Measure R is working. We can get projects that are voted down by the public. We can get projects that are approved by the public. That’s what we learned in 2018. That was the message delivered by council and a number of citizens speaking during public comment on Tuesday night.
That was until Gloria Partida flipped the script.
The council made it clear—they are not interested in messing with a “citizens’ initiative.” The vast majority of people who spoke on Tuesday said to keep it, as written, only technical changes.
As Will Arnold put it, “Had we still never seen a successful project go through the Measure J process to be approved, my concerns about the value and efficacy of Measure J would be significant.”
From his point of view, Measure J was a community-driven proposal. It was designed and passed by the voters, reaffirmed overwhelmingly.
But should it?
Twenty years is a long time. It was written at a different time, in almost a different place, for almost a different community.
The problem with simply leaving it to the voters to decide misses a key problem—who are the voters? The people who live here are structurally determined. They benefit from the current structure. Or they came in before the impacts of that structure might have precluded their living here at a later time.
The council position is to defer to the will of the people—the will of the privileged, the housed, those who came here before housing shortages and real estate booms took the cost of housing out of the reach of the very people who still inhabit this town.
We have yet to see the full impacts of that shift because the people who worked on Measure J in 2000 are for the most part, with a few exceptions, still around and speaking out today.
Gloria Partida like her colleagues was not willing to rock the boat. Not yet. The two measures passing in 2018 over the ironic bitter objections of many of the same people, who spoke out for Measure R on Tuesday, convinced the council that Measure J is workable.
It is actually quite ironic in and of itself. Had those 2018 measures failed, this would be a war. Now it’s fait accompli—Measure R will be renewed. It will look as it did before.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to the points that Gloria Partida made on Tuesday.
Mayor Pro Tem Partida stated, “I also think we need to acknowledge some pretty negative impacts that we have created” with the city’s overall policy on development.
“Our cost of housing has increased so much that it’s impossible for people who grew up here to stay here,” she said. “It’s also made it impossible for graduates of UC Davis to stay here as I did 30 years ago.
“These types of initiatives cause a lack of diversity in communities,” she said regarding racial and socio-economic issues. “It’s a sad irony that most of the progressive cities in America are also the most segregated.”
Gloria Partida also pushed back on the notion that this community has preserved agricultural land.
“We have driven our people onto other ag land and caused them to commute into Davis,” she said, noting her difficulty turning left from Picasso onto Pole Line because everyone is commuting from North North Davis. “When we say we’re trying to preserve our life and the environment through this measure, we must acknowledge that mostly (what) we’re preserving is the footprint of the city. Unless we are working to provide some infill housing and really work on mitigating the effects of the increase of the population here, I think we need to do a better job there.”
We keep hearing that Measure R is working. By that it means we can pass projects. But beyond that we really do not know.
What is Measure R doing to housing prices in Davis?
What is Measure R doing in terms of the demographics in Davis?
What is the impact of Measure R on the number of people in that prime 30 to 55 aged group? The group that has children. The group that is in the prime of their working lives. What impact is the disappearance of that middle group having on this community?
What will this community look like in 10 years of continued policies? Will there be a middle? Or will the entire community be people under 25 and over 60?
The council cannot tell you the answers to those questions because they have not asked them.
And the problem with leaving this to the voters is that we have structurally omitted the very people who might have objections to the status quo. The working people who are priced out of Davis will not be speaking at council and they will not be voting in November.
We did hear from UC Davis student Adam Hatefi, who put forward some language changes to Measure R. But none of that was discussed on Tuesday.
Regardless of what happens with Measure J/Measure R in the fall, we ought to look at the impact of our policies and understand better what they are doing. After all, we are about to approve a downtown plan and then transition to a General Plan update. It would behoove the council and this community to at least understand what the impact is of current policies as we move forward shaping our future.
In the end, I likely come down close to where Lucas Frerichs was—believing that our best way forward is through infill and densification.
But this is about making evidence-based decisions, and knowing the impact rather than guessing the impact.
On Tuesday I kept wondering how we could be so sure that this works when we have never even seen a project go from conceptual model to community approval to the sale of actual homes.
What we know is that if the community sees a need for housing and the project is reasonable, the community will support it. But that is only one question. There are many we have never even bothered to ask.
—David M. Greenwald reporting