Public and Council Solidly Behind Putting the Renewal of Measure J to a Vote

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

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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. Richard McCann

    I’m glad to see Gloria Partida raising concerns about the impacts of the measure.

    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.”

    Unfortunatley, Dan isn’t noting the good projects that didn’t bother to submit proposals because the political campaign process is too risky and arduous. We need more certainty earlier with less upfront cost to get more beneficial projects.

  2. Ron Glick

    Carson also pointed out that even without J/R we would still have the referendum but failed to point out that J/R shifts the responsibility of calling an election from the public to the proponents.

  3. Ron Glick

    Will Arnold made what under normal circumstances might have been a reasonable argument that J was developed by the community and that to get rid of it opponents would have to mount a campaign. Sadly, due to the epidemic, this is going to be difficult to do. Of course this is why I suggested a two year renewal so that a traditional campaign in opposition could be run.

  4. Keith Echols

    So the Council is okay to simply leave project approval up to the voters?  What is the point of the Council?

    There’s a reason why we tend to have a representative form of democracy in the US.  Having all the voters chime in and make decsions does not get things done.  The whole point of representative government is not only to represent the will of the voters (as opposed to simply allowing to voters to directly vote on things themselves) but to also be an organizing force for the voters.  Direct voting on these projects is too chaotic and often lack proper foreseight and planning.  That job is the leader’s job to present to the people and for the people to decide which plan presented by the leaders is the best…not for the people to directly vote for which plan for themeselves.

    Most cities have a 20 year growth plan.  That dictates what the city does with open space and land within the city’s sphere of influence.  What dictates what happens to that land is  based on what the Council and by extension the voters want for future growth.  The Council puts in the framework of what the voters want into the plan.  After that, projects are for the most part approved and denied based on the 2o year plan going forward.   Updates to the general plan and 20 year plan are made every so often and in special circumstances but otherwise project approval should be pretty straight forward and not up to voter whim.

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