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