Council Approves Conservancy JPA, Agrees to Look at Measure O Open Space Expenditures

Jean Jackman illustrates Measure O language
Jean Jackman illustrates Measure O language

The Davis City Council ultimately agreed to a motion that would authorize the city to reserve up to $200,000 a year from Measure O Open Space Tax Funds for acquisitions of habitat lands to fulfill Yolo County’s Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan (HCP/NCCP).

At the same time, the council agreed to do an accounting of how Measure O funds were being utilized.

The Yolo Habitat Conservancy (YHC) serves as the lead agency for the preparation of a county-wide conservation plan for the area’s unique habitat areas and natural resources. They estimate that the total cost to implement the conservation plan plan over the 50-year period would be around $318.8 million.

To fund this cost, the YHC has developed a financing plan that draws from a variety of different sources, including development fees, local sources (including Measure O Open Space funds from the City of Davis), state and federal sources, and investment income.

Under the agreement, land acquisitions must be within the Davis Planning Area. They must be consistent with Measure O and the City’s open space policies now and into the future. The city would retain full control of the funds and whether or not to fund the land acquisitions.

They would go through the city’s standard acquisition process. The city is only committing to participate for the remainder of the duration of Measure O which expires in 2030.

Raising this issue triggered overall and general concerns about the use and transparency of Measure O funds. City Attorney Harriet Steiner told the council that discussion of Measure O beyond the habitat plan was outside of the scope of what is on the agenda, and council agreed to come back for a look at Measure O in the fall.

Supervisor Don Saylor told council that it took a while for Measure O to start being able to fund open space acquisitions. At this point, the city has secured over 2000 acres through the open space acquisition process. “There were opportunities that would be very aligned with the habitat conservancy’s objectives,” he said.

He noted that, in order to secure substantial state and federal money for the overall project, “there has to be some evidence of local commitment.”

Jean Jackman was co-coordinator for Measure O’s campaign in 2000. She brought up issues of “trust in government, transparency and accounting, problems of co-mingling funds.” She noted that the city is committing one-third of its fund for at least the 15 remaining years of the Measure O.

She noted, “Not one piece of property (within a mile of the border of Davis) has been purchased in the 15 years of the open space tax – 51% was estimated for acquisition. All the easements that the city has protected are out of sight of Davis or they don’t even offer the residents of Davis a viewscape.”

Ms. Jackman pointed out that they did not anticipate that the land protected would be so far from the border and she wonders “how aggressively the city has pursued areas touching Davis.”

Elizabeth Lucinski pointed out that all of the land purchased “has been easements on private property, there is no public access to those properties.” The reason given is that “it’s cheaper to maintain.”

Alan Pryor said he is supportive of the conservancy and its endeavors and originally supported the use of Measure O for this project. “But in the last week there have been a number of very serious disclosures that have made me believe it is not all what I believe was true.”

He noted, Davis is the only member of the JPA that is contributing monetary contributions to this project. He said this contradicts staff’s claims. “Without local commitments early in the process, the YHC — and the state and federal authorities approving the HCP/NCCP — would lack assurances that the local funding sources are secured to implement the plan upon its completion.” He said other cities need to step up as well.

Bob Schneider makes his comment
Bob Schneider makes his comment

Bob Schneider is a longtime resident of Davis and policy director of Tuleyome, which strongly supports the staff proposal to fund the conservancy’s project with Measure O funding. “There is a window here to really make this happen,” he said. “These are compatible uses, they leverage each other.”

He noted that funding is more difficult as pots of money that used to exist are no longer there.


Matt Williams noted all of the protection that has been done in the riparian corridors. He said that, while some differences exist, the work done overall by the open space staff “has been really good,” except right around the city.

“The concern that I have as a member of the Finance and Budget Commission and I know other members of the Finance and Budget Commission share this, is that staff recommendation on this is an example of non-transparent approach to funding and accounting for a city program,” he said.

The council discussion focused on support for the conservancy’s project, but showed concern about the accounting for the use of Measure O funds, as well.

Councilmember Brett Lee expressed concerns about the use of our Measure O funds. He said it was pointed out during the Mace 391 discussion, that “of all the places we have acquired or acquired easements, that nothing has been available for public access which is quite concerning.”

He said, “We need a fair and open accounting of how they have been spent and whether that matches what the public’s desire has been.” Councilmember Lee said he wants a discussion “of how they should be spent going forward.”

Brett Lee said that, during the 2000 campaign, he saw Measure O as “something that would assist us in avoiding sprawl.” The material from the city gave the impression that we would be acquiring lands or easements on the perimeter of the existing border of Davis. He said, “That hasn’t happened.”

He added that the administrative costs as reported makes him “raise my eyebrows, hey I’d like to know more about this.”

Councilmember Brett Lee makes remarks on Tuesday
Councilmember Brett Lee makes remarks on Tuesday

Councilmember Lee noted that the measure says “something like one-half the funds will only be spent within a one-mile perimeter of the existing border of Davis.” He said that he didn’t feel that anyone had spent these funds “with ill-intent.”

He added, “I don’t feel comfortable stating that we’ll allocate… a third to one-half of the disposable Measure O funds to such a long term basis.” He further stated, “I’m curious about such a heavy administrative cost associated with administering a program which from what I can tell should not be as administratively heavy in terms of expense.”

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis noted that in this year’s budget we get revenue of $650,000 from the tax, this year’s budget allocated $380,000 of that, “and none of that is scheduled for acquisition. That to me is problematic.”

Councilmember Frerichs illustrates his remarks
Councilmember Frerichs illustrates his remarks

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs responded, “I appreciate that. I’m not sure that’s a lack of transparency though.”

Robb Davis responded that, while this might not be lack of transparency, “it was not a clear and easy task for me to find out where that money was going.” He said he had to ask staff and he remains unclear whose salary it’s paying and what it’s going to.

The mayor pro tem noted that this is a tricky issue and an internal Davis issue, but “we can’t divorce the concerns that are arising about Measure O (from support for) YHC.”

Lucas Frerichs pointed out there is currently an account balance of $4.1 million in the Measure O fund. “So the notion that $200,000 over some amount of time is going to exhaust the account is (not accurate),” he said.

He also addressed the problem of using Measure O funding near the city limits, saying that “first you need sellers willing to sell (the city) the land.” There is also the cost factor, as “costs of land closer and particularly adjacent to the city limits of Davis are generally much more expensive than they are further away you get from an urban area.”

Mayor Pro Tem Davis
Mayor Pro Tem Davis

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson noted that “this has nothing to do with the conservancy plan – this is Measure O concerns.” She expressed concern as well for the administrative costs of the program. She said, “Very many people looked at (Measure O) as an urban limit line that was a big part of the idea, and the access issue.”

Councilmember Brett Lee said we need to make it “contingent upon one-half of Measure O funds only being spent within a mile of our perimeter. He added, “We’re very happy with the plan but… we need to get our own house in order.”

Robb Davis made the motion to move the staff report with some caveats, including the development of the MOU being informed by the Measure O review process – it will have clear matching criteria, and it will use clear language about the $200,000 consistent with the city’s Measure O process.

Rochelle Swanson seconded the motion.

A friendly amendment clarified that a Measure O discussion would come before council before December.

After further discussion the motion was passed unanimously.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Matt Williams

    Mitch has been reassigned to other duties under the job title of Sustainability Manager.  Among his reconfigured duties he is the Staff Liaison to the Natural Resources Commission and the Community Choice Energy Advisory Committee.

    1. hpierce

      That would be Sustainability Programs Coordinator [NOT ‘Sustainability Manager’].   See

      Which is compensated significantly higher than an Associate Civil Engineer position, one that requires registration as a Professional Engineer in California.

      Compensated only slightly less (3%) than a Senior Civil Engineer, which is a professional position, also supervisory and Management.  ~ 6% less than a Principal Planner.

      There are no certifications required for the aforesaid “Coordinator” position.

      Just info.



  2. Matt Williams

    I sent the following e-mail as follow-up to Lucas Frerichs remarks about transparency and citizens concerns about “bait and switch” uses of  Measure O funds.

    Lucas, thank you for your active engagement of the issues in Item 8 last night, and your clear desire to reach a win-win.

    One clarification is hopefully useful regarding something you said.  The concerns people are feeling about bait and switch are almost exclusively forward looking, not backward looking.  The efforts and expenditures regarding Measure O funds to date have all been good (very good in my personal opinion).  The attached slide show graphically demonstrates that progress starting with the Measure O flyer graphic.

    However, because of the numbers in the current Budget for O&M, the opportunities to do anything more than draw down the $4 million Open Space Fund balance appear to have disappeared if the $200,000 YHC set aside is approved as proposed.  That is a forward looking situation, one that is separate and distinct from the purchases history displayed in the attached slide show.  Having no annual dollars for protection purchases, only the one-time funding of the Open Space Fund balance is a very different reality from the one that has existed for the first 15 years of Measure O.

    Creating separate funding for the YHC annual set aside is a harder lift because many Davis residents will say “Do the roads first!” but $200,000 a year for endangered species protection is an investment in the support of Davis’ core values that I believe the vast majority of Davisites would support.  Some would even say (with their tongue firmly planted in their cheek) that “$200,000 per year only fills one pothole.”

    Bottom-line, if we look at this as a both-and situation where both the Measure O Fund and a YHC Fund are funded and accounted for separately, we will achieve a win-win.  We will miss an opportunity if we approach this as an either-or situation where the following statement I received in an e-mail yesterday applies, “The key difference is that the City agrees to use $200k/year on habitat or wildlife-friendly agriculture projects, rather than any other type of open-space (such as agricultural lands that don’t provide habitat for the covered species or bicycle connector trails).” 

    As I said to the person who sent me that e-mail, I believe their statement should read, “The key difference is that the City agrees to use $200k/year on habitat or wildlife-friendly agriculture projects, in addition to the other types of open-space (such as agricultural lands that don’t provide habitat for the covered species or bicycle connector trails).” 

    Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts.


  3. Frankly

    So – was the majority vision of the voters that approved Measure O in 2000 that it:

    1. Feed private non-profit businesses with a single, and arguably extremist, goal to lock up regional land into permanent farmland easements or permanent natural habitat easements?

    2. Ring the city in a farmland moat to prevent peripheral growth and provide those green and brown field “viewscapes” for the few lucky residents living on the existing periphery and those that like to see the same while driving to other communities for their jobs and to shop.

    3. Ring the city in a greenbelt with access for residents.

    4. Do some of all of this using smart development methods and principles.

    5. Or, was Measure O just an opportunity for the extremist land preservation people, and those wanting to keep their home values high, to leverage their displeasure and reaction over the large Wildhorse and Mace Ranch developments, to fund their extremist goals?   Did the voters back then know that the city would face such financial difficulty and be looking at a stream of tax increase proposals in a time of crumbling roads, leaking pools and millionaire city employee retirees?  Did they know that Measure O combined with Measure J/R would enable a minority of NIMBY, change-averse and grumpy stasis types to block valuable economic development projects that would absolutely enhance the city, contribute to tremendous improvements to the local human condition while supporting the needs of the university and also providing much needed revenue increase to the city?

    My guess is that if asked today, after being educated with an accurate accounting of what Measure O funds have been used for to date, and what our true city financial status is, over 2/3 of the residents would land on #4 and #5.

    1. Davis Progressive

      allow the city and not special interests or developers  to determine our future.  measure o, measure j and the like were ways that citizens attempted to take this process back.

      1. hpierce

        DP… thought you said the voters can’t be trusted to make good, informed decisions… kinda negates “measure o, measure j and the like were ways that citizens attempted to take this process back”, right?

        1. Davis Progressive

          a group of citizens attempted to take the process back.  i think you and frankly probably feel that the process didn’t work as well as hoped just as i think the citizens passing prop 13 caused a lot of problems but that’s what happens when the leaders who are elected do not address concerns.

        2. hpierce

          No, DP… I may disagree with how the process played out, but I didn’t question the process.  You are the one (a different thread) that opined you don’t “trust” the electorate.  Or did you just mean that you don’t trust the electorate, or the results of a vote only when it diverges from your ‘world view’?  From your previous posts, on several subjects, it is clear you don’t trust staff, the CC or the electorate.  Guess that leaves you and maybe the Vanguard to act on behalf of the City.

        3. Davis Progressive

          i’m not running from that claim – i inherently don’t trust the public to do the right thing, that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally do it.  the period from 2002 to 2009 stands in mind mind as a period where the public did not pay sufficient attention to what was going on and blindly elected public officials who did not have the best interests of the community at heart.

          1. Matt Williams

            Davis Enterprise Article: “The Davis City Council voted to make available up to $200,000 annually … Over the 50-year life of the conservation plan, the city is committing roughly $5.7 million.”

            My elementary school arithmetic teacher taught me that 50 times 200,000 is exactly 10 million, not 5.7 million.

            That kind of “fuzzy math” does not inspire confidence and/or trust in a city like Davis where citizens/residents are as distrustful as they are. Feeding the fires of distrust moves us all backwards not forwards.

          2. Matt Williams

            Why is present value discounting meaningful Don?

            You present value a stream of payments for a reason. What do you suppose that reason was?

            The city won’t be making a discounted payment in any individual year in the future. It will be making a $200,000 payment . . . 50 times. So the City won’t be asking its taxpayers for $5.7 million over the 50-year life of the YHC. It will be asking its taxpayers for $10 million.

        4. Frankly

          It is not common in my experience to use present value to discount the total value of a long-term annuity expense.  In fact, if we want to calculate the real value it would be the future value of a $200,000 per year annual investment.  Assuming a conservative 4% average rate of return, the future value would be about $33 million.

          Said another way, if the city would just invest $200k per year for 50 years, at the end of 50 years it would have $33 million to kick around.

          Now there will be inflation.

          Assuming a $2% annual inflation rate the purchasing power of that $33 million will be about $13 million.

          Bottom line is that using a present valure calculation someone was understating the total monetary impact to soften the potential controversy.

        1. Davis Progressive

          that sounds like an existential question – what is the city?  it is the staff, the elected officials or the collective voters.  ultimately not a meaningful question.  however, i agree with you in the end, it was another set of special interests that took control from a different set of special interests.

      2. hpierce

        2002-2009, right, DP?  Isn’t that the same timeline when your favorite ‘measures’ were approved by the “public (who) did not pay sufficient attention to what was going on…”?

        Just can’t see where the voters were more astute on the candidates than they were the measures. What am I missing?

        And, isn’t all the current Council elected/appointed since 2009? Am just not understanding your distrust of the electorate, CC…

  4. Anon

    1.  Obviously many citizens saw Measure O as a way to prevent urban sprawl, but that was not exactly what was in the specific wording of Measure O, nor has it really achieved any such goal, except perhaps the Mace 391 parcel.

    2. The city of Davis cannot force other cities to pass their own version of Measure O.

    3. There does seem to be a legitimate concern about high administrative costs, that are essentially eating up all the money and leaving few dollars to actually acquire open space.

    4. The land acquired does fall within the boundaries set out by Measure O, but the land acquired is not accessible to the average citizen.  It was conceded that there needs to be improvement in that area, but the reality is that land right next to the city is extremely expensive and there has to be a willing seller.

    IMO, Measure O was badly conceived legislation, not clearly defined nor implemented.

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