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February Election Update: Stanislaus County Approves Growth-Control Initiative

Stanislaus County voters became the first in the Central Valley to approve a county-wide growth-control initiative when they backed a ballot measure that prohibits the rezoning of agricultural land for residential uses without voter approval.

While voters in what had been growth-friendly Stanislaus County endorsed growth control, voters in Santa Clara and Rocklin backed specific housing projects. Meanwhile, voters in San Clemente overturned the city's approval of a condominium project. Also on Super Tuesday, voters in the western Riverside County community of Wildomar supported incorporation, but voters in the Sierra foothills community of Oakhurst rejected formation of a new city.

Traditionally, growth-control initiatives have been a coastal phenomenon. But they have been inching into the valley in recent years. A growth boundary initiative in Stockton narrowly lost out to a city-written boundary measure in 2004 (see CP&DR, December 2004). Tracy voters adopted a housing permit cap in 2000 and have refused to ease it. Davis has plenty of voter-imposed growth rules. Modesto has advisory vote requirements that date to the 1970s.

However, none of those restrictions compares to Measure E known as Stamp Out Sprawl or SOS which Stanislaus County voters supported by a 2-to-1 ratio. Similar to Napa County's Measure J and the SOAR initiatives in Ventura County (see CP&DR, December 1998; Insight, December 2000), Measure E requires voters to decide the rezoning of agricultural land, although Measure E is limited to residential rezonings. In Ventura and Napa counties, significant development in unincorporated areas has nearly ceased. If the effect is the same in Stanislaus County, it would be a major change because, according to a Modesto Bee analysis, the county has approved nearly 3,000 houses in unincorporated areas since 2000.

County supervisors tried to block Measure E. First, they delayed the vote on Measure E until 2008, even though advocates submitted petition signatures in June 2006. In the interim, developers drafted a growth-friendly plan for Salida, the county's largest unincorporated growth area, and gathered signatures to place the plan on the ballot. When the Salida plan qualified for the ballot, supervisors simply adopted the initiative rather than permitting voters to decide (see CP&DR Local Watch, September 2007).

Surprisingly, the development community did not campaign against Measure E, which might have been the result of a county strategy that backfired. After placing SOS on the ballot, the county drafted an alternative ballot measure that would have placed a two-year moratorium on agricultural land conversions, created a citizens committee to update the general plan, and then placed that update in front of voters. Steve Madison, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central California (BIACC), said the county's alternative Measure L was in some ways worse than SOS. Thus, the BIACC would have been in the untenable position of having to campaign against both the citizen initiative and the county's alternative.

"In the near-term, it will result in people not wanting to do a project in the county," Madison said of SOS. "It makes the application process a beauty contest because you have to attract the voters."

Denny Jackman, an SOS co-author and former Modesto councilman, said builders didn't fight Measure E because they know that protecting farmland has become a public priority. Plus, he said, "There are nine incorporated cities in Stanislaus County, so there are plenty of areas in which the BIA can still build."

That may be, but Madison wonders how long those cities will remain growth magnets. "I don't for a minute think that the people who were behind this won't go to every city and try to get the same thing passed," Madison said.

Jackman contended the SOS vote sent "a real strong signal" to the county and cities about growth planning and farmland preservation. But Larry Giventer, a professor of politics and administration at California State University, Stanislaus, questioned the significance of the SOS vote.

"I don't think very many people followed Measure E, compared with all the hype the presidential election and state propositions were getting. It sort of flew under the radar," Giventer said.

In addition, the City of Modesto had its own high-profile ballot measures one giving the City Council more authority over city administration and one dividing the city into council districts. Those measures in the county's largest city received far more attention than the SOS initiative, Giventer said.

What helped Measure E was its offer to let voters decide on development, Giventer added. "I don't think it's a harbinger of things to come, I think it's a reflection of the past. Voters like to control things," he said.

In Riverside County, voters decided to make Wildomar the 479th city in California and the 25th in the county. Covering 24 square miles along Interstate 15, Wildomar has a population of about 27,000 people. In the past, Wildomar residents have fended off annexation attempts by the neighboring cities of Lake Elsinore and Murrieta.

There are two unusual twists to the Wildomar incorporation. First, the county agreed to pay the new city between $250,000 and $310,000 annually for 10 years. Typically, the state's revenue neutrality law requires that new cities pay the county for a period to offset lost county revenue (see CP&DR Insight, July 2002; CP&DR, May 1999). But in Wildomar's case, an analysis found that incorporation would save the county money because the city would assume provision of services to the largely residential community. The revenue transfer from the county to the city was not a requirement for fiscal viability, Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission Executive Officer George Spiliotis said. But the transfer made the city even more feasible, and the county is strongly encouraging communities to incorporate, he said.

The county-to-new city transfer appears to be the first of its kind, but maybe not the last. Voters in the Western Riverside County community of Menifee are scheduled to decide on incorporation in June. That incorporation includes a transfer of about $1 million annually for 10 years from the county to the city, according to Spiliotis.

The second twist to the Wildomar incorporation is the creation of City Council districts, as nearly 57% of voters backed a second ballot measure calling for five districts rather than an at-large council. Only a handful of large cities in California elect the legislative body by district.

While voters approved Wildomar incorporation, voters rejected creation of a new city in Oakhurst, a community of about 4,200 people in eastern Madera County at the junction of Highways 41 and 49. Opponents carried the day by arguing that proponents sought incorporation to encourage growth and that they did not keep the public adequately appraised of cityhood efforts.

In the cities of Santa Clara and Rocklin, voters upheld approval of development projects, while in San Clemente voters tossed out an approved project.

In Santa Clara, 60% of voters backed a plan to reuse the University of California's 17-acre Bay Area Research Extension Center site for development of 110-single family houses by SummerHill Homes and a 165-unit low-income senior citizens apartment complex by Charities Housing. The university closed the agricultural research center across from Valley Fair mall about five years ago. SummerHill agreed to pay the state $34 million for 11 acres, while the city and Charities Housing agreed to pay $10 million for 6 acres. Development opponents called the site the "last 17 acres of open space in Santa Clara" and still have a suit pending over the project's environmental impact report.

In the Sacramento suburb of Rocklin, voters backed developer Rick Massie's proposed 558-unit, 622-acre project in Clover Valley. The site has been a growth battle zone since the 1990s, with development opponents arguing the oak-studded grasslands should be preserved as a park. Project supporters defended the development for maintaining about half of the site as public open space. The United Auburn Indian Community, which owns the nearby Thunder Valley Casino, has promised to buy 154 lots to preserve the remains of an ancient community.

In San Clemente, more than two-thirds of voters overturned the City Council's approval of a project that involved replacing nine holes of the private Pacific Golf Club with 224 housing units. The project, approved 3-2 by the council in June 2007, included a development agreement in which landowner Michael Rosenfeld would pay $11.5 million for development of a community park and senior center elsewhere in town. Opponents who forced a referendum vote said the housing project would reduce open space, increase traffic and raise public service costs. In November, San Clemente voters are scheduled to decide on a measure that would prohibit any conversion of designated open space to residential use without approval of the electorate.


February 2008 Local Election Results


Alameda County

Voters rejected two parcel tax measures for Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland. Measure B was a hospital-backed initiative, while Measure A was a compromise between the hospital and the county. Both would have imposed an annual tax of $24 per residential parcel and $100 to $250 for business parcels to raise about $300 million for construction of a new hospital. Measure A would have lasted 35 years compared with Measure B's 30 years, and Measure A would have given a greater cut to the county to pay for tax administration. County officials disliked both measures because they imposed a tax to pay for a private hospital and placed the burden solely on Alameda County landowners even though the hospital serves the region. Hospital neighbors complained that new hospital facilities would displace families and conflict with the North Oakland neighborhood character.
Measure A (2/3 vote required): No, 58.9%
Measure B (2/3 vote required): No 69.2%


Imperial County

A measure prohibiting the importing of sewage sludge into the county passed easily. The measure is aimed at blocking a "sludge-to-energy" plant proposed by Liberty Energy east of the Salton Sea.
Measure X: Yes, 68.8%


Madera County

Oakhurst. Voters in this 13-square-mile, 4,200-person community in the foothills rejected incorporation.
Measure C: No, 57.1%


Napa County

Voters approved a general plan amendment and zoning change to permit the four-acre Stanly Lane Pumpkin Patch, located in an agricultural zone south of Napa, to have a delicatessen and wine tastings.
Measure K: Yes, 57.3%


Orange County

City of Newport Beach. Voters approved an initiative that amends the city charter to require a new city hall to be built on city-owned land between MacArthur Boulevard and Avocado Avenue, next to the central library. For years, the city has promised to develop the hilly 12.8-acre site as a park. Initiative proponents said the site offers the cheapest location for a much-needed city hall.
Measure B: Yes, 52.9%

City of San Clemente. A project that involved replacing nine holes of the private Pacific Golf Club with 224 housing units failed at the polls. Opponents who forced a referendum vote said the development would reduce open space, increase traffic and raise public service costs.
Measure C: No, 68.9%


Placer County

City of Rocklin. In a referendum, voters backed a proposed 558-unit, 622-acre project in Clover Valley. However, the development may amount to only about 400 houses, as the United Auburn Indian Community has promised to buy 154 lots to preserve the remains of an ancient community.
Measure H: Yes, 52.8%


Riverside County

Wildomar. Incorporation of the community of 27,000 people along Interstate 15, between Lake Elsinore and Murrieta, won approval.
Measure C: Yes, 61.6%


San Diego County

City of Coronado. In a showdown over public facility development at the beach, voters said they want new projects. An initiative that would have prohibited any building at the beach including lifeguard buildings, restrooms or a bike path without voter approval failed. Meanwhile, a measure asking whether the city may go forward with a planned 2,500-square-foot lifeguard support building won easily.
Proposition A (voter approval requirement): No, 53.2%
Proposition B (lifeguard support building): Yes, 68.1%


San Francisco

A $185 million park bond to pay for development of three new bay front parks and extensive repairs and renovations at existing parks and green spaces was approved.
Proposition A (2/3 vote required): Yes, 71.3%


Santa Clara County

City of Santa Clara. In a referendum election, voters backed a plan to re-use the University of California's 17-acre Bay Area Research Extension Center site for development of 110 single-family houses and a 165-unit, low-income senior citizens apartment complex.
Measure A (general plan amendment): Yes, 59.8%
Measure B (rezoning): Yes, 59.8%


Stanislaus County

Voters endorsed the "Stamp Out Sprawl" initiative prohibiting the rezoning of agricultural land to residential uses without voter approval. Also on the ballot was the county's alternative "Responsible Planning and Growth Control Initiative" proposing a two-year moratorium on agricultural land conversions until the county completes a general plan update. Although both passed, the SOS initiative takes effect because it received about 600 more votes than the county alternative.
Measure E (citizen initiative): Yes, 67.4%
Measure L (county alternative), Yes: 62.7%


Yuba County

Not surprisingly, voters turned down the 5,100-unit Yuba Highlands project that the county had approved on 2,900 acres between Beale Air Force Base and Spenceville State Wildlife Refuge (see CP&DR Local Watch, June 2007). In January, developer Gary Gallelli urged voters to reject the project so that he could pursue a scaled-down version.
Measure N: No, 77.6%