New Nishi proposal is headed for the ballot, but what do students think?
Earlier this month, the Davis City Council voted unanimously to put the revised proposal for developing the Nishi Property on the June 2018 ballot. While the measure that failed in 2016 included space for residential housing and research, the new project would provide student housing exclusively, which could give it an edge.
As discussed in last month’s article in The Aggie, the Nishi project remains controversial because of conflicting views about the potential health risks at the location, prompting numerous opinion pieces in The Enterprise and The Vanguard, including those by Dr. Tom Cahill, a longtime Nishi opponent, and Dr. Charles Salocks, who questions Cahill’s argument.
However, since the project is intended to help students the most, it is also important to hear how they evaluate the potential risks and benefits of the project. Davis is experiencing a severe housing shortage, so students in need of housing may gain from a development that could provide around 2,200 beds.
“I am tentatively and cautiously in support of the Nishi Project,” said ASUCD President and fourth-year political science and economics major Josh Dalavai. “Student housing is one of the most salient issues in our community but I also have concerns over the environmental impact and safety of the project.”
Due to the housing crisis in Davis, efforts to tackle the problem have been one of ASUCD’s priorities. Senator Jacob Sedgley sits on the GSA-ASUCD Joint Housing Taskforce and has been heavily involved with addressing housing issues in Davis. He discussed some of his goals related to housing in general and discussed Nishi specifically.
“This issue is multifaceted in that student housing comes from more than one place in Davis,” Sedgley said. “By that I mean that both the University and the City of Davis have obligations to provide housing for the students coming in. Along with that, sources of housing can also come from other places [including] units rented out by private residents. I have targeted these three groups to try to add more housing in Davis.”
Sedgley, who supports the Nishi project, has spoken at Davis City Council meetings to support developments that could provide additional student housing, like Nishi and Lincoln 40. He has also met with local developers and plans to work to provide emergency funding for students experiencing housing difficulties resulting from the actions of their landlords.
ASUCD Senator and President-elect Michael Gofman also voiced his support for the project.
“I am personally very in favor of the Nishi development, and I know that most of the senate table is as well,” Gofman said. “Although the development is obviously not perfect, we are currently facing a dire housing shortage, which is why I’m in favor of any extra housing that we can build, anywhere in the Davis area.”
In 2016, ASUCD officially endorsed the mixed-use Nishi project, but is yet to endorse the revised project.
“At the moment, we have no plans to endorse the project but that is subject to change,” Sedgley said. “However, if we do decide to endorse the project, I do not see it having a significant impact on the outcome of the vote on June 5. At the moment, I think it is probably best to let the two different sides of the story work themselves out and see what our options are after the vote is held.”
Despite the air quality concerns, both Gofman and Sedgley think that the mitigation measures in the revised proposal and the vehicles taken off the road as a result of conveniently located housing both provide good reason to support the project.
“If we don’t build this, more people will drive to school instead of bike, increasing cars on the road, traffic and idling time, all of which will also lead to more air pollution,” Gofman said. “That’s why it needs to be a priority to build more housing near campus, housing such as Nishi.”
Sedgley also went into detail about some of the mitigation measures included in the new proposal.
“The Nishi developers have taken extensive measures to mitigate what pollution there is off of the highway,” Sedgley said. “[This includes] a 100-foot thick tree barrier between the property and the highway, a widened building layout to make room for large trees between the buildings to further mitigate any pollution that may drop to ground level in the atmosphere, and I have been told that the project will include air scrubbers in the units to provide for a healthy indoor living environment.”
Sedgley isn’t opposed to the suggestions from Dr. Cahill and UC Davis philosophy professor Roberta Millstein that more studies should be completed at the Nishi site to determine the severity of pollution from diesel fuel and ultra-fine metals from brake pads, but he remains confident that the mitigation measures will be sufficiently effective.
“More numbers are never a bad thing,” Sedgley said. “[However] I can say with confidence that the measures the Nishi developers have taken to ensure the safety of the students in the long term are far superior to that taken by any other housing development in close proximity to the freeway or the railroad tracks.”
Continuing his comparison with other housing locations, Sedgley suggested that the Nishi project has possibly encountered more problems than other sites because of Measure R.
“Due to Measure R, pretty much all development projects that do not fall onto the lands of the University, have to be voted on if they re-zone agricultural land into the Davis city limits,” Sedgley said. “This means that most development projects have to be infill projects in Davis, otherwise they will hit the significant obstacle of being voted on by the public. I personally think that the Nishi project is a much better option for students than most of the projects that have hit the table, including others close to the highways, yet Nishi has hit more problems than all of them due to the fact that it has to be voted on. In fact, if you look at the [environmental impact reports] for other developments, I would be willing to bet the issue is the same, if not worse, in other locations near the highways.”
Sedgley also explained why Nishi is such an ideal location to actually address the housing shortage in a significant manner.
“Most of the possible infills in Davis, with the exception of a few such as Lincoln 40, are small properties that really won’t have a significant impact on the housing situation here,” Sedgley said. “As a homegrown Davisite, I honestly can’t think of any areas that would be better than this one that are both not on the UC property and would not require a vote by Measure R.”
Sedgley thinks that the policies of the city and the university have somewhat restricted the possible options for addressing the housing crisis, making developing Nishi the most utilitarian option, despite the flaws that the project does have.
“Students are forced to live in cars, in living rooms, some even rent out small closets as rooms,” Sedgley said. “The lack of new housing has also led to very high prices that are way too high for students to pay for. If there were better options and better locations to build, developers would be there in a heartbeat. However, those locations do not currently exist due to policies of the City of Davis and the stubbornness of the University when it comes to building more affordable places for students to live.”
Written by: Benjamin Porter — firstname.lastname@example.org