Monday Morning Thoughts: Citizens’ Right to Vote Is Only a One-Way Door


One of the biggest issues moving forward in 2020 is going to be the renewal of Measure R.  Measure R was the renewal of the 2000 ballot measure, Measure J, the “Citizen’s Right to Vote on Future Use of Open Space and Agricultural Lands Ordinance.”

In a May letter to the editor of the Davis Enterprise, Bob Milbrodt writes: “A 10-year renewal of this measure will automatically appear on the ballot in June 2020. We deserve council members who will support its renewal, and who will incorporate its democratic and community-oriented values into the city’s decision-making. We are better served by council members who share these core values. Either the candidates believe in community-based governance, or they don’t.”

Mr. Milbrodt later adds, “Of the nine candidates for city council: one has consistently opposed the citizen’s right to vote; four stated their early opposition to this measure and are now waffling; two are willing to entertain ‘amendments’ without being specific; and two are steadfastly supportive of the measure in principle and in practice.”

Note the language here: “consistently opposed the citizen’s right to vote.”

I would argue that Mr. Milbrodt and many others do not believe in a citizen’s right to vote.  They believe in the citizen’s right to vote no.  It is not just that many have opposed every single Measure R project – for that certainly is their right.  It is rather that the will of the people in Davis has continually been usurped through litigation.

We have a student housing crisis in Davis.  In fact, some would argue we have a housing crisis in Davis that extends well beyond just student housing.  And there are those who would argue that Measure R is at least partially if not primarily to blame.

After Nishi passed this spring, there were many people who opposed Nishi who nevertheless said, see, Measure R works as designed.  The voters had problems with Nishi as placed on the ballot in 2016, the developers came back with a revised proposal (never mind that opponents of the project like Colin Walsh publicly complained that putting another measure on the ballot so soon after rejection was invalid), and the voters passed the revised measure overwhelmingly.

We can go back and forth as to whether or not the 2016 version was better than the 2018 version, but if voters get the final say, they were split with a 700-vote margin in opposition in 2016 then passed the 2018 version by more than a 60-40 margin.  The voters have spoken, you might say.

Except for one problem.  The project is held up in litigation.  This is a problem.  Last week, we complained about CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) abuse and some came on here to defend it.

The voters have spoken, but their voices cannot be heard because a handful of people can tie up a project like this in litigation for years. Students who are pressed to find housing will not find that housing built.  They will have to stuff themselves into tightly packed mini-dorms, sandwich themselves into dorm rooms on campus designed for single occupancy, live in cars, live in the library, couch surf, or commute from other communities because the housing that was approved at Lincoln40 and Nishi cannot get built due to ongoing litigation.

This has become a problem in Davis.  Not only do we have a democratic process which many citizens support that allows the voters to approve of projects that are outside our borders or convert ag land to urban uses, but we have an undemocratic litigation system that doubles the time for approval and greatly increases the cost of housing.

Who will pay for this litigation?  In some cases, you the voters are directly or indirectly shelling out money for that litigation.  As Robb Davis pointed out last spring when they approved Lincoln40, the developers had to spend extra money to do an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) they should have been exempt from, in order to attempt to avoid litigation.  It didn’t even work.  But the result was that some of the amenities the developers could have funded they were not able to, because that money went to an unnecessary EIR.

But that abundance of caution was well-considered, as Lincoln40 was subsequently sued.

In recent years we have seen litigation against the following: the water project, the Hotel Conference Center, the Marriott, the Hyatt House, Nishi 1.0, Nishi 2.0, Trackside, and Lincoln40.  There is a cost to that litigation and the people who are going pay that cost will also be students who rent these units.

The voters in June voted 60-40 percent to approve Nishi.  We had a full campaign.  The opposition was able to make their best case on a variety of issues, and the voters decided that the need for more student housing outweighed the opposition of those in the community.

But, instead of allowing the voters’ vote to stand, a group called Davis Coalition for Sensible Planning continues to hold the project hijacked, just as they do Lincoln40.

According to papers filed in March, “Petitioner’s members include Susan Rainier, a Davis resident and California-licensed architect with international design and construction experience.”  They note: “Petitioner’s members also include Davis resident Colin Walsh.”

Interestingly enough, in a comment on the Davis Enterprise site, Colin Walsh would write: “Measure R The Citizens Right To Vote is all about democracy in development. That is a value worthy of supporting…”  I guess, unless he loses the vote in which case he sues to prevent the will of the people from being implemented.

The attorneys, Patrick Soluri of the Soluri Meserve Law firm out of Sacramento write: “Petitioner is suing on its behalf, and on behalf of others who will be affected in the Davis area, as well as for all residents in the County of Yolo, including all those who seek to maintain sensible planning in the land use entitlement process.”

Someone correct me if I’m wrong – isn’t that what Measure R is supposed to do?  Allow the citizens a voice in deciding which projects should go further?  Why should the petitioners get to override the judgment of the voters?  And what does that mean for Measure R itself – is it simply only a mechanism to say no to projects, because anyone can sue to try to stop or delay a project even after it has been approved?

Those who are supportive of Measure R – and I am still one of them – need to figure out how to make this system work because, right now, there are a lot of people in need of housing and the system is not letting us build that housing, even after an overwhelming vote of the people.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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48 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Citizens’ Right to Vote Is Only a One-Way Door”

  1. Jim Hoch

    Not true. Rents are based on market acceptance and not on cost-up. There is a “cost” in terms of availability but once the project is on the market they will charge as much as they can get regardless of their costs.

    “There is a cost to that litigation and the people who are going pay that cost will also be students who rent these units.”

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      You’re missing something Jim – inelastic demand. There is a flexibility range for rents. More costs put pressure on the cost side. So yes, in theory the market will constrain costs, but the reality is that there is a lot of flexibility within those costs.

      1. Jim Hoch

        People project costs and revenues. They invest money and the sell the product for whatever they can get for it when it is done. The amount needed to complete the project may be more or less than they expected and the revenue may be more or less than expected. This is called “risk”.

        If the selling price is less than expected the only option is to lower yield by only renting a portion of available units. Unlike manufacturing there is no “marginal cost” as the number of completed units is predetermined.

        If you project rents at an average of $2K/month and your costs go up then your profits go down. You cannot raise the rent based on increased costs because if you could get $2.1K per unit you would do it even if your costs had not gone up.

        The market can only influence go/no go decisions or what segment of the market to enter. Once you have taken a construction loan you will build it and you will have to rent it for whatever you can get when it’s done. You can opt to enter the federal rental price support program if your cost basis supports it.

        Uncertainty over costs will shift the market towards luxury units as the lower margins and higher risks are not attractive.

        1. Jim Hoch

          availability and affordability are completely different though sometimes related. if you don’t like the rental options you can choose to go smaller or further away. There is no real “worse” option in Davis.

  2. Nancy Price

    Measure J/R is meant to do alot of things. Most of all, to allow a vote to support well-planned, needed, and truly sustainable projects that meet the needs of the all the Davis community, not just the needs of UCD or of developers.  IMO, the new City Council should draw up “Guilding Principles” that we passed in Dec. 2014, that are actually “demands” for what any project should meet in this day and age of needing truly resilient planning to the highest standards for climate, carbon footprint and renewable energy, transportation, green and locally sourced (to the extent possible) materials, and union wages.

    It’s time for Davis to get out in front of the curve and set the highest standards and let developers reach those standards. Nothing less will do.

    1. Ken A

      I have to hand it to the no new development crowd that adding “union wages” to the list of demands for new housing is a brilliant way to kill all new private sector construction without ever having to say that you want to stop all new construction (to keep the values of your homes high).  Since it would cost well over a million dollars to build a modest ~1,500sf 3 bedroom two bath home in Davis paying union prevailing wages and since (almost) no one will pay over a million dollars for a little home in town you have killed any chance of a new home getting built (increasing the price or your own homes).  A similar idea to stop new fast food restaurants would be to require that each shift is supervised by someone with experience in a “Michelin Star” restaurant.

      I read an article a while back that said:

      “All the projects have been challenged based on CEQA, the California environmental law that is frequently used by development opponents. The group wants local residents hired at union wages for the projects, which aren’t subject to such requirements.”

    2. Jeff M

      It’s time for Davis to get out in front of the curve and set the highest standards and let developers reach those standards. Nothing less will do

      With all due respect, I don’t think you are qualified to deliver this opinion unless you have experience as a developer.  At some point your “high standards” cause a project to no longer pencil out.  Either you are ignorant of this, or you know this and disingenuously ignore it for serving a no-growth agenda.

      One thing that many Davis NIMBY-NOGROW people don’t seem to understand is that all government has kept adding “high standards” to building codes and requirements that provide you plenty of goodies but also result in no capacity for new progressive Davis goodies.

      For example, I am working on a building retrofit / tenant improvement project that because of recent Title-24 and changes to the fire and building code will add $350,000 of unplanned costs to a project that originally had a budget of $500,000.   This project is not in Davis, but it would be the same in Davis because it is national and state government requirements.

      And old governor moonbeam Brown killed RDA for the teachers union.  So there goes a tool for public-private partnership to help get Davis its goodies.

      The general problem is California liberals running out of other people’s money.  There seems to be this broken cerebral connection in the collective liberal and government view that developers have some endless pot of gold they can access and somehow just absorb each new costly requirement be taking a bit of their fabulous profits.  This is destructive idiocy and explains a lot for why there are not enough buildings in California to house people and provide a location for new business.

    3. Mark West

      Creating an ad hoc list of demands as Nancy advocates is a great way to block development by making it too expensive to build anything. A more rational approach would be to take all of Nancy’s ideas and prioritize them in terms of creating the greatest benefit for the community. The City could then reduce or drop the lower priority demands to improve the financial feasibility of projects so that we can actually get the development we need.

      It is time that we realize that setting arbitrarily high standards only benefits those who wish to block all development.

      1. Jim Hoch

        More importantly if you make the principle “highest standards” it gives you unlimited opportunities to criticize based on anything that comes to your imagination. For the benefit of obstructionists here are few ways in which a project could fail to meet “highest standards”.

        1: native copper has been shown to reduce infections from touch surfaces. Given the increasing levels of drug resistant bacteria only a pure copper interior will save the inhabitants from “pathogen hell”.

        2: Heavy metals are toxic. No project should have any exposed metals such as nickel or copper.

        3: Should produce enough solar electricity to power the building, the occupants vehicles, and provide a warm place to sleep for our local homeless.

        4: Onsite biomass reduction composters with methane capture.

        5: Cargo bike access for all units

        1. Jeff M

          Good list.  I was trying to think about what else they could add to the list given what the governments at all levels have already made as requirements.  You have reminded me that a “progressive” brain never stops layering on things that move them toward their treasured but never attainable Utopia.

        2. Ken A

          Now that solar is mandatory for all new homes in CA Davis can lead the way making an electric cargo bike mandatory for all new homes in town for less than $10K per home.

          P.S. I’m wondering if David does not want me to see Jeff M’s posts anymore, If he didn’t block them on purpose it would be nice to unblock them…

        3. Eric Gelber

          Jeff’s knee-jerk characterization of liberals/progressives as anti-housing development is overly simplistic. (LDS (Liberal Derangement Syndrome), perhaps?) Liberal views on housing–especially affordable housing and housing that reduces commuting–is complex and not monolithic. Senator Wiener’s SB 827 is a current example of a liberal-backed bill that would remove local obstacles to housing development.


        4. Jeff M

          Jeff’s knee-jerk characterization of liberals/progressives as anti-housing development is overly simplistic.

          That is not what I wrote and it is not my point.

          My point is that liberals and the larger government that they tend to support and foment has a tendency to layer on more regulations, codes and requirements.  And these increase the cost of development.  Make something cost more if you want less of it.  Liberals also tend to be more likely to own a scarcity mindset… and a belief that we need more government rules in place to force that lifestyle preference on others instead of allowing people to make their own choices.

          However, I think NIMBYs and NOGROWERs come from different political views and can have both shared interests and also divergent agendas. 

          But, conservatives as a rule want to reduce regulations and make it less expensive to do business.   Liberals tend to want to increase regulations and don’t seem to understand or else they don’t care that the costs keep going up.

          Interesting article…
          Every Single County in America Is Facing an Affordable Housing Crisis

        5. Todd Edelman

          5: Cargo bike access for all units

          A lot less than 10k per electric-assist cargo bike and tiny costs for upkeep (maybe $150 every year for a comprehensive tune-up. I would never, ever argue that a normal bike or even one with a trailer (for a small amt of kids and/or cargo) can even approach being a car replacement., and this has to be complemented with bike share, car share, car rental for longer/weekend trips, safe parking at train stations, reasonable prices for trains.

    4. Eric Gelber

      It’s time for Davis to get out in front of the curve and set the highest standards and let developers reach those standards. 

      Each such standard could then be the basis for a cause of action in a lawsuit, claiming failure to meet the standard. Nice try.

    5. Sharla C.

      Nancy, Your list gives 6 reasons to vote no on a project  Add that to all of the other various reasons put forth to stop projects (air quality, noise, safety, racial bias, effort to put pressure on UCD, opposition to change in whatever form, anger toward and distrust of city employees and/or elected representatives, “process” transgressions, social association and pressure to conform, etc.) and it we have a system where your pure design goals may never be reachable.  Even then, the now expected step of a lawsuit to overturn and profit from, regardless of outcome of our vote, is poison.

    6. Tia Will


      projects that meet the needs of the all the Davis community”

      So that you will be aware that I am not picking on you exclusively, I want to share that I said the same thing to the proponents of Nishi which I both advocated and voted for. There is no such thing as a project that “meets the needs of all the Davis community”. There are projects that the vast majority like. There are those that only a few like. No project is going to meet “all needs” and we should be honest about that.

  3. Todd Edelman

    Nishi has a great location aside from noise and – to some extent – air quality and fake affordability. My main concern is that it won’t pass its own air quality criteria and will not be able to get  certificates of occupancy.

    WDAAC is an elder-ghettoing, old-school, suburban-style, low-density, automobile-dependent natural gas-oriented disaster in a flood plain.

    1. Ken A

      I’m wondering if Todd will let us know why he thinks Nishi won’t “get certificates of occupancy” (I’m wondering if he has any actual experience in the study of air quality).  I’m also wondering why people seem to think that the air quality in Davis between the railroad tracks and 80 freeway will be any worse than the air quality between the railroad tracks and the 101 freeway (where hundreds of thousands of people live)…

      1. Todd Edelman

        Mr. A, the issue is that the FEIR mitigation requires removing 95% or more of PM 0.1 (and we’ll assume that all subsequent agreements hold to this.) The level is only just possible to reach in laboratory conditions, and requires that windows are never opened. If an apartment just squeaks by, it’s likely it will not be able to do in the required (per FEIR) inspections, since lots of pollutants will be introduced into them after any move-in.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Actually EIR’s do not carry with them requirements – EIR’s are disclosure documents.

          EIRs are reports that inform the public of significant environmental effects of proposed projects, identify possible ways to minimize those effects, and describe reasonable alternatives to those projects.

        2. Todd Edelman

          Right, thanks… lots of self-taughtiness this year and can’t get it all right. But here’s the thing: Developers are promising that figure, the City Council and at least some voters knew about it. To lessen the degree of filtration would at least be against the spirit of the FEIR suggestion, right?

      2. Howard P

        Pretty sure that freight no longer runs on the Peninsula line… the commuter trains tend to be newer/cleaner… yet your point is valid in the main… growing up between 101 & SPRR (when they ran both freight and passenger/commuter) for 18 years, have nothing bad to show for it.

        1. Ken A

          As a kid the freight trains seemed to roll through the Peninsula every time we were running late and were about to cross the tracks, but as kids we got to count the number of cars out loud (not knowing that we were often sitting in a “super toxic soup” since there are areas of the Peninsula were the SPRR tracks are even closer to the 101 freeway than most of the Nishi site that has just “regular toxic soup”)…

    2. Jim Hoch

      “WDAAC is an elder-ghettoing, old-school, suburban-style, low-density, automobile-dependent natural gas-oriented disaster in a flood plain.”


      Co-Signed, Jim Hoch

  4. Nancy Price

    Time to end the name-calling and carrying-on about my hidden motives, or my hope that high standards will sink a project or, that I’ve got a house and don’t care whether others have a house to call a home.

    As all of you know as well as I do, you build it and people from anywhere will come to Davis to buy, invest, live-in etc. So, there is always the need to keep filling leaky bucket whatever demographic a developer or the City Council decides to serve.

    As for standards there seems to be great resistance on the part of some and commentators: there are many communities nationwide, including large cities, that are formulating advanced planning and building principles AND developers are achieving those standards and still making profits. Do your home work.

    Finally, why not pay a union wage?

    1. Jeff M

      there are many communities nationwide, including large cities, that are formulating advanced planning and building principles AND developers are achieving those standards and still making profits. Do your home work.

      How many of them allow their population to kill all peripheral development with a popular vote?

      Finally, why not pay a union wage?

      Because it increases the cost of development, reduces the feasibility of projects, and eliminates other goodies from the list.

    2. Eric Gelber

      I suppose, in an ideal world (that doesn’t exist anywhere), all housing developments would meet the “highest standards.” In the real world, that’s simply not practical as a legal criterion. The City can establish “minimum standards,” which may exceed state minimum standards, that all developments would be expected to meet; but, no development can be expected to meet the “highest” standards–whatever that means. As I noted–any such requirement would inevitably lead to lawsuits challenging every development proposal.


    3. Craig Ross

      “there are many communities nationwide, including large cities, that are formulating advanced planning and building principles AND developers are achieving those standards and still making profits”

      That’s kind of vague, could you provide some examples so we can evaluate?

      ”why not pay a union wage?”

      Nancy, when was the last time your rented an apartment and what rent did you pay?  I’m all for unions, but your putting these added costs on our backs and it’s apparent there is no skin off your back.

    4. Don Shor

      Finally, why not pay a union wage?

      Some statistics*.
      Labor cost as a percentage of total project cost estimated at 25 – 35%, approx. 30% for housing.
      Average hourly wage of construction workers in the West, 2018 figures: $18.86 non-union, $27.58 union. Union labor costs 46% more than non-union.
      Target profit margins for:
      small projects, 20 – 35%
      larger projects, 15 – 25%
      very large projects, 10 – 20%.
      If you increase the cost of labor, you increase the cost of the project. That means they either have to sell or rent the house for more, making it less affordable, or reduce their profit margin. If the profit margin isn’t sufficient, the project won’t get built. The investors or builders will find some other place to put their time and money.
      The question is, if the market rate for construction workers is $18.86 per hour, why would you seek to mandate that people get paid more than that? We’re not talking minimum wage here, or living wage. $18.86/hour is about $39,000 per year and these are generally younger demographic. Given the high demand for labor right now, I’d guess that someone in construction who wants to earn more than average can probably find a better paying job in the area.

      *just gleaned from the web; happy to accept corrections from anyone more familiar with the industry.

      1. Ken A

        The article I linked to above (from 2016) said:

        “Alameda County’s current prevailing wage, an inside wireman electrician is required to be paid a total of $87.52 per hour”

        There is no way you can get anyone in CA with the skills to actually build anything for $18.86/hour and will have to pay almost that much to get an illegal alien hanging out in front of Home Depot to come to a job site to do unskilled work like picking up trash or carrying boxes of tile up to second floor bathrooms.

        My cousin is a union electrician in SF and he makes over $200K a year thanks to super strict rules that pay him time and a half for any OT or Saturday work and DOUBLE time if he has to work on a Sunday to finish a job before Monday.  What really pushes the cost of union labor up is the union work rules where a guy in one union is restricted on what they can do.  A Union electrician is actually “prohibited” from cleaning up after they are done so some other union guy will get paid to come in and clean up (they are also prohibited from doing any non union “side jobs”).  My cousin tells me about guys in his union coming to blows with guys from the “stagecrafters” and other unions on where the work of one union has to stop and the work of another union starts.

    5. Ken A

      I’m wondering if Nancy can name even one (1) community in America that has private sector homes built with union labor.

      P.S. Pointing out “facts” like less housing means higher prices, less student apartments in a neighborhood mean less students in a neighborhood and anti-development people that bought years ago don’t pay rent (and pay low property taxes thanks to Prop 13) is not the same as “carrying-on about hidden motives” (even if you just happen to be trying to hide that you “do” want higher prices, don’t want students living near you and don’t pay rent since you bought years ago)…

    1. Alan Miller

      > Why has no one here addressed the actual point of this article and the lawsuits?

      Because it’s more fun to trash the opposition personally.

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