A year ago, the question on everyone’s mind was whether any Measure R project could pass a vote – ever. That answer has been resoundingly answered this year as first Nishi and now WDAAC now only passed a vote of the people, but overwhelming did.
As we noted in our analysis the last two weeks, we believed that Measure L would prevail as there did not appear to be a lot of opposition. We noted the disparities in social media as well as the lack of letters of opposition to the project.
But there was another possibility – many people could have been on the fence, rather than hard opponents, and if that were the case, they might break late for no.
However, both in Nishi and this most recent race, that did not happen. While we looked at some polling that suggests that there is a core of no votes out there, both this project and Nishi seemed to get that core No vote and not much else.
What accounts for the change in the electorate? Changing circumstances for starters. Measure X in 2005 came on the heels of many large project that were approved and developed in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, we can view Measure J itself as being an outcome of that period of rapid growth.
In 2009, when Wildhorse Ranch was proposed, it was simply the wrong year – in the heart of the recession and housing market collapse, voters were not anxious to approve new housing.
Nishi in 2016 proved a better test, and that was a close vote with late votes come in to bring it to a narrow defeat. The key issues – lack of affordable housing and traffic impacts on Richards Blvd.
The last two votes which saw solid victories, did not have those kinds of direct impacts, and there was a perception of a great need for housing both for student housing and senior housing. Some believed that the student housing crisis was unique, but it seems that the concerns go beyond just student housing.
Both Councilmember Lucas Frerichs and Dan Carson noted the role that the overall housing crisis played.
Councilmember Dan Carson explained, “The housing crisis is a statewide issue beyond dispute. And the need in particular for senior citizen housing in Davis was undeniable. “
Councilmember Frerichs added, “The success of Measure L was born out of both a statewide crisis (the lack of adequate housing)… The result is a plan which will help address Davis’ housing challenges; ultimately it will include the building of 150 units of much-needed affordable senior apartments, in addition to the market-rate housing.”
The power of the senior voters I think was under recognized. We saw this at the council meeting where large numbers of senior groups came out to the support the project. We saw this at the forum where the same dynamic appeared.
Seniors believed that there is a lack of housing options both for market rate people who are looking to downsize and also for low income folks. That was a key part of this vote that I think many overlooked.
But the other factor that we saw both at the May council meeting and October forum – the lack of opposition. We never saw a lot of opposition to the project.
The opposition to both Nishi and WDAAC had similar challenges, tried different but a similar tactic, and we ultimately unsuccessful really at getting beyond that 40 percent slow growth core.
First, what we see is that if there are not direct and tangible impacts, it is hard to defeat a project. Look at the three project that were defeated: (1) Covell Village – traffic impacts and overall size; (2) Wildhorse Ranch – near neighbor opposition and housing market downturn; (3) Nishi 1 – traffic impacts on Richards and lack of Affordable Housing.
In both cases there were two big factors – one a macro-factor – overall size, recession, and lack of affordable housing and one a micro-factor – traffic or near-neighbor opposition.
For WDAAC – there really wasn’t a traffic impact. I saw some comments about traffic, but the traffic analysis undermined that claim and it was never a real factor. Second, there was not any kind of near-neighbor opposition.
That left a kind of throw everything against the wall approach that didn’t work for Nishi and didn’t work here. I felt like their best issue was the peripheral development and lack of density, but in retrospect that did not have much resonance.
I never felt like the issue of exclusionary housing resonated – we have senior housing in many places and that wasn’t going to gain a lot of traction. The fair housing issue always felt too hot-buttoned. The lack of circulation did not have any kind of urgency and the location actually was as good as any for senior housing.
The letter from that Orange County group kind of embodied the problem faced by the opposition. The title here says it all: “Guest Opinion: The “West Davis Active Adult Community” Naming Is Misguided and Probably Illegal.”
The campaign throughout used these type of invectives: “misguided” and “illegal” which I’m not sure the voters really bought into. Moreover, they were taking issue with the name, which whether it was a legitimate issue or not, always seemed trivial.
This exemplified their problem – they really didn’t have an issue that a large segment of the community was going to rally behind and whatever traction fair housing might have had, was undermined by Gloria Partida’s column and the lack of other people of color speaking out.
I know that opposition campaigns have had success running as grassroots, seat of pants operations, but that’s not how Covell Village was won. There the opposition raised a substantial amount of money, had a campaign team, and ran a real campaign. I think unless those kinds of efforts are put forth in the future, it is going to be difficult to win campaigns simply by throwing a ton of mud and seeing what sticks.
That leaves us with a final point. Dan Carson argued that this was vindication of the Measure R process. He stated, “Measure J and R can work, at least if the losing side does not try to nullify the election results with legal actions that are at odds with the spirit of Measure J and R.”
The litigation remains a concern for all projects regardless of a community vote. But I remain concerned with the nature of these campaigns. The opposition should note that simply attacking the project has not defeated the last two Measure R votes – Nishi 2 and WDAAC.
David Taormino told the Vanguard that he was disappointed that the discuss did not focus on the actual project and I wonder if these kinds of campaigns help us produce better planning. Rather than a community planning process, for the most part, the campaign felt like a political campaign with accusations and counter-accusations – some of which were ugly and meanspirited.
As we look at Measure R and that renewal process – we need to think about how we can better engage on these important questions without getting into the gutter and simply having an exchange of mudslinging. That doesn’t help this community and acts to further polarize the process.
—David M. Greenwald reporting