since residents are still divided on certain aspects of the project. Survey responses point out that many do support the proposal but many others still have doubts and concerns.

“The question is the balance between the cost of public services that would be provided by the city and revenue that would be provided through sales tax and property tax,” Hess said.

City Councilmember Brett Lee highlights that traffic problems are another major concern for residents, but adds that the idea of the project is still appealing.

“I think there’s general support for the concept but the specifics really matter. For instance if you asked the public, ‘do you think you would support that we build rental housing for students and have more moderately priced for-sale housing,’ everybody says yes. On the other hand if you say, ‘oh by the way, it will cause a traffic gridlock at Richards, Olive [Drive] and Downtown,’ everybody says no,” Lee said.

Lee adds that one of the major concerns about the Nishi proposal has been the fact that Olive Drive is the only access point to the proposed project. A second crossing is currently being considered by UC Davis, but it is not going to be built concurrently with the Nishi project. Lee thinks that the project needs to be broken into phases to prevent too much congestion.

“The first phase would be based upon the single access point. Once the university decides to construct a second access point, that would allow them to form phase 2. The problem is, if they go ahead build everything before there’s a second access point, it creates a huge traffic problem. What we want is a specific proposal, broken into phase one, phase two,” Lee said.

With regard to the timing of the project, City Councilmember Rochelle Swanson stresses that everything is subject to negotiation and approval by various entities, including the City Council, the Davis community and the Regents of the University of California.

“Our job as City Council is to decide whether or not [the project is] even [reviewed] enough to go on the ballot,” Swanson said.

Swanson is determined to get enough information about the project before the proposal goes before the people. She stresses that Davis residents are educated as well as engaged with the community; it is therefore essential that they have the details required to make an informed decision if the measure goes to the ballot in June.

“The biggest concerns [for residents] are access and traffic impact… I think the main advantage is supplying space for graduate students, professors and even private business and undergrads to be able to have a space where there will be some start-up energy,” Swanson said.

Like Lee, Swanson also highlights the idea of UC Davis building a second crossing as being key to the project and its future development plans.

“It’s my understanding that… to really get underway, it’s going have to be after the Regents [make a decision] and there is a final determination as to that second crossing. There is preliminary steps that could go underway, whether it’s trying to bring some investment in Olive Drive and investment in some of the upgrades we want to do to Richards Boulevard,” Swanson said.

This enormous Nishi Gateway Project fills a void that is important to many Davis residents, but the concerns surrounding the proposal are still legitimate. If and when the proposals are approved by City Council, it is ultimately for the people to decide the fate of the project and to weigh the pros and cons that are associated with it.

Written By: JUNO BHARDWAJ-SHAH – city@theaggie.org