Pismo Beach: Price Canyon planning

Residents of Pismo Beach will vote in November on a measure that will give them more say in development decisions involving a large swath of land that few visitors to the city ever see. It's located inland in Price Canyon, behind the coastal Santa Lucia Mountains that flank the city.

The 1,100 acres that are at the center of debate in Measure H-14 are currently in unincorporated county land, but are located in the city's sphere of influence. The city council approved an EIR for a mixed-use development there in 2013. Called Spanish Springs, the development would include over 400 single family and multifamily homes, a hotel, a nine hole golf course and vineyards. It was proposed by developer Stephen Hester of Orange County.

After the project was approved, opponents from a group called Save Price Canyon got the city council to rescind approval of the EIR in October 2013. Save Price Canyon collected enough signatures at the time to force the council to either rescind the development EIR or place the measure before the voters in a referendum.

Sheila Blake, a member of Save Price Canyon, said residents don't want development in the area, which she describes as a "fire-trapped canyon."   

"There's no way out," she said, adding, "There's no water to supply a huge mega-development."

Blake and another member of Save Price Canyon are also candidates for the city council in the November election.

After succeeding in their 2013 fight against Spanish Springs, members of Save Price Canyon again collected signatures, and put H-14 on the upcoming ballot, to give local residents a chance to vote on the project if it ever comes up again, Blake explained. The measure amends the city's general plan to zone the area as a watershed and resource management area, and limits the area to primarily agricultural uses for the next 30 years.

Those limits only apply if the land is annexed into the city, according to an analysis of the measure prepared by the city attorney.

Blake thinks the measure will pass. "Most people have no interest in becoming another Huntington Beach," she said.

"We're not in favor of the measure," said developer Hester, from his Orange County office. He called the measure "poorly crafted."

Costa Mesa: 405 freeway toll lanes

While Los Angeles' efforts to widen its 405 freeway have garnered national attention, Orange County also has struggled with congestion along its stretch of the famed freeway, which runs close to many of its coastal cities. A 14-mile section between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa carries 375,000 vehicles a day, and traffic volumes are expected to increase by 35 percent by 2040, according to Caltrans, which is overseeing an expansion project there.

Caltrans announced plans in July to add two toll lanes to the highway, as part of an overall expansion project. Local cities cried foul. One of them, Costa Mesa, has moved its protest on the November ballot, asking its residents to vote on a measure saying the toll lanes are a bad idea. To increase its impact, mayors and elected officials from other communities also signed the ballot statement, said Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer.

"At this point, it's a political issue," said Righeimer. "Our city is making a statement to the Governor."

Three lanes of the widened San Diego Freeway are affected by the new project.

A new lane will be built with money from an earlier Orange County sales tax measure called M2, which passed in 2006. That lane will be free to commuters. But Caltrans also plans to convert two lanes in the current freeway to toll lanes. One of those lanes is a current carpool lane, and the second lane can now be used without paying a toll.

Righeimer said $1 billion of the $1.3 billion project cost is coming from Orange County voters, who increased their sales tax to pay for the expansion. Caltrans is expected to pay the remaining $300 million from state funds.

Righeimer said that most of the expansion cost is to widen more than 15 bridges that cross the freeway. He said voters were never told a toll road would result from the sales tax. He said the new toll road could cost commuters $19 for a round trip.

Caltrans has stated it is using different money to bring the toll lanes to the freeway.

"We're not using that sales tax money to do the toll lanes," said Caltrans spokeswoman Yvonne Washington.

El Dorado County: growth and density controls

El Dorado County voters are no strangers to ballot box planning measures. This fall, voters will have three on their ballot.

The county, which extends from the Sierra foothills to South Lake Tahoe, has been at the center of growth battles for years, as its population has nearly doubled from 85,000 in 1980 to 156,000 in 2000. A landmark growth control measure passed in November 1998, Measure Y, affected some development. A July 1998 CP&DR article noted that the county's general plan called for a population of 260,000 in 2015. (See http://www.cp-dr.com/articles/node-1324.) But growth slowed, and the county had 181,000 residents in 2013.

Measure M, also called "Fix Highway 50", would place limits on new housing, and would force the county to be more specific about the requirements of Measure Y, including some of its traffic requirements. Highway 50 is the main road through the county to Lake Tahoe.

"We can't approve any more large subdivisions unless the road capacity is there," said Don Van Dyke, a member of Rural Communities United, which placed the measure on the ballot. The county uses its own traffic numbers to approve development projects, Van Dyke explained, while the ballot measure will force the county to use Caltrans' figures.

Van Dyke said the measure will have no impact on 16,000 residential parcels that have already been approved in the county, but would affect proposals on 17,000 more units.    

A second environmental measure, Measure O, was placed on the ballot by residents who oppose San Stino, a proposed 1,000-home subdivision near Shingle Springs, according to the Sacramento Bee. The project hasn't yet been voted on by the county's board of supervisors. The measure would also restrict high density construction in other parts of the county.

A third ballot question, Measure N, was placed on the ballot by a Sacramento builders' group, Region Builders. It promised to extend Measure Y past its current expiration in 2018, to 2025.The measure, which focused on funding sources to expand Highway 50, was later abandoned by Region Builders, which did not submit a ballot argument in favor of it.

Several building groups are reported to be opposing all the El Dorado County measures.