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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Truman Kim

Historic Victory for Sustainable Development in the City of Davis

Passing the 1st sustainable development project requiring voter approval in Davis.

Nishi Gateway Development project passes with clear majority.

Date: June 6, 2018 | 6:23 am

The second time is the charm for the student housing development known as Nishi, the 47-acre parcel that sits at the west end of Olive Drive, between Interstate 80 and the Union Pacific railroad track.

Yes on Measure J — which is officially a change to the city of Davis’ General Plan to allow land be converted from agricultural to medium-high-density residential housing — received 59.8 percent (6,575) of the vote, versus 40.2 percent (4,411) who voted against.

In June of 2016, Measure A — or the Nishi Gateway project as it was then called — was defeated 51.5 percent (11,702) to 48.5 percent (11,009). In Nishi’s first go-round, it included 650 residential units, 325,000 square feet of research and development office space, and 20,000 square feet of office space.

This more modest version of Nishi will have a maximum of 700 rental units with no more than 2,200 beds. There is a provision for “up to 10,000 square feet of ancillary ground-floor retail, office and service uses,” according to the city’s fact sheet about the development. At a celebratory event at Bistro 33 on Tuesday night, former State Assemblywoman Helen Thomson was encouraged that Measure J appeared on track to pass, but she lamented that the earlier version had not.“The first plan was a good plan,” Thomson said. There was laboratory and work space in the development, she said, “which has (since) moved to Sacramento where they said ‘thank you.'” However, she said, “Students are Davis’ industry, (and Nishi) will house them in a very nice environment, and they won’t be sleeping in their cars.” Thomson voiced concerned about the housing shortage in Davis as well as tuition increases that have made the UC Davis students struggle financially. She said she sees young people sleeping in cars in Davis on her morning walks.

While talking to Nishi co-developer John Whitcombe — who said he was cautiously optimistic about the early results — Thomson noted that she has “opposed John over the years, but we’ve always worked it out.” She also said she finds it “interesting that opposition to building the project comes from people who live in homes and apartments in Davis that John built over the past 40 years. … I think (opponents) didn’t dig in to all the benefits” that will come from the development.

Outgoing Davis City Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson put in a plug for Whitcombe as well.

“John is the heart and soul of putting students first,” she said. Some of the more vocal opponents of Measure J appeared on Davis Media Access’ election coverage on Tuesday night. Not conceding a loss but aware that the early results might portend the final outcome, Roberta Millstein told host Steve Souza, “For me, the air quality was the big issue that motivated me” to be involved in the campaign against Nishi.

Aside from having asthma, Millstein said, “My area of study is science in society. …We have an obligation to look at science and see what the best policy is in light of that science.” Colin Walsh also told Souza that although the No on Measure J team was “outspent 15 to 1 … I like to think our grassroots energy made a difference.”

Part of what made this version of the Nishi development more palatable to voters might be a provision for a minimum of 330 of the residential beds to be leased to extremely low-income and very low-income students.

As well, UCD included in its Long Range Development Plan UCD an allowance “for the realignment (of) Old Davis Road to improve the development opportunities within the campus loop road and enable a roadway connection the Nishi property.”

— Reach Tanya Perez at or 530-747-8082. Follow her on Twitter at @EnterpriseTanya

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