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Saturday, April 12, 2008

City Attorney Weighs In: MEASURE J IMPERILED?

According to a legal opinion by City Attorney Harriet Steiner, the next city council will have broad discretion in determining the shape of Measure J.

Measure J is the provision that requires a citizen's vote for any land-use change or annexation of land out of the city's current boundaries. Without Measure J in place, it is likely that the vote on Covell Village would never have occurred. The voters by a 60-40 margin rejected a large development outside of the city that was approved by the city council by a 4-1 vote.

Measure J sunsets on December 31, 2010. The City Council will be required prior to December 31, 2010 to place on the ballot one of four options.

The city attorney writes:
"Measure J was a City Council-initiated ballot measure that was approved by the voters in March 2000. Measure J will remain in effect until December 31, 2010, unless it is extended, amended, or repealed before that date."
"By its own terms, any changes to Measure J, including amendment, extension, or repeal, must be approved by the voters of the City of Davis at an election held in accordance with state law."
Harriet Steiner believes that the city council has four options.
  1. Not extend Measure J
  2. Extend Measure J as is
  3. Extend Measure J with an amendment or amendments
  4. "Place two or more measures on the ballot; one to extend Measure J as is and one or more additional measures to amend Measure J. The measure or measures that would go into effect would depend on how the measures were drafted, and how many votes each received, as explained below.
In addition to the council options, "the voters have the right to proceed with an initiative measure by collecting signatures and submitting an initiative petition to the City Council."

The two measure option would place competing measures on the ballot simultaneously.
"If two competing measures amended the same municipal code sections and both measures were approved by the voters, the one that received the most votes would prevail. If only one measure passed, then the measure that passed would go into effect. If neither passed, then Measure J would expire by its own terms on December 31, 2010.
What is clear from this legal opinion is that the next city council will go a long way towards determining the shape of the next Measure J. The options give the council the discretion to alter Measure J or to even put competing measures on the ballot in an attempt to either confuse the voters or make the process more difficult.

While the citizens retain the right to put their own measure on the ballot, such an endeavor is risky and expensive with strong forces lined up against a successful effort.

The simplest way for the voters of Davis to ensure that Measure J remains part of the vital citizen-controlled process is to elect a city council that will pledge to keep Measure J in place as is and to make it permanent so that we do not face this type of vote every ten years in the future.

Where do the candidates stand on this? Both Sue Greenwald and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald have come out in favor of making Measure J permanent and maintaining it as it is currently written. Cecilia has talked about it in her literature and on her website and Mayor Greenwald stated her position at the first candidates debate.

Rob Roy on his website vows to:
"Work to make Measure J permanent in 2010. It is important that Davis voters enjoy the direct democracy of choosing if, when, and how the city will expand. With the looming cost of our Wastewater treatment facility reaching its brink Davis cannot afford massive population increases (ie. projects like Covell Village).
Sidney Vergis during the candidates forum suggested that she would keep Measure J but make "non-substantive changes." She has however devoted very little time or space to talking about land use issues. And she is surrounded by those who supported Measure X and opposed Measure J in its original inception.

While Stephen Souza has frequently used Measure J as a reason why we can retain the 1% growth guideline among other things, he does not mention it on his website. Nor does Don Saylor.

Perhaps the most important issue that will face the next city council will be the renewal of Measure J. For those citizens who wish for the residents of Davis to retain their choice of how, when, and where we grow, it is important that we hold our council candidates to the fire on this issue and support those who will retain Measure J in its permanent form and make it permanent. After all, it is the citizens that should have a right to determine the future of their city.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting