By Isabella Ainsworth,
After eight years of planning and a heated community debate where it has been alternately heralded as the savior and scourge of the City of Davis, the Nishi Gateway project will ultimately meet its fate on Tuesday– just as many Davis High seniors will be voting in their first election.
The project would develop a 45-acre strip of land near UC Davis and I-80, turning it into urban housing and a research and development park. It aims to provide housing for UC Davis students, generate economic activity and create more jobs in Davis. Although it was approved by all of the members of the city council, the project has been put in on the ballot for residents to be able to have a say in it.
Senior Andres de Loera-Brust supports Measure A for a variety of reasons, but “first and foremost” is his support for “people doing what they want with their land.”
“In Davis we have a law that states that voters must approve any new construction that is built on land that used to be used for agriculture,” de Loera-Brust said. “Philosophically, I believe that owners of the land should choose what to do over their private property.”
He also supports the measure because he believes that it will stabilize rent in Davis and provide more tax revenue for City of Davis services.
Dan Carson, vice chairman of the city’s Budget and Finance Commission, also supports it because of the tax revenue it will generate for Davis. As a volunteer for the city for the past few years, Carson has learned about the long-term fiscal problems that the city is facing. He cited a recent report by an engineer that the City of Davis would need around $320 million in order to maintain its parks over the next 20 years and said that the city does not have the financial resources to be able to pay that.
Carson said that in order to generate more revenue, the city has engaged in an economic development strategy because it does not want to tax residents even more than they are being taxed now. The Nishi Project, with its research and development park, would potentially bring more jobs, homes and tax revenue to the city.
One possible benefactor from the project is the Davis Joint Unified School District. The developers of the Nishi Gateway will pay $1.4 million in one-time funding for the district and the gateway is estimated to provide around $450,000 annually for the district.
“Nishi won’t solve all of our problems, but it’s a great start,” Carson said.
While some people have wondered whether or not companies would actually come to Davis, considering that renting out space in nearby cities such as Woodland and West Sacramento is much cheaper, Carson said that the Nishi Gateway’s proximity to UC Davis, one of the leading research universities in the world, would bring people to the location. The city of Davis even made the developer pay for three independent economic analyses of the project, all of which came up to the conclusion that the Nishi Project would most likely be able to attract companies for its research and development park.
“There’s real reason to think that this will succeed,” Carson said.
Other concerns about the development include possible increased traffic and poor air quality near the site. A group of people in Davis called “Davis Citizens for Responsible Planning” has filed a lawsuit against the City of Davis and the developers because they do not believe that the environmental impact report that was conducted about the project accurately depicted the traffic that will be created because of the project. Nancy Price is one of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit.
Davis has a proud tradition of stopping unwanted developments and Nancy Price has been in the thick of it for around three decades. She is one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit over the environmental impact report, has been involved with many campaigns to stop developments in Davis that she deems harmful for the city. She got her start in the 1980s, when the Davis City Council voted 4-1 to turn the area that is now Central Park into a three-tiered shopping center.
She had just come back from a trip with her son to the Boston Commons, a public park in Boston, where they had a great time going on the swan boats in the lake. When she came back and read in the paper that a group of people were going to meet to try and stop the development of the area, she decided to join them.
While there are only about five people at the original meeting, they managed, through the support of local businesses and Davis citizens, to stop the development of the shopping mall and preserve the park.
“I say to some of the young people that it takes vision to go against the city council,” Price said.
Senior Priya Sah will not be voting in the election on Tuesday- she is about one month shy of being eligible- but is still suspicious of the Nishi Project.
“My main thing with the Nishi Project is that it’s privately funded […] and they don’t exactly give you a lot of information,” Sah said.
Tom Cahill, a professor emeritus in physics at UC Davis, also does not support the project– not because he doesn’t support the idea of generating more jobs and innovation in Davis, but because the project includes residential housing.
Cahill has been working with the American Lung Association since 1994 and has been involved with documenting the impact that living near freeways has on people. He said approximately 5 percent of a child’s lung capacity is lost each year that a child lives near a freeway and that “more stuff comes in every year saying that freeways are bad.”
Proximity to a freeway, however, is not everything. Cahill supported the New Harmony development at Cowell Blvd. in Davis even though it was closer to the freeway than the Nishi Project because the freeway near the development was flat and the development was upwind of the freeway, meaning that it had less air pollution. Cahill thinks that the area that of the Nishi Project is worse.
“It’s a very unfortunate site from the point of air pollution,” Cahill said.
It is especially bad, Cahill said, because it is near railroad tracks, and train engines emit more air pollution.
The buildings of the project will have filters that protect against air pollution, which Cahill helped provide. He said that they are similar to the filters that he helped develop for the embassy in Beijing, which is known as one of the most polluted major cities in the world.
But the filters won’t help people outside of the buildings, and he does not think that people living inside the Nishi project buildings would always stay inside. For this reason, Cahill does not support residential housing.
“It’s a place that I wouldn’t live and that I wouldn’t want my children to live in,” Cahill said.
Carson thinks that many of the claims made by the No on Nishi side are unfounded and contradictory. At first, he said, one of the leaders of the “no” side said that they wanted it all to be residential housing. Then they said that there was too much pollution at the area.
Carson said that he was talking to a woman on the “no” side who told him that what it really boiled down to was that she doesn’t want anything in Davis to change. While Carson can relate to the sentiment, he thinks that change is necessary for the fiscal security of the city.