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Voters To Decide Bay Area Growth

Paul Shigley on
Sep 1, 2006

Voters in three Bay Area counties have the opportunity in November to cement in place existing policies that steer nearly all growth to cities and away from unincorporated territory. Measures in Contra Costa and Solano counties appear to face limited opposition, but an initiative that would increase parcel sizes and require voters to decide rezoning of some agricultural land and hillsides in Santa Clara County appears to be drawing stiffer protests.

A number of environmental groups are behind the Santa Clara County Land Conservation Initiative, which aims to limit development sharply on 400,000 acres of unincorporated hillsides and rangeland. Backers say the initiative is necessary to strengthen the existing county general plan, which already limits most development in the targeted areas. Opponents say the measure would unnecessarily harm farmers’ property values and would place too many subjective standards in the general plan.

Those are familiar arguments in local fights over preserving farmland and open space. Also sounding familiar are arguments in eight counties regarding proposed sales tax measures to fund transportation projects. In other local elections this fall, voters are scheduled to decide:

• A $1 billion housing bond in Los Angeles, the largest local housing bond in history.
• A Newport Beach initiative that would put most development projects in front of voters.
• A plan to create an open space district in Napa County, and a proposal to extend a Sonoma County sales tax to fund open space acquisition.
• Measures that directly or indirectly decide the fate of housing proposals in the Bay Area cities of Fremont, Brisbane, Pacifica and Cupertino, and in the City of Shasta Lake in far Northern California.

The Santa Clara County situation is similar to that in Ventura County leading up to passage of the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiatives during the late 1990s (see CP&DR, December 1998, September 1998). In both cases, county growth policies steered growth to cities, but activists argued the Board of Supervisors could change course and open up new territory for development.

The Santa Clara County initiative would rezone hillsides with at least 10% slopes and designated ranchlands to 160-acre minimum lot sizes, and keep large-scale agriculture lots to a minimum of 40 acres. The lengthy measure addresses permitted uses in hillside, ranchland and agricultural areas, and imposes additional restrictions to protect stream corridors, wildlife habitat and forests. The measure is largely the work of retired Stanford law professor Robert Girard and environmental advocate Peter Drekmeier, both of whom are longtime growth-control warriors. A coalition of the Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance and the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society called People for Land and Nature (PLAN) is leading the campaign.

On the other side are the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau, the Home Builders Association of Northern California (HBANC) and hillside property owners groups.

What the two sides can agree on is that there currently is very little development in the targeted areas. Over the last 10 years, Santa Clara County has issued an average of 70 building permits annually for rural areas, according to Jenny Derry, executive director of the Farm Bureau. The two sides diverge on the likely future of those same lands without the initiative.

“We’re seeing increasing pressure to build out onto the ranchlands and hillsides, and we’re seeing increasing threats such as the Richard Pombo freeway from the Central Valley into the Silicon Valley that would open up some of the Mount Hamilton rangelands, ” Drekmeier said. Indeed, U.S. Rep. Pombo (R-Tracy) has floated the idea of building a freeway from Interstate 5 through the Diablo Range to Highway 101.

Drekmeier, a Palo Alto city councilman who heads up PLAN, said the initiative only strengthens the existing county general plan by ensuring the Board of Supervisors does not approve amendments permitting large-scale development in rural areas without voter consent.

Opponents say the threat of development in remote rural areas is overstated. “Very little is built in the hillside areas,” said Beverly Bryant, executive director HBANC’s southern division. She called Measure A “a solution in search of a problem.”

Although builders do little business in the targeted areas, they oppose the measure because it would restrict property rights and lock in policies that may need to evolve over the long-term as cities try to accommodate growth, Bryant said. Plus, development in cities is not always popular either, she said, pointing to two condominium project referendums on the ballot in the City of Cupertino.

Derry said the measure would hurt farmers because it would devalue their most important business asset — their land — and because it would prevent them from building a couple houses for family members on farms. Moreover, farming is not always practical in an urban county such as Santa Clara, where residents complain about smelly and noisy agricultural operations, she said.

Measure A “purports to save farming and ranching in Santa Clara County, but it was written without input from us,” Derry said. “That seems disingenuous to not include the people who will be most affected.” A better approach would be that taken by The Nature Conservancy and the Silicon Valley Land Trust, which buy conservation easements from landowners, she said.
Drekmeier countered that the entire Highway 101 corridor — where most urban-ag conflicts occur — is untouched by Measure A. “We shopped the initiative around to a lot of different groups. It’s been three years in the making, so we think we have a very good product,” he said.

In Contra Costa County, a proposed urban growth boundary is a follow-up to a 2004 transportation sales tax, in which voters required the county and cities to adopt “mutually agreed upon, voter approved” growth boundaries to receive a cut of sales tax revenues. The county and cities negotiated unsuccessfully for months, and last November Antioch, Pittsburg and Brentwood put their own boundary measures on local ballots. Antioch and Pittsburg voters approved their respective city boundaries, which are more expansive than the county favored.

Although the county boundary on the ballot this November follows the voter-approved lines for Antioch and Pittsburg, the county boundary overall is similar to one that has been in place since the 1990s. Under the measure on the ballot in November, expanding the boundary by more than 30 acres will require an election, and the county will review the boundary every five years.

In Solano County, an initiative would extend the existing Orderly Growth Initiative until 2036. First approved by voters in 1984, the policy prohibits most development on land zoned for agriculture, watershed or open space.

This is “an important time” for Solano County, said Amanda Brown-Stevens, field director for Greenbelt Alliance, which endorses the initiative. The existing policy “has made a difference. Without this, the sprawl potential will be that much greater. If it [the policy] is locked in for 30 years, it will send a strong message about city-centered growth.”

Bob Glover, HBANC eastern division executive director, said the organization has taken a neutral position on the Contra Costa and Solano measures because they simply maintain the status quo and would have minimal impact on overall home production.

Contacts:
Peter Drekmeier, People for Land and Nature, (650) 223-3333.
Jenny Derry, Santa Clara County Farm Bureau, (408) 776-1684.
Beverly Bryant, Home Builders Association of Northern California, (408) 977-1490.
Amanda Brown-Stevens, Greenbelt Alliance, (415) 543-6771.
Pro-Measure A website: http://openspace2006.org
Anti-Measure A website: http://votenoonmeasurea.com

Alameda County

City of Albany Voters will decide on a $5 million bond to expand the fire station and add “sustainable building features” to the civic center complex. Measure C requires two-thirds voter approval.

City of Berkeley
• To accommodate the proposed development of five sports fields, Measure F would amend the voter-approved waterfront specific plan to make public or commercial recreation facilities by-right uses.

• Measure I would allow greater conversion of apartments to condominiums and reduce affordable housing requirements for conversions.

• Measure J is an initiative that would keep in place the city’s rigorous system of historic preservation. The city has considered weakening some of the provisions.

City of Fremont
• Measure K would rezone land near Coyote Hills Regional Park to agriculture. The initiative is an attempt to block a proposed 800-unit housing development on the Patterson Ranch.

Hayward Area Recreation and Park District
• A $30 million bond would preserve open space and create parks in Castro Valley. Measure Q requires two-thirds approval.

City of Oakland
• A $148 million library bond would convert the recently closed Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center into a library and build new branch libraries. Two-thirds vote required.

City of Pleasanton
• The fate of the Bernal property is again before voters, this time in the form of the “grand park” design approved by the City Council.

Contra Costa County

• A countywide urban growth boundary that is similar to existing limits goes before voters.

City of Orinda
• A $59.1 million bond would pay for road, storm drain and water main improvements. Two-thirds vote required.

Fresno County

• Measure C calls for the renewal of a half-cent sales tax for transportation for 20 years. The county’s existing half-cent tax was approved by only a majority of voters in 1986 and is scheduled to expire in 2007. Two-thirds vote required.

Kern County

• A half-cent sales tax for 20 years would raise about $1 billion for transportation projects. Two-thirds vote required.

Los Angeles County

City of Arcadia
• Two initiatives backed by the Westfield Santa Anita mall — and aimed at developer Rick Caruso’s plan for a lifestyle center at Santa Anita race track, across from the Westfield mall — are on the ballot. One measure would prohibit paid parking in large commercial centers; the second would bar billboards on the race track property.

City of Los Angeles
• A $1 billion housing bond would provide $750 million for grants and loans to developers of affordable housing and $250 million for home-purchase assistance. Two-thirds vote required.

City of Pasadena
• Measure A calls for the renovation of the Rose Bowl so that it may be leased to a pro football team.

Marin County

• A quarter-cent sales tax would provide funds to build and operate a 70-mile commuter rail line from Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County to Larkspur in southern Marin County, where a ferry provides transportation to San Francisco. Two-thirds vote required.

Merced County

• A half-cent sales tax for 30 years to fund transportation projects returns to the ballot after losing narrowly in June. Measure A requires a two-thirds vote.

Napa County

• Voters are scheduled to decide whether to create the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.

Orange County

• Measure M would raise nearly $12 billion over 30 years for transportation projects by extending an existing half-cent sales tax. It took three tries for the existing tax, which expires in 2011, to pass with a majority vote. A two-thirds vote is required this time.

City of Newport Beach
• The Greenlight II initiative would require voters to decide on any proposed development that would “significantly increase traffic, density or intensity above the as-built condition of a neighborhood.” The initiative is a follow-up to a 2000 measure that requires votes on certain projects exceeding general plan provisions.

Sacramento County

• A quarter-cent sales tax increase for 15 years would fund development of a downtown Sacramento basketball arena and other public facilities. Because tax proceeds are not specifically earmarked in the ballot measure, only a majority vote is required.

San Bernardino County

• A county-crafted ballot measure would prohibit the county from using eminent domain to acquire property for the purpose of transferring it to another private entity.

San Diego County

• In an advisory election, voters will be asked whether they favor development of a commercial airport on a portion of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. The San Diego Regional Airport Authority recommended the site over other locations despite the military’s opposition.

City of Carlsbad
• Two ballot measures regarding the “strawberry fields” just east of Interstate 5 are on the ballot. A citizens initiative would designate the 320-acre area as agricultural; a City Council alternative would designate most of the area as regional open space but would permit commercial development on 48 acres near the freeway.

City of Vista
• A half-cent sales tax for 30 years would pay for a new civic center, fire stations, sports fields and upgrades to the city-owned amphitheater. Because the measure does not specifically earmark revenues, only a majority approval is required.

San Francisco
• A measure backed by Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval would require chain stores (formula businesses with at least 11 locations) to receive a special use permit before opening in a neighborhood commercial district. The city already restricts chains in a few parts of town.

San Joaquin County

• Measure K calls for a 30-year renewal of an existing half-cent sales tax for transportation, which expires in 2011. Two county supervisors are campaigning against the extension because they say the tax has not provided the promised benefits. Two-thirds vote required.

San Luis Obispo

• After losing a City of San Luis Obispo referendum election last year (see CP&DR Election News, June 2005), property owner Ernie Dalidio has taken his plan for a 530,000-square-foot shopping center, 150-room hotel, 60 residential units and 200,000 square feet of office space on 131 acres just south of town directly to county voters.

San Mateo County

• A one-eighth-cent sales tax would provide about $16 million annually over 25 years to fund open space acquisition, and parks improvement and maintenance. Two-thirds vote required.

City of Brisbane
• The City Council has asked voters to decide on a proposal to close Guadalupe Valley Quarry and replace it with 173 units of housing.

City of Burlingame
• Measure H calls for $44 million in bonds to improve “under capacity flood control infrastructure” and retrofit city buildings for seismic safety and disabled access. Two-thirds vote required.

City of Menlo Park
• An advisory measure asks whether the city should construct 17 acres of sports fields at the 160-acre Bayfront Park.

City of Pacifica
• Measure L would permit the development of about 350 housing units and a 350-room hotel at Rockaway Quarry. Voters have rejected previous development proposals for the site.

Santa Clara County

• Measure A is the “Land Conservation Initiative.”

City of Cupertino
• Separate referendums of two condominium projects are on the ballot — a 134-unit development proposed adjacent to Vallco Fashion Park, and a 380-unit proposal for surplus Hewlett Packard land. The city approved the projects in March (see CP&DR Local Watch, May 2006).

Santa Cruz County

City of Santa Cruz
• The Measure I “sustainable growth” initiative would prohibit the city from providing services for University of California growth unless the university fully mitigates all impacts of that growth. A related measure (Measure J) would require voter approval for the city to extend sewer and water services beyond current city boundaries, including to the UC campus.

Shasta County

City of Shasta Lake
• An initiative would rezone an area of town, now zoned for three housing units per acre, to permit only one house per 2 acres. The initiative would block a proposal from developer Jaxon Baker to build 170 units on 120 acres.

Sonoma County

• A quarter-cent sales tax would provide funds to build and operate a 70-mile commuter rail line through Sonoma and Marin counties. Two-thirds vote required.

• Also on the ballot is the extension of an existing quarter-cent sales tax to fund acquisitions by the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

Stanislaus County

• Measure K would impose a half-cent sales tax for transportation for 30 years. Nearly all of the $1 billion the measure would generate would go for highways and roads. Two-thirds vote required.

Tulare County

• The county’s first half-cent sales tax for transportation would generate about $650 million over 30 years.

Yolo County

City of Davis
• Voters will decide whether they want to amend city regulations to permit construction of a 136,000-square-foot Target store.

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