When Measure J—the original version—was put on the ballot in 2000, it was a tightly fought and hotly contended election. It wound up winning relatively narrowly. The idea was to require a citizen’s vote any time the city developed on land outside of the current city boundaries.
Since then the support has been overwhelming—there was no real opposition in 2010 and it passed by a 3 to 1 margin.
While the housing climate in Davis is clearly shifting, even in 2020 there has been at most scattered voices of protest.
But those voices are few and far between. They did not put an opposition statement on the ballot. There were few opposing views expressed at either council or the Planning Commission meeting. And the votes to move forward were all unanimous.
The strongest critical voices expressed were by Darryl Rutherford on the Planning Commission and Gloria Partida on the council. Both ultimately supported it going forward.
Some of the melting of that opposition is due to the fact that in 2018 two measures passed by comfortable margins.
Now Mayor Partida said, “I agree that if I hadn’t seen the last two projects pass, I would be feeling a lot different about this particular measure.”
But she also expressed concerns.
“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.”
While I understand that people will point to the two measures passing in 2018, to me those don’t prove nearly as much as people think. Neither project figured to directly impact people’s lives. A much bigger test for Measure J will be DISC.
I do think—and polling I have seen in the last year proves—that people are more concerned about housing and the impact of higher costs on the community. But ultimately it comes down to near neighbor effects to drive city policy.
While the concerns laid out by Partida echo some of the concerns expressed in yesterday’s Monday Morning Thoughts column, there are several reasons I believe that Measure J is not the barrier to housing that many critics believe.
First, as we have analyzed before, there really is not a huge amount of developable land near the city. Looking at a map, huge swaths of land are effectively off the table—to the south due to the county line, southwest due to UC Davis, to the west due to agricultural easements, while to the north there are a few developable properties and to the east, not so much.
Basically we have the portions of the northwest quadrant, Covell, and the few properties to the north and east of the Mace Curve—and that is largely it.
Second, even without Measure J/R there are huge barriers to development.
Really focus here on three:
First, as we have seen with most of the infill projects, there are quite a few internal barriers to developing. Modified projects have been approved for things like Sterling and the Hyatt House, but University Commons remains in doubt, despite its proximity to the university, and housing costs have hindered the development at the University Commons Mixed Use project.
Second, lawsuits. Lawsuits at the University Park effectively shut down the conference center proposal there. It delayed other projects like Lincoln40 and Nishi. It stopped Trackside. Whether you agree or disagree with the lawsuits, they have had an impact—slowing down the development of projects, raising the costs, and on rare occasions stopping them altogether.
Third, this is a point that Dan Carson has made and he is correct on—nothing prevents the public from putting projects on the ballot anyway.
One of the most contentious land use battles was Wildhorse—Measure J was not in place yet and, still, it ended up on the ballot as a contentious land use issue.
The issue here is clear—if people want a vote, it is not that hard to gather signatures and put it on the ballot. Better to have a formal process, baseline features, and the expectation of a vote.
While I share a lot of the concerns that Gloria Partida expressed, and I very much regret that we did not have a deeper discussion on both the positives and downsides of Measure R, I think overall Measure R itself is a symptom of a larger problem, one that was articulated quite fully in the Politico article and our analysis of the Davis situation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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