Slow-growth advocates won major victories in November 3 local elections when voters rejected a housing project in Davis and a shopping center in Mendocino County, as well as sewer extensions in Modesto.
But slow-growth forces suffered some unexpected losses. In Santa Barbara and Ventura, two cities with a history of voter-controlled development, initiatives that would have imposed strict height limits on new buildings were rejected. In the Bay Area, Walnut Creek voters approved amended parking standards necessary for the construction of a Neiman Marcus store downtown.
As usual, the election results was a mixed bag. The slow growth side won eight of 12 easily classified contests, but that total is misleading because Modesto voters rejected five proposals to extend sewer service into potential new growth areas.
All in all, voters decided 22 local ballot measures with land use implications, including the proposed incorporation of Carmel Valley and three advisory measures on incorporation and annexation in the Santa Clarita Valley. Voters in both locations said they do not want to create a new city
No Growth in Davis
The Davis election was the result of a 2000 initiative, Measure J, that prohibits the rezoning of agricultural land without voter approval. Parlin Development Company of Rancho Cordova proposed rezoning a 25.8-acre horse ranch to permit development of 191 housing units – 73 single-family houses, 78 condominiums and a 40-unit apartment complex containing 38 affordable units. Parlin's Wildhorse Ranch included numerous green building and solar power features, and it even won the endorsement of local Sierra Club organizers.
Pam Nieberg, a leader of the Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter's Yolano Group, said she supported the project because of its energy- and water-saving features, compact design and location. The site is bordered on three sides by the Wildhorse housing subdivision and on the fourth side by an agricultural buffer.
"I've lived here since 1962, and I have fought against some of the bigger projects, like Mace Ranch and Wildhorse," Nieberg said. "We lost those votes. I think now that those projects have built out, the mood has shifted. A lot of people don't want things to change."
And they will not change, at least on this 26-acre parcel. Almost three out of four Davis voters rejected the rezoning. Davis City Councilwoman Sue Greenwald, who opposed the project, said people voted down Wildhorse Ranch because there is no need for additional housing in town. The University of California has started construction on a 1,500-unit project for students and UC staff members, while ground has not been broken on other approved projects because of the poor housing market, she said.
"Between the city and the adjacent university, we have over 2,000 units approved. This is just the wrong time to bring a development forward," Greenwald said. She also questioned whether the project was as green as advertised and said the location was too far from the center of town for new housing.
Davis voters will have the opportunity in June 2010 to renew Measure J, which is scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. So far, only two projects have tested the initiative, Wildhorse Ranch and the 1,800-unit Covell Village, which voters rejected in 2005. Greenwald said Measure J has worked as intended and without the growth control, "we would look like Orange County or the Inland Empire."
Although she lost this election, Nieberg said she backs extending Measure J because she does not trust the City Council to make rezoning decisions.
Don't Cross Mendocino County
The biggest project that voters considered on November 3 was Mendocino Crossings, which was proposed by Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty (DDR).
After getting frustrated with an area plan process for the Ukiah Valley that has started and stopped several times since the mid-1990s – and the refusal of the county to consider the DDR project until the area plan is complete – DDR presented its Mendocino Crossings specific plan directly to voters. The specific plan established a unique zoning district for DDR's property – a 76-acre former door and molding factory just north of the Ukiah city limit – and permitted up to 800,000 square feet of new buildings, including a maximum of 150 residential units.
DDR envisioned a large shopping center on the property anchored by the likes of Costco and Target. But the shopping center apparently was not what voters envisioned, as only about 38% backed the initiative.
The Ukiah City Council, most county supervisors and many local merchants opposed the project because they said it could harm existing business and to tie up traffic in an area with limited access. Opponents also said that DDR should have gone through the normal planning process and that the site should remain zoned for industrial uses.
Brian Sobel, a spokesman for Mendocino Crossings, said the project would have brought jobs and large-format stores to the Ukiah area.
"That obviously did not resonate with voters as well as the opponents' message did," Sobel said. "Measure A in the community had a pretty vociferous and hard-working opposition."
As for the charge that DDR should have worked within the normal planning process, Sobel, a former Petaluma councilman and planning commissioner, said, "It was a process that had to be gone around because, otherwise, a decision never would have been made."
Coastal Height Limits
The Santa Barbara initiative, Measure B, would have reduced the maximum height of new buildings in downtown from 60 feet to 45 feet, and to 40 feet in the historic El Pueblo Viejo district. The Ventura proposal, also Measure B, would have limited new building height to 26 feet in nearly all the city, except downtown, for two years while a new committee drafted a viewshed ordinance.
In Santa Barbara, an unusual coalition of developers, architects, environmentalists and Democratic Party activists rallied against Measure B. They worried that the height limit would force development to the fringes of town, prevent reconstruction of Cottage Hospital if it were damaged by an earthquake or other disaster, and generally obstruct smart growth principles. Many of the town's historic structures are higher than 45 feet, they noted. Supporters of the initiative said the limit was needed to prevent the proliferation of buildings 60 feet tall and higher from overwhelming downtown and the historic district.
The result of Santa Barbara's first all-mail election was somewhat confusing. Voters narrowly rejected Measure B, but three of the four winning City Council candidates -– planning commissioner Bendy White, Frank Hotchkiss, who campaigned against a general plan update and to reduce the size of the Planning Department, and Michael Self, who for years has fought against bulb-outs at intersections and other traffic calming measures – endorsed the initiative.
After the election, Measure B co-author and architect Bill Mahan wrote on the Save El Pueblo Viejo website: "Even though Measure B didn't pass, it is clear that there is much community concern about building heights. They can be addressed by ordinance."
By contrast, the vote against the Ventura height limit was a three-to-one blowout. A group called Ventura Citizens' Organization for Responsible Development pushed the initiative to prevent what it called overdevelopment and to protect ocean views. Opponents said it was unnecessary, a threat to redevelopment of Ventura's long-struggling midtown area and poorly drafted.
Those arguments got traction in an election topped by a heated City Council race and a half-cent sales tax measure that voters defeated. There was no split as in Santa Barbara. One of Measure B's authors, Camille Harris, finished 11th in a 14-person race for four City Council seats.
Bonds and Charters
The November 3 election had only three school bonds, the fewest since the 55% threshold went into effect in 2000. Voters approved a $59.8 million bond in Marin County's Mill Valley School District and a $9.3 million bond in the Shoreline Unified School District, which covers slices of Marin and Sonoma counties. A $6.7 million bond in Tulare County's Springville Union Elementary School District failed.
An $88 million bond to build a police, fire and emergency medical services facility in the City of San Rafael received 61% support, well short of the two-thirds required for approval. However, voters in the Tehachapi Valley Health Care District approved a $50 million bond to help fund construction of a new hospital in Tehachapi.
Voters in Palmdale and El Centro approved city charters that officials said would ease, and reduce the cost of, municipal construction projects.
The full results:
Contra Costa County
City of Walnut Creek
The long fight over a proposed Neiman Marcus store at Broadway Plaza has apparently ended. Voters approved a general-plan amendment that modified parking and other standards to permit the construction of a 92,000-square-foot two-story project. The $2 million campaign was funded by Broadway Plaza owner Macerich and, on the other side, by Taubman Centers, which owns the rival Sun Valley Mall in neighboring Concord.
Measure I: Yes, 71.4% (pro growth)
Los Angeles County
City of Maywood
The proposed site of a new Los Angeles Unified School District high school proved very unpopular with voters. To make room for the school, 112 apartment units, 10 houses, a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and several commercial buildings would have to be demolished. Voters rejected the advisory measure supporting the district's plan to acquire the 9.4-acre site at Slauson and King avenues. Instead, they backed an advisory measure urging the district to "fully and adequately" investigate other sites.
Measure MS (LAUSD site): No, 72.0%
Measure SC (alternative sites): Yes, 71.0%
Santa Clarita Valley
Voters sent conflicting messages on three advisory measures on incorporation. Proposals to keep the valley unincorporated and to annex into the City of Santa Clarita both passed. The proposal to form a new city adjacent to Santa Clarita was soundly defeated. The measures were on the ballot in Sunset Pointe, Stevenson Ranch, Southern Oaks, Westridge, Tesoro, Castaic and Val Verde.
Measure A (remain unincorporated): Yes, 56.3%
Measure B (new city): No, 77.8%
Measure C (Santa Clarita annexation): Yes, 52.9%
Town of San Anselmo
Voters upheld an ordinance preventing the proliferation of "monster homes" in the "flatlands" by restricting house size. The City Council approved the floor-area ratio ordinance last year. It limits the habitable portion of a house to 45% of the lot size and prohibits homes of more than 5,000 square feet.
Measure F: Yes: 53.0% (slow growth)
Voters defeated a specific plan prepared by Developers Diversified Realty that would have permitted 800,000 square feet of development, including up to 150 residential units, on a 76-acre industrial site just north of Ukiah.
Measure A: No, 62.3% (slow growth)
City of Carmel-by-the-Sea
Voters approved the sale of the Flanders Mansion, a National Register of Historic Places property surrounded by an existing park. The city acquired the property in 1972 but has never figured out what to do with it. Neighbors fought proposed conversion of Flanders Mansion into a park or community center because of traffic and parking concerns.
Measure I: Yes, 63.3%
Voters rejected incorporation of the valley as a new city of 39 square miles and 12,000 residents. Located inland from Carmel-By-The-Sea, the valley has been the site of numerous, intense battles over growth. Both sides said they wanted to maintain the valley's semi-rural character.
Measure G: No, 52.3%
Voters underscored their hatred of billboards by rejecting a measure to relax existing restrictions on illuminated billboards and video signs on Market Street between Fifth and Seventh streets. A measure prohibiting advertising on all city-owned street furniture and buildings, except signs and placards already permitted by contract, passed.
Proposition D (mid-Market signage): No, 54.1%
Proposition E (advertising ban): Yes, 57.5%
San Mateo County
City of East Palo Alto
A Superior Court judge blocked a vote on a measure overhauling the city's ordinance limiting rent increases and restricting evictions. The city's largest landlord, Page Mill Properties, successfully argued the City Council violated the state open meeting law when considering the changes and should have subjected the ordinance amendments to environmental review.
Santa Barbara County
City of Santa Barbara
An initiative to lower the maximum height of new buildings downtown from 60 feet to 45 feet, and to 40 feet in the historic district, failed.
Measure B: No, 53.7 (pro growth)
City of Modesto
All five advisory measures regarding the extension of sewer service to five unincorporated areas totaling 2,980 acres failed. Most of the land is north of town and largely undeveloped. Measure M from 1995 requires an advisory vote before the city extends sewer services to unincorporated areas.
Measure A (1,310-acre Kiernan-Carver Corridor area): No, 60.3% (slow growth)
Measure B (230-acre College West area): No, 64.8% (slow growth)
Measure C (130-acre Hetch-Hetchy area): No, 61.8% (slow growth)
Measure D (480-acre Roselle-Claribel area): No, 64.0% (slow growth)
Measure E (830-acre Hetch-Hetchy area): No 69.4% (slow growth)
City of Ventura
In addition to rejecting a height limit, voters rejected Measure C, an anti-Wal-Mart initiative that would have prohibited stores of more than 90,000 square feet from devoting more than 3% of floor space to groceries.
Measure B (height limits): No, 74.7% (pro growth)
Measure C (anti-big-box): No, 54.7% (pro growth)
City of Fillmore
A somewhat confusing measure backed by owners of El Dorado Mobile Home Park failed miserably. The initiative would have sharply limited city discretion over the conversion of the park to condominium ownership. The city has refused to approve the proposed conversion, which tenants oppose, until park owners complete a number of upgrades to the park's infrastructure.
Measure F: No, 85.9%
City of Davis
Nearly three of four voters rejected a 191-unit housing development proposed for 26 acres of agricultural land. A 2000 initiative prohibits the rezoning of agricultural land in Davis without voter approval.
Measure P: No, 74.6% (slow growth)