By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – I get attacked on both ends of the Measure J debate. The opponents of J, few in number though they are, see that “[t]here is no ‘solution’ to Davis’ problems that does not start with getting rid of Measure J.” But those who support Measure J see any attempt to modify it as an attempt to undermine or even eliminate it.
In this case, neither side is particularly realistic. On the one hand, getting rid of Measure J is not a viable option. Over the last twenty years, support for Measure J has INCREASED from 56 percent in 2000 to 75 percent in 2010 to 83 percent in 2020. The voters like to have a say in land use decisions.
On the other hand, in my view, Measure J is too restrictive. The exemptions are too difficult to achieve. It is too easy in a town like Davis to defeat needed housing or economic development projects, and just two of seven have passed.
In my view what we need is a way to get the housing that we need to build, housing that allows students to live in reasonable accommodations and housing that can allow young families with children to continue to move to and thrive in Davis WITHOUT opening the floodgates to unfettered growth, much of which existed prior to 2000’s Measure J.
That’s a tall order and I acknowledge it might not be practical.
As one person put it, “There is no ‘solution’ to Davis’ problems that does not start with getting rid of Measure J. You cannot honestly claim to be interested in solving the City’s housing shortage, its economic development shortcomings, or its overall fiscal problems if you continue to support J. That is plain and simple. Everything else you are doing or suggesting is dishonest obfuscation and obstruction.”
But the problem with that view is that, realistically, unless the state comes in and can use the courts to get rid of Measure J—which is a distinct possibility—there is no internal way to get rid of Measure J. The voters aren’t going to do it.
We have created a system that only gives the appearance of democracy, because the people with homes get a vote and the people locked out of Davis, do not. There is no way to vote with your feet.
Right now the only two ways I see around this might be just as equally impractical. The first being the preapproval process. The second being the proposal put up by Dan Carson and perhaps others on the council to tweak the exemption for affordable housing for Measure J, which right now is unworkable.
The problem as the same person points out: “It is laughable that anyone thinks we can find preapproval conditions that the voters will support that are also viable enough to entice developers to bring forward new projects. More likely, we will end up with ‘preapproved conditions’ that act to preclude all development, much like our overly restrictive Affordable Housing Ordinance did.”
I acknowledge a distinct possibility of that.
Look no further than the comment in response to mine: “We already knew that you don’t support Measure J. Davis’ ‘problem’ is the folks who are constantly attempting to undermine or eliminate Measure J.”
Any attempt there has ever been to modify or even discuss Measure J has been met with firm opposition from proponents. Their demand has always been to pass Measure J as it is now with only technical amendments.
The vote has always been an all or nothing vote—either keep it or discard—and overwhelmingly we have voted to keep it rather than discard it.
We have never even been given the opportunity to EVEN CONSIDER changes to the way it works.
For expressing the view that we need modifications to the law, apparently I don’t “support Measure J” or I am attempting to “undermine or eliminate” it. That’s the problem. This has become a third rail of politics, we can never even propose amendments without getting mau-maued.
For those who argue that Davis’ problems are those who constantly attempt to “undermine or eliminate Measure J”—no one has ever done that. I mean ever. We have never even gotten a serious amendment on the agenda. How can that possibly be Davis’ problem?
On the other hand, someone pointed out, “At least with Measure J we have the opportunity every ten years to speak truth to power…”
That’s actually never happened either. Other than in 2000, there has been no formal opposition to Measure J.
I think the best answer at this point is to attempt to amend Measure J midterm. In 2024 or 2026, the council could put amendment questions on the ballot. The advantage to doing that at that time is that it would no longer be all or nothing—Measure J or no Measure J. Instead, it would be status quo versus change. Let the voters decide.
There is still a good chance the supporters of Measure J continue to argue that change conflates with undermining and elimination, but at least we get a choice.
I don’t see any other realistic path. Until there is a major shift in Davis, Measure J will never go away entirely. Those who argue that is the only viable path forward are putting themselves into a box that can never be opened and allowing the situation in this community to continue to get worse year by year.