Commentary: Measure J Is Firmly in Place, Community Discussion Should Focus on Schools and Equity Issues

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – There seems to be a notion in some quarters in Davis that if you can’t get projects through the Measure J process, the answer is to get rid of Measure J.  That notion runs up against reality really fast, however.

While it is undoubtedly difficult to get Measure J votes approved by the voters—it has happened.  In the last five votes since 2016, two have passed, three have failed.  Indeed, despite the lopsided vote against Measure H, the total vote for and against those projects is almost completely evenly split with 49.9 percent of the Measure J project votes being yes and 50.1 percent being no.  In fact, in the composite, only 231 votes separate the No from the Yes side.

That suggests that in the last four election cycles, the voters are fairly evenly split as to whether to allow individual projects to come forward.

But removing Measure J would be a very tall task.  Overall, in the three votes 72.6 percent of the vote has gone in support of the growth control measure.  Not only that but the trend is moving toward more support—not away from it.

In 2000, the vote was somewhat even, with yes winning by over 7 points.  By 2010, it was a plus 43 split.  And in 2020, it was a stunning plus 65 split.  Of the 30,000 votes cast in that momentous election, just 5370 actually opposed the extension of the growth control measure.

So the idea that the solution to the difficulty of passing peripheral projects is to remove Measure J is a bit of magical thinking.

It is a valid point to suggest that we really haven’t had a discussion on the consequences of Measure J.  There was no opposition campaign to the renewal in 2020.  But I think a better approach is to engage community discussions on a host of related but not direct issues.

This week, in fact, demonstrates a couple of key discussions that are probably going to occur.

As noted earlier this week, there is going to be a discussion between the city and DJUSD about housing and the impact on school age children population.  That is a direct result of the city’s land use policies and an area that could create some headway on the discussion of the need for new housing.

Along similar lines, the issue of the Color of Law raised by the research of Richard Rothstein that will be discussed in November by Leah Rothstein seems to be ripe for additional discussion.

As Ellen Kolarik noted in her interview earlier this week, “When I read The Color of Law, I was guilty.  I read already a number of books on white privilege.”  It was when she retired from Kaiser five years ago, “At that point, I suddenly had enough time to lift my nose off the grindstone and look at the larger world, there was no time before.”

She said reading the book Waking Up White was her “first epiphany about white privilege.”

But she said, “When I read Color of Law, it was like well, okay, now I can see concretely how my own family has benefited from this.  It was against the law or it should have been.  And it was so unfair.  The unfairness of it just deeply troubles me.”

But of these could be fruitful discussions as to the consequences for our current housing policies in the area of education and equity.

I think there are other critical discussions that need to occur.

For example, as noted previously, the council candidates are pushing infill as a housing solution.  But the analysis suggests that might be a difficult road to hoe.  The Downtown Plan might shed additional light on it.

Another area that is worth noting is whether the city can meet its affordable housing requirements for RHNA in either this cycle or perhaps the next one.  That will also force a discussion.

Finally, if people decide that Measure J is a problem—clearly with a plus 65 vote in 2020, most people did not agree with that assessment—one avenue might be reforming the current law rather than attempting to repeal it altogether.

Areas that we could look at would include firmer exemptions for affordable housing and some sort of General Plan process to set aside land for housing prior to the entitlement process.

If we are unable to get reforms passed, the notion that somehow the voters are going to support repeal seems far-fetched.

The city could also look into better ways to fund low- and middle-income housing.  The state for instance has attempted to streamline conversion from commercial to affordable housing.  The city could also look into state and local financing of affordable housing projects.

The best path at this point would be to allow the school district and city to start a discussion on declining enrollment and attack the issue of housing that way and at the same time, allow community members to push the discussion of equity and have a community led discussion in that method.

The numbers show that a direct confrontation on Measure J would prove futile, but developing community discussions on unintended consequences could yield much more fruit and also alternative paths to addressing those issues which might not impact Measure J itself.

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. Ron Glick

    Scratch around the edges all you want but my complaint with you David is you support Measure J and oppose development on farmland. Its one thing to say repeal is currently out of the question its another to support the policies that create the stranglehold exacerbating the problems the community is facing.

    1. David Greenwald

      If you acknowledge that repeal is out of the question – shouldn’t the energy be focused on other solutions? Or is it your preference to simply repeatedly bash your head against the wall?

      1. Bill Marshall

        Other solutions are fine… if there is a consensus of what the problems are, and whether they need solving… and/or who should be responsible (effort and/or financially) to solve them…

        Not sure more taxes for schools, affordable housing, are any more viable than a repeal of the JeRkeD measures… shouldn’t your energy be focused on other solutions, if there indeed is a problem?  Or is it your preference to try to guilt/”bash” others to go for your solutions to what you perceive as a problem?

        Do you have biases, personal interests, that you expect others to share, support, and finance, to fulfill your interests?

        It works both ways… the two-edged sword thingy… reflect… you were/have been/are quite dismissive of views of others, the reality of others…

        [BTW, “that might be a difficult road to hoe” , is properly known as “that might be a difficult row to hoe”]

        Reflect, David…

      2. Keith Y Echols

        I think he wants his pound of flesh from you.  He’d like you to flat out admit that Measure J was a bad idea from the beginning and that “other solutions” are shuffling chairs on the Titanic (me, I don’t believe in the “Housing Crisis” as it’s often framed anyway….I’ve always stated a more nuanced view).

        I believe Richard Rothstein represents one of the major reasons why over half of the country dislikes liberals (I’m including many moderate liberals) and even more so; their whacked out cousins, progressives.  I get the history of housing policy and race and how it impacts today’s housing situation and demographics.  But cloaking modern housing issues in White Privilege/Guilt is irrational, divisive and counter productive.

      3. Ron Glick

        I’m not the one pretending to look for solutions while supporting the policies that make them worse. I spend a couple of minutes calling you out. You spend hours and hours writing articles that are undermined by your own policy preferences.

        1. Keith Y Echols

          Would it make you feel better if David cranked out the occasional article that tried showed how bad Measure J has been and tried to convince people to repeal it?  I think David would say that effort would be futile.  People rarely willing give up their direct power; even if it’s in their own self interest.  I mean I find it amusing that David desperately grasps onto the concept that Measure J was a good idea because it represents people directly being involved in the decision making process all the while he acknowledges the consequences of Measure J.

  2. Richard_McCann

    Keith E

    Yes, it would be good if David finally admitted that direct democracy was not appropriate in all cases. Why should we vote on whether a stop sign needs to be placed at an intersection? Why should we vote on how to specifically design utility rates once the revenue requirement has been set? Why should we vote on every single conditional use permit? There are mundane matters of governing that in a representative democracy that we delegate to elected officials. And there are matters that require much more expertise that an average citizen has time or resources to understand and vote on in an adequately informed way. Why should we vote on the revenue requirements for a municipal utility? So a blanket endorsement of direct democracy is simply foolish and naive.

    So then we have to decide when direct democracy is appropriate. We need to look at the consequences of direct democracy. I would say in general it has been more negative than positive (e.g., Prop 13 that creates discriminatory municipal financing and drives up housing prices, Prop 98 that locks in an education share of the budget with no rhyme or reason, the Gann Limit which is largely meaningless and causes all sorts of gaming). And Measure J that has reinforced housing segregation in our community. David needs to come forward and admit that it has created huge problems and should never been adopted, even if he believes it won’t be repealed. (BTW, Measure J isn’t a physical law, so absolutes do not apply.)

    Measure J should be challenged in the courts. State law prohibits these types of growth control mechanisms and the original measure expired. Not sure why it hasn’t been challenged on those grounds.

    Even so, it can be reformed. Voters have not been presented in a useful alternative that gets achieving community goals–they’ve only been given a yes/no choice.

    1. Keith Olson

      Direct democracy allows the voters to vote on what direct democracy initiatives it likes.  Measure J is one of those initiatives.  There’s a huge difference between deciding to put in a stop sign and giving the okay to build 1000’s of houses or a business park on farmland.  Deal with it!



      1. David Greenwald

        You keep using the phrase “deal with it” – do you mean that literally, as in, one possibility is “deal with it” by “changing it” or as a synonym for “accept it passively.”

    2. Keith Y Echols

      You’re preaching to the choir about the problems of direct democracy.  Remember I’m the one that has referred to the people of Davis as the unwashed masses, hoi poloi and plebians (all of which I also include myself) in regards to political decisions about housing and economic development.

      I get why David doesn’t write against Measure J.  He’s right, there wouldn’t be much point.  People don’t give up power; especially when they’re told it’s because they’re too ill-equipped to make good decisions for themselves.

      I think you’re right about the unwashed masses not being given alternatives to a yes/no choice.  I think David has proposed trying to write built in exceptions to Measure J.  It might work for certain kinds of affordable and workforce housing developments.  I can see the hoi poloi allowing that kind of exception.  Maybe there are could be other exceptions proposed?

      1. Ron Glick

        Its not that David doesn’t write against Measure J. Its that he supports it while constantly going on about its failures. Its disingenuous to try to hold both positions.

        Same with infill. David favors preservation of farmland and opposes peripheral development while knowing full well infill can’t solve our housing problems especially for the families with school age children.

        Same with privilege and intergenerational wealth and the legacy of racism and the fallacy of policies that change Davis while claiming to preserve Davis. David constantly tries to have it both ways calling out societal failures while personally supporting the policies that perpetrate those failures. That is why I constantly call him out and challenge his credibility.

        1. David Greenwald

          It’s interesting. The core of democracy is that you must live with and then deal with suboptimal outcomes. Dealing with it, doesn’t mean sitting back passively and accepting it, it means seeking better outcomes.

        2. Keith Y Echols

          David favors preservation of farmland and opposes peripheral development

          I’m not used to defending David….this is at this point academic for me…but didn’t David SUPPORT DISC?

          To me it sounds like David doesn’t support the results of Measure J but (unfortunately) supports the misguided concept of direct democracy (this site is called or was called “The PEOPLES Vanguard”…you know power to the people…and all that.


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