The Measure J renewal process will continue this week as the issue comes before the Planning Commission. A few weeks ago the council was supportive of moving forward with the process with only what are considered a few minor technical changes to the 20-year-old city ordinance that requires a vote of the people for the conversion of land from agricultural to urban uses.
On Wednesday that process becomes more formalized. With the Planning Commission asked to recommend that the City Council approve the new ordinance with the new sunset date of December 31, 2030, and also find that the extension of the new ordinance is exempt from further environmental review pursuant to CEQA.
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, for which the voters approved a project in 2018.
Staff notes, “Measure J 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 further writes, “Fundamentally, Measure J was adopted as an agricultural land preservation and citizen ratification tool. It was not necessarily intended to manage or limit growth.” They add, “Measure J is intended to be used in conjunction with a number of other tools for community planning, growth management, and citizen participation.”
Since its adoption, four development proposals have been subject to the Measure J vote. Nishi went before the voters twice—failing in 2016 and passing in 2018 with a modified proposal.
The first three Measure R projects all failed—with the 2005 Covell Village site and the proposed 1864 residential units going down to a 60-40 defeat. In 2009, the 191 residential unit Wildhorse Ranch site, put before the voters in the heart of the Great Recession, went down to a 75-25 defeat.
The original Nishi vote narrowly failed by around 700 votes, but the all-student housing, university-only access project passed overwhelmingly in 2018. Also in 2018, the West Davis Active Adult Community proposal on 75 acres of land with 560 residential units passed by a solid ten point margin.
When the matter came before the council two weeks ago, the council was overwhelmingly supportive of the renewal of the ordinance.
Councilmember Will Arnold said, “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.”
However, with two projects passing in 2018, he said “that doesn’t mean Measure J is perfect but it does mean it’s not fatally flawed.”
Councilmember Arnold also expressed another clear theme from the council—any changes to Measure J will have to come from the voters rather than council.
“Because Measure J was a community driven proposal and ultimately was passed and then reaffirmed overwhelmingly by the voters,” he said, “it’s my opinion that any changes to Measure J of any substance needs to be that same community-driven process.”
He added, “I would be very reticent about the council proposing any significant changes.”
These views were largely echoed by much of the council.
However, Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida, while not willing to undo Measure J/R, expressed some concerns, “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.”
She added, “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.”
Staff believes that the extension of Measure J is exempt from additional environmental review under CEQA.
They note, “The Ordinance was originally adopted by the voters in May 2000. Thereafter, the City prepared the 2001 General Plan which accounts for, and is inclusive of, Measure J, and for which an Environmental Impact Report was prepared and certified in May 2001.”
They write, “This Ordinance remains consistent with the 2001 General Plan as there are no substantive changes to the Ordinance and the only changes are technical in nature.”
They add that there are no physical impacts with implementing the continuation of this ordinance and it is exempt under Section 15183 of CEQA as it is “a project consistent with the General Plan and Zoning.”
Assuming support by the Planning Commission, staff would bring it back to the council in June to introduce the ordinance and place it on the ballot in November for voter consideration.
—David M. Greenwald reporting