Growth-Control Initiatives Receive Mixed Reception In Off-Year Election: Voters Defeat East Bay CAPP, But Development Fight Cont
In an off-year election that surprised many observers, slow-growth advocates lost battles in some surprising places, but they also claimed victories in some pro-growth cities. Most importantly, voters in the East Bay cities of San Ramon, Pleasanton and Livermore rejected the Citizens Alliance for Public Planning initiatives that would have put on future ballots all but the tiniest of developments. And, in the first test of a Ventura County SOAR growth restriction, the electorate approved rezoning of farmland to allow construction of a church and recreational facilities.
However, growth-control measures of various stripes received voter approval in the Southern California towns of Apple Valley, Agoura Hills and Chino Hills, and in the Bay Area city of Half Moon Bay. Plus, voters rejected a development-backed urban limit line initiative in Fairfield.
Overall, the election season was fairly even, with slow-growth forces winning ten ballot measures and the pro-development side victorious eight times. In the past, slow-growth forces have generally recorded higher winning percentages during off-year elections. In November of 1997, voters approved nine of 12 slow-growth measures.
Most eyes this time were on the CAPP initiatives, which could have set a new standard for growth-control. The measures would have required votes for developments as small as 10 units in San Ramon and Pleasanton, and as small as 20 units in Livermore. Analysts with very different perspectives said the anti-growth sentiment that spawned CAPP remains, but apparently the CAPP medicine was too strong.
"The mechanism was too extreme," said John Landis, an urban planning professor at University of California, Berkeley. "But the anger is still there over what is seen as uncontrolled growth in the East Bay."
Landis said people rejected the CAPP measures because they did not want to have to return to the voting booth again and again to decide every development. Livermore, where CAPP failed by the largest margin (62% to 38%), has done a pretty good job of managing growth with population and building ceilings and by relying increasingly on specific plans, he said. The vote was closest in the southern Contra Costa County city of San Ramon (53% to 47%) because of concern over development in the neighboring Tassajara Valley, Landis said. Developers in the past have proposed building up to 5,000 homes in the Tassajara Valley, most of which lies outside Contra Costa County's urban growth boundary.
Ronald Zumbrun, a Sacramento property rights attorney who contends many growth-control initiatives are unconstitutional, agreed with Landis that the CAPP initiatives failed because they went too far. The Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources Initiatives that have proven so popular to Ventura County voters in recent years offered the appeal of protecting farms and scenic vistas, he noted. But the CAPP measures only promised to give voters many more future elections.
"I was predicting ahead of time that those initiatives might very well not pass. And the reason I felt that way was because they were a cap on housing and they did not have the support of some of the no-growth groups," Zumbrun said.
Notably, the Greenbelt Alliance, which has a high profile in the East Bay, took no position on the CAPP initiatives. Evelyn Stivers, Greenbelt Alliance's East Bay field representative, said the group did not endorse CAPP because the measures discouraged infill development and could harm affordable housing goals. Greenbelt Alliance did not oppose the CAPP initiatives because the group did not want to take a stance against a grass roots effort, she explained.
The CAPP campaign caused a split among some natural allies in the East Bay and "there have been a lot of hurt feelings," Stivers said. Various organizations are now trying to find common ground, such as opposition to development in North Livermore, she said. It's too early to talk about future ballot initiatives, said Stivers, but she noted a CAPP initiative has qualified for the March 2000 ballot in Danville.
Landis and others believe the slow-growth movement will soon return to the East Bay ballot box. Landis predicted growth boundaries or possibly development ceilings will be the tools next time around.
The Sierra Club has indicated it will move forward with a proposed growth boundary initiative in Alameda County. Twenty miles east of Livermore in the City of Tracy, activists vowed to continue pressing ahead with a proposed initiative to limit the number of homes built each year to 750, half of the currently allowed maximum.
East Bay decision-makers, said Landis, need to take notice of growth's mounting impacts. Many East Bay developments entitled during the recession of the early 1990s sat idle until now, when the massive economic expansion in Silicon Valley — where nine new jobs are created for every one new housing unit built — is spurring construction. This situation creates a disconnection between project approval and on-the-ground effects that anger existing residents.
Some people portrayed the CAPP measures as the offspring of the SOAR initiatives that are in place in six Ventura County cities and in unincorporated Ventura County. In development's first test under SOAR — which requires that voters approve rezoning of farmland and open space — City of Ventura voters approved rezoning 25 acres from agriculture to residential. The First Assembly of God forced the election so it could build a church and athletic fields.
During the campaign, some SOAR leaders opposed the project, in part because the church, if it won the election, could then build houses or sell its property to developers. As SOAR is designed, the election on rezoning comes before city officials consider an actual project. However, church leaders said they had no intention of building houses and even filed a covenant preventing housing construction without a subsequent election. Nearly 55% of voters in Ventura, the first city to approve SOAR in 1995, backed the church.
San Bernardino County
To a casual observer, the election was downright strange in pro-growth San Bernardino County. Measures that restrict housing densities were approved in Apple Valley and Chino Hills — two places not known for growth controls. Meanwhile, voters in Redlands, the only slow-growth city in the area, rejected two growth-restricting measures.
The Apple Valley election was the most contentious and produced amazingly one-sided results. Voters approved an initiative (Measure N) that locks in the residential zoning district's half-acre minimum lot size for 20 years, and requires the city to place any rezoning or general plan amendment on the ballot. Voters rejected a competing measure, put on the ballot by the City Council, that would have allowed the council to alter zoning and shrink lot sizes. Voters also recalled the three city council members who supported reducing minimum parcel sizes. All votes were decided by ratios of at least 80 to 20.
"I don't know that any other issue could have galvanized our community like this one has," said Pat Orr, an organizer of Citizens United, a group that led the recall effort. The council's plan to reduce lot sizes was the entire basis for the recall, he said.
Earlier this year, the City Council conducted a public hearing regarding smaller residential lots that attracted hundreds of people, nearly all of whom opposed the proposal. But the council majority refused to drop the proposal and council members put it on the ballot as a general plan amendment. At the same time, Citizens United qualified the initiative that freezes residential densities. The council's refusal to dismiss the idea in the face of such obvious opposition spurred recall efforts, Orr said.
Apple Valley, like other cities in Southern California's high desert, has generally welcomed development. That attitude has not changed, said Orr, who owns two pizza parlors in town. Apple Valley has a tradition of horse ranches, large lots and nice homes for retirees, and there is little support for extensive housing tracts or multi-family development. Recent apartment construction has become a sore point, he said.
"It's mostly about preserving the lifestyle. Even the people who live in the apartments, when polled, say that when they move up, they want that type of lifestyle," Orr said.
Kenneth J. Henderson, Apple Valley's economic and community development director, worries that Measure N's mandate that rezoning go to voters could discourage businesses from coming to Apple Valley. The neighboring cities of Victorville and Hesperia lack such a requirement.
"For the most part, the commercial and industrial zoning we have in town appears to be adequate to meet our needs for the foreseeable future," Henderson said. And, he added, Measure N should not affect a 136-acre retail, light industrial and residential project that has been in the works for three years. A City Council vote is scheduled for December 7.
Apple Valley plans to hire a consultant to address how Measure N affects the city's ability to meet state housing mandates.
The election in Chino Hills — a city of 58,000 near the intersection of the San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange county lines — was less explosive but came in an area where growth pressures are greater. Voters by a 3-to-1 ratio approved an initiative that requires an election before the city can increase existing residential zoning densities or rezone commercial property to residential. Measure U has the effect of keeping Chino Hills's minimum lot size at 7,200 square feet.
A group called Save Our Canyons backed the initiative by arguing that the initiative preserves the area's "rural heritage." A Save Our Canyons leader, Carleton Shepard told the Ontario Daily Bulletin, "Measure U was all about preventing the building industry from dictating the growth of our city."
The Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association campaigned against the measure, and the group vowed to fight attempts to make developers pay the cost of future elections mandated by Measure U.
The city has not been getting proposals for small-lot development, but it has received plans that call for three or four houses per acre on land zoned for one to two houses an acre, said Brian Saeki, a Chino Hills planner. The city had a moratorium on rezones leading up to the election because of the number projects submitted, he said.
In Redlands, just east of San Bernardino, voters rejected an initiative (Measure V) that would have imposed an annual limit on residential development of 400 units, encouraged citrus production and altered traffic patterns to prevent commuters from using residential and downtown streets. Voters also turned down Measure W, which would have placed strict limits on building houses in 6,000 acres of the San Timoteo Canyon. Also, two incumbent city council members who supported the initiatives lost their re-election bids by wide margins. The election outcome may well indicate that Redlands voters are moving away from the slow-growth politics that have characterized the city in the past.
Developers lose elsewhere
About 85 percent of voters in Agoura Hills, a Los Angeles County city of 22,000 along Highway 101 near the Ventura County line, backed a measure that requires two-thirds of voters to approve development on existing open space. About 40 percent of the city is now designated as open space, mostly in the form of oak-studded hills that surround the town. The City Council unanimously supported the initiative.
Ray Pearl, deputy director of governmental affairs for the Los Angeles County Chapter of the BIA, said his organization opposed Measure B but he was not surprised it passed. "Our builders just don't care about Agoura Hills. They [city officials] are difficult to do business with. … They just want their precious open space," Pearl said.
The Agoura Hills measure is a cousin of the SOAR initiatives in Ventura County. However, the Ventura County growth-controls require only majority votes and are targeted mostly at farmland. Ballot measures in this vein could appear in the future in the cities of Calabasas and Westlake Village, upscale communities on either side of Agoura Hills.
Farther south and one week later, in the San Diego suburb of Santee, voters said no to a proposed 3,000-unit housing development, golf course, hotel and small commercial center. The City Council approved the Fanita Ranch development in May, but project opponents forced referenda on the general plan amendment and specific plan. (See CP&DR Local Watch, September 1999.) The referenda in the November 9 special election failed nearly two-to-one. Increased traffic was the biggest issue.
Somewhat confusingly, Santee voters also rejected a measure placed on the ballot by the City Council that called for the city to pursue purchase of the property as permanent open space if the referenda failed. One year earlier, voters defeated a proposition that would have limited Santee Ranch development to 1,277 homes.
Five hundred miles north, voters in Half Moon Bay said they want to clamp down tightly on development in the San Mateo County coastal city. The city already had a 3% annual growth cap, but voters reduced it to 1% per year, or about 40 building permits. Measure D allows up to 1.5% growth if the additional half-percent is in downtown.
The city has turned away a handful of would-be builders under the 3% cap, so officials must determine how to allocate even more precious permits, said Bill Smith, Half Moon Bay senior planner. The city is now learning how to implement Measure D and is beginning the process of amending its Local Coastal Plan, which the initiative impacted.
In the City of Fairfield, developers lost by the widest margin. Nearly 90% of voters rejected developers' initiative that would have permitted construction on farmland outside Fairfield's existing urban growth boundary. Developers were eyeing land near Travis Air Force Base. In exchange, the growth boundary would have shrunk in other parts of town.
Developers formed a committee called Greenbelt Yes, which spent a stunning $700,000 campaigning for Measure I in this city of 92,000. But the City Council unanimously opposed the initiative, and several activist groups battled the measure. The Greenbelt Alliance's Stivers said opponents made personal contact with nearly every voter in Fairfield during the extended campaign.
Fairfield voters in 1997 narrowly defeated a growth-restricting urban limit line initiative. A similar measure may surface in the near future.
John Landis, UC Berkeley urban planning professor, (510) 642-5918.
Ronald Zumbrun, attorney, (916) 486-5900.
Evelyn Stivers, Greenbelt Alliance East Bay field representative, (925) 932-7776.
Kenneth J. Henderson, Apple Valley economic and community development director, (760) 240-7900.
Pat Orr, Citizens United in Apple Valley, (760) 948-5060.
Bill Smith, Half Moon Bay senior planner, (650) 726-8250.