By David M. Greenwald
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.