Sunday Commentary: Why We Should Have More Discussion on Measure J

I appreciate Planning Commissioner Darryl Rutherford raising similar questions on Measure J’s renewal that I have.  On Wednesday, he questioned why the item has come to the Planning Commission with so little time to discuss potential improvements.

Commissioner Darryl Rutherford raised a point that had been raised on the Vanguard—the lack of ability for community discussion about the renewal.

“I believe there is probably some room for improvement on this ordinance,” Rutherford stated.  “Unfortunately I think that the process that has been laid out to the community has been a disservice to the community.  I haven’t seen any real outreach done.  No public meetings outside of City Council.”

He noted, “I know that there’s probably a minority in this community who would rather not even see this measure exist anymore—yet we don’t have the opportunity to hear from them nor do we have the opportunity to hear about some potential recommendations that they could provide to us to improve on it.”

He asked, “Why didn’t we have any community outreach done on this ordinance?”

Indeed, for the past year or two the Vanguard has been making similar points, suggesting we bring the measure forward and have a brief discussion.  Some have suggested that this is tantamount to wanting to weaken the ordinance—not at all.  In fact, just as Darryl Rutherford pointed out, there are ways to improve the ordinance.

But we can’t even discuss them.  One public commenter suggested the way to go is to pass the ordinance as is and he suggested nothing would prevent community members or even the council from putting forward new proposals over the next few years.

While technically accurate, that suggestion seems to be backwards.  As Darryl Rutherford himself responded later in the discussion, it is difficult to do.  You would need to gather a ton of signatures and then put the matter back on the ballot.  Why do that when the matter is going to go on the ballot now?

The public—or at least some of the public—has a misconception as to what the council is required to do at this point in time.

Eileen Samitz said in her public comment, “The citizen ordinance is intended to be placed on the ballot every ten years without major changes.”

She was one of several who said it.

It appears that she is partially correct.  The council does appear required to place the matter on the ballot for extension, amendment or repeal.  That must be done at a regularly scheduled election prior to December 31, 2020.

Which means that they are required to do it now in November, as the only regularly scheduled election.  It also means it could not be placed on the ballot as a special election.

Interestingly enough, this is not in the portion of the resolution that was placed into the City Municipal Code.  Instead, it was part of the resolution passed by council in 2010 by a 5-0 vote.

That means that portion of the ordinance can probably be changed simply by a vote of the council without requiring a vote of the people.

The rest of the measure is protected and requires a vote of the public to modify or repeal.

The language from Section 4, Part B says, “Ordinance 2018, as amended and extended by this Ordinance, shall remain in effect until December 31, 2020, unless modified or repealed earlier by the voters of the City by majority vote.”

It continues, “On a regularly scheduled election date prior to December 31, 2020, the City Council shall submit the provisions of this Ordinance to the voters of the City for renewal, amendment or repeal.”

Section 5 states, “This Ordinance may be amended or repealed only by the voters of the City of Davis at an election held in accordance with state law.”

From this it is clear that the matter must be before the voters—some have suggested that the council could let it lapse, and that is actually probably true, but they would have to take an affirmative action to let it lapse.  That is because that is a portion that is not in the ordinance itself.

There is no language that requires the council to put the matter before the voters “without major changes.”  Perhaps you can infer intent, but the language clearly suggests that the voters can modify it—but only they can do so.

Interestingly enough, one change I would probably recommend is to put the language about renewal and modification into the city municipal code.

Darryl Rutherford in his comments suggested the need to strengthen the affordability portions of the ordinance.

Darryl Rutherford, following public comment, added that “our current development process and the strengths we have in this community, is really creating a challenge to really creating an equitable community where everybody at all income levels, of all walks of life, of various races, let’s call it what it is, this is an ordinance that has really affected racial equity in this community.”

He continued, “I’m really appalled by the leaders of this community who have continued to push aside opportunities for an ordinance of this magnitude to be taken to a larger public in a robust community outreach process that allows a lot of folks an opportunity to mix.”

He noted, “I imagine at this time, a lot of the people affected by the lack of affordable homes being developed in this community are probably asleep or at work—because they either have to wake up really early or they’re cleaning up, doing things that not those of us who have the ways and means to afford to live in this community can do it.”

One issue that comes up every time is what are the affordable requirements.  A lot of people—myself included—would like to see for instance the DISC (formerly ARC, formerly MRIC) to have affordable housing on site.  There were questions during WDAAC about the amount of affordable housing that was required, and there were questions during Nishi 2016 about the lack of affordability.

For me, I would suggest language written into Measure R that requires some if not all of the affordable housing to be put on site.  There is actually a logical reason for that—unless you are looking for the in lieu payments to pay for upgrades or maintenance of existing housing, the only way to ensure housing that is affordable is to require it to be included on peripheral sites where the land is readily available for land dedication or through other means.

Another question has always been where is the land mitigation going.  That’s not only an issue this time, it has been in the past.  Many people argue that at least some of the mitigation should be adjacent to the project rather than in the middle of the land between Woodland and Davis.

Those are all potential changes that are based on issues which have come up and could improve the ordinance.

Darryl Rutherford concluded, “I’m not opposed to this measure by any means,” and he indeed voted with the rest of his colleagues to move it forward to council.  “I think having the public right to vote on the projects in the community is awesome.”

I feel the same way.  But I am not comfortable with this rushed process or this assumption that Measure J/R is perfect as written and shouldn’t be looked into 20 years after the fact.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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 Comment

  1. Ron Glick

    “I think having the public right to vote on the projects in the community is awesome.”

    If only it were true. First noncitizen members of the community don’t have the right to vote on these projects. In Davis that is not an insignificant population.

    Second, the artificial boundary between the City and UCD prohibit huge numbers of people with interest in living in the city from voting. Further, the exclusionary arguments about UCD housing students on campus exacerbates the conditions that lead to the voter suppression of students on Measure J/R votes.

    The result is that many people who pay the rents are either excluded by non-citizenship or have their voting power diluted by the perpetuation of boundaries that work to exclude a large cohort from participating in our flawed experiment in direct democracy.

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