There will be important decisions to make in Davis come June 8 when Davis residents vote on an item on the ballot called Measure R.
Measure R extends an already existing law Measure J until 2020. The ordinance has a critical role in determining how private contractors and real estate companies conduct business in Davis. Measure J originally passed in 2000 with a 53.6 percent majority of voters behind it.
The law requires that any development and construction projects that take place on the agricultural lands surrounding the city must first be approved by a majority of Davis citizens. Certain projects such as schools are exempted from the law.
Supporters believe that the measure protects Davis from urban sprawl and increased traffic congestion. The proponents of measure R also say that the current law gives the city an opportunity to pick development projects that would most benefit the community as a whole.
Opponents of the measure argue that the policy hinders development, innovation and affordable housing.
Joseph Whitcombe, who is a UCD graduate and heads the real estate firm Whitcombe & Co., is spearheading the campaign against Measure R.
“We have had [Measure J] for 10 years, and no one would say that there has been any major innovation during this period,” Whitcombe said.
He said that building in areas that are not subject to the ordinance presents major challenges to would-be investors. The land inside of town is so expensive that developers cannot finance large projects. Whitcombe added that a major setback to construction companies is the cost of staging building materials away from the area being developed, often a necessity at sites within the city because of the limited space available. Prior to the law Davis was known for highly innovative development projects, he said.
“The Village Homes development was internationally renowned,” Whitcombe said of the modern housing community located on Arlington and Russell Boulevard which was built between 1975 and 1980.
Supporters of the Measure R say that Whitcombe is motivated by financial gain.
“Joe Whitcombe is the son of John Whitcombe who is a major investor in the Covell Village and Nishi Farm Sites,” read a statement on yesonmeasurer.org. Both sites have been rejected as development areas by Davis voters under Measure J.
“I have always supported measure J,” said Councilmember Sue Greenwald. “It has been what stood between us and rampant sprawl. My constituents want to control growth. We are surrounded by cheap [agricultural] lands. When we allow development in these areas there are major windfall profits. Measure R will give the city more leverage in ensuring that it gets its fair share.”
Daniel Watts is a second-year law student at UCD who is running for City Council this year. He supports Measure R because he believes it conforms to the principals of democratic representation.
“I think that people who live in a city should decide its character,” Watts said.
He said developers still have a fair chance at pursuing there goals in Davis and that this is not an issue of competing rights between business interests and Davis citizens.
“As an individual voter, I would not personally vote no on every development,” Watts said.
The deadline to register for the election is May 24.
SAMUEL A. COHEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.