By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Whenever I raise the point that Davis needs to figure out how to add housing, someone points out that the problem is Measure J and that I made a mistake (or more colorful language) supporting Measure J.
Measure J is a huge factor in controlling Davis’ growth. West Sacramento since the passage of Measure J went from just over 31,000 people to over 53,000 people. Woodland during the same time went from 50 to 60,000 people.
In contrast, from 2000 to 2020, Davis’ population increased from about 60,000 to 70,000 and has only gained 4000 people since 2010.
In addition, if you look at the RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) numbers: West Sacramento has 9471 RHNA units, Woodland 3087 and Davis, with the largest population and world class university UC Davis in its backyard, has an allotment of just 2075.
And yet people are complaining that Davis is being forced to grow too fast because of the university, while the RHNA numbers show that actually Davis is being asked to provide far less housing than West Sacramento and 50 percent fewer units than Woodland.
Measure J is clearly part of the equation there. But while I would prefer to see more housing in Davis for a number of reasons, the calls to come out against Measure J are diversionary and, if anything, distracting from where I personally think the conversation needs to go.
That said, I actually think that, while Measure J is a clear barrier to housing, it also serves a lot of important functions, including preventing runaway sprawl (which was happening prior to 2000) and creating a slightly more predictable process.
Removing Measure J would not remove barriers to housing. Infill process itself has shown that with neighbor complaints and lawsuits.
In addition, there is nothing to prevent voters from putting controversial measures on the ballot. Wildhorse went to a vote anyway in the 1990s, and Mace Ranch was a holy mess in its own right even without Measure J.
Better to have a structured process than what existed prior to the 1990s.
But even if I were against Measure J, why would I waste my time on that as a solution to housing now? The renewal of Measure J passed 83-17.
The demographics in Davis may be shifting, but we are still dumbbell shaped with a large over-50 population, a small 30 to 50 population, and a large student population that mostly either doesn’t vote or doesn’t vote here.
When I analyzed polling last year, we saw that age was a huge determinant of housing policy preferences. Those who were younger were more likely to recognize the housing crisis and more likely to support more housing.
We saw this play out in public comment over the HEC—those over 50 were almost exclusively opposed to relaxing growth control measures, whereas those under 50 almost exclusively believed that the Housing Element did not go far enough.
For now the older ground holds most of the trump cards in Davis.
The reality is, it’s hard enough to get a ballot measure passed. Polling shows there is a set 35 to 40 percent of the voters who won’t vote for any project. On a given project, about half the people who vote for the project—usually a lot more—also support Measure J.
So now every time I post an article highlighting housing problems, one response is something along the lines of what was posted this weekend.
I wrote: “The City does not currently contain enough vacant land appropriately zoned for the development of the housing necessary to meet the city’s estimated housing needs for the period 2021 and 2029.”
He responded: “Wow! Did you just notice this or were you aware of it before supporting measure D? If you were aware of it before Measure D did you ignore it? If you were unaware of it does it now change your support for the limit line?”
But we still live in something that resembles a democracy. It seems weird to me that you would throw out democratic elections just because you don’t like the results sometimes. To take an example from another context, we don’t like the Presidential Election, so we end the popular voting for presidents?
The bigger problem I see is we end up not having the discussions that we need to have not only on this site—and guess what, the entire city council reads the Vanguard every day; some people may downplay it, but the Vanguard plays an important role in the community discourse.
I have to think rather than debating over Measure J, which is not going anywhere any time soon—if ever, we should have a discussion based on what the housing needs are and how we can address those needs.
People are probably not going to simply want to do away with Measure J, but if they can see a big picture, they may be more likely to support peripheral housing projects if that appears to be the only reasonable way to add more affordable housing in the community.
The reality is that we do have a problem in this respect. It would be good to talk about potentially viable solutions to that problem without getting bogged down on this tiresome debate over a ballot measure that has increased its popularity each time over the last 20 years.
On the other hand, there are other solutions to housing besides eliminating Measure J.
One is infill, which I increasingly see as impractical.
Another is getting the public to the point where they acknowledge that we need more housing (a lot don’t) and that we don’t have a lot of good infill options (a lot don’t recognize this) and then figure out community-based solutions to that—the city has avoided this conversation in the Housing Element process and that was one of the things I called for in Sunday’s column.