Two long-running growth disputes will add another chapter — and many disputes of more recent vintage will be aired out — when voters decide on local ballot measures in November.
Voters in Livermore are scheduled to consider Pardee Homes’ proposal to expand the city’s urban growth boundary to permit development of a 2,450-unit housing project. Meanwhile, voters in Monterey County will decide a referendum of a 4,000-unit specific plan for Rancho San Juan, just north of Salinas. Many other measures are on the ballot statewide. Most are located in longstanding “ballot-box zoning” hotspots, such as the East Bay, the South Bay and Redlands, rather than in areas new to land use ballot measures.
Other closely watched elections are set for:
• Davis, where voters will consider the 1,800-unit Covell Village project;
• Three eastern Contra Costa County cities, where developers are trying to open up more land for growth;
• Calabasas, where rezoning for a resort and an open space protection ordinance are on the ballot in separate measures;
• Redlands, where a small residential project faces a referendum and voters also will have the chance to tighten existing growth controls;
• Cupertino, where slow-growth advocates have placed three general plan amendments on the ballot.
In all, voters will decide on about two dozen growth-related measures during the November 8 special election.
Five years ago, Alameda County voters approved urban growth boundaries around cities and unincorporated communities in the middle and eastern part of the county. One of the main targets of that Sierra Club-backed initiative was North Livermore — several thousand acres north of Interstate 580, where the county was considering a 12,500-unit specific plan. The 2000 initiative required subsequent voter approval before development could proceed in North Livermore. (See CP&DR, September 2003, December 2000, October 2000, June 2000). Two years later, the Livermore City Council adopted its own urban growth boundary.
Pardee is the first developer to take a shot at expanding Livermore’s growth boundary. The Livermore Trails plan calls for 2,450 housing units, a neighborhood retail center, a 130-acre sports park, a 750-acre open space preserve, and land for a high school, an elementary school and civic buildings. Pardee proposes a variety of housing units — single-family houses, townhouses and apartments — on 450 acres, with 15% of units designated for moderate- and low-income families.
Previous proposals for North Livermore were large, master-planned communities, which were not what Livermore residents want, said Carlene Matchniff, vice president of community development for Pardee.
“We felt that if we scaled back the plan with fewer units and highly amenitized them, it would be acceptable to the community,” Matchniff said. “If this project is not approved, it’s hard to believe any project could be approved.”
But Bob Baltzer, of Friends of Livermore, said the urban growth boundary is intended to preserve the farmland and open fields north of the freeway.
“The whole reason we put that [urban growth boundary] there is to prevent this type of growth. It’s not infill, it’s greenfield development,” Baltzer said. He pointed to the city general plan, which calls for extensive infill growth, including thousands of housing units in downtown.
As usual, traffic is a primary source of contention. Baltzer said Livermore Trails would generate an “unbearable amount of additional traffic on city streets, as well as the freeway, which is already pretty close to gridlocked.”
However, Matchniff contended that Livermore’s traffic congestion is caused by long-distance commuters who live in the San Joaquin Valley and work in the Bay Area. Livermore Trails would place housing closer to jobs, thus shortening commutes, she said.
Even if voters approve of moving the urban boundary, Livermore Trails would still have to complete the planning process.
Besides voting on the Pardee project, Livermore voters also will decide whether to join a regional project that expands wastewater treatment capacity. The additional capacity — in the form of an export pipeline — could not be used to serve development outside the current growth boundary unless voters approve in the future. Livermore Trails is proposed to have its own wastewater treatment plant.
In Monterey County, voters are scheduled to decide whether to uphold the Board of Supervisors’ approval of the Rancho San Juan specific plan. However, the possibility exists that at least a portion of the plan may be obsolete before balloting is complete.
In December, the Board of Supervisors approved the specific plan for Rancho San Juan’s 2,500 acres and the first phase of development — the 1,100-home Butterfly Villages project. Opponents then collected enough signatures on a referendum of the project’s general plan amendments. Since then, though, Butterfly Village developer HYH Corporation and county officials have discussed a scaled back first phase.
In August, supervisors considered rescinding the earlier vote and canceling the election. However, development opponents urged supervisors to let the vote proceed, and a 3-2 Board of Supervisors agreed to go forward with the election.
“Why put the county through the meat grinder of an election?” asked Brian Finegan, an attorney for one Rancho San Juan property owner but not HYH. “Everybody has abandoned the project that is the subject of the referendum.”
But Julie Engell, chair of the Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition, which headed the referendum and argued for the election, said the public is wary of the county’s “shenanigans.”
“I believe they are trying to piecemeal it [development] and allow everything to happen there – and more,” Engell said. “People are feeling bullied, and they don’t like it.”
Development of Rancho San Juan has been a controversial topic in Monterey County for more than two decades (see CP&DR Local Watch, June 2003). Engell’s group and other growth activists argue that development would further drain already strained groundwater aquifers (see CP&DR Innovations, June 2004) and worsen congestion on Highway 101 between Salinas and San Jose. Both Caltrans and the City of Salinas have sued the county over impacts from the Rancho San Juan project.
Other local land use elections on the November ballot:
• Contra Costa County: In the cities of Antioch, Brentwood and Pittsburg, voters will decide on urban growth boundary initiatives placed on the ballot by development interests. The measures attempt to head off county efforts to constrain growth within tighter boundaries.
• Contra Costa County: A $21 million bond to build a new library in the City of Walnut Creek is on the ballot.
• El Dorado County: Incorporation of El Dorado Hills, a rapidly-growing area on Highway 50 abutting Sacramento County with a population of about 30,000 people, has reached the ballot after years of discussion.
• Humboldt County: Separate ballot measures that ask whether the county should place the Manila Community Services District and the Redway CSD in the county’s redevelopment zone are on the ballot after much public debate about the merits of redevelopment.
• Los Angeles County: Measure C in the City of Calabasas is an advisory measure on whether the city should annex 152 acres on Mulholland Highway to accommodate a proposed 200-room resort and five estate homes. The project would replace an 81-lot subdivision approved by the county in 1998 but never built. Measure D in Calabasas would prohibit changes to open space zoning without two-thirds voter approval.
• Los Angeles County: The City of Hermosa Beach will decide on a measure to place the “restricted open space zone” designation on the greenbelt that runs through town and the beach. The measure apparently would restrict construction of recreational facilities and parking lots, and possibly impact large commercial events on the beach.
• Marin County: An advisory measure asks voters in the Bolinas Community Public Utility District whether they support a downtown parking plan that precludes meters, clusters parking spots and simplifies signage.
• Monterey County: Measure W asks voters in the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District whether the district should study acquiring the system owned by California American Water.
• Placer County: The Board of Supervisors has placed on the ballot an advisory measure that asks whether the county should designate 1,136 acres just west of Roseville for development of a private four-year university and adjoining community, a project backed by the Tsakopoulos family (see CP&DR Local Watch, August 2003).
• Riverside County: In the City of Norco, voters will decide a city charter amendment to require four-fifths City Council approval of changes to agricultural, residential, hillside, planned development and specific plan zones.
• San Bernardino County: The City of Redlands has two ballot measures. Measure P would tighten existing growth controls by setting new standards for traffic, noise and building heights. Measure R is a referendum of an 85-house subdivision proposed for lightly developed Live Oak Canyon.
• San Mateo County: A measure in the City of Belmont would require subsequent voter approval for development of the rugged hillsides above Carlmont High School and in the San Juan Canyon.
• San Mateo County: A measure endorsed by the Half Moon Bay City Council would prohibit the city from using eminent domain to take property primarily for the purpose of “increased city revenue.”
• San Francisco: Proposition B is a $208 million bond to improve streets and sidewalks.
• Santa Clara County: Voters in the City of Cupertino face three growth-control initiatives. Measure A would limit mixed-use and residential development to 15 units per acre. Measure B would prohibit buildings more than 36 feet tall. Measure C would require most new buildings to be set back at least 35 feet from the street. All three initiatives contain exceptions for the area around Vallco Mall. The initiatives have drawn opposition from the Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance and the League of Conservation voters, who argue the measures will prevent infill and transit-oriented development. But a group called Concerned Citizens of Cupertino contend that growth is overrunning schools and congesting streets.
• Yolo County: The proposed 1,800-unit Covell Village project — a follow up to the Village Homes project, an environmentally oriented project built during the 1970s — is the subject of Measure X in the City of Davis. An earlier ballot measure requires voters to decide on the 400-acre project because it lies north of the current city limits.
• Yuba County: An advisory measure asks voters whether a “destination resort/hotel and American Indian gaming casino” should be constructed near an existing concert amphitheater south of Marysville.