Voters Show Pro-Growth Sentiment: But November Local Ballot Measure Results Are Mixed Overall–Again
In an election with the typical mix of results, the pro-growth side won 19 of 32 easily classifiable local land use ballot measures on November 5. However, in votes regarding large, well-defined projects, the slow-growth side prevailed most often.
The 59% pro-growth winning percentage contrasts with the past two major election cycles. In November 2000, the slow-growth side won 62% of 55 election contests. In November 1998, the slow-growth side won 18 of 35 ballot measures.
In an election closely watched around the nation, Nevada County voters said no to a property rights initiative. Measure D would have required the county to compensate landowners for regulations that inhibit development.
Slow-growth advocates lost in some surprising places, including the Town of Windsor in Sonoma County and the Town of Tiburon in Marin County, both places where slow-growth sentiments hold strong. Windsor voters rejected a proposed housing permit limit, while Tiburon voters narrowly said no to additional restrictions on undeveloped parcels.
Slow-growth advocates also lost in Berkeley, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure to limit building height. But, truer to form, Berkeley voters agreed to let the City Council amend a waterfront specific plan, probably in a way that blocks a major hotel and restaurant development proposal.
In the Central Valley towns of Galt and West Sacramento, initiatives that aimed to slow or alter growth failed. Voters in Galt, one of the state’s fastest growing towns, rejected a building permit cap. In West Sacramento, an initiative that would have rezoned much of the city’s extensive industrial land failed to receive even one-third of the vote.
Yet development backers lost some significant elections. City of Ventura voters rejected a proposal to build 1,390 housing units in the hills above town. And in nearby Santa Paula, voters refused to expand the urban restriction boundary they approved two years ago to accommodate a large housing and hotel development proposal.
Election day was good to affordable housing advocates. Not only did state voters approve a $2 billion bond for affordable housing projects, voters in San Francisco approved that city’s own $250 million bond to build or rehabilitate low- and moderate-income housing. In San Diego, voters approved a city plan to develop or acquire up to 5,000 units of affordable housing. And in Santa Rosa, the electorate backed a city proposal to double the number of subsidized units in town.
Sales tax increases for transportation projects did not fare well. Voters in Fresno County declined to extend that county’s existing half-cent tax for transportation, while voters in Merced and Solano counties did not provide the two-thirds majority required to pass new half-cent taxes. However, in Riverside County, an extension of a half-cent tax won 70% approval.
As for municipal organization, voters created a new city in Rancho Cordova, rejected incorporation of Castro Valley, and kept Los Angeles whole.
Takings initiative fails
The failure of the Nevada County’s Measure D property rights initiative surprised many observers, and allayed the fears of planners who thought passage might presage similar initiatives in other counties. The seven-sentence initiative would have required the county to compensate property owners for regulations that inhibit development.
A rural county in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nevada County has a long history of defending property rights (see CP&DR, June 2002). So when property rights advocates presented an initiative that mimicked one approved by Oregon voters in 2000, it looked like a sure thing. During the campaign, backers of Measure D outspent opponents 10 to 1. And two supervisor candidates who supported Measure D defeated two incumbents who opposed the initiative.
Yet Measure D attracted only 43% of the vote. The loss appears to be at least partly to blame on a campaign that never presented a clear message and might have had too many spokespersons from too many perspectives.
"The voters perceived that there was an enormous uncertainty both on the fiscal side and on the planning side," said Supervisor Peter Van Zant, who ran the anti-D campaign. Proponents were further hurt when councils in all three Nevada County cities — Nevada City, Grass Valley and Truckee — adopted resolutions opposing Measure D, Van Zant said. Plus, advocates never presented a financial analysis. That meant the only financial information available to voters was a study prepared by the county that said the initiative could cost taxpayers $10 million a year.
Sharon Boivin, a planning commissioner and former county planner who opposed the initiative, said pro-D literature was confusing to the average person. Plus, she said, opponents were easily able to convince voters that Measure D could hurt their property values by permitting the landowner next door to build whatever he wanted.
But why did the supervisor candidates who supported Measure D still win? Boivin thinks most people simply voted the party line, even though supervisorial races technically are nonpartisan. The two winners, Drew Bedwell and Robin Sutherland, are conservative Republicans, and the majority of people in their districts are registered Republicans. Plus, their supporters had spent three years painting incumbents Bruce Conklin and Elizabeth Martin as "lunatic fringe liberals who want to take away your property rights," said Boivin, who has been Conklin’s planning commissioner.
Permit caps lose
Initiatives to cap the number of building permits in Galt — a fast-growing city between Sacramento and Stockton — and in Windsor — a 10-year-old city just north of Santa Rosa — failed to win voter approval.
The Galt measure would have limited single-family housing permits to a maximum of about 300 a year, depending on general plan revenue. Under the initiative’s formula that figured growth was good financially, the city could limit permits to as few as 123 annually if city finances were healthy. With a population of about 21,500, Galt has grown by nearly 10% a year during the last decade, transitioning from a farm town to a bedroom community for Sacramento. And plenty more growth is proposed, including a 2,500-unit retirement development.
The measure split the City Council. But with 55% of voters against Measure R, pro-growth councilman Darryl Clare winning re-election, and slow-growth mayor Bob Kraude losing, voters sent a clear message.
"The voters felt that best way to control growth is at the council level," Clare told the Sacramento Bee.
While the Galt election was a fairly black-and-white decision on growth, the Windsor election was more complicated. Measure X would have limited residential permits to a three-year average of 75 per year, with limited exemptions for affordable housing projects. The City Council unanimously opposed the initiative, but Sonoma County environmental groups were divided.
Proponents argued that the initiative was necessary because the city has not enforced a growth management ordinance that limits new homes to 150 per year. But other potential backers of the initiative stayed away because the initiative made no distinction between 75 apartments and 75 large-lot, single-family houses.
"It really did split some traditional allies," said Kelly Brown, Marin-Sonoma field representative for Greenbelt Alliance, which opposed the initiative. "They had the right goal in mind. Controlling growth within the urban growth boundary is a concern in Sonoma County. But we felt like Measure X was a regressive policy."
No one expects the growth wars in Windsor, which has roughly tripled in population to about 23,000 during the last two decades, to abate because of the Measure X defeat.
Ventura County says no
As has become the norm during the last several elections, Ventura County was a center of ballot-box planning. In November, there were four initiatives in four cities. Two were backed by development interests, and two by slow-growth proponents. All four initiatives failed by wide margins.
The slow-growth side won in Ventura and Santa Paula. In Ventura, 70% of voters rejected a complex initiative known as the "Open 80 Plan." The intent was to let property owners build 1,390 houses on 800 acres in the undeveloped hills above town. In exchange, the property owners would dedicate about 3,000 acres as open space. The vote was the second in two years that protects the hillsides. Last year, Ventura voters approved a measure that requires voter approval of any proposal to extend sewer and water services to the hillside territory.
Santa Paula was the scene of the first true test of a Save Our Agricultural and Open Space (SOAR) boundary. Voters have approved SOAR boundaries in seven Ventura County cities since 1995. The SOAR initiatives require voter approval of development on land designated for agricultural or open space. Three previous subsequent votes under SOAR have been for a church, an assisted living center and a sports park, and all received voter approval.
But this year, developer Pinnacle Corporation of Arizona put forth an initiative in Santa Paula that would have expanded the SOAR growth boundary by 5,200 acres in an area known as Adams Canyon. Proposed was a development of about 2,200 housing units, a hotel, a golf course and retail uses, although the exact project was not defined for voters. Opponents said Santa Paula already has ample room to grow and would be better off revitalizing neglected parts of town.
Pro-growth forces won in Simi Valley and Ojai. In Simi Valley, voters rejected an initiative to shrink the SOAR boundary by 2,800 acres. The initiative would have blocked a development proposed by Tosco of a 400-acre industrial park, 1,600 housing units and a 42-acre cemetery. Instead, voters stuck by the SOAR boundary they approved four years earlier.
In Ojai, voters said no to an initiative that would have required every project to mitigate its traffic impacts fully. The measure appeared to prohibit any project that would add even one vehicle to Ojai’s clogged streets. The City Council contended the initiative was unconstitutional and sued to keep it off the ballot. A Ventura County judge and the Second District Court of Appeal decided to keep the measure before voters, but they rejected the plan by nearly a two-to-one ratio.
State gets 478th city
Voters in the Sacramento County community of Rancho Cordova approved incorporation of that county’s third new city since 1997. However, voters in the Alameda County community of Castro Valley rejected an incorporation proposal. Both votes were lopsided.
The contrasting votes might be the result of two different approaches. In Rancho Cordova, a group of community leaders had been working steadily on incorporation since the 1980s. They persisted despite stiff resistance from the county and even got Assemblyman Anthony Pescetti, a Rancho Cordova resident, to carry a bill that prevented the county from dragging its feet any longer. Rancho Cordova, a community of about 55,000 people along Highway 50, a few miles east of Sacramento, will officially become a city in July 2003.
In Castro Valley, however, there was no grass roots campaign behind incorporation. At the behest of Supervisor Nate Miley, who promised during his 2000 election campaign to pursue incorporation, Alameda County served as the applicant for incorporation. There was no built-in constituency of incorporation supporters who had signed petitions. In fact, the initiative got about half as many votes as a typical petition would have required signatures simply to qualify incorporation for the ballot.
Diana Hanna, co-founder of an incorporation opposition group called Castro Valley Truth, said she and others opposed incorporation because a new city would not be bound by an urban growth boundary for unincorporated areas that Alameda County voters approved in 2000. The urban growth boundary initiative protected the undeveloped hills of Castro Valley. Plus, she said, feasibility studies made it clear that a new city could survive financially only if it approved substantial new commercial development. With a population of 58,000 Castro Valley is mostly a residential area.
Proposals to carve up the City of Los Angeles into three cities failed miserably. The proposed secession of the 1.6 million-person San Fernando Valley lost 2-to-1 citywide. In fact, only half of voters in the Valley backed secession. The proposed Hollywood secession faired even worse.