When the City of Davis passed Measure J, now 20 years ago, in 2000, it became one of the city’s seminal land use measures that requires a vote of the citizens in order for the city to annex existing agricultural land, or convert ag-land to urban uses.
The measure in 2000 was highly contentious and passed relatively narrowly. Since then it has become a hallmark of the city’s policies controlling the encroachment onto agricultural land and in 2010, during the heart of the recession, it received token opposition at best and re-newed for an additional 10 years overwhelmingly.
There have been five projects that the voters have voted on. The first three – Covell Village, Wildhorse Ranch and Nishi 2016 all failed. The last two – the 2018 version of Nishi and West Davis Active Adult Community passed overwhelmingly.
The measure sunsets on December 31. Council is being called on to determine the first steps toward any renewal of Measure J.
Staff recommendations are for Council to “Direct staff to prepare and return with the necessary ordinance and resolutions prior to July 7, 2020 to place renewal of Measure J (Citizens’ Right to Vote on Future Use of Open Space and Agricultural Lands, also known as Measure R) on the November 2020 ballot for voter consideration.”
They are requesting the incorporation of what they are calling “minor technical changes” into the language. Staff could also be directed to “incorporate any other changes into the Measure J/R language that the City Council may desire.” Staff recommends a new sunset date of December 31, 2030.
The measure originally passed by the voters in 2000 and extended in 2010, “requires a vote of the citizens before land can be re-designated from agriculture or open space to any urban use, as those land uses appear in the 1999 land use map in the City’s former General Plan.” It also requires a vote on two large parcels – the Covell Village site and the Nishi property, which the voters approved a project in 2018.
Staff notes that the measure is “intended to serve as an additional procedural stage of review for any development project that proposes to convert agriculturally designated land to an urban use, whether for residential or commercial purposes.”
Staff notes that Measure J was “adopted as an agricultural land preservation and citizen ratification tool. It was not necessarily intended to manage or limit peripheral growth. Measure J is intended to be used in conjunction with a number of other tools for community planning, growth management, and citizen participation.”
Among the technical changes include the removal of language referring to redevelopment since the State ceased operating local redevelopment agencies as of February 2012.
It also recommends extending the sunset date by another ten years to extend to December 31, 2030.
In addition, staff recommends keeping several key references in the measure.
First, in reference to the 1999 land use map. They recommend adding the following, “despite the fact that the land use map in the General Plan was updated in 2001.
Under the current Measure J language, “the land north of Sutter Hospital is exempt from a Measure J vote only if the hospital builds medical-related buildings on the site.”
Should the hospital decide instead, staff ponders, “to build condominiums and retail space on that site, the current Measure J language would require a vote to approve such a non-medical project.”
Staff also recommends keeping the references to the Covell Center and Nishi sites. Right now, Measure J requires a vote for any urban development on the two large parcels already designated for urban uses on the 1999 land use map.
They write: “Because these two sites were not designated as agriculture or open space on the 1999 land use map, they were specifically called out in the language of Measure J to ensure that Measure J would apply to them nonetheless.”
In the very first Measure J vote, the Covell Center site had a proposed project that was voted down in 2005 in Measure X. Staff notes that the parcel was downzoned to agriculture in 2001 with the General Plan update, and under current language of Measure J, “if a property’s land use designation was changed from urban uses to agriculture uses (as in this case), it can’t be changed back to urban uses without a vote.”
Despite this, “staff nevertheless recommends keeping the language that specifically calls out this site so that this technicality does not get lost.”
The Nishi site is also interesting. While the voters approved a development on this property in 2018, if references to the site were removed, “voters would not be able to vote on any future development proposals, should the current project not get built for any reason.” That would also apply to changes to the project’s Baseline Features.
Staff writes, they believe “the community would want to retain the right to vote on any future development proposals on this site (should the one that was approved by voters does not get built or should the developer change its Baseline Features), and therefore staff is recommending that the language specifically calling out the Nishi site be retained.”
The council has two months to make a decision on Measure J and put a renewal on the ballot.
The council does not have the option of allowing the measure to sunset. Staff writes, “In accordance with the provisions of Measure J, the City Council is charged with submitting the provisions of the Ordinance to the voters for renewal, amendment, or repeal prior to its December 31, 2020 expiration.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting