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Monday, April 14, 2008

Commentary: Measure J is in the Hands Largely of the Next Council

While the voters will have to approve what the council does, the council will have a large say over the shape and scope of the next Measure J vote, at least according to the opinion written by Harriet Steiner first reported by the Vanguard on Saturday morning.

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."

For clarification purposes, options 1 through 4 require a public vote--that means the council does not unilaterally get to repeal the Measure, but they could put before the voters a measure that would repeal Measure J.

Some have suggested that the public can simply organize and put the requisite number of signatures on the ballot in 2010. That is certainly true and likely what would occur should the council decide on 1 or 3. However, as I read the opinion, if there are competing measures, the one with the most votes win. The more confusion caused by competing measures, the less likely it is for Measure J to pass as currently written. One need only see the competing propositions by the auto industry on the ballot in 1990 to understand the possibilities.

The safest route for those who continue to support the citizen's right to choose would be to elect a new majority that has pledged to support Measure J in its current form and make it a permanent measure.

What is interesting to me is that people equate Measure J as an anti-growth measure. You can see the theme in some of the more colorful comments. Perhaps part of that is that the only Measure J vote went down to horrific defeat. But that was a proposal for nearly 2000 units. The next Measure J vote is likely to be considerably smaller in size and figures to fare far better at the polls.

The question is really twofold: does a development draw organized opposition and will that opposition resonate with the public as a whole. The last two growth measures was Measure X and Measure K (Target). Both drew strong organized opposition, but Measure K while not a Measure J mandated vote, passed.

Wildhorse was also not a Measure J vote, but it was able to obtain support from the community. Why? Because the developers and promoters worked with key neighbors and members of the community and were able to forge a coalition. Yes, there was organized opposition but they were able to overcome it.

The point is, that Measure J compels a vote, but that in itself does not doom a project. Ideally it would make the project better. It would force promoters and developers to work with a broad subsection of the public to make the project better. That is really what Measure J is about and exactly what the Covell Village partners did not do. The Covell Village partners would not have been able to sell the public on that specific project, but with better outreach and communication might have been able to develop a project that would have gained majority support.

Measure J is not about putting a wall around Davis or digging a moat. It is about giving the public a choice in how, when, and how much we develop. It is about forcing the developers to work with the public to create a project that the majority will support. But it puts the ultimate say with the public. It is for that reason that we need to work so hard to protect it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting