Sutter County voters may get to relive the ballot-box growth wars of the early 1990s. In July, county officials began preparing an advisory measure for the November ballot regarding the potential development of at least 8,000 acres in the south end of the mostly rural county, near the Sacramento airport.

Lennar Communities, which controls 2,700 acres on either side of Highway 99 just north of the Sacramento County line, approached Sutter County officials earlier this year about an advisory measure. Lennar has proposed 11,000 housing units on 1,400 acres, in addition to 700 acres of business parks and 600 acres for retail development and public facilities.

Since Lennar’s proposal became public, other would-be developers have asked the county to add projects to the ballot measure. As of late July, the Board of Supervisors was considering a ballot measure that would cover a broad swath of the south county, most of which is farmland in the Natomas Basin.

In 1991, voters rejected competing slow-growth ballot measures for south Sutter County. County officials then proceeded with processing a “new town” proposal for 25,000 acres with a potential population of 200,000 people. A lame-duck Board of Supervisors approved the project after the 1992 election, only to have a new board rescind all of the development agreements a few weeks later. In a June 1993 referendum, voters rejected the new town. (See CP&DR, July 1993, December 1992, June 1991).

Two years ago, supervisors approved a specific plan for 3,500 acres of industrial and commercial development in the south county. However, a judge threw out an environmental impact report for the project. (See CP&DR In Brief, July 2003; Economic Development, November 2002).

The area in question is attractive to developers because of its proximity to the airport and downtown Sacramento. However, the area provides habitat to several rare species, and large chunks of the territory lie in the 100-year floodplain.

The Palm Springs City Council has approved a hillside development at the same time that environmentalists and some residents are attempting to qualify an initiative that would block most hillside development. The City Council approved the 300-acre Palm Hills project in July. The project is a 350-room hotel, about 120 houses and a golf course.

In approving the project, the council also approved a general plan text amendment that distinguishes between the San Jacinto Mountains (on the city’s west side) and the Santa Rosa Mountains. The Palm Hills Land Corporation project is in the Santa Rosa range, on the city’s south side. The general plan amendment notes that the topography and soils of the mountain ranges are different, and the Santa Rosa range is more suitable for development than the San Jacinto Mountains, said Jing Yeo, a principle planner for the city.

The entire Palm Hills planning area covers 1,200 acres, about half of which is designated for open space.

Residents complained that a hillside golf course resort would mar their view of the rugged, desert mountains, which have remained undeveloped. But Yeo said the project is on a plateau and would not be visible from the valley floor except at a great distance.

Besides aesthetics, potential impacts on the endangered peninsular bighorn sheep are also an issue. City officials and the developer said the site does not provided sheep habitat, but the Sierra Club differed and intends to sue over the species issue.

Meanwhile, backers of a hillside preservation initiative continue to gather signatures. The measure could reach the ballot in March 2005.

A bill that allows local governments to adopt form-based zoning codes received Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature in late July.

Assembly Bill 1268 (Wiggins) is based largely on a white paper produced last year by New Urbanist planners and architects for the Office of Planning and Research (seeCP&DR In Brief, May 2003). The white paper endorsed the use of form-based codes, which focus on the design of streets and buildings, but not on their uses. New Urbanists say this approach encourages development of truly mixed-use neighborhoods.

Although several cities have dabbled with form-based codes, it has been unclear whether the codes complied with state planning law. The Wiggins bill makes clear that state law permits form-based codes.

El Dorado County supervisors adopted a new county general plan in July. The county has been working under a court order since early 1999, when a Sacramento County judge ruled that the environmental impact report for a general plan adopted in 1996 was inadequate (see CP&DR Local Watch, March 1999). Since then, the county has been unable to process discretionary applications, including subdivision maps, for residential developments.

The newly adopted plan is based largely on the 1996 version. Supervisors rejected a slower-growth “environmentally constrained” alternative that the Planning Commission had recommended.

The county will now try to convince the court that the revised EIR and general plan satisfy the California Environmental Quality Act. That process could take several months — especially if slow-growth proponents challenge the county’s actions, which is expected.

An Indian tribe has sued San Diego County Treasurer-Tax Collector Dan McAllister for attempting to impose the county’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) on a 200-room hotel on the tribe’s reservation.

McAllister is seeking $1.6 million in TOT from a 200-room hotel on the reservation of the Rincon band of San Luiseno Indians, near Valley Center. The two-year-old hotel is operated by a subsidiary of Harrah’s, HCAL Corporation, and is next to the tribe’s casino.

The tribe contends that HCAL neither owns nor leases the hotel, and that the tribe makes all of the business decisions. As sovereign nations, Indian tribes are exempt from local taxes.

But McAllister contends that HCAL built, runs and profits from the hotel. “The last time I checked, Harrah’s is not a sovereign nation unto itself,” McAllister told the San Diego Union Tribune.

A 470-room expansion of the hotel is under construction.

A Placer County judge has blocked a growth initiative from appearing on the ballot in Roseville this November. The initiative sought to draw an urban growth boundary on the city’s west side. However, Superior Court Judge John Cosgrove ruled that the initiative petitions lacked a privacy statement, and maps and charts referenced by the initiative.

An EIR for a University of California, Davis long-range development plan has been upheld by an Alameda County Superior Court judge. Neighbors upset about the plan’s proposal for a 1,600-unit residential village west of the campus had contested the EIR, including the document’s treatment of alternatives (see CP&DR In Brief, January 2004; Public Development, August 2000). But Judge Connie Sabraw found that the environmental study was adequate.

The Woodland City Council unanimously rejected an application from Wal-Mart to expand an existing 127,000-square-foot store into a 210,000-square-foot “supercenter” that would sell groceries. City officials called the July decision “a planning decision.”

Meanwhile, 40 miles to the south in the City of Lodi, Wal-Mart announced it would join with the Lodi Chamber of Commerce in fighting a ballot initiative that would prohibit stores of more than 125,000 square feet without voter approval. The initiative, which has qualified for the November ballot, would block a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter.

Correction. A story in the May edition incorrectly stated that an initiative in Inglewood marked the first time that Wal-Mart had used a ballot initiative in an attempt to gain approval of a new store. In fact, Wal-Mart backed an initiative for a proposed store in Eureka in 1999 (see CP&DR Local Watch, October 1999). In both cases, voters rejected the Wal-Mart initiative.