The score of land use measures on local ballots statewide on March 3 present an exquisite microcosm of California land use issues. They include an typical array of typical questions — on approving developments, preserving open space, and improving infrastructure — as well as some unique, only-in-California questions that are sure to baffle all but the most fervent community activists. Several measures speak to the future of California development: will it be a compact, transit-oriented future — or will growth be stopped in its tracks? 

Several measures vie for the title of most consequential, but the City of San Diego’s Measure C wins. It would raise $2 billion through a hotel tax increase to fund revelation and expansion of the city’s convention center. To sweeten the deal, some of the funds would go toward improving city streets and reducing homelessness. Aside from its explicit goals, Measure C promises to finally put to rest years of debate, dealmaking, heartache, and lawsuits—not to mention a previous 2016 ballot measure that would have funded a new football stadium and convention center, thus giving us the word “convadium"—surrounding the convention center. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Further debates are afoot on San Diego’s urban fringe. Measure A is a sweeping policy-related measure with flavors of slow growth and of environmentalism. It would require voter approval for any proposed project that would increase density in areas that the country’s general plan designates as rural or semi-rural. The measure could provide powerful protection for open space. But if it is not complemented by increased housing density in the county’s urban cores, it could also contribute to the county’s housing crisis. 

Lo and behold, the county ballot also includes a measure to approve a project that would increase density in a semi-rural area. Measure B would amend the county’s general plan to accommodate the Newland Sierra project, a master planned development east of Vista that would include over 2,000 homes, over 80,000 square feet of retail and over 1.7 million square feet of commercial space. The project would occupy 1,985 acres, 1,209 of which would be preserved as open space. 

Measure B has a little cousin in the Contra Costa County city of Danville. Measure Y would permit the development of 69 homes on 29 acres, while preserving over 380 acres as open space. Both Measure B and Measure Y present voters with the quintessential California land-use bargain: a number of new homes that developers hope voters will find palatable accompanied by just enough open space that they hope voters will find attractive. The vote tally will tell whether the developers got their ratios right. 

Back in the urban core, two measures present visions of development pulled from adjacent chapters of the smart growth textbook. 

Measure I in Sonoma and Marin counties asks voters to extend a 1/4-cent sales takes to fund the extension of the Sonoma-Marin Rail Transit District (SMART). The commuter line currently runs from Larkspur to the Sonoma County Airport; the extension adds three stations north of the airport. Cities in the two counties are hesitantly planning to intensify development around SMART stations, and the extension would presumably make the line more useful and the station areas more attractive to developers. Anemic ridership numbers, though, might dampen enthusiasm for the roughly $40 million annual expenditure. By some accounts, weekday ridership is 60 percent below projections for 2025. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Voters in Redlands are faced with a complementary question, not about building rail transit but about what to do with it. The 9-mile Redlands Passenger Rail Project is currently under construction, linking Redlands with the San Bernardino Metrolink commuter rail station. Measure G goes full-on smart growth by upzoning 782 acres around the city’s two stations. The Transit Villages Plan would essentially create a brand-new medium-density downtown in a region known far more for single-home residential areas. Though the Inland Empire already has commuter rail service, Measure G would arguably be the most aggressive effort to promote transit oriented development in the whole region.

Opponents have expressed concern about the introduction of relatively tall buildings (4-6) stories to Redlands’ downtown. Proponents note that at the turn of the 20th century, Redlands, which is one of the oldest cities in Riverside County, was dominated by mid-rise buildings. They were torn down during the era of urban renewal. 

With all of those battles stirring statewide, the City and County of San Francisco, never to be outdone, says, “hold my kombucha.” 

One of San Francisco’s two land use measures holds immense intuitive appeal, at least for anyone concerned about the “retail apocalypse.” Proposition D would impose stiff fines on landlords who allow storefronts to go vacant for more than six months. A version of a use tax—concept that has recently been promoted in academic circles—it is designed to combat the deadening effects of vacancies and support local businesses, presumably by encouraging landlords to lower their asking rents rather than hold out for something exorbitant. 

The relative simplicity of Proposition D is no match for the nearly complexity, and unpredictability, of Proposition E. Grounded in the pretense of correcting for the city’s infamous jobs-housing imbalance, Proposition E is an only-in-San Francisco measure that would link approval of new office space to production of new affordable housing according to its Regional Housing Needs Allocation. In any year when the city falls short of its affordable housing goals, its ability to approve new office space would be docked by the same percentage of the affordable housing shortfall, which has often been significant.

While the measure may seem like common sense, opponents claim that the connection between office production and affordable housing is arbitrary. Many of the stakeholders supporting Proposition E are the very same people and groups who oppose development generally, meaning that Proposition E could curb office production—losing the tax revenue and economic development that comes with it—without doing anything to actually increase housing production. The measure also includes myriad provisions that are not included in the ballot question. 

Notably absent from local ballots are questions about rent control. While they had been popular in recent years (see prior CP&DR coverage), the legislature’s passage of Assembly Bill 1482 last year has likely satisfied tenants rights activists for the moment. The moment will run out in November, when a new statewide measure called the Rental Affordability Act, sponsored yet again by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, will again ask voters to do away with the Costa-Hawkins Act and give cities more freedom to implement rent control. 

The March ballot includes only one statewide measure, a massive, $15 billion bond measure to repair and upgrade K-12 schools and colleges statewide. The measure bears the unfortunate title of Proposition 13, thus causing some voters to confuse it with the landmark 1978 property tax measure. The new Proposition 13 is not designed to have anything to do with the original. However, because Proposition 13 requires localities to match a certain percentage of the bond funds, it could prompt them to seek temporary increases in local property taxes.

Prop 13 also comes with an interesting planning-related twist. It eliminates school-related impact fees for multifamily developments near major transit stops. It's sort of a school funding version of the erstwhile SB 50. The logic is, apparently, that apartment-dwellers are less likely to have school-age children and, therefore, shouldn't have to contribute to capital funds. Or it's just a sneaky way to support smart growth. Though bond measures have proven popular during the economic boom of the past decade, polling suggests that Proposition 13 is a toss-up. 

See below for a full list of local land use measures statewide. 

California Proposition 13
School and College Facilities Bond 
Authorizes Bonds for Facility Repair, Construction, and Modernization at Public Preschools, K–12 Schools, Community Colleges, and Universities. Legislative Statute. Authorizes $15 billion in state general obligation bonds for public education facilities: $9 billion for preschools and K–12 (includes $5.2 billion for modernization, $2.8 billion for new construction, $500 million for charter schools, and $500 million for career technical education); $6 billion for public universities and community colleges.

Danville (Contra Costa County) Measure Y
Magee Preserve Project Referendum
Shall Town Council Ordinance No. 2019-06, rezoning a 410 acre parcel from agricultural preserve, general agricultural, and planned development district to a new planned development district and approving the Magee Preserve project, which creates 69 single family lots of approximately 29 acres of the 410 acre site, preserves the remaining 381 acres as permanent open space and dedicates easements for hiking and biking trails for public use on the site, be approved?

Selma (Fresno County) Measure L
Licensed Gambling Establishment
Shall one licensed gambling establishment in which any controlled games permitted by law, such as draw poker, low- ball poker, panguine (pan), seven-card stud, or other lawful card games or tile games, are played, be allowed in the City of Selma?

Avalon (Los Angeles County) Measure F
Advisory Vote on Allowing Marijuana Dispensaries in City Limits
Should the City of Avalon expand its current commercial cannabis ordinance to allow for a cannabis business storefront location or dispensary within the City of Avalon city limits?

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District (Sonoma and Marin counties) Measure I
Sales Tax Extension
To continue relieving traffic congestion, reducing greenhouse gas emissions (having carried 1.5-million passengers by providing quality transportation alternatives to Highway 101), connecting stations with pathways, expanding rail service to Healdsburg/Cloverdale as grants become available, shall an extension of the existing Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District 1/4-cent voter approved sales tax, at the same rate, generating approximately $40,000,000 annually for an additional 30 years, subject to audits and citizens’ oversight, that the State cannot take away, be adopted?

Mendocino County Measure C
Mendocino Coast District Hospital Lease Agreement
With no additional taxes to the taxpayers and to assure continuing emergency medical services, acute hospital inpatient services and outpatient services, with substantial investments by non-profit Stone Point Health to meet the needs of Mendocino Coast residents, shall the Mendocino Coast Health Care District enter into a lease agreement of Mendocino Coast District Hospital for up to thirty (30) years at fair market value to Stone Point Health, per terms approved by Resolution 2019-17 adopted November 22.2019?

Soledad Unified School District (Monterey County), Measure E
Teacher-Staff Housing Bond
Supports authorizing the district to issue $11.5 million in bonds at an annual tax rate of $0.03 per $100 in assessed value for the purpose of constructing teacher-staff rental housing.

Napa County Measure K
Sales Tax for Water, Parks, and Open Space Preservation
Water, Parks and Open Space, Restoration and Preservation Measure. To protect drinking water by preserving and restoring watersheds, rivers, creeks; protect natural open spaces and wildlife habitat; reduce wildfire risk; and maintain local parks and trails; shall Napa County enact a 1/4 percent sales tax for the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District raising an estimated nine million dollars annually for fifteen years with citizen oversight, annual audits, and funds that cannot be taken by the State?

San Benito County Measure K
Land Use Referendum
Shall Ordinance No. 991, An Ordinance of the Board of Supervisors of the County of San Benito Amending the San Benito County Code to add text relating to the “Regional Commercial (C-3) District” be adopted?

Redlands (San Bernardino County) Measure G
City Charter Transit Development Amendment
Shall Ordinance No. 2896, entitled 'An Ordinance of the People of Redlands facilitating and providing for the enhancement of sustainable development within the Transit Villages Planning Area of the City of Redlands by amending the City of Redlands General Plan and the 1978 voter-approved initiative measure commonly known as Proposition R, as amended by the 1987 voter-approved initiative measure commonly known as Measure N,' be adopted?

Chula Vista (San Diego County) Measure E
Project Labor Agreements Measure
Shall the measure to preserve the City’s ability to receive state infrastructure funding for public works projects by giving the City discretion to allow the use of project labor agreements for City public works, in a manner consistent with state laws and best practices, including provisions for taxpayer protections, transparency, and accountability in the contracting process, by repealing and replacing Chapter 2.59 of the Chula Vista Municipal Code, be adopted?

Del Mar (San Diego County) Measure G
Land Use Plan Measure
Shall the measure proposing the adoption of the Marisol Specific Plan and corresponding amendments to the City’s Community Plan, Zoning Map, and Local Coastal Plan and Implementing Ordinance, be adopted?

San Diego (San Diego County) Measure C
Lodging Tax for Convention Center Expansion, Street Repairs, and Homelessness Programs
Shall the measure be adopted to: increase the City of San Diego’s 10.5% hotel visitor tax to 11.75, 12.75, and 13.75 percentage points, depending on hotel location, through at least 2061, designated to fund convention center expansion, modernization, promotion and operations, homelessness services and programs, and street repairs; and authorize related bonds; with a citizens’ oversight committee and audits by the City Auditor?

San Diego County Measure A
Voter Approval for Land Use Amendments to County General Plan
Shall this Initiative be adopted for the purpose of amending the San Diego County General Plan to require voter approval for General Plan amendments that increase residential density for property designated by the General Plan as Semi-Rural or Rural?

San Diego County Measure B
General Plan Amendments for Newland Sierra Project
Shall the San Diego County General Plan Amendment PDS2015-GPA-15-001 approved by the Board of Supervisors for the development of the Newland Sierra Project, be approved? The existing General Plan allows 99 homes and up to 2,000,000 square feet of commercial with open space. General Plan Amendment PDS2015-GPA-15-001 would authorize up to 2,199 homes and 1,777,684 square feet of commercial. The approved Newland Sierra Project includes a planned community of 2,135 homes, a school site, 81,000 square feet of retail, 36 acres of parks and 1,209 acres of open space.

San Francisco (San Francisco County) Proposition E
City Office Development Limit Initiative
Shall the City tie annual square footage allotment for certain Large Office Projects to whether the City is meeting its Affordable Housing Goals, and change the criteria for approving certain office projects?

San Francisco (San Francisco County) Proposition D
Vacant Property Tax
Shall the City tax owners or tenants who keep ground floor retail or other commercial space vacant in some areas of San Francisco, at rates of between $250 and $1,000 per street-facing foot, starting January 1, 2021 and without any expiration date, and use the annual revenues, estimated at a range of a minimal amount to $5 million dollars, to assist small businesses?

Morgan Hill (Santa Clara County) Measure A
Development Master Plan Referendum
Shall the ordinance No. 2295, amending a Planned Development Master Plan for 'Madrone Village Shopping Center' located on the northwest corner of Madrone Parkway and Cochrane Road (APN's 726-33-029,030, and 031), to add hotels as an approved use, which is consistent with the City's General Plan and Economic Blueprint to encourage tourism, and that generates new City revenues for City services including public safety, street repairs and other infrastructure be adopted?

Healdsburg (Sonoma County) Measure H
Income-Restricted Housing for Rent or Sale Ordinance
Shall the City of Healdsburg’s Growth Management Ordinance be amended to permit the currently allowed average of 50 units per year of multi-family, income-restricted rental housing, as authorized by the voters in 2018, to be offered either for rental or for sale?