Tension is building between some residents and the Davis City Council over whether to start discussion on Measure J.
The landmark Davis law requires voter approval for any urban development on land that is currently designated as agricultural or open-space. It was passed in 2000 and is set to expire in 2010.
It has only been applied once. In 2005, the council approved Covell Village, a 1,864-unit housing development in North Davis. Because it would require annexing agricultural land into the city limits, voters were asked to approve the development. The vote failed 59.9 percent to 40 percent.
So why the problem now?
Three councilmembers are up for reelection in June, and it will be up to the next council to decide what to do: renew it, repeal it, amend it or submit an alternative.
Several speakers at the Apr. 15 city council meeting urged the incumbent candidates to make their intentions clear before the election.
“We must take all necessary steps to ensure that the citizens of Davis maintain control of Davis’ borders and that they get to determine when and how we grow,” said Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Escamilla-Greenwald, who is one of six candidates in the upcoming council election, said the city faces dangerous times as a “slow-growth city” and Measure J is the hallmark of the city’s land-use policy that needs to be renewed.
City Councilmember Steven Souza said he wanted to begin discussing Measure J promptly – just not before the election.
“I don’t want to politicize it,” Souza said. “I would rather leave the politics off the dais and leave it to the forums during the election campaign.”
He said it would become very clear through the candidate forums what each person’s position on Measure J was. He did not say at the meeting if he had any position on the future of the law, and his website makes no mention of it.
Other citizens who spoke at the meeting said this is one of the most important voter issues in the upcoming election.
“The fate of Measure J rests squarely in the hands of those who will be elected to the council in less than eight weeks,” said Davis resident Gene Borack. “Candidate info with regard to this issue needs to become a major part of the public discourse without delay.”
Fellow resident Mark Spencer, who said he was involved in drafting the language of the measure, agreed.
“I think it goes to a very important … fundamental pillar in Davis’ sense of inclusion of voters in the process of land use,” Spencer said.
The council passed up an opportunity to move the discussion to before the election. City manager Bill Emlen said the discussion would be tentatively scheduled for an early-summer meeting.
Mayor Pro-Tempore Ruth Asmundson, who is not up for reelection in 2008, agreed that it should wait.
“I think this is a very important issue, and we have two years to discuss it,” Asmundson said. “We shouldn’t be discussing this [now].”
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at email@example.com.