The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Commentary: Protecting Davis from Peripheral Growth is a High Priority

Recent developments with the county and other proposals have caused me to look at our current means to protect ourselves from sprawl and leap-frog development projects.

A Bob Dunning column recently stated:
the Measure J concept has served Davis well … it doesn't prevent growth, it simply allows everyone to have a say …
Furthermore he has in the past argued:
Measure J is neither anti-growth nor pro-growth, but simply a measure that allows people to vote on growth.
Dunning is wrong on this account--Measure J is the single-most important growth control device that Davis currently has. All one needs to do is make a comparative look at Davis history. Leading up to 2001, when Measure J took effect, there were any number of large subdivisions added on the Davis periphery that greatly increased the growth and size of the city residentially.

How many peripheral subdivisions have been approved since 2001?

Zero. That is in six years zero.

In fact, the very threat of a Measure J vote requirement has been a deterrent for growth proposals.

There has been one single development project that was proposed since Measure J was passed--Covell Village. Covell Village failed by a nearly 60-40 margin despite having 4-1 support in the city council. If it were not for Measure J, Covell Village would be under construction right now.

This is also why most of the talk in the Housing Element Update and in growth in Davis in general, seems to be focused on infill rather than peripheral growth.

So to suggest that Measure is neither anti-growth nor pro-growth is an empirically unfounded statement.

What I think is less obvious to many Davis residents is that there is another growth-control factor that is just as important--the pass-through agreement between the city and county. Basically this is an arrangement that enables the city of Davis to pass through over $2 million per year of redevelopment money to the county and in exchange the county has ceded land use authority to the city.

What that means is that the county cannot build large developments on the Davis periphery without city permission. The city cannot build those developments without a Measure J vote.

This process may be under assault right now however with proposals by the county to change three key areas that are inside the city's agreed upon sphere of influence--Northwest Quadrant, Covell Property, and the antiquated subdivisions east of Mace Boulevard along I-80. If the county can succeed in changing the land-use designations for those properties they are well on their way toward development.

Members of the Davis city council may be working behind the scenes to attempt to force this growth on Davis. We are talking about a 2100 unit senior housing development north of Covell and west of Lake. We are talking about development in the Covell Property that the voters of Davis just a year and a half ago soundly rejected, and we are talking about commercial development along I-80 that even members of the council majority strongly oppose.

Fortunately for the residents of Davis we have a pass-through agreement and Measure J to help protect us, but we must remain vigilant in protecting those safeguards. And we must pay attention to what the City Council and the Board of Supervisors are proposing.

Some have interpreted this stance to mean that myself or others like me oppose all growth. Nothing could be further from the truth--I simply believe that the city should have land-use authority for the area around the city and that the county should not have the capacity to force growth on cities. I also believe that the voters should maintain control over what projects get built and what projects do not get built. Measure J needs to be renewed in the coming years to continue to provide that level of security.

I also think people are lulled into a false sense of security by some of the proposed projects and growth rates. The SACOG designated growth is 1 percent per year. That has been euphanized to mean "fair share." That is the measure that the council majority has adopted.

But what does "fair share" actually mean? A one percent growth rate means a new development the size of Wildhorse every three years and the size of Mace Ranch every seven years. One percent means that by 2050, we are looking at nearly 100,000 people. That doesn't sound like a lot but it will require nearly double our water supply (think that may be why they are developing that expensive water supply project that along with the sewer project will quadruple our water rates in real terms in the next 20 years?) If all cities in California grew at that rate, water a scarce commodity would become even more scarce and even more expensive. At a time of uncertainty about global climate, is a one percent growth rate, really a fair share for anyone?

Realistically, Davis will grow into the future as will California, but I think we need to be looking at smart growth rather than fair share growth. We want to maintain our character and the nature of our community. In the meantime, more communities will likely follow Davis' model of protecting their growth rate and development.

All of which makes the next round of elections all the more important. We need to get people into the the County Board of Supervisors seat that will respect and support the pass-through agreement but more importantly acknowledge the city of Davis as the sole authority on land-use on its own periphery. Just as important, we need a council majority that will support a renewal of Measure J and work to limit new peripheral development rather than support it. That means helping to retake the city council from the current majority of Asmundson, Souza, and Saylor.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting