Commentary: One Alternative Way Forward on Measure J

By David M. Greenwald

My expectation is that Measure J is likely to pass the electorate with at least 70 percent of the vote next month.  I have long supported the renewal of Measure J but I was disappointed, as I have noted on here, that we did not have more community-based discussion leading up to the renewal process—nor did we have a rigorous analysis of the impacts, positive and negative, of the now 20-year-old seminal land use law.

What I present here is not something new, but rather an alternative model that I have presented previous—one of its strengths is that it can work within the current structure of Measure J.

Moreover, it can also be build into the current planning process as part of either the Housing Element Update or the General Plan update.

Further, it has the advantage of enhancing the planning process that right now many have argued is antiquated—especially in terms of the age of the current General Plan.

The basic idea is to prepare for the next ten years of land use planning, figuring out how much housing and commercial space we need and then setting aside the land for that housing through a preapproval
process.  This would take a vote of the public to exempt the land from a future Measure J vote.

How this would work would be just like a Housing Element or General Plan process.  The council would approach a commission that could take in all the proposed projects and areas and determine which properties to consider and what rough sketches of the projects would look like.

One important part of this process is that we would need strong community buy-in.  The 2007 Housing Element Steering Commission worked well because there were representatives across the board as part of that process.

This would be a public process where you would have workshops, public hearings, public meetings of the commission.  Project applicants would come forward during this time to request consideration of their parcels for preapproval.

Ultimately it would go to council where the council would also hear public hearings, receive the report, and ultimately vote to preapprove the land.

The project would then have to go on the ballot.  There are several parts of this.  Obviously, it would go to the commissions—particularly Natural Resources, Open Space, Social Services and Planning.

It would have to go through a CEQA process just like any other project.

Ultimately it would go back to the council for final approval before it goes to the voters.  As part of that approval, there would be project baseline features just like any Measure J vote.  These would not have the level of specificity of a specific project.

But they would deal with the type of development—housing or commercial or mixed-use, it would cap the number of units, and it would also address things like affordable housing plan, and also whether the housing is ownership or rental and the basic type of housing.

The specifics of the projects would be planned after the preapproval process.

With any approach there are advantages and disadvantages.

Among the advantages is, first, that it would not require a change to Measure J.  Some will say, you are proposing weakening Measure J.  No.  The city can do this already under Measure J.  It doesn’t touch Measure J—at the end of the day, the voters will get to decide.

But there are other advantages.

It ensures an actual planning process.  I am suggesting a ten-year planning process, but it could be eight, or it could even be 30.  But this forces the city to think about all of the projects that come forward at once.

Second, we deal with affordable housing up front.  Every single project right now is a fight over affordable housing.  There are costs and trade offs.  This allows us to plan affordable housing over a specified period of time, to figure out how much we need and where it will go.  We might even be able to set aside land overall and have a large land dedication site run by a non-profit affordable housing company.

Third, we gain more certainty for all involved.  We don’t have to plan on a project-by-project basis.  The developers will know before they have to do expensive environmental planning whether their project is being considered.

Those projects that are not preapproved will go to the back of the line for consideration.

There are disadvantages here as well.

The biggest is that the community demands a high degree of certainty and specificity with projects and there is a real question as to whether the voters will approve concepts with the specifics being held out until the planning process starts.

Remember, this is not the end of the story.  Even if the voters vote to set aside land exempt from a future Measure J vote, that doesn’t end the process.  They still have to put in an application and go through the normal planning process.

In my mind the fact that we can plan projects ten years out, the fact that we can offer more certainty once the preapproval process is done—and we can figure out in advance what housing we need, what type we need, where it’s going to go, and how much affordable housing we need—is only a good thing.

At the end of the day, if the voters don’t like the idea or the plan, they have the option of voting no.

—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. Matt Williams

    The basic idea is to prepare for the next ten years of land use planning, figuring out how much housing and commercial space we need and then setting aside the land for that housing through a preapproval process.  This would take a vote of the public to exempt the land from a future Measure J vote.

    I believe that what the community learned in the Nishi 2016 process makes your suggestion dead on arrival.  The failures in traffic planning and the failures in the provision of affordable housing were the problem areas in that proposal, and the citizens would never get to see, or have a voice in, those areas of planning in your proposed method.

    1. David Greenwald

      How is that different from the current DISC though?  There is still a planning process that has to happen.  As we have seen with infill projects – that is by no means automatic.

      1. Matt Williams

        It isn’t different from the current DISC process … and that is why many, many people in the community are voicing the opinion that the voters of Davis  should vote “No” on Measure B because it is

        — an “end run around the provisions of Measure J/R” and/or

        –it “bypasses the Measure J/R process” and/or

        — it “strips the citizens of their voting rights” and/or

        — it is a “mass sterilization event.”

        1. Ron Glick

          I don’t find your mass sterilization remark amusing Matt. It demeans the horrors of what is going on in ICE detention facilities and other historical but equally repulsive atrocities against humanity.

        2. Matt Williams

          Ron, I don’t think the voter who used that expression in his/her conversation was going for humor.  He/she also included a reference to Rocky Mountain Oysters at the time.  His/her heritage is such that the “repulsive atrocities” you reference apply directly to him/her.

    2. Ron Glick

      Matt you are making an assumption that the reason Nishi II passed and Nishi I  didn’t is because of the changes in the plan related to traffic. Maybe but maybe not. First of all Nishi I barely lost otherwise Nishi II probably wouldn’t have happened as was the case with Covell Village. We have yet to get a second bite at that apple. Secondly we saw a ten point swing from 51-49 to 61-39 on Nishi II. Now some of that is likely related to the traffic but much of it is likely related to voices of students who spoke out about living conditions for students and rent increases.

      The sad part about Nishi is that every member of the CC who looked at it said Nishi I was a better plan.  The upshot then is that Measure J/R votes ended up giving us a poorer planning process ending with a poorer plan. It also accounts for long delays that are yet to yield any completed housing as a result of the ordinance after 20 years.

      1. Matt Williams

        you are making an assumption that the reason Nishi II passed and Nishi I  didn’t is because of the changes in the plan related to traffic.

        I am making no such assumption Ron.  What makes you think I have made such an assumption?

        I agree that Nishi I was a better conceptual plan … on paper.  The problem with Nishi 2016 was the failure to attend to the details.  The developer and the City and UCD did not perform enough due diligence when planning either the traffic or the Affordable Housing plan.  Fixing both those issues would not have changed the Nishi 2016 conceptual plan.

        If Nishi 2018 had retained the residential density of Nishi 2016, then it would have been the conceptual plan with the highest superiority.


        1. Ron Glick

          So without Measure R the CC would have had to nail down the details of a better project than what we got. This is a wonderful argument against renewal.

  2. Ron Glick

    You are dreaming. The only way to get anything different in housing policy for the next ten years is to vote no on D and make the next City Council take this up again in a serious policy discussion.

    1. David Greenwald

      What makes you think that you can convince huge percentages of the voters to change their mind without engaging in these kinds of conversations?

        1. Ron Glick

          Its absurd because its such an obscure argument. My argument is realistic and simple. If you want an honest policy discussion vote no.

          We can’t even get the CC to engage in a much needed General Plan update. They are so gun-shy on development issues that they didn’t want to take up any serious discussion of revisions on Measure J/R. The only way to have a serious discussion is to force the issue with a no vote. This article is just p**sing in the wind and is unlikely to convince anybody of anything.

        2. Matt Williams

          Ron, the argument you have put forward is neither realistic nor simple.

          The projected voter turnout for the election exceed 30,000 in the City of Davis.  Is it realistic to think that in 33 days anyone can convince over 15,000 voters to vote “No” on Measure D?  Would the effort to successfully accomplish that lofty goal be simple?

          The answers to those two questions are “No” and “No.” Your argumant is just p**sing in the wind and is unlikely to convince anybody of anything.


          Note: That reality about your argument doesn’t make David’s article either realistic or simple.  On that you and I are in complete agreement.

        3. Ron Glick

          You are likely right in your speculation for which I assume you have no polling data Matt but why do you insist on rubbing it in?

          My argument today is simple Matt. If you want a more in depth policy discussion vote no.

          Twelve words. I’d like to see David summarize his argument in 25 words or less.

        4. Matt Williams

          Ron, the argument “Pigs can fly” is also simple.  However, it is also unrealistic, and any attempt to make it happen would be anything but simple.

          With that said, I do respect your right to exercise, if not exorcise, your demons with respect to Measure D.

    2. Richard McCann

      Technically we might be able to implement David’s proposal without voting No on D, but politically to send a message of dissatisfaction with the current process, you MUST vote no. The Council won’t be able discern the difference between those who support the current brainless process from those who propose a much more thoughtful and beneficial approach unless there is an explicit registration of dissatisfaction. That’s simple practical political reality.


    1. Ron Glick

      Exactly Alan. Renewal of Measure J and support for addressing the housing crisis are two ideas that should be difficult to hold simultaneously. Vote no on D.

        1. Ron Glick

          If I am only in the 30% there is no way forward for ten years beyond continuous acrimony and pain. Why do you think the opposition is only thirty percent? Do you have polling data or are you going by the results from ten years ago? You may well be correct but, as they like to say in financial disclosures, past returns are no guarantee of future returns.

          1. David Greenwald

            Polling data – I’ve seen three polls in the last two years plus the results from 2010.

  3. Richard McCann

    This is a better approach than what we do now, but I’m struck by this phrase

    …then setting aside the land…

    What land? Who nominates which parcels are to be developed? How do we pick winners and losers among developers?

    I propose an amendment to this proposal: The Council identifies the acreage of new development required versus in-fill. The vote would then be on this allotment. A programmatic EIR could be done to identify all of the likely impacts and mitigation measures.

    Then developers bid to fulfill that acreage allotment. The bids can be in fiscal revenues or in additional social and environmental benefits. The winning project then would have a tiered EIR of the programmatic one.


      1. Richard McCann

        I haven’t read D/R/J closely enough to answer that question and I’m not a land use lawyer. Vote no on D and we can start with a clean slate. Maybe another commentor has answer?

        As I said, I’m not sure how your proposal would identify the targeted parcels in the first place which would need to be listed under the current D/R/J rules. The City can’t just command a land owner to offer their land up for development, so there would have to be some sort of parcel nomination method. What would be the criteria for selecting among those parcels? How do we avoid charges of favoritism in the selection?

        1. David Greenwald

          The way I saw it is you have a commission process, the owners/ developers come forward to propose land, and the commission recommends to the council, who acts on it.

  4. Richard McCann

    Here’s my proposed alternative, that could run in parallel with David’s proposal as amended with my comments above:
    The City should prepare a full model development agreement for each type of development that specifies the required baseline features and social benefits. We have examples of such model agreements from the Nishi I sustainability study and the NRC comments on DISC. The model agreements would then be put before the electorate for approval. The development agreement could go through a programmatic EIR as the Downtown Plan is now. Subsequently a development proposal accepting the appropriate model agreement would not go before the electorate but would gain approval from the Planning Commission and City Council, with no provision for making the agreement less stringent.
    If a developer wants to modify the model agreement, then the project would go before the electorate as it would now under Measure D/R/J.
    This path gives developers the assurance that they need to manage their risks. It is difficult to assemble the financing required under such uncertainty, and the electoral process represents a high barrier that is currently excluding projects from Davis as seen in the dearth of proposals over the last 20 years regardless of the approval rate.
    This proposal differs from David’s in two important ways: (1) it doesn’t require making quantitative forecasts of population growth or land requirements and (2) it doesn’t require identifying parcels that might be developed. It leaves that second step to the private sector and decentralizes a key part of the planning process which in turns distributes the risk back to developers. The market does a better job of actual forecasting than a single entity can do. (I’ve seen how this plays in the electricity market.)

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