By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – In April, the council decided they were going to defer a housing decision and determined that they would not put a measure on the November 2024 ballot. Slow growth advocates cheered the decision.
But the decision makes very little in the way of sense. That has only become more apparent as things have progressed.
Consider that several of the councilmembers have acknowledged that without going peripheral in the next RHNA cycle, the city will have no chance of meeting its obligations. And while some have questioned why focus on the next cycle, the timeline for addressing housing is coming perilously near—the city cannot reuse the downtown for its next housing allotment, it must rezone any land it wants to consider for the 2028 RHNA cycle and, thus, it must pass a Measure J vote.
The soonest the city says it can process an application would be for a March 2025 special election.
But wait a second—that’s just four months after November 2024.
If you want to pass a Measure J vote, November 2024 is the time to do it. November 2024 figures to be a high turnout, highly competitive Presidential Election year. We are talking about 80 percent turnout. And unlike 2020, when COVID and remote learning pushed students out of town, students will be here and students figure to come out and vote and support new housing projects.
And so, if the council wants to put a project before the voters that can get passed, then their best chance is November 2024.
The council, to a person, says they support housing. If they do—they need to maximize their opportunity to get a project passed and that is very clearly November 2024 rather than a special election.
To give you an idea of how much of a difference the turnout was from November of 2020, a Presidential General Election, to a Special Election in an odd year—in District 3, there were 6628 votes cast in November 2020; this month in the same district, the number was 2413.
The council however has said they want to prioritize a revenue measure rather than housing. I have all sorts of problems with that prioritization. The last revenue measure fell short of the two-thirds vote required for passage. The council will almost certainly put a measure on that requires only a bare majority. We will see what happens with things like a ladder truck and employee compensation.
But council in April argued that the city lacks the bandwidth to get a Measure J measure on the ballot for November.
It would be a tight squeeze for sure at this point—but not much tighter than March 2025.
One of the reasons given in April was they are short-staffed. But there is a simple solution to that—hire a consultant to run the EIR. That will free up city staff to do their everyday work.
How would such a position get funded? The applicant would need to pay for it. Given the huge expense of planning and building a project, an added consultant fee would be a drop in the bucket.
Can they do an EIR in time to get all the feedback they need from the community without squeezing the timeline too tightly? Yes—but only if they go to a joint commission hearing to streamline the feedback process.
Will the city get accused of rushing the process? They always do. It’s not clear to me that the charge of rushing the process is very effective. The projects that have failed at the polls mainly had concerns about traffic.
But the stakes here are incredibly high. The city has a serious shortfall in housing. They will have increased pressure from the state. And by all accounts, they will need to go beyond the current boundaries to meet the housing needs.
In a guest commentary last week, Alan Pryor cited changes in state law in arguing, “The reason I am now advocating for a peripheral housing project be placed on the ballot as soon as possible is simple, Times Have Changed!”
Pryor argues, “If cities do not comply with these requirements by submitting plans accepted to HCD showing a pathway to increase their housing stock, the state may impose severe penalties including removing some control over local housing development from the local government.”
He continued, “Should the City’s proposal to HCD continue to be rejected and eventually result in litigation against the City to impose more housing development, the obvious target of any such litigation likely would be to overturn the City’s voter-approved Measure J/R/D allowing citizens the right to vote on peripheral housing projects in Davis.
“I believe this to be a real and urgent concern.”
Given that the overwhelming majority of Measure J projects have failed, the city council needs to take advantage of the high voter turnout/high student turnout at the next November Election.
Does the city council really want to hinge the future of the community, including possibly Measure J, on a low turnout special election? I would think not.
But in order to get a project on the ballot, the council must show some urgency that they have so far lacked.
The choice is clear: to remain in compliance with state housing laws, the city is going to need to rezone peripheral land. The chances of doing so successfully are much higher next year than in 2025 via a special election.