Monday Morning Thoughts: A Look Back at Pre-Measure J Growth Projections Tells an Interesting Story

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – A reader shared a very interesting clip from a 1999 Davis Enterprise article on Davis growth projections.  What makes it interesting is the figures represent projections before Measure J was passed in 2000.

Basically, the report found that Davis would “stop” growing after 2010.  That’s not beyond the realm of possibility because, at the time, Covell Village was viewed as the last big project on the periphery for some time.

But Measure J essentially blocked Covell Village and the result is that Davis has essentially stopped growing as of 2000 instead of 2010.  Thus, instead of going from 61,000 in 1997 to 75,000 by 2010, a 23 percent change, we have grown only to just under 67,000, 9000 or 13 percent less than the original projections.

The figures were controversial at the time.

For example, then-Supervisor Dave Rosenberg noted, “The SACOG figures are not really helpful and misleading…  For example, in the case of Davis, the figures talk about 2022, but really cut off all growth at 2010.”

According to the article, SACOG noted that the city’s General Plans “were used as both a guide and a constraint” and the projections do not go beyond General Plan boundaries.

In essence, the city was projected to have used up all its land designation for houses by 2010, “having come to the end of the 1987 General Plan’s horizon.”

At the time, however, the city was working to update the 1987 General Plan.  SACOG didn’t take into account RHNA or the need for the city to add housing.

“A new General Plan addressing Davis’ future beyond 2010 won’t be discussed until at least 2005,” the article noted at the time.  As we now know, while the city created a new General Plan prior to 2005, Measure J came into effect the next year.

But even before Measure J came into effect, Davis was looking at flattening growth rates.

“Davis remains pretty consistent because it has just about built out its General Plan and has no plans to expand,” then-Supervisor Tom Stallard said.  “I think the sense of the community is they don’t want to grow at that rate any more.”

The 1987 General Plan called for a 1.8 percent growth rate over 23 years, through 2010.  However, the article noted the city actually grew much faster up until that time, which is why the growth was projected to be much slower.

“By about 2002, all the houses envisioned between 1987 and 2010 will have been built,” said then councilmember Stan Forbes.  He added, “It might have been nice if Davis had grown more slowly over a longer period of time.”

Forbes argued against continued growth beyond what was outlined in the general plan.  He also said that “he does not disagree with the SACOG data,” but he was “pretty surprised that they had our growth as slow as it is.”

“It could reflect that Davis is pretty determined not to grow any more,” Forbes said.

The remarkable part of reading this article nearly 25 years later is that, while the SACOG projections proved accurate in the sense that Davis indeed stopped growing, it didn’t anticipate the effect of Measure J, which cut off growth sooner and a far lower level than even SACOG projected.

I took away a number of points from looking at the projections…

First, the 1987 General Plan and its large growth clearly triggered a backlash against further growth in Davis.  As Forbes noted at the time, Davis actually exceeded early growth projections and that probably was decisive in the passage of Measure J.

Second, Davis was basically planning to stop growing even without the passage of Measure J.  The article doesn’t note the pre-Measure J land use battles over further growth in the 1990s.  It also doesn’t know that the next General Plan basically did not plan for additional peripheral growth.

I think the debate over how much impact Measure J has had is interesting.

On the one hand, you can argue that Measure J didn’t have a huge impact at least in 2000 on growth.  It might have stopped Covell Village which, had it been developed, probably would have expanded the population close to the SACOG projections.  It might not have stopped much more beyond that at the time.

On the other hand, you can see that Measure J probably had a 13 percent reduction of population over the pre-Measure J projections.  In a city of 67,000 people, that’s not insignificant.

But of course that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Where I think the complaints about SACOG came into play is that, at some point, there would be additional pressures to grow.  That’s definitely what we are starting see in Davis since maybe 2016.  But Measure J continues to act as a brake and where I think Measure J causes problems is that it allows for very little planning of peripheral growth.

That’s likely to be the next debate in this community.  Now that a large number of people see a need to grow at least somewhat, can Measure J be flexible enough to allow that growth?  And will the voters allow for changes to Measure J if it proves that it is not?

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

    I’ll never forget when Stan Forbes was on the City Council and argued that student housing should be built in Woodland. Turns out he was kinda right but it wasn’t student housing that got built there it was housing for young working and middle class families trying to grow equity after graduating from UCD. Sadly, the now septuagenarian baby boomers who still dominate Davis politics with their scarcity, 1970’s limits to growth, fatalism still have Measure J, the strongest anti-growth tool imaginable. Measure J makes it too easy to do the simplest thing in California politics, get people to vote no on a ballot measure.

    1. David Greenwald

      While I understand your position on Measure J, what I found interesting about the projections is it shows us just how much an impact Measure J actually had.  Back in 1999, the reaction to the SACOG projection was that it was too conservative in its growth projections, but adding Measure J, it showed that SACOG was actually too “optimistic”

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