By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – From my vantage point, the council is set to decide on what to do about the “Rubric” this week. The reality is that the structure of Measure J is such that it will make it difficult to plan because (a) much of the housing we are going to need in the next ten years is going to require a Measure J vote, and (b) the principles of good planning are not necessarily what will get the votes at the ballot box to approve a project—if anything can get approved at all.
So why are we dealing with a side issue when the main issue is whether to: (A) continue Measure J as is, (B) modify it, or (C) end it?
Given that Measure D (the extension of Measure J until 2030) passed with 83 percent of the vote, I don’t see the political support or the political will from the council to even seriously contemplate ending it.
That means that council should be deliberating over whether to continue Measure J as is or modify it. And of course, if we are to modify it, what that will look like.
For some, even the discussion of modification is seen as a threat.
As Eileen Samitz put it in a comment yesterday: “It is not Measure J/R/D which is broken and needs fixing, but that’s the Davis Vanguard’s problem. It is clear from your constant attacks on Measure J/R/D, which is the “Citizens Right to Vote on Future Uses of Open Space and Agricultural Lands,” that you are trying to dismantle it.”
She continues to argue that the ordinance “has exemptions built into it for affordable housing” but she continues to ignore that the exemption is so limited as to not be practical. There has never been an exempt project contemplated. And moreover, big “A” affordable housing isn’t the only type of housing the city is need of.
Tim Keller responded, “For anyone who likes having control over growth then modifying J is the ONLY way to save it. If we refuse to, we are only waiting for the time when the state, or a private lawsuit invalidates it… and THEN what will we have to protect us from the ‘completely out of control’ growth that we saw before measure J. We know those forces are already in motion. David isn’t making any of that stuff up.”
Why do I believe that Measure J is broken? That’s very simple, the city has been unable to produce consistent housing over the last 25 years. That has put a strain on the city’s housing supply, it has increased the cost of housing, and it has lead to strains on our schools.
What evidence do I have to back my claim?
- The city has only produced 700 units of single-family homes over the last two decades. While it true that the housing market collapsed in 2008, that only accounts for at most five years. Since 2013, when clearly there was demand for more housing, the city has still been unable to produce significant numbers of single-family homes and most of the ones generated were at the Cannery, which was the last large parcel in town not requiring a Measure J vote. It was a hotly contested 3-2 vote and likely would not have passed a Measure J had it been required to.
- The voters have passed only two projects for Measure J. Neither project was a single-family housing project. Neither project had realistic traffic concerns. Every project that has generated concerns about traffic has been voted down—including Nishi in 2016 and DISC in 2020 and 2022—despite the community being aware of the housing crisis.
- The city has not been able to get its current Housing Element approved. One of the reasons is insufficient zoned properties for affordable housing.
- If the next RHNA numbers are similar to the current cycle, the city will need to find around 2100 total units of housing of which 866 must be affordable housing units. The only way the city can get to those numbers will be via peripheral housing. In order to have housing count, it must be rezoned. In order to rezone housing, it must pass a Measure J vote.
- The five peripheral projects are currently proposing around 5200 units of total housing and 866 units of affordable housing. If the city and developers can increase the affordable housing allotment to around 1800—again assuming constant RHNA numbers—the five projects could take care of the next two RHNA cycles AFTER the current one. In other words, they could provide for roughly the next 25 years of housing for the city.
In my view the only way, we can do that is to provide some sort of exemption process, either through an urban limit line or a high affordable housing exemption.
Meanwhile, the city still has not gotten its last Housing Element approved. And as Tim Keller points out, at some point, if we fail to adhere to current state housing laws, there could very well be a lawsuit—as there have been in other communities.
As he pointed out, I am not just making this up.
Eileen Samitz wants to characterize it as me attempting to undermine and dismantle Measure J, but I actually have the opposite motivation. This is the only way to preserve local control over growth.
In my view, this should be the community discussion between now and the time for ballot measures to be placed on the November 2024 ballot. Instead, we are focused on peripheral discussions (no pun intended) over things like Rubrics, which in my view, are tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.