By David M. Greenwald
This is not going to be a deep dive yet into the data, but I do find the results interesting. Overall the project lost relatively narrowly by about 1300 votes, or 4.5 percent. This was not a nailbiter but also not a landslide like the first two Measure J votes.
The map of the city really paints the picture—this was really about location. Those who were going to be most personally impacted by traffic voted against the project—in some cases overwhelmingly, even in areas of town where folks tend to be more conservative and support development. Whereas on the west side of town, away from the project, the voters were supportive of it.
The location of where the no votes dominated tells us a good deal about what this came down to. It seemed like the no side was throwing the kitchen sink at this race and, at the time, I kept thinking, if I were in the opposition, I would be pounding on traffic. That’s your winning issue, even more than the COVID-uncertainty, which I also thought was legit. Instead, a lot of what we saw in the closing weeks was not only faulty arguments, but ones that took the conversation away from where the core of the voters were—traffic.
There are two ways to view this result. One is that under a lot of adverse conditions, the proponents ended up within 4.5 points and a 1300 or so vote margin. Just as Nishi 1.0 broke close, this one broke close.
But there is another view of this that presents more of a problem for those who believe we need to be able to figure out ways to get projects like this approved. The history of Measure J now goes six projects deep. Two passed, four failed. And there are some common denominators.
Covell Village turned on traffic impacts. Wildhorse Ranch turned on near-neighbor complaints and occurred during the heart of the Great Recession and real estate collapse. Nishi 1.0 turned largely on traffic impacts. DISC turned on traffic impacts.
Whereas WDAAC really did not have a lot of traffic concerns and no real near-neighbor impacts. Nishi 2.0 was confined to campus access, taking Richards Blvd. off the table and was utterly without near-neighbor concerns.
This suggests that the notion that Measure J projects can pass if they are good projects and well-designed may be foolhardy. Instead, it may hinge on whether the project is near neighbors who believe they will be impacted by the development and the community’s perception about the traffic problems.
This is a pretty important consideration, because the council unanimously voted to put Measure J back on the ballot—in part because they believed they could get projects passed by the voters at least some of the time.
But viewing this measure through the scope of traffic/near neighbor impacts, that limits future options greatly.
There is one exception to this analysis, however, and worth exploring briefly. The 2006 Target vote. Target did have strong near-neighbor opposition. It is hard to know how much traffic was a factor in that, however. As someone who drives by Target itself on a daily basis, I’m not sure it is driving a lot of the traffic increases on Mace.
But Target was a commercial property, it was placed on the ballot, though not by Measure J, and it was ultimately narrowly supported by the voters, mostly with the help of students.
Nevertheless, if traffic and near neighbor effects drive this equation, we should consider the following:
- Projects in the future have a greater chance of passing if they are smaller—DISC like Covell Village was perceived to be too large. I wouldn’t say however that WDAAC or Nishi 2 are particularly small however.
- Projects in the future will have a greater chance if they are perceived to have fewer traffic impacts. Looking at the map, I think we are looking more towards the NW Quadrant, away from commuting traffic and away from areas that have been impacted by traffic. Possibly a stripped down Covell Village site. Probably not on the east of Mace until I-80 traffic is addressed.
There were other factors that played against the project. First, COVID and the uncertainty of the world in general. But also, the potential that commercial business will change, that people will work more from home and outside of the office. In two years, we will probably have a much better idea of what this looks like.
Second, students were largely gone. When this was planned for November, the thought was that this would be a year when students vote in huge numbers—and if you look at the map, you can see that some student areas that would normally support a project like this, didn’t. I assume in part that is because students are gone.
The city has now lost two critical revenue measures—the parcel tax in 2018 and now DISC. That is a huge problem for the city going forward and they will have to figure that piece out.
Should DISC come back in two years? I don’t know. I don’t know if the traffic situation is addressed. They looked at a reduced size previously. But the finances didn’t work. I would recommend against trying to put it on without housing, because that’s just bad planning, but they might be tempted to try it.
A blow out would have probably be a death knell for this concept, while a close loss in a weird year probably gives them some hope.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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