Davis – The Davis City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to put Measure J back on the ballot, accepting staff’s minor technical changes to the City of Davis’ seminal land use ordinance that requires a vote of the people as the final part of approval of land use projects involving the conversion of agricultural land to urban uses.
The measure was originally narrowly approved by the voters in 2000 and overwhelmingly renewed in 2010. If the voters approve in November, the new sunset would be December 31, 2030.
Despite the council signaling its intention to put the matter on the ballot in early May, there were still a fair number of public comments urging them to renew the measure with only minor technical changes.
Councilmember Will Arnold argued that, at this point, the voters are the ones that need to remove the measure—if this is their inclination.
He noted that 20 years ago it was a hard-fought campaign that resulted in a narrow victory for Measure J. Ten years later, he said, “it was a non-issue.” Measure R was “supported by an overwhelming majority of folks in our community.”
He said, “At this point, if you’re opposed to Measure J and Measure R, I think you’ve got to beat it at the ballot box if you want a legitimate victory. I almost think there isn’t anything we as a city council or even future councils ought to do with it, until and unless the political process overturns it.”
“If you’re opposed to Measure J,” he said. “Then you have to mount a campaign. We’re not going to be—nor do I think we should be—the ones that change it.”
Lucas Frerichs said that it was great to hear all the members of the public calling in, appreciating the work by staff on this particular issues.
He said, “I hope we remember the commentary surrounding Measure J and providing people the right to vote on individual projects as they come forward, because in a few weeks from now we will be potentially asked to place another item on the ballot.
“This measure has facilitated the right of the citizens to vote on important growth measures in our community,” he said. “I hope we keep that in mind in the weeks ahead.”
He noted that there have been four projects over 20 years, five votes, two of them passed.
“The results show that with the right project, approval is possible,” he said.
Councilmember Dan Carson pointed out that “it does maximize the ability of the city to get the best projects possible. The last two projects passed because they were really good projects.”
He added, “You actually can’t take away people’s opportunity to vote on these kinds of project, because if we didn’t have Measure J or R, we would still have state law allowing for referenda on the underlying ordinance that are necessary for these sorts of things.
He said, “Measure J and R is a much better way for us to negotiate to get the best projects for our city.”
Gloria Partida noted her evolution of support for Measure J—despite her strong words in early May noting the dangers of the measure in a time of housing shortages and concerns about the exclusion of people of color and lower and middle income people from this community.
“I was very skeptical of the ability for us to provide any housing or needed projects for the city, with the measure in place,” she said. But the recent projects passing showed her “it is possible to have some projects passed.”
Now, she said, “I’m a little more optimistic although I do worry it’s not so much the projects were superior and that’s why they passed, but rather that our citizenry has changed. The makeup of our city has changed.”
She said, “I wish we had some more involvement around the measure that’s going on the ballot this time around. We haven’t had that for more than 20 years.”
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.
The measure now goes to the voters in November for approval and if it passes would not expire for another decade.
—David M. Greenwald reporting reporting