By Michael Miller
Our city staff has proposed to renew measure J without even considering our community responsibilities. The Council appears ready to rubber stamp this suggestion without considering the homeless, seniors, Davis school enrollment, university students, our regional housing needs, the poor, the outcasts, the missing middle or any housing consideration whatsoever. Where are our children with developmental disabilities going to live as they age and their parents can not take care of them? They want to continue the wall around Davis to placate those whose lives are too good to think about taking care of other people.
The process around the renewal of Measure J/R is proceeding without any consideration of the measure’s effects on Davis for the past twenty years nor with any time or opportunity for public discussion as to how it could be improved. This was pointed out during the Planning Commission’s discussion about the renewal of Measure J/R, when several commissioners pointed out that the decision currently before the Council has not benefited from a process that encourages thoughtful analysis and careful consideration of ways that Measure J/R could be improved to serve populations like public servants, families, and middle and low income individuals who have all struggled to afford housing in Davis since Measure J was first passed. At least one commissioner suggested that this measure, whose effects on the provision and pricing of the Davis housing stock have never been formally analyzed or studied, should have received at least the same or similar process of community engagement, feedback, and education as was devoted to the Downtown Plan Update. I agree with this suggestion wholeheartedly.
In the next two to three years the City will begin its General Plan Update which includes its Housing Element. A ten year sunset will effectively preclude any potential modifications that may be identified as beneficial to the priorities and goals coming out of this process. Why reduce the options available to the City Council to formulate housing solutions to address any needs of populations of interest who have been struggling to live in Davis before we have a better idea of what these needs are?
The City continues to insist that the best and appropriate time for the Davis community to debate and discuss Measure J/R is in the intervening time period between when it is placed on the ballot and the election in November. This period would likely be about four months long with two of those months coming during the summer when activity and the population of Davis decreases significantly. This does not strike me as an argument that is based on soliciting robust community engagement, but is based on a feeling that there is no alternative choice to placing the ordinance back on the ballot for another ten years. How is this good policy-making to adopt arbitrary timelines for the ordinance’s renewal which would effectively preclude any real opportunities for amendments that would serve the public interest for another decade?
Some members of the public who called into the Planning Commission mentioned that, if changes or amendments were desired to be incorporated into the text of Measure J/R to address needs or priorities which might arise during the community discussions during the General Plan Update, Housing Element, or other consequential planning processes, the option of a ballot initiative remains open to anyone seeking any changes to Measure J/R. It should be acknowledged that this is technically true, but I would suggest that relying on a ballot initiative to effect any changes to Measure J/R—no matter how needed or potentially beneficial—is probably not the best way to approach a community discussion about Measure J/R because it will likely not benefit from the diversity of perspectives and professional analysis that can brought to bear with a community planning and visioning process with respect to the future of Measure J/R in the spirit of the Downtown Planning Advisory Committee.
I would suggest that nearly everyone who is even somewhat invested or paying attention to land use policy and planning within the City of Davis has suggestions and thoughts on how Measure J/R could potentially be improved. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, there has never been any rigorous or professional analysis about the impacts Measure J/R has had on the housing market, demographics, and economy of Davis. Shouldn’t the goal of policy makers be to make informed policy? How can any Davis citizen weigh the costs and benefits of Measure J/R in the absence of analysis and discussion? Right now, the voters of Davis are being asked to consider the renewal of Measure J/R without any information about its effects, other than through anecdote and general sentiments about the spirit of the ordinance.
We may not definitively know how Measure J/R has affected Davis, but there are events and processes in the near future that I believe are directly relevant to and which are directly related to the policy provisions of Measure J/R. The first is our new RHNA requirements. The recommended total RHNA for the city is 2,075 units, with 930 of those units being in the lower-income RHNA category. From January 2013 to October 2021, the Davis RHNA consisted of 1,066 units—so the new requirement nearly doubles that. Where we should accommodate this housing is an important discussion to have. The City of Davis is required to produce a Housing Element Steering Committee report that details how Davis is going to accommodate these housing numbers from the RHNA requirements. The Housing Element is the only part of the General Plan that is subject to state certification and is a crucial document for local and regional planning purposes. Additionally, DJUSD should release its projected enrollment numbers soon. From what I hear, the situation is projected to get worse over the next twenty years with a strong likelihood of school closings. In order to maintain existing schools and operations, DJUSD imports 650 of their students from surrounding towns. The number continues to increase and may grow by an additional 1,000 out-of-district transfer students unless long term planning begins now. That long term planning should consider Measure J/R and potential modifications that can positively impact community needs.
I strongly suggest the Council approve a two year renewal of Measure J/R. This would maintain Measure J/R in its current form and allow the Council and the community to consider the Measure with the attention and care it deserves. Measure J/R directly impacts our RHNA requirements, our Housing Element Steering Committee, our General Plan, and our schools. Putting this ordinance up for renewal for ten years before we even begin these other processes only reduces our options as to how we can address community needs. By allowing for a two year renewal, we maintain Measure J/R in its current form while we give time for a robust community discussion informed by and informing the important planning processes we have ahead of us.
Michael Miller is a 2017 graduate of UC Davis and works in Davis.