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Election reflects California’s growing pains

By Leon Drouin Keith Associated Press Writer
Monday November 06, 2000

LOS ANGELES – California voters will rule on more than 50 city and county growth measures Tuesday – the most land-use decisions they have had to make in a decade. 

The issues that drive the ballot items range from skyrocketing rents in San Francisco to containing development in San Luis Obispo County to developers’ proposals for a setirement community outside Sacramento. 

Urban growth is a becoming a coast-to-coast issue. 

A national survey commissioned by Smart Growth America, a coalition of more than 60 primarily slow-growth-minded public interest groups found that three-quarters of those surveyed think more needs to be done in their state to manage growth. The poll of 1,007 adults was conducted in September by the research and communications firm of Belden, Russonello & Stewart. 

With 35 statewide growth measures on the ballot in 23 states and hundreds more local initiatives, most American voters will help decide at least one growth-related issue Tuesday, according to the Brookings Institution of Washington, D.C. 

But no other state has the growing pains of California. The nation’s most populous state expects to grow by about 15 million people to 50 million by 2020, but already suffers from housing shortages that make it home to 14 of the country’s 20 least affordable metropolitan areas for housing, according to the National Association of Home Builders. 

With a total of about 65 land-use issues on ballots in California this March and November, 2000 is the biggest year for such measures since 1990, when voters decided 99 of them, said Raul Shihmdy, managing editor of the California Planning & Development Report. 

“More of these things pop up during good economic times,” Shigley said. “In the early ’90s people had other things to worry about,” and the improved economy of the last few years was slow in translating into ballot-box activity. 

Fifteen of the November items are on the ballot of just two cities. 

Voters in the San Diego County city of Escondido have nine land-use measures to sort through. 

San Franciscans will vote on six land-use measures, including two competing items aimed at reining in massive expansion of office space at the expense of housing. 

Proposition L, put on the ballot with voter signatures, would ban office development in some areas, set a development moratorium in others and restrict live-work loft buildings. 

Developers have poured more than $2 million into the campaign for Proposition K, a less restrictive measure proposed by Mayor Willie Brown. If voters approve both propositions, the one that gets the most votes will win. 

Another high-dollar campaign is raging in Sacramento County, where developers have spent $2 million trying to convince voters to approve a 3,000-unit gated retirement community near Rancho Murrieta. 

In an analysis of about 660 land-use initiatives on ballots in California over tid lart 15 years- Shifley&s montily odwsmduter goune that voters favored the “slow growth” side in 57 percent of them. 

But in the last four years, “pro-growth” and slow-growth victories have been even, mainly because proposals brought forth by developers have been more succesrful, Shigley said. 

Eleven of the measures on Tuesday’s ballot are variations of an oft-repeated controlled-growth measure called Save Open Space and Agriculture Resources, or SOAR. The initiatives establish urban growth boundaries and require public vote to approve development outside of the boundaries, or on property designated as farmland or open space. 

Shigley said the initiatives, which began with movements in Napa and Ventura counties, have passed 24 of the 25 times they’ve appeared on ballots in the state. 

The most closely watched of this election’s SOAR-type initiatives are in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the Sierra Club has led a million-and-a-half-dollar effort to set up growth restrictions in Alameda County.