In 2000, the voters of Davis by about a 1400 vote margin (53.6 to 46.3 percent) approved Measure J, which amended “the city’s general plan to add a policy requiring voter approval for certain changes to the land use designations or entitlements of properties…”
Measure J was renewed for 10 years in 2010, by a far larger 76.7 to 23.3 percent margin, or 7300 votes. But that renewal was during the heart of the Great Recession and largely occurred at a time when most people were not considering the need for additional housing.
Times have clearly changed, as we are now just two years from the expiration of Measure R and the biggest issue facing the community is the student housing crisis – and housing in general.
It is worth pointing out that a number of non-Measure J/R votes have come before the voters and some, such as Wildhorse in 1995 and Target in 2006, have passed. But the three Measure J/R votes: Covell Village, Wildhorse Ranch and Nishi all went down to defeat, and only the 2016 Nishi measure was even competitive in the end.
Rich Rifkin in a thought-provoking column writes, “Every proposal that has gone to the voters under Measure J/R has lost. Several others were abandoned along the way as bills mounted.”
His view: “It’s time we stop this nonsense. The process is too expensive in money and time.”
While I remain a supporter of Measure R, I think his column bears close scrutiny. I will say this: at this point, I think most of the long-term residents of Davis would continue to support Measure R in 2020. However, there is a wild card – the students, if their housing crisis continues, have the numbers to change the dynamics.
Toward Mr. Rifkin’s point: “If the residents of Davis don’t want any new developments on the periphery, we should replace Measure R in 2020 — when it expires — with an ordinance that permanently fixes the city’s perimeter where it is. No developments that require a popular vote should be considered.
“While that approach is not good planning, insofar as certain future needs cannot be met within present boundaries, at least it is honest.”
Many have argued that Measure R forces better planning. Mr. Rifkin points out that one problem with the current system “is that every development is taken on ad hoc. Voters are not asked to consider a general planning map for future needs that will satisfy what we lack in recreation, commerce, housing, parking, office space or R&D facilities. We are told to vote up or down on a specific proposal put forth by one developer whose vision may or may not meet the needs of Davis.”
He notes: “This is the same issue neighbors confronted with the Trackside and Mission Residence projects. The adopted General Plan had a considered vision for those areas. But on a one-off basis, after developers submitted proposals that required zoning changes, the City Council altered the adopted General Plan for those parcels only.
“That disregard for planning is a consequence of Measure J/R.”
It is an interesting point. One of the points I would make about Measure R is that the Nishi project as currently configured is designed specifically with the issue of getting Nishi passed by the
voters. They looked at what went wrong in 2016, they added an affordable housing component. They eliminated Richards Boulevard access to avoid the traffic problems.
The project addresses one need: the need for student housing.
However, in their goal to get a project that could be passed by the voters, they undersold the density, they eliminated the mixed-use components, the R&D space, the commercial considerations. So yes, they have a project that can pass a vote, but it is a far less optimal project than even what came forward in 2016.
Again, it fills a critical need for student housing, but that’s effectively all it does, and Measure R is a chief reason why that is the case. And because of Measure R, the city is no longer getting $10 million to fix Richards Boulevard (quick note: I don’t know what deal will occur, but Nishi 1.0 contained $10 million for Richards Blvd.).
Mr. Rifkin notes that “citizen control has created an imbalance that has made the cost of living in our city too high for all new residents who don’t come from wealth or who are not high-income earners.”
He adds, “We have demand for more housing, especially rental apartments, and due to Measure J/R, we cannot plan for it. We lack R&D and retail segments, and we cannot plan for it.
“Students and other low-income renters are being pushed out of Davis by the nearly 0-percent vacancy rate that causes rents to increase well beyond the rate of inflation every year,” Mr. Rifkin continues. “Because of Measure J/R, many starter homes in Davis go for more than $700,000. The price of a typical square foot here is 65 percent higher than elsewhere in our region.”
He argues: “If the people of Davis are at all empathetic with students, low-income renters and young families who have been priced out of our community, we should return to a planning process after Measure R terminates in 2020.”
Rich Rifkin points out, “Measure R is set to expire in 2020. We probably will have two more public votes — one for Nishi student apartments, the other for West Davis senior housing — before it expires.”
He writes: “My hope is that Davis voters will show some empathy for others and approve those needed projects. My expectation is that Davis remains as self-centered as it has been for the last 18 years. The disastrous consequences of Measure J/R are self-evident. Our community knows by now that holding out the football only to pull it away is not just cruel. It’s a dishonest scheme that we need to end.”
He concludes: “Let those be the last ad hoc votes.”
I believe that what happens with Nishi will be critical in shaping the view of Measure R as we head toward 2020. The students are organizing – if they end up not being able to pass Nishi, I would look for a more concerted effort to defeat Measure R come 2020.
As I said I continue to support Measure R, but I think Mr. Rifkin is correct that it ironically ends up leading to less than ideal planning in the hopes of getting a project past a citizen vote. And the cost and expenses are mounting. At some point, something has to give.
—David M. Greenwald reporting