My View: Looking At Measure R Before Renewal Does Not Necessarily Mean Weakening It

Some in this community have taken a hardline view that Measure R should absolutely be renewed as is without even a consideration for changes.  From my perspective that is largely an alarmist view – in its two decades in service, Measure R up until 2018 (18 years after passage) never had a project that would pass a vote of the people and thus there has been only limited opportunity to evaluate the workability of provisions under its ordinance.

In the year 2000, drafters placed the measure on the ballot.  Under the provisions of then Measure J – any project approved on land outside of the city or on land zoned as agricultural land that wished to convert to urban uses required a vote of the people.  It further stipulated that any features that were in the Baseline Project Features, required another vote of the people in order to change.

The voters in March 2000 then voted by a margin of 53.6 to 46.4 to approve the measure.  The first project to fall under Measure J did not occur until 2005, over five years later and it was defeated 60-40.  The second project was in 2009 and it was also defeated by nearly a 3 to 1 margin.

Measure J was then placed on the ballot in 2010 where it garnered only marginal opposition, no changes, and little public debate – the only two projects having been soundly defeated and the community was in the middle of an economic downturn and a real estate market collapse.

The measure set to expire once again in 2020 and will require voter approval probably in June 2020 to renew the measure.

It seems likely at this point that the measure will be renewed – had the two ballot measures this year that passed (Nishi and WDAAC) not done so, the dynamic would undoubtedly be quite different.  But as it stands now, most reasonable people in this community can see that projects can pass a vote of the people under at least certain circumstances.

While I have always favored Measure J and Measure R – I think that unlike in 2010, we should have a discussion about what Measure R looks like in its renewal form.  For one thing, we have never had an opportunity to see what an approved project looks like under Measure R and whether the provisions are workable from that standpoint.

For another thing as I have witnessed in the debates the last several years – I think we might consider clarifying some things.  First, we might consider clarifying which provisions need to be included in the baseline features.

There is a clear tension there as provisions in the baseline features are in effect locked in – that gives us certainty but less in the way of flexibility.  There is a consistent battle over what ends up being in the BPF versus the Development Agreement.

Second, there are no provisions for establishing mitigation measures required until city ordinance.  Third, we have seen affordable housing features that are prominent in the campaign, but not included in the BPF.

My point: these are all technical points that might be worth considering in a renewal process.  There might be other such issues as well that we wish to address.

But more than just addressing technical points, we probably should evaluate what the effect of Measure R actually brings.  For a long time, the perception was that it cut off peripheral subdivisions.  So from 2000 to 2018 there were no approved peripheral subdivisions in Davis.

Davis was still able to add housing over that time – there were a number of larger internal lots that were approved for development.  There was also the Cannery site which was 100 acres on the edge of town, but had already been annexed and zoned for urban use, thus not requiring a Measure J/ R vote.

Thein in 2018, the voters approved both Nishi and WDAAC.

By our analysis there may not be another Measure R project looming in at least the next ten years other than the possible MRIC – which would be a peripheral innovation center and could possibly include housing, though nothing has been currently proposed.

One reason for that lack of housing is that Measure R projects are expensive to get approved and time consuming.  Some people may think that is a good thing while others may worry about the longer term impacts.

It is striking that we have a policy that has such broad and long-ranging impacts and we have not had a recent evaluation of what those impacts are.  The voters should be informed about those impacts and we should be able to have informed community conversation.

My suggestions in the past have led some to question or even accuse myself and the Vanguard attempting to weaken or undermine Measure R.

In one such accusation, a commenter charges: one thing that David does is to constantly make the claim that Measure R is leading to inferior proposals. He (and other Measure R opponents) have been forced to make this claim due to the recent Measure R approvals. (They can no longer claim that Measure R prevents approvals, so they’ve had to “expand” their arguments.)”

This is actually a misrepresentation of what I wrote this week.

What I wrote was: “One question is whether Measure R is producing better projects than would exist without Measure R?  Nishi is an interesting case study.  Some would argue that the 2016 version that lost was a better project than the 2018 version that won.  That was a case that the opposition tried to make in 2018 (ironically several of the people doing that actually opposed both).  Others argued with less traffic impacts, a focus on student housing, and on-site affordable housing, the 2018 version was better.  Absent Measure R would we have a better project there?  Hard to know.”

I pose the question here – absent Measure R would we have a better project there – I don’t answer that question.  It’s an honest question.  Bear in mind people like Alan Pryor and Sean Raycraft opposed Nishi in 2016 and supported in 2018.  While Matt Williams opposed Nishi in 2018 arguing it didn’t go far enough while he supported it in 2016.

Those are some examples but it illustrates that some believe that the Measure R defeat of Nishi in 2016 led to a better project in 2018 while others believe it led to a worse project.

From a public police standpoint, it seems like a question we ought to ask rather than just assume.

I ask again: given the nearly 20 years between initial conception and now, should we not at least evaluate the process?

Some believe that Measure R is shown to have worked because projects passed.  Others have countered that Measure R is shown to be suboptimal because the projects that have passed are inferior.  My point is not to agree with either side, but instead to argue that we should evaluate the process fully.

This discussion comes at an interesting time.  On the one hand, it comes at a time when we just passed two projects.  But on the other hand, it comes at a time, when I am not anticipating much in the way of peripheral development for the next ten and perhaps even twenty years.  Other than MRIC, it is difficult to see another major Measure R project on the horizon.

What we are most likely to see in the next decade is going to look a lot more like U-Mall and URP than WDAAC.  With climate change concerns, by 2030, we could be looking at a whole different paradigm.

And yet, mostly the big battle over the next 18 months is going to be more over Measure R’s renewal than Davis Core Area Plan’s passage.  I find that a little ironic.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Craig Ross

    I don’t really understand how this piece is characterized at anti-Measure R.  I don’t agree with the article here.  I think Measure R reduces growth by discouraging developers from coming forward with projects on the periphery.

    1. Matt Williams

      Craig, that is one way to look at it.  However, there are other ways.  One of those is that Measure R expressly states a process that both project applicants and City staff ought to be following … ideally in a fully open manner so that “observers” can easily understand where in the process any individual application is, and what remaining steps in the process are left to be completed.  Essentially a process with no secrets and no surprises.  However, that isn’t how it has worked in reality.  Historically there have been an abundance of secrets and an abundance of surprises.  There is a natural tendency that is part of human nature to try and take shortcuts (see what you can get away with) with an eye to not getting caught.

      With that said, you are right when you say that some there is (some) projects on the periphery that don’t come forward, but I suspect the reason that is the case has more to do with the applicants’ fear that they are likely to get caught in the the shortcuts that they would like to take.  Neither Nishi 2018 nor WDAAC 2018 took any egregious shortcuts.  Both of those projects made an effort to avoid secrets and/or surprises, and as a result they did not arm their opponents with smoking guns that could defeat them.

      The lesson from the two Measure R projects in 2018 was/is that if you don’t try and take shortcuts and/or beat the system, then you project has a good chance of being passed by the voters.


  2. Howard P

    A humble proposal… if the uber-proponents of Measure J/R insist that “not one word can change”, as-is, so to speak, and if CC caves to putting that on the ballot, I’ll support a new “citizens’ initiative” (might even lead it) that would greatly limit it.  Requiring a 50% +1 vote to overturn a CC approval of a subject project (or, rely on the existing right of referendum, that no one has addressed as a remedy (except perhaps, moi)… I’d add a”poison pill”… if both measures pass, the one getting the most votes prevails… the other dies… mutually exclusive.

    Here’s how that might play out… uber R’s would have to vote for one, but not the other (election strategy?)… those fed up with the current measure might well vote for an alternative, and vote no on the uber one, or vote no on both.

    So, with 30+ percent voting “no” on anything they don’t “grok”, that leaves 70%… and, with the poison pill, and if we’re evenly divided as to Measure R, as is, or some modification, that implies 35% would vote no, on either… some may vote yes on both, or no on both… putting an alternate measure as to renewal of J/R, might kill both measures, albeit narrowly… which means J/R ‘sunsets’ and disappears…

    If it is mere R renewal, as is, or nothing, it will squeak by… but if there is an alternative… time will tell…

    As written, will not vote for a renewal of Measure R… am open to an alternative… one has yet to come forward, but well may…

  3. Alan Miller

    As written, will not vote for a renewal of Measure R… am open to an alternative… one has yet to come forward, but well may…

    But City Council candidates in the last election sure liked to support an alternative . . . because voters filled in the blanks (due to blanks in their own heads).

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