Now that 2018’s political season is over, we can step back and start evaluating things. When we began the year, we knew there were likely to be two Measure R campaigns and we knew that, prior to this year, Measure R had not seen a successful project. Now it’s seen two in less than six months.
Dan Carson’s comment was: “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.”
But not everyone agrees with that view. One of posters asked an interesting question: “Did it work here? Would it have worked if the project had been rejected?”
He then said, “I think Measure R didn’t work in this case as imo the project didn’t deliver the type of housing that Davis really needed, was exclusionary and not dense enough.”
Another person I ran into, an adamant opponent of Measure R who voted no on the project, told me that Measure R was supposed to prevent these types of projects from being approved because it should discourage low density peripheral projects.
However, I believe that one problem here is looking at this from an outcome-based perspective. Measure R is supposed to be process-based, not outcome-based. I understand Dan Carson’s point, however, his point is that if Measure R simply meant every project coming before it would be defeated, the process would prove unworkable.
From that perspective then, Measure R did in fact work and really work as advertised.
A quick history lesson will bear this out. In 2005, the city had come off a period of rapid development, Covell Village coming on the heels of Mace Ranch, and Wildhorse was another very large, sprawling peripheral housing development. That the voters would heavily reject it makes sense.
In 2009, in the midst of the worst Post-WWII recession and housing market collapse, the voters were in no mood to approve housing.
By 2016, the world was different, but Nishi could not quite overcome mistakes such as the lack of Affordable Housing and perceptions that it would worsen the worst traffic corridor in Davis. It failed, but for the first time was competitive.
This year’s projects show, I think, an understanding of what kinds of development can work in Davis; they avoided the mistakes of the past – huge traffic problems, angry-near neighbors. But the projects also reflect the focus in the community is now on finding ways to build housing, and therefore the efforts to stop these projects fell on deaf ears – other than the core of committed slow-growthers combined with folks with project specific opposition.
From that perspective, Measure R has worked as it is supposed to. With two wins in 2018, the voters in 2020 will see that Measure R doesn’t mean the end of all projects. From that perspective, the best thing that slow-growth voters could do was to allow approvals this year.
But if Measure R is about process not outcome, I have growing concerns about it, based on what we saw in 2018.
The first problem is that it is not clear that Measure R is producing better projects. What we saw in 2018 is not the victory of quality over profit, but, in a lot of ways, the victory of expediency over quality.
One of the attack lines by the opposition to Nishi was that the council felt that Nishi 1 was superior to Nishi 2. In some ways that was correct. Nishi 1 had a mix of housing, it had an innovation center and was mixed use.
Was it clearly better than Nishi 2? I’m not sure I can fully agree there. Nishi 2 had some advantages. It had more student housing, which is probably better for that site, particularly with concerns over the long-term exposure to freeway particulate matter. It also had more student housing which, if built, would help our student housing crisis.
While I preferred the innovation center, truth be told, with what is happening at Sierra Energy and the University Research Park, it’s not clear that we lose much if anything there.
Did Measure R lead to a better result or a less optimal one? Depends on your perspective.
What is clear is projects that do not have direct impacts like traffic or near neighbor effects are more likely to pass, and ones that generate deep seated opposition are less likely to pass.
But my biggest problem with Measure R is the nature of the campaigns. I have made this point a lot of times, but the lesson of early defeats of Measure R projects has been to attack it and turn it into the devil. That was generally fairly easy with Covell Village (too large), Wildhorse Ranch (wrong time), and Nishi 1 (no affordable and traffic impacts).
But what about projects like Nishi 2, which had limited traffic impacts, or WDAAC, which also didn’t have much in the way of immediate impacts?
To defeat Measure R projects, you must attack them. They are terrible by nature. You have to attack the integrity of the process. You have to attack the integrity of developers. You have to attack everything.
Colin Walsh tried to do that with Nishi, and finally Sandy Whitcombe had enough and labeled his attacks “Weird Red Herrings.” Even some of his allies on that day admitted that they cringed at some of his claims. His attacks, as it turned out, did not work.
But that approach did not work with Nishi and it was approved easily. And it didn’t work with Measure L, it was also approved easily.
So does that mean Measure R is okay because the bad campaign tactics did not work against some of the projects?
It feels like we have devolved to the point where Measure R battles are waged, not over big ideas, but with a mudslinging approach whereby every project, in order to defeat it, faces microscopic scrutiny and severe mudslinging. The tactic is throw mud everywhere you can and hope to defeat it.
We see words used like “dishonest,” “misguided,” “illegal,” “ignorant,” “racism” or “discrimination” “exclusionary,” and these are regularly used by the project opponents – does this lead to good discourse? A healthy process? Good planning?
The opponents of the project will point out that the Yes side threw their share of mud as well. In the forum, Jason Taormino threw down the “Trump” card preemptively in his opening statement and stayed on the attack as well.
My thinking on this is that there has to be a better way. The daily mudslinging in this campaign is not good for the community. It serves to further divide and polarize it. These battles can’t be good for the community.
At the end of the day then, as we look toward the next cycle which will feature a Measure R renewal, I think we have to think about ways to de-escalate. That conversation, like many, needs to start now and hopefully lead us to a new path by the time we decide what to do about Measure R.
—David M. Greenwald reporting