Council Looks to Put Measure J Renewal on the Ballot

There have been two discussions so far on the renewal of Measure J—one by the City Council and one by the Planning Commission.  Public comment in those two meetings has run overwhelming in favor of placing the measure on the ballot with only technical changes.

From the language of the resolution in 2010, council is required to submit the ordinance “[o]n 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.”

The language notes: “This Ordinance may be amended or repealed only by the voters of the City of Davis at an election held in accordance with state law.”

At its May 5 meeting, the council directed staff to prepare and return with the necessary ordinance and resolutions prior to July 7 to place the renewal of Measure J on the November 2020 ballot for voter consideration.

At that time, council directed staff to incorporate what they called “minor technical changes into the Measure J language,” but did not direct staff to incorporate any further changes.

On May 27, the Planning Commission also voted unanimously to recommend that the council approve the ordinance as described.  If placed on the ballot in the current form, the new sunset would be December 31, 2030.

As 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.”

Under Measure J, projects undergo normal entitlement review and public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council—if the council votes to approve the project, the project then goes before the voters for an “up or down” vote to ratify the project.

Measure J requires projects going before the voters to include a list of “baseline project features.”  These are features that are key elements of the project that may not be altered without another Measure J vote.

As staff notes, “By including the baseline project features, the voters are assured that the development project they are voting upon cannot change in any substantive manner after the election.”

While both the council and Planning Commission were unanimous in their support for a renewal, there were comments by Commissioner Darryl Rutherford and Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida that were more critical.

Rutherford specifically was critical about the lack of time for discussion about the measure.

“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?”

He later 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.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida suggested we may want to re-examine Measure J in a few years.

She 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.”

But these were lone voices.

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.

So, “it’s my opinion that any changes to Measure J of any substance needs to be that same community-driven process.”

—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. Don Shor

    Put it on the ballot as it. If there’s to be a robust debate, it will occur during the campaign. If there are voices against it, they can organize an opposition campaign. I’d put my money on it passing by a comfortable margin anyway.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Interesting… some of those becrying lack of community input, seem to want to add zero-carbon/zero net energy, and/or more affordable (lower cost, higher %-age) housing into the minimums to even put a project on the ballot… they are lucky that those were not added… IMNSHO, those additions would ‘tank’ the renewal…

      Another thing that might have been added, would be to change it to a 2/3 or 3/4 requirement to approve a project.  Some would have advocated that!

      I intend to vote NO on the renewal, for many reasons… if the proponents were open to watering it down, changing the timing in the consideration/approval process, might have gotten me to a YES… but that never was a “happening thing”… there will likely be 3 NO votes from this household.

      But, if I were to place a bet, agree with Don of where the smart money would be… one of the laws common to thermodynamics and politics… something about a thing, in motion, will tend to stay in motion… commonly called “inertia”… most folk if unsure of a measure to change something, will vote NO… most folk if unsure of a measure to not change something, will vote YES… the ‘unsure’ is a significant %-age…

    2. Ron Glick

      As an ardent opposer and vulnerable senior I will have limited ability to engage in a robust debate. That is why I argued for a two year extension so when the pandemic ends we can actually have a robust debate. The debate we will have will be truncated or attenuated because of health concerns. We are seeing this in many elections throughout the country. The difference is that few elections will bind a community for ten years. In my opinion binding the community for ten years based on an election held under the shadow of the pandemic would be a travesty.

      1. Richard McCann

        Ron G

        I strongly agree with that suggestion. There should be no rush to lock in policies that we may regret after we emerge from this crisis.


        1. David Greenwald

          I don’t see a tremendous difference between putting a 2 or a 10 year policy in place. Nothing would stop the council from putting a new measure on the ballot in two years anyway.

  2. Richard McCann

    Rutherford is right. We needed a more comprehensive analysis of the consequences of the measure over the last 10 years and two decades. A political campaign is NOT a place for a considered, deep conversation that this measure required. (I’m not a fan of initiatives as currently designed in general for that same reason. Sloganeering isn’t discussion and “debates” really aren’t a place where one side hears issues raised by the other side.) Measure J/R can’t be amended at all, much less in meaningful ways, through an election. This is just yet another example of the failure of vision by too many on our current City Council.

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