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Voters Reject Major Growth Measures On March 2 Ballot

Paul Shigley on
Mar 1, 2004

Three sweeping growth measures in three very different parts of the state — two measures seeking to tightly control development and one growth-friendly plan — all lost during the March 2 primary election.

Voters in San Diego and San Benito counties overwhelmingly rejected growth-control general plan amendments. In El Dorado County, voters said no to approving an entire general plan via initiative.

Elsewhere, Contra Costa County voters overturned a county ordinance that attempted to block Wal-Mart supercenters. In the city of San Marcos, however, the electorate reversed the City Council’s approval of a second Wal-Mart store for the north San Diego County town.

In Napa County, voters rejected a controversial stream-setback ordinance approved by county supervisors, and voters said no to a more stringent setback initiative backed by environmentalists. In an apparent vote for environmental protection, Humboldt County voters said no to the recall of District Attorney Paul Gallegos. The first-term prosecutor sued the giant Pacific Lumber Company over an environmental study last year, and Pacific Lumber responded by pouring more than $200,000 into a recall campaign.

Possibly the most significant "yes" vote for land use during the March election was in the Bay Area, where voters in seven counties approved a $1 increase in tolls for seven state-owned bridges. The toll hike from $2 to $3 is expected to generate about $125 million annually, with 90% of the funds going for transit projects.

In San Diego County, voters rejected the Rural Lands Initiative, which sought to prevent development of 700,000 acres of sparsely populated eastern and northern San Diego County. Voters rejected a similar measure in 1998.

The initiative would have amended the county general plan and placed a "Clean Water and Forest" overlay zone on rural lands. Those lands would then have been zoned for 40-, 80- or 160-acre minimum lot sizes. Backers lined up support from the San Diego City Council, the San Diego League of Women Voters, the American Lung Association and a number of environmental and labor organizations. But opponents, lead by the San Diego County Farm Bureau, poured more than a $1 million into the campaign against Proposition A. Opponents prepared television advertisements that claimed the initiative would force family farmers off their land, opening rural areas to rapid growth.

"We think the opposition, with its big developer money, ran a very deceptive campaign and it confused the voters," Duncan McFetridge, a Proposition A organizer and long-time opponent of backcountry development, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Measure A apparently did not get a bounce in the polls from last fall’s firestorms, which burned across large portions of the area that the initiative targeted.

In tiny San Benito County east of Salinas, voters rejected a complicated growth-control measure. Although the county remains quite rural, San Benito has become something of a relief valve for Silicon Valley workers seeking more-affordable homes.

The measure that voters rejected on March 2 capped growth at 1% annually, and rezoned most of the unincorporated county lands from 5-acre to 20-acre minimums, or from 40-acre minimums to 160-acre minimums. The measure initially came to the Board of Supervisors as an initiative that had qualified for the ballot. Supervisors simply adopted the measure. Opponents, led by farmers and real estate interests, then gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the measure. Opponents were stunningly successful, winning by more than a two-to-one ratio.

In El Dorado County, voters were faced with what appeared to be the first general plan proposed by initiative — and about 70% voted against what was seen as a pro-growth plan.

El Dorado County has been working on its general plan since the early 1990s. A plan adopted in 1996 was thrown out by a judge who ruled that the county had not fully addressed all of the potential environmental impacts. The county has been working on a revised plan since 1999, and supervisors expect to begin final hearings on new general plan alternatives later this year. Some business groups and taxpayer advocates, who have complained about the amount of money the county’s planning process has cost, were tired of waiting, so they placed an entire plan on the ballot via initiative. The proposed plan was similar to the 1996 plan that the county had adopted but the Measure G version on the ballot did not contain an inclusionary housing requirement.

Although voters have approved general plans elsewhere — Pasadena voters backed a City Council-sponsored general plan in 1992 — voters have apparently never before decided on a general plan written as a citizen initiative. Opponents and county officials raised a number of legal questions. The initiative also appeared to divide business and development groups, some of whom were concerned about how a plan approved by voters could be amended in the future.

In Napa County, two measures intended to protect riparian areas and halt the conversion of forested hillsides to vineyards appear to have had the opposite effect. The measures gave rise to a new group called the Napa Valley Land Stewards Alliance, a property-rights organization that fought both measures. On election day, the least-restrictive of the two measures gathered barely one-third of the vote.

"The most unintended consequence of this Measure P debate is the formation of the Napa Valley Land Stewards Alliance," George Bachich, who heads the group, told theNapa Valley Register. He vowed that the group would remain active in local politics.

Measure P was a referendum of a stream-setback ordinance that supervisors had adopted. It would have barred most activities, including farming, near streams, but would have provided an exception for housing. Measure O would have established even larger setbacks. Backers said the regulations were needed to improve water quality and habitat, and to reduce the risk of flooding. But opponents contended the regulations were overbearing and could force grape growers to take land out of production.

In the big-box wars, Wal-Mart won a major skirmish in Contra Costa County but lost a smaller battle in San Marcos. Last year, Contra Costa County supervisors adopted an ordinance prohibiting stores of more than 90,000 square feet from devoting more than 5% of floor space to nontaxable items. Supervisors made clear their intent was to block Wal-Mart supercenters — stores of about 200,000 square feet that sell groceries. Wal-Mart quickly qualified a referendum for the ballot and then poured a reported $1 million into the campaign. Wal-Mart’s investment paid off, as about 54% of voters said no to the county’s regulation.

In San Marcos, voters also rejected the elected body’s decision. But in this case, voters reversed a City Council decision to amend a specific plan so that Wal-Mart could build a second store in town. Despite getting outspent 10-to-1, Wal-Mart opponents won about 57% of the vote. Traffic congestion in San Marcos appeared to be a significant consideration.

The Bay Area bridge toll increases will provide a large infusion of new money for regional transit. Voters in seven counties considered Measure 2, with only the Solano County electorate deciding against the 50% toll hikes.

Among the projects for which the money is earmarked are:

• A commuter rail service on the Dumbarton Bridge between Fremont and East Palo Alto

• Extension of BART lines in the East Bay and South Bay

•Seismic retrofits to BART’s transbay tube

•More ferries and express busses

•A "fourth bore" for the Caldecott Tunnel between Oakland and Contra Costa County.

Although the increased tolls will provide only partial funding for most projects, supporters say the tolls will move some of the already planned projects forward. Taxpayer advocacy groups tried to rally opposition to the toll hikes, saying that only 6% of trips in the region are made by transit. But the vote mirrored elections in recent years in Santa Clara and Alameda counties, where voters provided two-thirds approval for sales tax extensions for transit projects.

The election in Humboldt County appeared to mark a sea change for the rural county, which has been dependent on the timber industry for years. Only weeks after taking office in 2003, District Attorney Gallegos sued Pacific Lumber — the county’s large private employer, with 800 workers — for allegedly providing false information in a study of a proposed timber sale. Pacific Lumber and other Gallegos opponents said that the recall was over Gallegos’s handling of criminal prosecutions. Gallegos countered that Pacific Lumber, which provided most of the recall campaign funding, was trying to run the county. The election was widely viewed as a referendum on Pacific Lumber, if not the entire coastal timber industry. Only 39% of voters backed the recall.

Local Land Use Election Results

Bay Area
Seven counties voted on a $1 toll increase for all Bay Area bridges (except the Golden Gate Bridge) to fund a wide variety of transit projects and some road projects.
Collective vote, Yes: 56.7%
Alameda County, Yes: 55.4%
Contra Costa County, Yes: 51.1%
Marin County, Yes: 63.8%
San Francisco, Yes: 68.9%
San Mateo County, Yes: 54.9%
Santa Clara County, Yes: 58.8%
Solano County, No: 59.1%

Contra Costa County
A Wal-Mart back referendum of a county ordinance prohibiting stores of more than 90,000 square feet from devoting more than 5% of floor space to non-taxable items.
Measure L, No (ordinance fails): 53.8%

City of Martinez
An advisory measure on the creation of a redevelopment agency, which would target central Martinez. Voters rejected a redevelopment agency previously.
Measure M, Yes: 51.4%

Contra Costa Water District
An advisory measure on expanding the capacity of Los Vaqueros Reservoir from 100,000 acre-feet to 500,000 acre-feet. The agency said the expansion is necessary for improved water quality and drought assurance.
Measure N, Yes: 61.6%

El Dorado County
An initiative for a new general plan. The proposed plan was similar to the 1996 plan, which a judge rejected on California Environmental Quality Act grounds.
Measure G, No: 70.0%

Napa County
Stream setback initiative establishing no-logging zones within 325 feet of streams, 75 feet from springs, 1,000 feet from wetlands and homes, and 150 feet from logger’s residence. The measure is targeted at the conversion of forested hills to vineyards.
Measure O, No: 72.9%

Referendum of a county stream setback ordinance, which established setbacks of 25 to 150 feet for farms to improve habitat and flood safety.
Measure P, No (ordinance fails): 65.4%

Orange County
City of Yorba Linda
Annexation of the Country Club and Fairlynn neighborhoods, which are unincorporated islands of 222 acres and 147 acres, respectively, within the city limits. Opponents of the annexation forced an election.
Measure F, No: 68.4%

Riverside County
City of Temecula
An advisory vote on annexation of the Redhawk housing development, and parcel taxes to fund services. Redhawk voters rejected annexation in 1999, but there was no organized opposition this time.
Measure E (annexation), Yes: 94.0%
Measure F (parks and streets tax), Yes: 93.2% (2/3 vote)
Measure G (street lighting tax), Yes: 92.7% (2/3 vote)

San Benito County
Referendum on growth-control initiative that the Board of Supervisors adopted without an election in 2003. The measure would have downzoned about 800,000 acres of farms and ranchland.
Measure G, No (growth-control fails): 68.9%

San Diego County
The Rural Lands Initiative, a general plan amendment establishing a "Clean Water and Forest" overlay zone for 694,000 acres in northern and eastern San Diego County. The overlay set minimum parcels sizes of 40, 80 and 160 acres.
Proposition A, No: 64.4%

City of Poway
Rezoning of 20 acres on the east side of town from rural residential to automotive/general commercial. The property owner, the Lucidi family, proposed a gas station and convenience store, and an indoor recreational vehicle parking facility.
Proposition E, No: 83%

City of San Marcos
Referendum of amendments to the University Commons specific plan. The amendments increase the amount of multi-family residential land and block a big-box store. Proposition F, Yes (amendments approved): 60%

Referendum on amendments to University Commons specific plan to allow development of a big-box store. A Wal-Mart was proposed.
Proposition G, No (amendments fail): 57%

San Francisco
A measure to provide incentives for affordable housing development downtown and along the southern waterfront. Developers would get density bonuses, height restriction exemptions, and expedited building permits. In exchange, 40% of units would be affordable, with two-thirds of units reserved for people who work in San Francisco.
Proposition J, No: 70.0%

Santa Clara County
City of Morgan Hill
A council-sponsored update to 1990’s Measure P, which limited residential building permits to 2.5% (about 200) per year. The revisions extend the permit limit by 10 years to 2020, reserve a number of permits for downtown mixed-use projects, and eliminate the requirement that permits be distributed equally around town.
Measure C, Yes: 75.4%

Yolo County
City of Woodland
A city-sponsored measure prohibiting the spending of public funds or taking any action to support a proposed flood wall without voter approval. Four years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers recommended construction of a six-mile-long floodwall to protect the city from Cache Creek. The city contends other flood-control measures are available.
Measure S, Yes: 62.8%

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