Sunday Commentary: We Won’t Be Ending Measure J Any Time Soon, So What is the Answer?

Photo by Liz Sanchez-Vegas on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – The city of Davis has managed to approve the next housing element.  In January or so it will work on approving a downtown specific plan, at some point a permanent affordable housing ordinance and finally a general plan update.

At some point down the line the chickens will have to come home to roost.  We are going to have to figure out how and where to put new housing and that is a difficult problem—more so for Davis for a few reasons than elsewhere.

For some the answer to this problem begins and ends with Measure J.  They have a point, but it is not the full story and doesn’t lend itself to solving our problem.

In March of 2000, the city of Davis’ voters approved Measure J by about 1400 votes—53.6 to 46.3 percent.  That created the right to vote on peripheral projects and the result was that only six projects have come forward over the near 21 years and only two of those have been approved.  A seventh project could come to a vote in June.

Ten years later, the opposition to the project dropped off and just 3187 votes opposed it—the margin was over 7000 votes and it was a 76.7 to 23.3 outcome.

Finally, in a much larger election the margin was 20,000 votes—25761 to 5370 and it was 82.75 to just 17.25 percent.

As these things go, if you are wanting to end Measure J this is not a favorable trend.

If you are looking to solve our housing problem now, this is a waste of time to even really discuss.  What we do need to do is figure it out within the current system—that is clearly going to be the law of the land for the foreseeable future, how and where do we create more housing opportunities.

Bend it or amend it, don’t end it…

One approach I appreciated from the spring came from the proposals from Sustainable Growth Yolo.  For all of the criticism they got from the slow growth community, their proposal was actually very pragmatic.  Nowhere on their list did they propose ending Measure J.

My top preference is the pre-approval proposal.  I first proposed that about five years ago after the first Nishi project was defeated and there were questions about whether the voters would ever approve a Measure J vote.

They have since approved two —but the more I look at those votes, the more I believe those are largely the exceptions rather than the rule.  More on that in a moment.

The nice thing about pre-approval is that you don’t need to change Measure J at all.  You simply put the land that you want to consider for development up for a vote to annex.  You will still need things like baseline features and an EIR, but if the voters approve that land, then you go through the normal entitlement process.

Councilmember Dan Carson points out that nothing would stop the voters from putting the project on the ballot after the fact—he’s correct, but how many infill projects have been put on the ballot since 2000?  Zero.  Might go to court, but Measure J hasn’t stopped them from going to court either.

The problem of course is that the slow growth supporters came out strongly against pre-approval as an end run around Measure J.  But guess what, given that you don’t need to change Measure J, that is not the case.

If you can’t make pre-approval work, how are you expecting to end Measure J?  Pre-approval would help for better planning—do it with the next General Plan update, get buy-in from the public, both sides of the room, and see if it works.  Worst case scenario, it fails.  At least you will have tried.

Yesterday, we talked about affordable housing subsidized housing—Dan Carson has proposed a modification to Measure J to allow for more subsidized, inclusionary housing projects to be Measure J-exempt. 

“The exemptions written by the original drafters of J/R/D were fine in concept, but have so many strings attached that they are unusable–and have never been used. We could fix this by removing the problematic language,” said Dan Carson in June.

“For example, in order to use the affordable housing exception, an applicant would have to prove that no other site anywhere in the city is available for affordable housing—a daunting if not impossible barrier,” he pointed out.

So far, any hint at modifying Measure J has drawn strong opposition, but it has been narrow opposition.  At some point, you have to see how deep this opposition actually goes.  

Beyond that, I am not sure there is a lot the city can do at this point.

Aside from a revised DISC, there are two potential projects, one at Wild Horse Ranch, where the last proposal went down to a huge defeat, and one in the Northwest Quadrant.

The second DISC will be an interesting test—can any project that triggers concerns about traffic (realistic ones anyway) pass a vote?  That has been the key factor in the six previous votes.  Nishi in 2018 took traffic off the table by making it university-only access, and WDAAC never drew traffic concerns.

The four projects that triggered traffic concerns all lost, although Nishi and DISC were at least close and drew a second vote.

If that’s the case, going west of Sutter and north of Covell might be the only viable path forward for additional housing in the next generation.

The other proposals from Sustainable Growth Yolo don’t particularly move the needle much—although I think making strip malls into mixed use is a good interim step.  Unless construction costs go down, true redevelopment even of the downtown is largely going to be rare, if not altogether off the table.

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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63 Comments

  1. Keith Olson

    At some point down the line the chickens will have to come home to roost. 

    You’ve been using that line a lot lately.

    One approach I appreciated from the spring came from the proposals from Sustainable Growth Yolo.

    Who?

     

    1. David Greenwald

      Glad to see you offered such great insight into this important issue. (I’m pretty sure someone else used it this week but it was not me (but I won’t 100 percent swear to it). )

      1. Bill Marshall

        Davis has grown too much already.

        So Todd… when did you arrive in Davis?  When was your residence built? Do you have children?  Do they live in Davis?

        When should the growth of Davis stopped?

        Simple questions, meant to “test” your “creds”…

        I’m a “newbie”, only been in town for 49 years…

  2. Matt Williams

    The nice thing about pre-approval is that you don’t need to change Measure J at all.  You simply put the land that you want to consider for development up for a vote to annex.  You will still need things like baseline features and an EIR, but if the voters approve that land, then you go through the normal entitlement process.

    Councilmember Dan Carson points out that nothing would stop the voters for putting the project on the ballot after the fact – he’s correct, but how many infill projects have been put on the ballot since 2000?  Zero.  Might go to court, but Measure J hasn’t stopped them from going to court either.

    The problem of course is that the slow growth supporters came out strong against pre-approval as an end run around Measure J.  But guess what, given that you don’t need to change Measure J, that is not the case.

    .
    David, I don’t mean to rain on your Sunday, but how do you have baseline features if all you have is a preapproval of the City’s annexation of County land … therby changing its zoning designation from agriculture to residential?  There just doesn’t seem to be any there there.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think God beat you to raining on my Sunday (j/k)…. That point aside, you are basically running a Measure J vote with very few specifics to the project, as such you can have baseline features such as maximum units, type of units, or whatever you want.

      1. Matt Williams

        you are basically running a Measure J vote with very few specifics to the project, as such you can have baseline features such as maximum units, type of units, or whatever you want.

        .
        Those sound like parameters, not features.  It is the “whatever you want” part of your answer that will spell the death knell of the pre-approval concept.  Voters want features.

        What you are proposing is like having a Governor’s election where there are no candidate names, no platform, no positions on issues.  All there is to choose from, and cast a vote for, is the names of the political parties.

        1. Matt Williams

          Within the parlance of Measure J, they would baseline features – unable to be modified without a new vote.

          When individual voters enter their votes in the ballot box, are they thinking “in the parlance of Measure J” or are they thinking “in the parlance of everyday English language”?  The word “baseline” in everyday English has a connotation of being close to the ground.  The way you are using the word “baseline” is somewhere 40,000 feet up in the clouds.

          There are a lot of voters who would replace the word “clouds” in that analogy with the word “smoke” … as in “smoke and mirrors.”

          I point out these practical considerations, because they are practical, and in their practicality make the dream of a pre-approval scheme, dead on arrival.

  3. Keith Olson

    The problem of course is that the slow growth supporters came out strongly against pre-approval as an end run around Measure J. 

    Ummm, maybe because that’s what it kind of is?

    1. Bill Marshall

      I always get a kick out of folk who regale against government, acting on votes of the people (representation, initiatives creating law) telling them what they can or cannot do… and, in the next breath, complain about themselves not having a decisive say in what others can or cannot do…

      There is a word for that, that begins with an “hip” and ends with an “e” … the far-medium “right”/conservative  and same for far-medium “left”/liberal/”progressive” both fit that model… (1st and second + std. deviations form “rational”)…

      Gives me grins, and sometimes keeps my blood pressure up…

      Rain is good, in reasonable portions… not much into ‘parades’, tho’…

  4. Ron Glick

    You don’t have any answers. You only have going nowhere suggestions to rationalize the consequences of the policy you support.

    Kudos to Carson on leading a discussion about addressing the unworkability of the Affordable exemption.

    1. Bill Marshall

      There cannot be any answers unless folk realize they can’t fit 20 cubic yards of wants, desires, “needs/social justice” into a 5 cubic yard sack that has to meet “green”/zero carbon, compostable standards, be convenient, and at no cost to them, too.

      Too many “boundary conditions” to calculate an answer… it is what it is…

      [edited for content]

      1. Matt Williams

        In large part I agree with Bill.  Finding answers will need a fundamental reckoning about our community.  That reckoning can be guided by the following questions, which can provide us the basis for understanding the potential options for the community’s future …

        “What are we as a community?” 

        “What are the key conditions of our current state/situation and the key trends that are impacting/affecting that current condition?”  … a simpler version of that question is “Where are we going?”

        — “Where are we going and what do we want to be?”

        Since the adoption of the 2001 General Plan, our community has struggled to find a path for reaching decisions over land use issues via more civil discourse.  This recurring struggle has happened because of the lack of a common understanding of the community’s direction and values.

        The reason is pretty straight forward.  The 35 individual “visions” statements in the 2001 General Plan are mostly vague “platitudes” that do not provide a clear view of the shared vision of the desired future of the community.  As a result, the community’s vision can be and has been interpreted differently.  Until we address that fundamental problem. our 20+ year history of land-use conflicts will continue.

        It is worth repeating … our community needs to establish an ongoing process for achieving a vision that consists of (1) Where we are; (2) Where we are going; (3) Where do we want to be; (4) How do we get to where we want to be; and (5) Are we getting to where we want to be?

         

        1. Bill Marshall

          Using my last shot (allowed comments), gotta’ tweak you Matt (so I’ll pay for coffee ‘treats’ on Wednesday…
          You start posing 3 questions, end with 5… I’ll play on the first three, JMNSHO…

          — “What are we as a community?” 

          Folk who live in the same City, hopefully trying to make connections (no, not that way!), helping (serving, supporting) each other, looking out for one another (and ourselves), and looking to welcome and do the same for any and all ‘newbies’… Davis has a long history in that, which is eroding at a faster and faster pace…

          — “What are the key conditions of our current state/situation and the key trends that are impacting/affecting that current condition?”

          Consistent with the above, the more and more pervasive “it’s all about me and mine” (convenience, property values, finances, convenience, etc., etc., etc), lack of willingness to serve/be needful of others, lack of respect for (and “categorize”) “them”.   One example is the JeRkeD ordinance… another was the siting of a battered women’s shelter (years ago, but the neighborhood cited ‘traffic and crime’ concerns).  Same with a project off H street, expansion of activities/capacity of STEAC’s food closet, etc.

          — “Where are we going and what do we want to be?”

          My ‘snide comment’ would be akin to a bumper sticker I observed on Fifth Street, years ago… “Where are we going, Dorothy, and why am I in a hand-basket?”  Toto asked a good question.
          I hope and have seen many small, often private, often faith-based ‘signs’, followed through by actions, that there are a significant number of community members who go to the principles in my answer to the first question, and back it up in words, financial contributions, and personal actions, like volunteering @ food closets, helping @ cold-weather/heat weathering shelters, etc.  THAT is COMMUNITY… otherwise we are just a City full of individuals.

          So, shot my wad, and retire from this thread, today.

          But Matt… you posed fair, important (in fact, CRUCIAL) questions… I just hope folk truly reflect on what they believe/want, what they are willing to contribute, financially and/or actions, to achieve their visions…

        1. Mark West

          “Getting rid of Measure J isn’t going to happen… for decades if ever.”

          There is no rational way forward as long as Measure J (or replacement) remains on the books. It is your conclusion, David, that the measure is not going away, so it is you who has made the decision to not do anything about the problem “for decades if ever.” Unfortunately, especially for those without access to appropriate housing, you have lots of company, both among those living in town and our friendly ‘hangers on’ from the surrounding region.

           

  5. Ron Oertel

    [edited for content] David is seeking an answer for which a question hasn’t even been established.

    The questions that Matt asked might fill in the blanks, regarding the questions actually being asked.

    Probably shouldn’t start with open-ended assumptions regarding what is being asked.

  6. Richard_McCann

    The nice thing about pre-approval is that you don’t need to change Measure J at all.  You simply put the land that you want to consider for development up for a vote to annex.  You will still need things like baseline features and an EIR, but if the voters approve that land, then you go through the normal entitlement process.

    This is basically what the developers of DISC have been asking for. They are not asking for entitlements and leaving those to the future when actual development starts, yet they are still having to lay out baseline features and a development agreement.

    I think the answer will have to be a modification of Measures J/R/D in a manner that truly reduces the political/financial risk of developers so that they can gain more certainty without spending substantial sums on the political process.

  7. Ron Oertel

    I think the answer

    I still haven’t seen a question being asked, which requires an answer. Again, this seems an awful lot like the gameshow “Jeopardy”, in which answers are provided and contestants have to “guess” the question.

    In any case, I’d probably ask a different question, such as “which lands should be preserved”? And I can provide several answers to that.

  8. Alan Miller

    Bend it or amend it, don’t end it…

    If the gloves don’t fit, you must aquit…

    I find it hilarious that you talk about the impossibility of nuking Measure JeRkeD, in some attempt to defang those of us who point out JeRkeD is the problem, and then you propose this pre-approval idea that has about as much chance of passing as Measure JeRkeD has in being repealed.

    At least WE are being REAL pointing out that Measure JeRkeD is the problem.  Proposing an idea that will never pass isn’t REAL.  But please, keep trying, just so that you make me eat my words.  Keep trying . . . keep tryin’ . . .

      1. Ron Glick

        Here is the difference.

        You support the ordinance and then come up with nonsense to rationalize your support for something that doesn’t produce any housing as if you actually care about the housing struggles people face.

        I simply say, when asked, it doesn’t work and we should get rid of it. The difference is one of intellectual honesty.

        1. David Greenwald

          The problem is that 83 percent of the voters supported it, so it’s not going away. If your only goal is to get rid of Measure J, your approach would be reasonable. If your concern however is housing, logic dictates that you have to find ways to get housing within the current limitations of the system.

        2. Ron Glick

          That would assume anything I do could affect policy. The one point I raised on the unworkability of the Affordable exemption has been raised by Carson. We will see if that goes anywhere.

          Pointing out that you have ALWAYS supported an ordinance that you seem to recognize isn’t working reveals your duplicity on the issue. If you had never taken a position it would be one thing but you have consistently and full throatily supported the ordinance so pretending that you care while supporting the biggest impediment to doing anything does little besides damaging your credibility.

  9. David Greenwald

    In my view and it has been hammered home here.  There is no realism on this issue.  We don’t have the hardcore slow growthers posting here like Nancy Price or Eileen Samitz, but they argue – no changes to Measure J.

    Then on the other side, we get all of the people who argue – Measure J is the problem.  Get rid of Measure J.

    Great.  The vote was 83-17.  That ship has sailed.  You’re gong to criticize me for being realistic about that?  Really?

    The voters have spoken, they want a vote.  Your focus should be – if you believe there is not enough housing – to make sure that vote is yes.  And if you believe we don’t need housing – then no.  That’s where we are and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.  Criticize me.  It won’t be the worst thing I’m called today anyway.

    1. Ron Glick

      I criticize you for supporting Measure D. You have never said you don’t support it then you go about acting like that doesn’t matter. You write these articles like you are some neutral arbiter on housing but you are not. You have cast your lot with no growth but then make stupid suggestions for a work around that isn’t realistic as if you want to make things better when in reality your support for the status quo on the ordinance makes you part of the problem. Until you reject the ordinance I’m going to call you out every time you write something that contradicts your support for it. Get used to it.

      1. Don Shor

        Until you reject the ordinance I’m going to call you out every time you write something that contradicts your support for it. Get used to it.

        If you’re opposed to the renewal, you could have done any of the traditional activities:
        Write an op-ed and submit it to the local newspaper and blogs.
        Write an argument for the sample ballot. Maybe twenty minutes, tops, for a reasonably coherent argument to go out with the sample ballot.
        Table at the Farmers Market.
        Organize your friends to make phone calls.
        Run ads in the local paper and on the local blogs.
        Did Ron Glick do any of those things? No.
        Therefore, ipso facto, Ron Glick is responsible for Measure D passing.

        Over a decade ago, someone I know who was on the receiving end of Vanguard articles that were rather critical said to me, “who is this? Just some guy with a computer?”
        Yep.
        It’s amazing what one guy can do with a computer.
        I’m pretty sure you have a computer.
        But you didn’t do any of those things.

        1. Alan Miller

          Write an argument for the sample ballot. Maybe twenty minutes, tops, for a reasonably coherent argument to go out with the sample ballot.

          Now we’re being told how long it takes to write a reasonably coherent ballot argument – 20 minutes.  I can barely put my shopping list together in 20 minutes.

          Therefore, ipso facto, Ron Glick is responsible for Measure D passing.

          Hey, RS, I just wanted you to know Alan Miller is actually responsible for Measure D not passing, so you’re off the hook.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Understand your point… but fact remains…

          No matter what they “say”, majority of folk, if  ‘comfortable’, prefer “stasis”… if you have good housing, good job/income, good investments (including homes) don’t want to risk any of that for “someone else” (or, “them”)… that is a huge mountain to climb…

          Looks like 83% of folk are “there”… not likely to be swayed by ‘altruistic’, ‘social justice’, ‘moral’ arguments.  The world revolves around their navel.

          Easy for folk who are not comfortable/secure to try to convince others that they have “rights” being ignored… some folk who are ‘altruistic’, ‘social justice’, ‘moral’ and “have it made”, listen and act/advocate, but they are a minority (one I belong to)…

          It is easy for those ‘comfortable’/empowered/’privileged’ to thwart the others, out of fear they might ‘lose theirs’… it is not an even playing field as to social media, etc. to change their… they are at a tremendous disadvantage…

          Ultimately, the problem is that the “have-nots” try to guilt/force the “haves” to give their stuff up, so they can get what they “feel they deserve”… that even tends to make those ‘altruistic’, ‘social justice’, ‘moral’ oriented to be less inclined to act in ways they would otherwise (demonization of faith-based groups, as an example… many more)… a polarization popularized both on the ‘left’, and ‘right’… evident by many commenters [and contributors/’reporters’] on the VG.  [Both of groups of whom will likely ‘trash’ or ‘denigrate’ this post and the author thereof.  SOP]

           

        3. Ron Glick

          Why not blame me for the pandemic too. I recognized there was no point in trying to run an opposition campaign during the pandemic.

          As for the difference with David, he has always supported the ordinance. As such all his machinations about how the policy he supports is a failure ring hollow.

        4. Ron Oertel

          You might be surprised to hear this, but I actually think that Ron G puts forth more “honest” arguments than you do.

          You don’t support Measure J. What harm is there to you (personally), if you acknowledge that?

          Are you actually trying to change anything with this blog?

          Sometimes, it’s better to just say what you mean, rather than trying to be “in the majority”, or on the “winning side”. It speaks to trust and integrity.

          Even if you’re on the losing side.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Yeah, but you don’t support it.  The article itself indicates how you (and Dan Carson) want to change it.  (Not the first time, either.)

          Now, if you said that you supported the ordinance as written (vs. having “no ordinance”), then you might be able to walk that tightrope.

          In other words, you support it (vs. having no ordinance), but want changes to it. If that’s your argument, then that would make more logical sense.

        6. Ron Oertel

          Your advocacy leaves yourself open to challenges from those who don’t like Measure J.

          I believe I’ve stated your position much clearer than you have.

          If given a choice between having the ordinance as written (vs. not having the ordinance), you’re claiming that you support it.

          But you would prefer changes to it, to encourage more development on peripheral lands.

          Is that about right?

          Why is that so hard for you to acknowledge?

           

        7. Ron Oertel

          Just to clarify:

          If you don’t have a “choice” regarding amending it, you support it as written (vs. having no such ordinance at all)?

          It’s like trying to pull teeth from a patient without anesthesia, to get a straightforward response from you. Is that what they teach in political science courses?

        8. Ron Oertel

          So, there you go.

          Like I said, I believe I’ve clarified your position much better than you have over time.

          Maybe you should talk more about why you like it, vs. having no ordinance at all. That might silence folks like Ron G.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Well, I guess you’re right David… by a 83-17 vote, voters have said that they don’t want affordable housing.  So, as you point out, that’s not going to change any time soon.  Deal with it… if they don’t care, why should you or I?

      1. David Greenwald

        Pretty sizable gulf in the analogy. Direct effects versus indirect. Voters choosing to make it more difficult for housing doesn’t preclude housing.

  10. Richard_McCann

    David

    Your column today is a bit too certain about Measure J/R/D not being overturned. The problem is that you’re not considering the alternative–that the state or the courts may overturn this (and other draconian local growth control) ordinances. So long as opponents make salient arguments about the discriminatory aspect of the ordinance, it is vulnerable to other types of challenges. It’s unlikely that it will be overturned entirely but it is open to amendments, even much more drastic than you’ve suggested. My proposal to adopt baseline features and development agreements that are locked in that a project can comply with and avoid a single-project vote, akin to a programmatic EIR. Remember that Davis wouldn’t go to district elections either, but it was forced to (caved?) through legal actions.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Well, as Don Shor pointed out [10:51 post], if you have problems with that, you can always use social media, inc. letters to the editor, direct communication with electeds, and you can change all that… yeah, right…

      You appear to argue both ways… State action is “draconian”, but local action (the JeRkeD measures) are not… State action was based is/will be based on folk “elected by the people”… as were the JeRkeD measures voted on by the people… the latter arguably are unconstitutional as a “de facto ‘taking'”, the former, arguably unconstitutional, as to ‘jurisdiction’ and ‘local control’… pick your poison… knowing both your picks are not good for the common weal.

  11. Ron Oertel

    I am still trying to figure out what the question is, in regard to this article. Other than to encourage the same sprawling patterns that exist anywhere they allow it (or where it isn’t prevented by geography). And even then, developers will try to “adjust geography” to allow it. They’re actually pretty good at doing so, when that’s also allowed.

  12. Ron Glick

    “I get a kick out of you and Ron G hitting me from both ends on this.”

    Its funny David, yesterday I was thinking about how Ron O. is more intellectually honest than you are. You want to play both sides with constantly arguing about the policy failures while continuously supporting the policy. That is why you have no credibility with both Ron O. and myself. Both of us see through what you are doing and neither of us respect you for it. You may wear it as a badge of honor but I see it as just the opposite.

    1. David Greenwald

      I can live with that. I support more housing than we have now. I don’t want Davis to become a Natomas or Elk Grove. Being in the middle is hard. Oh well.

      1. Ron Glick

        So much for supporting diversity. Both of those places are a million percent more diverse and affordable than Davis.

        What is hard is voicing opposition to the dominant paradigm.

      2. Alan Miller

        Being in the middle is hard.

        That’s not ‘being in the middle’, that’s ‘wanting it both ways’.

        Which isn’t ‘hard’, it’s impossible.

        Unless it’s a line, as for a public figure like a politician, or a blogger.

        Similar to all the City Council candidates who ‘supported Measure D with changes’ – allowing the voters to fill in the blank as to what changes they the voter wanted, and then projecting on to their favorite candidate those very changes. Works every time.

        And then once safely elected, no need to pull the scab off the Measure . . . just let those calls for change quietly fade away . . . . . . . . .

        1. Ron Oertel

          and then projecting on to their favorite candidate those very changes. Works every time.

          Though David is not a political candidate, what part of “Hope and Change” did you not believe, asks this Obama-supporter?

          Man, I miss that guy (compared to the current occupant). But, he certainly hood-winked the gullible with that slogan. He was actually middle-of-the-road, and (unlike the current guy) could speak coherently.

          Too bad that he somehow couldn’t reach across the aisle, more effectively.

        2. Ron Oertel

          But as far as Davis itself is concerned, what part of Dan Carson’s claim during the campaign that he “supports” Measure J should subsequently be believed?  🙂

          At least Gloria expressed some reservations (again, goes back to honest, personal beliefs).

          I don’t know why anyone would run for council unless they have some kind of belief/goal (in regard to the position itself).

          Then again, anyone straight-out running against Measure J would probably not be elected. So, there is that. (Perhaps a reason for Gloria to “bite her tongue”?)

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