Former Davis City councilmember sues City over $300 million housing project

NICK YOON / AGGIE
NICHOLAS YOON / AGGIE

Lawsuit claims Nishi Project improperly exempted from building affordable housing units

On March 18, 2016, attorney Michael Harrington, a former Davis City councilmember, and attorney Don Mooney filed a lawsuit against the City of Davis over the proposed Nishi-Gateway project. The project, which is often described as a “mixed-use innovation district,” is a 57.7 acre site which will reportedly contain 650 residential apartments, 20,000 square feet of retail space and 325,000 square feet of research and office space.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Davis Citizens Alliance for Responsible Planning and alleges that the city should not have exempted the project from the Affordable Housing Ordinance — city guidelines that require developers to allocate a certain number of housing units as affordable housing. The lawsuit also claims that the city failed to properly analyze the environmental pollution risks that the project would create.

While the project has been endorsed by Davis City Council, it has not yet been approved by voters and will appear on the ballot as Measure A on June 7, 2016 for final approval.

Katherine Hess, community development administrator for the City of Davis, admits that although the project’s partners (UC Davis, Yolo County and the City of Davis) and the property owner have been discussing and planning the project for the past few years, there is still a mixed reaction from Davis residents.

“There are people who have expressed support for the proposal and there are others who have expressed opposition,” Hess said.

However, Tim Ruff, owner and managing partner of Nishi Gateway LLC, disagrees with that sentiment, seeing that the reception to the project from residents has been overwhelmingly positive. He highlights the number of endorsements that the project has received from community groups as well as the project fulfilling a pressing student need to lift the housing supply in an increasingly competitive rental market, as proof that the project is liked locally and necessary for the city.

“We have tremendous levels of support already. It has been endorsed by Davis City Council, it has been endorsed by ASUCD, it has been endorsed by Davis Downtown, it has been endorsed by the Davis Chamber of Commerce,” Ruff said.

Ruff also claims that the lawsuit brought against the city makes false claims, especially with regard to affordable housing. He explains that since the project is building vertical condominiums, it is rightfully exempt from building any units as affordable housing. In addition to this, he says that the city made the project contribute $1 million towards the Affordable Housing Trust Fund before approving it.

“It’s difficult when plaintiffs file frivolous lawsuits against the city, costing tax payers’ money. It’s them just trying to extort money from the city and [the suit] has one plaintiff, there’s one individual signed on this,” Ruff said.

It is true that only one plaintiff, Nancy Price, signed the lawsuit. It should be noted that she represents the entire Davis Citizens Alliance for Responsible Planning made up of individuals who oppose the development.

Alan Pryor, treasurer of the No on Nishi campaign, is not affiliated with the attorneys for the lawsuit (who could not be interviewed at this time), but shares many of the concerns that the suit raises.

Pryor explains that he is worried that the Nishi proposal will price-out low income residents and he claims that the developer should build 154 affordable units or make a payment of $11.55 million to the city in lieu of more affordable units.

I think they simply improperly exempted the project from [the Affordable Housing Ordinance]. The developer did claim that this was going to be a very expensive project because of the infrastructure cost […] and it was because of these additional expenses that the developer was going to incur that they exempted them from the affordable housing requirements  […] We don’t think that’s legal,” Pryor said.

As well as concerns over affordability for low income residents, Pryor also claims that a two bedroom, 1,100 square foot apartment will cost $2,400 a month, something which, he says, is not practical or affordable for students.

“We think these are in stark contrast to what was claimed by the city and the developer that these were going to be small and affordable, in fact they’re really approaching more luxury type apartments which very few students can afford,” Pryor said.

Pryor stresses that he doesn’t want the project scrapped, he claims that he wants an alternative proposal that better fits the needs of Davis’ 66,000 residents and its growing student population.

“So far, [residents have] only heard the good side of the project, things that the developer and the city are telling them […] we’re confident that they’re going to realize that this is not a good deal for the students,” Pryor said. “Our job is to make sure that every voting citizen of Davis has that information by the time they cast their ballot.”

 

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