By Brett Lee
There has been some discussion about Measure J/R over the past year – with the basic question “does it work as intended?” The recent passage of two measure J/R votes (Nishi and West Davis Active Adult Community) has demonstrated to some that the community-wide vote requirement can work. While there are others that have the view that yes Measure J/R can work, but the process required by the ordinance is faulty.
Many people who have written or expressed their concerns about the Measure J/R process have focused on the cumbersome nature of bringing a vote to the community (project description detail, project agreements, full environmental impact report, etc.), the added costs of bringing a vote to the community (election costs, actual campaign costs, etc.). In addition, some have expressed concerns about the election process itself-the asymmetry in campaign resources makes it hard for all voices to be heard as well as the variety of misinformation, intentional or not, that can make it hard for the public to make an informed choice based upon the merits or lack of merits of the project.
For these reasons, some wish to be rid of Measure J/R altogether, while others want a “better” Measure J/R.
I would say that for me, the focus on evaluating the success or failure of Measure J/R should not primarily be looking at the five previous Measure J/R community-wide project votes (Covell Village, Wildhorse Ranch, Nishi 1, Nishi 2, WDAAC) but rather what would have happened in the absence of Measure J/R?
To understand why Measure J/R is needed, we need to look at what projects have been historically approved by the City Council and then ask – in the absence of Measure J/R, do we think the projects that did come forward for Measure J/R community-wide votes, would they have been better or worse for the community? Does having J/R make what is brought forward to us better or worse?*
As a somewhat relevant example to what I am asking, I personally believe that what was proposed to us for the Cannery Project would have been much better if it had had to go over the hurdle of a community-wide vote. As it was, on a split 3-2 City Council vote it was approved with no voter requirement. From my perspective, J/R would have meant a better project proposal for the community.
To me, Measure J/R is an important mechanism to ensure high quality proposals for potentially community-changing projects.
As far as a “better” Measure J/R? Better is in the eye of the beholder; the details will be all important in what the proponents of “better” actually do propose for us to determine if it really is “better.” Better for the community? Better for the developer? Better for the voter? Just what exactly is this “better” that they are referring to?
*We must acknowledge that Measure J/R also means that some projects that would be good for our community never come forward (projects with thinner margins, as well as small projects that have no way of covering the costs of a community wide vote).
Overall, I believe that Measure J/R has generally served us well. I am glad we have it.