Last week, I ran a story on whether Measure J’s impact was overstated. There are those who believe that Measure J and its successor in 2010, Measure R, have strangled the city’s ability to grow.
The nature of growth in Davis has always been cyclical and I found a line in Mike Fitch’s history of Davis, “Growing Pains,” very telling, “By the 1990s, growth control had become a creed in Davis, but sometimes found itself in conflict with the city’s financial needs.”
This would ultimately open the door for some very large developments such as Wildhorse and Mace Ranch. By the late 1990s, Mr. Fitch writes, “The city’s growth was again in the political spotlight, in part because of the city’s drawn-out efforts to update the Davis General Plan. Critics charged that new houses were appearing at an alarming pace.”
Mr. Fitch writes, “City officials responded by assuring critics that the pace of housing construction would slow down in following years, noting that Covell Center was the last big residential project envisioned in the General Plan before the year 2010, and there was talk about removing it as part of the update process.”
So we already had the movement toward a slower period of growth – even without Measure J. Measure J would narrowly pass in 2000. The first test of Measure J was the revised form of Covell Center, called Covell Village.
If you look at a map of Davis, the two most logical peripheral subdivisions would have been the areas now known as Covell Village and Wildhorse Ranch. Covell Village – I argued last week – was doomed by its size. Wildhorse Ranch was doomed more by its timing.
I always wondered in those days of a pro-growth council why most of the eggs were placed in one basket, but Mike Fitch’s account suggests that that was by design. With little fallback option and Cannery and Nishi far off in stages of planning, it is no wonder that we saw few peripheral proposals in the last 15 years.
All of which leads me to believe that the impact of Measure J from 2000 to the present might be as much due to historical factors as it has to the law itself.
We note, of course, that Wildhorse passed a citizens’ vote, as did Target in 2006.
One of the stronger critics on the Vanguard wrote, “Before measure J nimby’s had to collect the signatures. After it the vote became automatic. It was brought by people who didn’t want to do the hard work of organizing a petition drive against a clock but who were against development.”
But as a counter-point, as I mentioned last week, conversations with Councilmember Sue Greenwald in 2007-2009 suggest to me that the belief that Measure J would stifle growth altogether is ill-founded. She told me on many occasions that at times she actually lamented Measure J. She felt that it gave license to the public to elect the Don Saylors and Stephen Souzas, knowing that they had a crutch in Measure J to stop peripheral projects.
She also pointed out the amount of energy it took on the part of activists to stop these large peripheral projects and she feared that a pro-growth council could put a series of Measure J votes on the ballot and eventually the citizens would be overwhelmed in fighting them, and there would be no one to oppose these projects.
I think here, while Ms. Greenwald had a point, that she underestimated the cost of putting a failed project on and the risk aversion of developers.
Nevertheless, her contemporaneous comments to me suggested that there was not necessarily a unified belief in the progressive community that Measure J would stop development. After all, Measure X failed, but Wildhorse and Target both went to the voters as non-Measure J votes and were passed.
The comment notes, “The problem is that it created a system that results in long delays. Without it we could be moving much more quickly toward adding economic development with a business park and dealing with our budget problems. It has caused huge delays, deterred projects from even being proposed because it increased the risks of having to pay for a campaign.”
But Measure J is not the only cause of long delays. Just look at the non-Measure J project, Cannery Park. There was by no means consensus on that project. There were those who believed that we should have put a business park on that spot. That ultimately led Lewis Planned Communities to exit the project.
ConAgra and New Homes would pick it up – but this was in 2010. It took three more years before Cannery Park was approved by council. And there was no Measure J vote there.
I agree with the poster that Measure J has deterred investors and developers from coming forward. However, I would argue that they are misreading the data as much as anyone else.
Measure X was a massive 2000-unit mixed use subdivision. Now, nearly nine years ago, what if Covell Village had been proposed at one-third of that property, at 600 units, with a commercial center along Covell and residential housing behind it? Would it still have failed in 2005?
The biggest issue that developed with regard to Covell Village was traffic impacts and the lack of a clear outlet, other than the already congested Pole Line – Covell Blvd corridor.
At the same time there were numerous tactical errors that were raised during the course of the campaign – as the Helen Thomson scare letter warning of the threat of Steve Gidaro coming into Davis if the pressure to develop weren’t relieved.
There was the ill-fated scandal where pizza was offered to students on the UC Davis campus in exchange for votes.
And my favorite, the developers gathering in the presence of then-Davis Enterprise reporter Claire St. John and doing a round of “We Shall Overcome.” Ms. St. John once told me that the developers kind of realized their error as soon as they started, but by then it was too late.
These factors not only served to doom the Covell Village campaign, but also and perhaps more importantly so turned off the public that even subsequent scaled-back efforts to develop that land have been so tarnished that the current developers have really dropped all interest in that site for the foreseeable future.
So the most logical area for peripheral subdivisions – an area basically surrounded on west, east, and south by development – was effectively removed from the picture perhaps, one could argue, by greed (of proposing 2000 units) and incompetence (in failing to mitigate traffic impacts plus strange campaign tactics).
That leads me to the next point here – where does Davis expand? People talk about the lack of physical restraints, but that’s not completely true. Most of the east is now locked off from development. The south is bordered by Solano County and state laws make further development to the south an impossibility. You have the I-113 corridor and Pole Line road and you might have some areas to the west.
Bottom line, at this time I believe that the Davis way – smart and controlled growth – should not be an impediment to building a sustainable economic development program. I think if and when good projects come forth at Mace, Northwest Quadrant, Nishi and possibly Davis Ranch, the community can embrace them.
Do they have challenges? Absolutely. Nishi needs to deal with connectivity issues, particularly on the impacted Richards Blvd. Both Mace and Northwest Quadrant need to come forward with strong projects that the community can embrace.
Is there uncertainty with a vote of the citizens ahead? Absolutely. But the planning process itself is not without uncertainty. I think once a project is approved, the hesitation with be reduced.
—David M. Greenwald reporting