After a lull during the off-year election of 2007, land use initiatives and referendums are starting to reappear on local ballots this June. Voters in at least seven jurisdictions are scheduled to decide measures that are related directly or indirectly to what gets built and where.
It might seem odd that the number of ballot measures is increasing in the midst of a real estate recession, but research has consistently indicated that such measures are a lagging economic indicator. That is, they tend to appear in higher numbers at the end of and after a real estate boom.
Although the number of measures on the June primary ballot is small, the number is more substantial when added to the 14 that voters decided in February. Several measures on the June ballot could be important enough to shape development for many years.
Arguably the most important election will be in Napa County, where an initiative imposing a 1% annual growth cap and other development limitations on unincorporated areas in on the ballot. The initiative is at least partly a response to a proposal to redevelop an industrial site just south of Napa with about 3,000 housing units.
Also on the ballot in June:
• Dueling measures in San Francisco regarding redevelopment of Candlestick Point and the Hunter's Point Shipyard. One measure emphasizes low-income housing, while another reinforces plans for a variety of uses, including a new football stadium.
• A measure backed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to prohibit campaign contributions from entities with business pending before the city.
• Expansion of the urban limit line in the Ventura County city of Santa Paula to accommodate a proposed 1,500-unit housing development.
• A Thousand Oaks initiative that would require voters to decide on projects that have certain impacts on roads.
• A height limitation initiative in the City of Chula Vista.
• A referendum of a building height and view protection ordinance adopted by the San Clemente City Council.
• A measure that would prohibit lobbying by any commissioners appointed by the Irvine mayor or City Council.
• A proposal to incorporate the western Riverside County community of Menifee.
A referendum of a development project in the City of Pleasanton will not go before voters because developers successfully sued over the ballot measure, which had received enough signatures to qualify for the June election.
The campaign in Napa County has been going full throttle since the fall of 2007. Napa County is the home of the pivotal Measure J, a 1990 initiative that prohibits the conversion of agricultural land to other uses without voter approval. Measure J led to the state Supreme Court's DeVita decision assuring that voters have the ability to amend a general plan, and it spawned successful copycat initiatives in Ventura County and, most recently, Stanislaus County. Measure J has become as much a part of the Napa County landscape as the valley's famous vineyards. The results of subsequent votes on specific, small projects under Measure J have been mixed, but no one has even attempted a major development in the unincorporated area. A property rights initiative on the June 2006 Napa County ballot received only one-third voter support.
Measure J "has protected the essence and beauty of our region. It has protected agriculture," said Sandy Ellis, executive director of the Napa County Farm Bureau. Although Measure J does not sunset until 2020, the Farm Bureau recently submitted signatures to place a 50-year extension of Measure J on this November's ballot.
Into this decidedly slow-growth atmosphere arrived a proposal to redevelop a 152-acre industrial property just south of the City of Napa, at the gateway to the Napa Valley. Developer Rogal + Walsh + Mol proposes to convert the former Napa Pipe property into a mixed-use district with about 3,000 housing units, extensive industrial, office and retail uses, a hotel and riverfront recreation. Last year, the County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to consider the site as a special study area during a general plan update that is under way.
Environmentalists, slow-growth activists and City of Napa officials raised questions about the project, and by last fall the 26-page "Responsible Growth Initiative" was being circulated. It qualified for this June's ballot as Measure N. Among other things, the initiative would reinstate a 1% growth cap in the unincorporated area and limit new structures to 35 feet in height. A voter-approved cap was in place from 1980 until 2000, when supervisors decided to maintain the cap themselves. The only way the Napa Pipe redevelopment project could go forward as proposed is if supervisors are willing to bust the 1% growth cap, which amounts to about 115 new units annually.
The fact that three supervisors showed a willingness to overturn the 1% limitation forced a new group called Napa Coalition for Responsible Growth to take action, said Victor Ajlouny, a hired political consultant and spokesman for the group.
"The are talking high rises," Ajlouny charged. "They are building a whole new city. It would be right on the riverfront. That's not Napa County. It's absolutely wrong to jam 3,200 homes on one site."
Other growth proposals are also problematic, Ajlouny said, including a request from Pacific Union College in Angwin to build hundreds of houses in the hills above the valley. "All of a sudden, there are a number of proposals for tremendous growth in the unincorporated area," he said while quickly pointing to a 2000 county study that found houses are a financial drain on the county.
Although Measure N clearly has supporters, Napa County's slow-growth "establishment" has not rushed to the bandwagon. The Farm Bureau, for example, is taking no position on the initiative. A 1% growth cap provides for "measured development," Ellis said, but a good policy requires flexibility. Plus, Measure N might run afoul of state housing law and undercut a 2004 settlement between the county, the cities of American Canyon and Napa, and affordable housing advocates regarding provision of fair-share housing, she said.
"Measure N is not a straightforward issue. It has voters hugely confused," Ellis said.
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, who was on the losing end of the 3-2 vote to consider the Napa Pipe project during the general plan update, has also declined to endorse Measure N. The "9111 report" authorized by the Elections Code and commissioned by the county found that the initiative likely would conflict with the county's housing element, he noted.
Measure N proponents "are trying to freeze into being an old version of our growth management plan. That makes it look like bad legislation," Wagenknecht said. "I don't want to explode our current growth management plan. It forces us to deal with our housing in the cities, which is where it belongs."
Wagenknecht is trying to organize a countywide "growth summit" after the June election to discuss the Napa Pipe proposal, extending Measure J, providing for needed housing and other issues. Without saying so, Wagenknecht appears to be assuming that Measure N will fail.
Napa Pipe project developer Keith Rogal is not willing to make that assumption. He is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the "Keep Napa Napa" campaign to defeat the initiative, which he called a "litigation magnate." If Measure N passes, "it would severely restrict the number of building permits that could be issued in any given year, and it would do so in a way that forces us to rethink our project," Rogal said.
Although Measure N has been painted by some people, including proponents, as a referendum on the Napa Pipe project, Rogal argued that such a characterization is unfair.
"We don't have a project yet to run a referendum on," Rogal said. "There hasn't even been a formal scoping session to initiate the EIR."
That may be, but there clearly has been a great deal of thought behind re-use of the former industrial site. Rogal noted that nearly all Napa County job growth is in the south part of the county, where the Napa Pipe site is located. The site is at the intersection of highways and county thoroughfares, rail tracks run through the land, offering the potential for transit, and there is four-fifths of a mile of Napa River frontage, Rogal said. Plus, he said, because the site is bordered by a city park and near a community college, relatively dense development would not upset an existing neighborhood balance, which is always a concern in Napa County.
"What it affords is an opportunity to create a compact neighborhood in an urban form that could be much more attainable for the workforce, and in an area where the employment is located," Rogal said. "It's a remarkably well-located site."
In San Francisco, redevelopment of old industrial lands is also a ballot issue, but in a more direct fashion. Propositions F and G both address redevelopment of the Navy's former Hunter's Point Shipyard site and the adjacent Candlestick Point. One year ago, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 for a conceptual framework for redevelopment of the area. Proposed are 8,500 to 10,000 housing units (25% at below market rate), reconstruction of a dilapidated public housing project, 2.1 million square feet of office, technology and R&D space, 700,000 square feet of retail space, about 350 acres of new and renovated parkland, and either a new 49ers football stadium (if the team remains in town) or additional housing and industrial space. The city has signed an agreement with developer Lennar.
Proposition G essentially endorses this framework and continues the planning and environmental review processes. It is supported by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The competing Proposition F is backed by a coalition of environmental groups, environmental justice advocates and neighborhood activists who argue Lennar's project would price out area residents. Many of the same organizations fought a redevelopment plan for the adjacent Bayview district because of gentrification concerns (see CP&DR Redevelopment Watch, September 2006; In Brief, October 2006). Proposition F would require that 50% of new housing at Hunter's Point and Candlestick Point be available to low-, very low- and extremely low-income households. Advocates say the measure would ensure that poor and working class people can afford to live in one of the nation's most expensive cities.
Newsom, however, has called Proposition F a "poison pill" for redevelopment of the area, and Lennar has contended that Proposition F would likely kill the project — contentions that Measure F backers reject as "politics."
Also on the San Francisco ballot is the Newsom-backed Proposition H, which would prevent elected officials, candidates for office and their political committees from accepting donations from anyone with a permit or California Environmental Quality Act matter pending before the city until six months after the matter has concluded. The only significant opposition to Proposition H appears to be from Republican activists, who are a small minority in San Francisco.
In Ventura County, Santa Paula voters will decide on a proposal to expand the city's urban boundary to the east by 500 acres for Limoneira Company's planned 1,500-unit housing development. Last year, Santa Paula voters moved the growth boundary for a 495-unit high-end housing development in the hills above town. The Limoneira proposal has been far less controversial.
In nearby Thousand Oaks, The Home Depot and The Do it Center are duking it out over Measure B, which would place before voters almost any development project that would increase traffic congestion beyond certain levels. The Do it Center sponsored Measure B to block a proposed Home Depot on the site of a former Kmart store.
In Pleasanton, a referendum of a long-controversial, 51-house subdivision in the rugged hills was blocked from the June ballot by an Alameda County Superior Court judge, who ruled that referendum petitions contained inadequate information about the project. An appeal has been filed, but the June election is off.
Napa County Contacts:
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, (707) 253-4386.
Sandy Ellis, Napa County Farm Bureau, (707) 224-5403.
Keith Rogal, Rogal + Walsh + Mol, (707) 251-0123.
Keep Napa Napa: www.keepnapanapa.org.
Napa Coalition for Responsible Growth: www.votersretakecontrol.org.
April Election Results
Voters in two Los Angeles County cities approved land use measures during municipal balloting in April.
On the ballot in Malibu was an advisory measure concerning an ordinance that would require property owners to remove or trim landscaping in order to restore and maintain primary views from private residences. The issue, of course, is that one homeowner's mature landscaping and trees can block another homeowner's view of the ocean or Santa Monica Mountains. Measure E passed with 60.3% of the vote.
In Lawndale, voters backed Measure A, which authorizes the city to spend more than $1 million to construct a community center at 147th Street and Burin Avenue, adjacent to City Hall. A 1988 ballot measure prohibits the city from spending more than $1 million on public facilities without voter approval. The proposed community center received 75.7% approval.