Stimulated by the success of Ventura County's SOAR initiatives, citizens ï¿½ and some City Councils ï¿½ throughout the state are placing growth restrictions on the local ballot in increasing numbers. Four growth-control initiatives are scheduled for the November ballot, including three sponsored by the Citizens' Alliance for Public Planning, or CAPP, a Pleasanton-based citizen organization active in the Tri-Valley area of eastern Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Up to eight measures may appear next year, including at least two on the March ballot.
Like the Ventura County initiatives sponsored by Save Open-space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR), the CAPP initiatives require voter approval to change local land-use policies. And like the SOAR organizers, CAPP proponents are attempting to influence land-use issues regionally by passing initiatives in adjacent jurisdictions. But unlike the SOAR initiatives, which establish urban growth boundaries and protect agricultural land, the CAPP initiatives would require voter approval for plan amendments required to construct as few as 10 or 20 houses. The CAPP initiatives were placed on the ballot by a new citizen planning group that has entered the roiling Tri-Valley growth wars, which have raged along the I-580 and I-680 corridors in the East Bay during recent years. The increase in initiative activity appears to be partly the result of publicity about SOAR's success, and networking among SOAR's proponents and citizen activists elsewhere. SOAR leader Steve Bennett of Ventura, whose photograph recently appeared in Time magazine, said he fields several phone calls a week from around the state and has advised activists in San Luis Obispo and elsewhere. The increased ballot activity also appears related to the biggest real estate boom since the late 1980s.
Past research has shown that land-use ballot measures increase in response to increased development activity. CAPP measures will appear on ballots this fall in Pleasanton, Livermore, and San Ramon. A council-sponsored measure will appear as an alternative on San Ramon's ballot. In addition, the CAPP organization is working to place measures before Danville and Alameda County voters next year. The only non-CAPP measure on the fall ballot is a SOAR-style measure in Agoura Hills, a small city in Los Angeles County adjacent to Ventura County. CAPP chairman Stan Erickson of Pleasanton did not return telephone calls from CP&DR, but the organization's web site claims that CAPP is a coalition of citizens "brought together by a common vision -- a vision of residential and commercial development done in a manner so as to inspire praise instead of derision. Our vision is to encourage development which is harmonious with the surroundings and with nature. We are against what has become widely known as ï¿½sprawl' development." Somewhat surprisingly, the Greenbelt Alliance has decided to remain neutral on the CAPP initiatives. "Local land-use initiatives need to not only limit irresponsible development, they must also encourage smart growth: attractive, affordable, transit-accessible, infill opportunities," the Alliance said in a written statement. "Unfortunately, the proposed CAPP initiatives do not strike this critical balance." Greenbelt Alliance has been a backer of urban growth boundaries, including the 1996 growth boundary implemented in Pleasanton. The CAPP measures have generated controversy in each of the three jurisdictions where they are scheduled to appear this fall. The biggest brawl is in Livermore, which has the most land available for growth. In particular, the CAPP measure would stymie the city's current plans to work jointly with Alameda County to allow a 12,500-unit development ï¿½ and development of open space ï¿½ in North Livermore. "The issue is whether there's going to be 30,000 people in North Livermore," says Eric Parfrey, an environmental consultant in the East Bay. Parfrey has been assisting citizen activists in Tracy ï¿½ just over the Altamont Pass from Livermore ï¿½ who are seeking to restrict growth there. The North Livermore area has been a major source of contention between Livermore and Alameda County for many years. However, the two jurisdictions recently agreed on the 12,500-unit plan, which dedicates 80% of the property for open-space uses. The CAPP measure would create an urban growth boundary ï¿½ changeable only by a vote ï¿½ that would exclude most of the North Livermore property. The initiative would also require a vote for residential projects of 20 units or more and cut the city's population growth rate to a little more than 1% per year. Part of the reason CAPP proponents are trying to place a measure on the Alameda County ballot is to prevent landowners from moving forward with a large project in North Livermore through the county government, rather than the city government. The CAPP measure was placed on the November ballot by the Livermore City Council after a Superior Court judge ruled initiative petitions invalid because of two minor technical problems. However, the council also appointed a citizen committee to examine alternatives to the 30,000-resident North Livermore plan. In early August, the citizen committee presented a positive evaluation of a proposal to accommodate only 10,000 new residents. The City of Livermore currently has about 75,000 residents. In Pleasanton, CAPP supporters were buoyed by voters' rejection in June of a proposed 89-unit subdivision.
The Pleasanton initiative is similar to the Livermore initiative, requiring a public vote on residential projects of 10 or more units, as well as rezoning of some agricultural properties and approval of commercial and industrial projects more than 55 feet tall. Meanwhile, the landowners and developers who lost the June election have gone to court, claiming that June's referendum results were inconsistent with the city's general plan. In San Ramon, a battle is shaping up between the CAPP initiative and an alternative City Council proposal. The CAPP initiative would require a public vote on projects of 10 units or more and on increased densities in commercial and residential areas. The San Ramon measure also contains General Plan language that encourages infill development. In response, the City Council placed on the ballot an alternative measure that would impose a two-year growth moratorium, initiate a general plan update that the voters would approve, and require voter approval to change the general plan in the future. Meanwhile, in Agoura Hills, voters will decide the SOAR-style initiative on the November ballot. The measure, which was placed on the ballot by the City Council, would require two-thirds voter approval to change the general plan land-use designation of any property from open space to urban development. Sitting adjacent to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, Agoura Hills has approximately one-third of its city designated in open space, most of it mountainous. The Agoura Hills measure resulted from the passage of the 1998 SOAR initiatives in Ventura County. Many slow-growth political alliances straddle the Ventura-Los Angeles county line in the area around Agoura Hills.
In addition to the CAPP initiatives planned for Danville and Alameda County, the following ballot measures are also in the works for next year: o The Dublin City Council has placed an urban growth boundary measure on the November 2000 ballot. The proposal would remove thousands of acres between Dublin and Castro Valley from the city's planning area. Although Dublin is located between San Ramon and Pleasanton on the I-680 corridor, CAPP chose not to pursue an initiative there. o The City of Davis is aiming to place a SOAR-style initiative on the March 2000 ballot. The measure would require a vote on any project involving a rezoning of land designated for open space or agriculture. "If any project came forward, it would get referended anyway," said Mayor Julie Partansky. Unlike Ventura County SOAR, however, the Davis measure would place projects before the voters only after city council approval. o Citizens in Tracy ï¿½ a commuter town in San Joaquin County heavily affected by growth patterns in the Tri-Valley area ï¿½ are preparing a measure for the March ballot that would halve the number of houses permitted each year from 1,500 to 750. According to Parfrey, a consultant to the Tracy Area Residents for Quality Growth, the city has never hit the cap of 1,500 previously but appears likely to do so this year. o Environmental and citizen groups in San Luis Obispo are aiming for a SOAR-style set of initiatives on city and county ballots in November of 2000. "What a SOAR initiative would do is lock in current land-use designations," said Pat Veesart of Go SLO, an environmental group. "The political will on the part of elected officials is not there." o Citizen activists have discussed possible SOAR initiatives in Santa Barbara County and in the L.A. County community of Westlake Village ï¿½ both adjacent to Ventura County ï¿½ but no firm ballot plans have emerged yet.
Stan Erickson, CAPP, (925) 462-4995. Barry Hand, Community Development Director, City of Livermore, (925) 373-5200. Eric Parfrey, Baseline Consulting, (510) 420-8686. Julie Partansky, mayor of Davis, (530) 753-3936. Pat Veesart, Go SLO, (805) 544-1777. CAPP web site: home.att.net/~alliance