Voters in two Solano County cities on the edge of the Bay Area approved urban growth boundaries during the November election, providing two major victories for slow-growth advocates.
Overall, however, local land use balloting in November demonstrated neither a slow-growth nor a pro-growth bent among voters. In some elections — including a vote on a complicated development agreement in Malibu and a referendum of an infill condominium project in Palo Alto — advocates on both sides of the slow/pro line claimed victory.
Voters in Modesto may have the sent the most overtly mixed signals. Voters there approved by a two-to-one ratio an advisory measure that urges the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors to direct all urban growth to incorporated cities. Yet the Modesto electorate also backed three measures that, taken together, let the city extend sewer service to nearly 900 acres of unincorporated territory where thousands of new houses could be built.
The urban growth boundary elections were in Fairfield and Benicia. Fairfield backed an urban limit line that blocks development around Travis Air Force Base and in a portion of Green Valley, north of the Interstate 80/680 junction (see CP&DR Local Watch, September 2003). Meanwhile, nearly 70% voters in Benicia backed an urban growth boundary initiative that blocks development for 20 years in a hilly area northeast of town know as Sky Valley. Benicia voters also rejected a City Council-sponsored growth boundary alternative.
"In both cases, they are establishing very clear lines for where the cities will grow and won’t grow," said Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director Tom Steinbach, whose organization backed the urban growth boundaries. "In both cases, the lines coincide with the general plan. … That makes planning possible."
Greenbelt Alliance also backed a rezoning in Palo Alto that would allow a 61-unit condominium development with a small retail component on an acre of land that had been zoned for office and commercial use. Measure C was a referendum placed on ballots by project opponents, but 52% of voters backed the rezoning.
Steinbach called the project a "good example of responsible, transit-oriented development." Other slow-growth and smart-growth advocates in Palo Alto also backed the project as a way to provide housing in a city where opposition to development often runs strong. Plenty of others, though, argued that the project was too much for the small parcel. After the election, neither side claimed a mandate.
The election was also very close in Cotati, the smallest city in Sonoma County, where voters barely approved an exception to a 1997 initiative that blocked big-box retail stores. The vote was 1,047 to 1,013. Measure B allows stores larger than 43,000 square feet in a 52-acre area at the junction of Highways 101 and 116. A Lowe’s home improvement store has been proposed, and Lowe’s bankrolled the pro-B campaign.
The tight contest in Cotati might be an indicator of how sharply people are split over big boxes. In March, at least three big-box measures are headed for the ballot, including a Wal-Mart-sponsored referendum on Contra Costa County’s anti-big box ordinance.
Taxes for roads and transportation received a mixed reception in November. In San Francisco, three-quarters of voters backed a 30-year extension of a half-cent sales tax for transportation and approved a new plan for spending the money. The plan is heavy on public transit and includes a proposed subway.
The only other road tax to pass was in the tiny city of Point Arena on the Mendocino coast. A half-cent sales tax for road maintenance barely received the two-thirds vote required.
A similar half-cent sales tax for road maintenance in Lake County failed to cross the two-third threshold. In Petaluma, two-thirds of voters rejected a 5% utility users tax for road maintenance.
In school district elections, voters approved 10 of 11 bonds on the November ballot, according to the Coalition for Adequate School Housing. The largest bonds were $295 million in San Francisco Unified and $120 million in Alameda County’s New Haven Unified, which serves Union City and part of Hayward.
All but one of the elections was a "55% bond." The lone bond requiring a two-thirds vote, which comes with fewer conditions than a 55% bond, was in New Haven. The only bond to lose was a $13.1 million measure in northern Los Angeles County’s Acton-Agua Dulce Unified.
Voters were divided on parcel taxes for schools, with five winning approval and six losing. One closely watched election was in Merced County’s Los Banos Unified, where the school officials proposed creation of a Mello-Roos district for the entire 600-square-mile school district. Under the proposal, residents would pay a $60 annual parcel tax, while builders of new homes would pay a $17,000 fee. Only 54% of Los Banos district voters backed the plan, short of the two-thirds required for passage.
Contra Costa County
• San Ramon. Measure E. Zoning amendment to prohibit private heliports except those used for medical reasons or emergencies.
• Measure C. Half-cent sales tax solely for local road maintenance. Two-thirds vote required.
Los Angeles County
• Hermosa Beach. Measure W. Advisory measure on building a beachfront bike path separate from the Strand.
• Malibu. Measure M. Complicated development agreement with Jerrold Perenchio’s Malibu Bay Company. The agreement would give the city 3 years to complete a $25 million purchase of the 20-acre "chili cook-off site" on the Pacific Coast Highway. If the city bought the land, Malibu Bay could develop various sites around town, and the city likely would try to build wastewater treatment plant under the 20-acre site and partially develop the surface. If the city failed to buy the chili cook-off site, Malibu Bay could build 155,000 square feet of commercial space there.
• Point Arena. Measure C . Half-cent sales tax for road maintenance. Two-thirds vote required.
• Murrieta. Measure H. Initiative to rezone property at the city’s historic center from residential to public and institutional, and to require the city to immediately acquire the historic Murrieta Town Hall and contiguous property. The measure blocks a housing development. Yes: 61.5%
• Norco. Measure J. A first-time city charter that includes a section on "protecting animal keeping rights, zoning rights and horse trails." Advocates contended the charter would preserve Norco’s semi-rural atmosphere.
• Riverside. Measure G. $20 million bond for new fire stations, training facilities and an emergency operations centers. It adds $12 per $100,000 property value to tax bills. The vote occurred while fires that destroyed more than 3,000 houses in Southern California were still burning. Two-thirds vote required.
San Bernardino County
• Redlands. Measure N. Referendum of a city-county revenue sharing agreement for the 1,100-acre, unincorporated "Donut Hole." The agreement approved earlier this year gives the city 80% to 90% of sales tax revenue for 20 years in exchange for providing municipal services. After 20 years, the city gets all sales tax revenue from the Donut Hole. Without the agreement, the city would get no sales tax revenue. Slow-growth advocates who oppose development in the Donut Hole unless the city annexes the territory qualified the referendum for the ballot.
Yes: 68.3% (referendum fails)
• Proposition K. Extension of the half-cent sales tax for transportation by 30 years and adoption of a new spending plan, which includes construction of a central subway. Two-thirds vote required.
San Mateo County
• Half Moon Bay. Measure D. Amendment to the city’s local coastal plan and the Wavecrest Village draft specific plan to move a proposed middle school site from the proposed Wavecrest development to a Cabrillo Unified School District site near downtown. The Wavecrest project has been tied up politically for years. The school district opposed the "Build it Now" initiative because it would prohibit any new school west of Highway 1, because Wavecrest proponents have an approved development agreement with the city, and because the majority of district voters live outside the city limits and could not vote on Measure D.
• Millbrae. Measure E. Rezoning of 3 blocks of downtown to limit new restaurants, to prohibit adult businesses and head shops, and to require a conditional use permit for all new or expanded structures, and for most uses. Proponents said the measure would allow Millbrae to mimic neighboring Burlingame’s successful downtown.
• Portola Valley. Measure H. Referendum on rezoning of 3.57 acres of vacant land in the Nathhorst Triangle Area from commercial and office to residential. Old zoning allowed 23,000 square feet of commercial development. New zoning would allow up to 20 housing units.
No: 51.8% (referendum fails)
Santa Clara County
• Palo Alto. Measure C. Referendum on the rezoning of 1 acre of vacant land from office and commercial to allow for development of 61 condominiums (including 10 affordable units), 1,900 square feet of retail space and an underground parking garage.
Yes: 52.0% (referendum fails)
• Benicia. Measure K. Urban growth boundary initiative that blocks development in the Sky Valley area for 20 years without voter approval.
• Benicia. Measure M. City Council-sponsored growth boundary alternative that could be modified without voter consent and which would allow some types of development in Sky Valley.
• Benicia. Measure O. $14 million bond for new police station. Two-thirds vote required.
• Fairfield. Measure L. Referendum on an urban growth boundary initiative, which the City Council adopted without an election earlier this year. The new boundary blocks development around Travis Air Force Base and in an area north of Interstate 80.
Yes: 59.9%(referendum fails)
• Cotati. Measure B. A general plan amendment and zoning ordinance amendment that carves an exception to a 1997 initiative that prohibits retail stores larger than 43,000 square feet. Measure B allows big boxes on 52 acres at the junction of Highway 101 and 116, where a Lowe’s has been proposed.
• Petaluma. Measure C. Charter amendment allowing imposition of a utility users tax to fund road repairs.
• Petaluma. Measure D. A 5% utility users tax to fund road repairs.
• Modesto. Measure H. Advisory measure urging the county Board of Supervisor to direct all urban growth to cities.
• Modesto. Measure L. Extension of sewer service to 642 acres of unincorporated territory southwest of the city.
• Modesto. Measure M. Extension of sewer service to 80 acres of unincorporated territory north of the city.
• Modesto. Measure N. Extension of sewer service to 497 parcels on 153 acres in various infill areas.