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Election Wrap-Up: Voters Statewide Opt for Compact Development

Local voters in the Nov. 2 California election were not necessarily "pro-growth" or "anti-growth" but rather seem to have embraced smart growth like never before. They expressed subtle but clear preferences for preserving open space while accepting compact development. Urban growth boundaries were a big hit, and several infill plans and projects were approved while anything that would have led to encroachment on greenfields or urban fringes was shot down.

Local election highlights include the following:

Smart Growth: Berkeley

Smart growth scored a major victory in Berkeley, where the city's historic "no growth" attitude has eased. The approval of Measure R means that the city's downtown core can grow a little more dense and can rise a little higher, with the addition of up to three high-rises that would exceed the city's extant height limits. The vote embraces what may be a new vision for California cities and, in particular, a new vision of environmentalism. Groups including the Sierra Club supported the measure because it promotes transit-oriented density and a focus on the urban core. Opponents were concerned that it would ruin the city's character and was pandering to developers. 

Sustainability: Irvine

 In a spirit similar to that of the Berkeley vote, voters in historically auto-oriented Irvine approved a new environmental ethos for the city with the ratification of the Irvine Sustainable Community Initiative, which sets environmental goals for both the city and the beleaguered, delayed Great Park. The initiative calls for the city to promote green building, renewable energy, and alternative modes of transportation. The initiative complements the vision for density set out by the recently approved Irvine Business Complex plan (see CP&DR Vol. 25, No. 15, August 2010). 

Projects & Plans: Menlo Park, Redondo Beach, San Diego, Saratoga

In large part, local voters supported specific developments and development schemes. Voters in Menlo Park approved an enormous mixed-use development while voters in Redondo Beach approved a new vision and zoning scheme for the city's harbor area and waterfront. In San Diego, the Pacific Highlands Ranch development will be allowed to develop neighborhood amenities such as libraries and schools even in the absence of a planned highway. Meanwhile, a measure that would have limited building heights to two stories in Saratoga failed by a margin of less than 1%. 

Urban Growth Boundaries: Cloverdale, San Ramon, Petaluma, & Santa Rosa 

Formerly the only city in Napa County without a UGB, Cloverdale embraced the trend and voted in its first UGB. Cloverdale is not known for growth pressures but the UGB may be a formal statement in favor of slow growth. Voters in San Ramon rejected a measure that would have expanded its existing UGB, and voters in Petaluma and Santa Rosa voted to extend the lifespan of their UGBs. UGBs are sometimes considered tools to promote higher-density growth within defined urban areas. However, by virtue of their rural locations, all at least three of the four UGB measures that appeared on local ballots appear to be intended to prevent greenfield development rather than promote urban infill. 

Rancho Palos Verdes: College Expansion

Perhaps the most contentious local battle the state centered on what was probably the smallest project. Marymount College in upscale, largely residential Rancho Palos Verdes appealed to voters in its quest to build a new dormitory and make other campus improvements. But even as the college spent over $1 million to curry favor with residents, the city's vehement no-growth coalition roused voter sentiment against the college and defeated the measure. 

Sutter County: Food Processing, Agricultural, Recreation Combining District

A more ambiguous situation in Sutter County led to an anti-growth vote. The county has been saddled with what many consider a white elephant of a parcel for the better part of three decades in the 1,800-acre Food Processing, Agricultural, Recreation Combining District which for the better part of two decades has done none of the above.  Measure V was supposed to give control of the parcel to the Board of Supervisors so that they would have the power to re-zone and redevelop the parcel to a higher and better use than its current vacancy. Sixty-eight percent of voters, however, were not willing to give them that sort of control; opponents feared that the board would eventually approve the development of homes on the parcel, so for now the site remains moribund.

Statewide Measures

Prop 19: Marijuana
And for everyone who wanted a little piece of Amsterdam at his or her corner coffee shop or that 5 x 5-foot plot of green in their backyard (See CP&DR Vol. 25, No. 12, June 2010)? Take a drag and mellow out because 2012 is only two years away. This means that local governments are off the hook. Prop. 19 would have essentially forced every locality in the state to come up with its own marijuana policy. Many would likely have banned pot outright, but others were wrestling with how and where to permit large-scale cultivation and use.

Prop. 21: State Parks

While Californians supported climate change legislation, local environments suffered a blow with the defeat of Prop. 21, which would have secured desperately needed funding for the State Parks system via an annual $18 vehicle registration fee. It's unlikely that anyone takes pleasure in the disrepair of California's parks. However, even with the parks' economic value and even with the sly juxtaposition of vehicles and nature voters in these fragile economic times simply did not want a new fee and rejected it by a 60-40 margin.

Prop. 22: Local Transportation, Redevelopment Funding

Local governments scored a dearly sought-after victory with the approval of Prop. 22, which secures local redevelopment and transportation funds against state borrowing or raiding. Groups such as the California Redevelopment Association and almost every transportation authority across the state lobbied vigorously for the passage of Prop. 22, lest this past year's $2.05 billion transfer of local redevelopment funds to the state become de rigueur (see CP&DR Vol. 25, No. 9, May 2010). This may be bad news if you're trying to balance a budget in Sacramento, but voters seem to have gravitated towards its spirit of local control and relatively unambiguous allocation of funds. 

 

Prop. 23: Jobs & Climate Change

Likewise, with a chorus of planners and environmentalists speaking out against oil companies and others who promoted Prop. 23, Californians affirmed their desire to combat climate change. Whether AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, will create the green jobs that then-Assemblymember Fran Pavely envisioned four years ago or undermine existing remains to be seen. The salvation of AB 32 also erases any concerns about the fate of SB 375. Although SB 375 was written to stand on its own, many have speculated that the defeat of AB 32 would undermine localities' efforts to promote compact development in accordance with SB 375.

Prop. 26: Taxes & Fees

Finally, Prop. 26, whose supporters sought to close a tax policy "loophole" that allowed localities to impose taxes under the guise of fees, gained approval by tapping into the same anti-tax sentiment that felled Prop. 21. Prop. 26 (see CP&DR Blog Nov. 4, 2010) now limits cities' and local agencies' ability to both raise revenue and achieve policy goals by assessing fees that only required a simple legislative majority.  Instead, Prop. 26 reclassifies these fees as taxes and thus requires a 2/3 supermajority approval of local voters. Prop. 26 does exempt development impact fees, but is targeted at more generalized fees possibly fees for general plans that do not explicitly tie the fee to an actual impact.