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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Council Holding Off on Discussions of Measure J Until After Election

During the long range calendar, Councilmember Stephen Souza suggested agendizing a discussion on the legal opinion submitted by City Attorney Harriet Steiner in June which would place it for discussion after the election.

Several members of the public then came up to speak on Measure J during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Those who spoke believe that this issue needs full discussion prior to the election.

Gene Borack said:
“I think it is unfortunate that [Stephen Souza] recommended that the discussion begin after the June election.”
Mark Spencer would follow up Dr. Borack's point by stating:
"I would hope that the council would address this prior to the next city council election because I think it goes to a very important fundamental pillar in what has become Davis’ sense of inclusion of the voters in land use which is critical."
They also disagreed with Harriet Steiner's interpretation of the renewal clause on Measure J.

Stated Gene Borack:
“As I read it Counselor Steiner’s opinion is that the next council majority can amend Measure J and she offers no limitations. Most importantly she says that the next council majority is not required to offer the voters the original version of Measure J as an alternative choice on the same ballot. The fate of Measure J rests squarely in the hands of those who will be on the next council in less than eight weeks.”
Mark Spencer is often regarded as the architect of Measure J, he worked extensively in drafting the language of the ordinance.
“Having looked over the city attorney’s opinion on the renewal clause, I find it troubling. I was involved in the drafting of the language of measure J as a member of the planning commission and the open space commission, our intent was pretty clear about each of the provisions that we had hoped to be included in the final measure. And we relied on the city attorney at the time for the clarity of the legal language which would declare our intent and would make our provisions happen in legal language. That’s what makes the opinion of the city attorney so curious—in that it’s the same city attorney. And yet at the time, no one was appraised of the renewal clauses language that is detailed in this several page document that has been given to the city council in the council’s packet."
He went on to say:
"I think that Harriet’s interpretation of the renewal clause is unnecessarily torturous. There are other ways and I think more readily accessible ways to interpret the renewal clause that I think is consistent with the obvious intent that the council had at the time when it approved the final language that was submitted to voters."
Finally Mark Spencer argues:
"Harriet gives a very long and I think torturous interpretation as I read it which breeds cynicism on someone who was involved in and had conversations at the time with the same city attorney about the language we wanted to achieve the intent that we had."
Nancy Price also spoke strongly in favor of renewing Measure J as a means by which to enfranchise the Davis voters to be able to control the city's land use decisions. She also favored a more imminent discussion prior to the next election.
“I was not directly involved but I was behind the scenes very much involved in the discussion of Measure J. I think it’s very important as this measure really relates to the enactment of democracy and the inclusion of citizens in land use decisions, that the council take this up before the election. And I think it’s really important that those of you running for election address this issue prior to the election and make your positions very clear on this matter. I think the citizens need to have a very clear stand from those of you running.”
City Council candidate and wife of this blogger, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, spoke strongly in favor of retaining Measure J as currently written and making it permanent.
“The only way to ensure that this [voter control of land use policy] occurs is to put forward a measure that keeps Measure J as it is currently written so that it’s not weakened or watered down. Measure J must be made permanent in its current format so that we do not have to revisit this issue once again in the future.”
Following public comment, Mayor Sue Greenwald asked the council whether they wanted to put this on the agenda prior to the June election.

Councilmember Stephen Souza was adamantly against this suggestion. He was concerned that this would politicize the issue.
"I think it’s clear that for me, I don’t want to politicize it. I would rather leave the politics off the dais and leave it to the forums during the election campaign.”
That sounds good, but given that this measure eventually must go before the voters, I do not see how you can avoid politicizing the issue--it is by definition a political issue. The question is really whether or not Mr. Souza wants to go on record having a viewpoint that the voters can either choose to support or oppose.

The idea that somehow this is not going to be a politicized process at some point along the line is far-fetched at best. If it is to go before the voters in December of 2010, then it inevitably will become a potential issue for the June 2010 elections. When it goes on the ballot, it becomes a political issue then. So the question really is--when would this not be a political process? I do not see that that prospect can be avoided--so why not take it up and let the voters decide now prior to the 2008 election?

He went on to argue that this will be addressed in various candidate forums.
"For me that’s how I’m going to address [in candidates forums], I’m going to address it very clearly."
No one doubts that point, but there is a large difference between what you say during a candidate's debate and what you actually do when you have to make a decision that is before you. And frankly this should be a no-brainer in terms of the course of action that needs to be taken.

Finally, I found most troubling this statement:
"Any action that we take up here in regards to it can always be superseded by the action of the public through initiative."
According to Harriet's opinion, as I read it, the citizens can put a measure on the ballot--that in itself requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. It would also have to go up against the council's own initiative. That puts the citizens at a great disadvantage. He seems to be using this clause as a means by which to diffuse the gravity of the council's decision without regards to the amount of energy and resources it would take to mount such a citizen's drive. It would be far simpler to have a council majority that passes the measure that the citizens want and having the council support that measure.

I agree fully with the comments of Dr. Gene Borack:
"The fate of Measure J rests squarely in the hands of those who will be on the next council in less than eight weeks."
I do not see anyway that the council can avoid it. I understand in principle the point that Councilmember Souza is making with regards to the politicization of the process, the problem is that in this case, there is no avoiding that. Why not put yourself on record and have a full public debate on what is one of the most important issues facing the electorate?

---Doug Paul Davis reporting