Decision Time Nears For Local Initiatives

Formation of new cities, building-height limits in Santa Barbara and Ventura, and a developer-written specific plan for a vacant industrial site near Ukiah are among the land use proposals up for a vote in the November 3 municipal elections.
 
At least 22 measures with land use implications are on the ballot in 13 different California jurisdictions. That number is a considerable jump from the nine measures on the ballot in November 2007 municipal elections (see CP&DR Elections, December 2007) but down from the 30 measures that voters decided in November 2005 (see CP&DR, December 2005).
 
In Carmel Valley, incorporation of the valley as a new city of 39 square miles and 12,000 residents is up for approval. Located inland from Carmel-By-The-Sea, the valley has been the site of numerous, intense battles over growth. Both sides in the debate say they want to maintain the valley's semi-rural character.
 
Three separate advisory ballot measures ask voters in unincorporated Santa Clarita Valley, north of Los Angeles, if they want to create a new city, become part of the City of Santa Clarita or remain unincorporated. The measures – A, B and C – will be decided in  Sunset Pointe, Stevenson Ranch, Southern Oaks, Westridge, Tesoro, Castaic and Val Verde.
 
In the City of Santa Barbara, Measure B would lower the maximum height of new buildings downtown from 60 feet to 45 feet, and to 40 feet in the historic district. Supporters say the initiative would maintain the city's scale and tourist appeal, while opponents worry it would drive development to the fringes.
 
The City of Ventura's Measure B would cap new building height at 26 feet in most of the town, including the long-struggling midtown area, for two years while a proposed 23-member committee drafts a view-protection ordinance. The city would have to adopt the ordinance or place it before voters. Ventura voters will also decide an anti-Wal-Mart Supercenter measure. Measure C would prohibit – retroactive to January 1, 2008 – stores of more than 90,000 square feet from devoting more than 3% of floor space to groceries.
 
Perhaps the most intense battle is in Mendocino County, where Developers Diversified Realty (DDR) gathered enough signatures to place before voters a specific plan for a 76-acre industrial site just north of the Ukiah city limits. The 300-page-long plan would permit a wide variety of uses and up to 800,000 square feet of building area, which includes a maximum of 150 residential units.

Growth in the Ukiah Valley has been controversial. Mendocino County and the City of Ukiah have worked on the Ukiah Valley area plan intermittently since the mid-1990s. The most recent draft of the plan was released by the county in 2007, but a consensus has remained elusive. A central component of the plan involves reuse of the Masonite site, where a door and wood-siding factory operated until 2001. The draft area plan designates half the site for industrial use and half for mixed commercial development. The county's general plan and a draft general plan update designate the land for industrial use. Even though Masonite site reuse is of great importance for the Ukiah area, voters throughout Mendocino County will decide Measure A because the site is unincorporated.

An Ohio-based company that develops and operates retail centers, DDR acquired the Masonite property five years ago with the apparent intention of building a large, outdoor retail center. Company representatives say they submitted development applications to the county in 2005 and 2008, but the county refused to act until it had adopted a specific plan for the area.
 
Frustrated by a planning process "without end," DDR prepared a ballot measure based on a specific plan that amends the county's general plan by creating a unique zoning district for the Masonite site. While company representatives and campaign materials talk of a mixed-use project that the public helped determine, the plan itself says that it is only conceptual and that the final project will depend on market conditions.
 
Opponents say the fight is not over growth per se, but over local control and appropriate locations for development. Citing the fact that the California Environmental Quality Act does not apply to citizen initiatives, opponents refuse to believe DDR promises to mitigate the effects of the project.
 
"A lot of people don't like the process – exempt from CEQA, no public input. They'll build whatever they want to build within a vague specific plan," said Richard Shoemaker, a former county supervisor and Ukiah councilman who opposes Measure A. "For industrial uses, this site is a natural. It's right on a rail line that could be put into use again. It has a history of heavy industry. No one lives near it."
 
The developer and an allied group, Mendocino County Tomorrow, claim that the project would capture much of the $169 million in annual sales that now go to Sonoma and Humboldt counties, as well as create 700 permanent jobs. Both Costco and Target have been mentioned as potential anchors for the DDA project. Because the Masonite site is within the county's redevelopment project area, the project would provide up to $74 million in tax increment, according to supporters.
 
An analysis by the Mendocino County administrative office, however, disputed DDR's numbers. "With the current absence of specific project information, any attempts at revenue projections, tax revenue reallocation projections or overall impacts on the county budget are purely hypothetical and impossible to address in an accurate manner," the report stated.
 
Opponents of Measure A argue that there are more appropriate, commercially zoned sites in the City of Ukiah that could accommodate both Costco and Target. Opponents also say the DDR project would capture 40% of existing sales countywide, causing significant damage to businesses in both Ukiah and Willits.
 
The county's analysis and another by the Local Agency Formation Commission raised questions about public services to site, especially water, wastewater and fire. The developer says the concerns are unfounded. For example, an on-site well could serve the entire project and would be dedicated to the local water district, according to DDR's campaign material.
 
Here is a rundown of other land-use measures on the November 3 ballot.
 
• Modesto voters will vote on five advisory measures regarding extension of sewer service to five areas totaling 3,000 acres. Most of the land is north of town and largely undeveloped.
 
• Voters in the City of Maywood will decide two advisory measures regarding a proposed site for a Los Angeles Unified School District high school. Measure MS asks voters to support the district's plan to buy 9.4 acres at Slauson and King avenues, the site of the proposed school. Currently, 112 apartment units, 10 houses, a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and several commercial buildings occupy the site. Measure SC asks whether the district should "fully and adequately" investigate other sites.

• A 191-unit housing development proposed for 26 acres of agricultural land is the subject of Measure P in the City of Davis. A 2000 initiative prohibits the rezoning of agricultural land in Davis without voter approval. Parlin Development's proposed Wildhorse Ranch on Covell Road would contain 73 single-family houses, 78 townhouses and 40 apartments, of which 38 would be designated for very low- and low-income households. The project site is bordered on three sides by existing development and on the fourth by the city's urban-agriculture transition area.

• In the Marin County town of San Anselmo, voters will decide on an ordinance preventing the proliferation of  "monster homes" in the "flatlands" by restricting the ratio of a house's square footage to the parcel of land. The City Council approved the floor-area ratio ordinance last year. Opponents, who have forced the referendum election, say the measure would harm small lot owners and prohibit even minor additions to many existing houses that are already at the maximum ratio.
 
• San Francisco will vote on two signage  measures. Proposition D would relax existing restrictions to permit illuminated billboards and video signs on Market Street between Fifth and Seventh streets. In contrast, Proposition E prohibits all advertising on all city-owned street furniture and buildings, except signs and placards already permitted by contract.
 
• In Walnut Creek, Measure I would amend the city's general plan by allowing a two-story retail anchor store to be built at Broadway Plaza. The measure has become a referendum on a long-proposed Neiman Marcus store.
 
• In the Ventura County city of Fillmore, the owners of El Dorado Mobile Home Park have placed a somewhat confusing measure on the ballot that, among other things, would sharply limit city discretion over the conversion of the park to condominium ownership. The city has refused to approve the proposed conversion, which tenants oppose, until park owners complete a number of upgrades to the park's infrastructure.