Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Measure L changes none of the city's existing growth boundaries

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Measure L passes--future land use issues will be put to a vote

By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD -- Fairfield today begins life in the new, post-Measure L world that gives residents direct control over where the city grows.

Voters on Tuesday passed the growth control measure, 60.2 percent to 39.8 percent. They - and not future city councils - will decide through 2020 whether the city develops middle Green Valley or Suisun Valley or near Travis Air Force Base.

Measure L changes none of the city's existing growth boundaries. Rather, it changes who gets to change them.

Backers of Measure L gathered at Barbs Deli in downtown Fairfield to watch election returns and celebrate. They marked results on a white board.

The Measure L campaign successfully emphasized two issues: Protecting Travis Air Force Base from encroaching development and preventing development on nearby farmland and open space.

"Speculators own a lot of the land," City Councilman Jack Batson said. "And money never sleeps. That's why we need the extra protection."

Measure L opponents watched computerized election returns projected on a screen at the Hilton Garden. They contended that the initiative takes flexibility away from future councils and runs counter to representative government.

"We'll be back," said Juanita Schiel, who wore an "L No" button. "I can't let my city be tied up for 17 years."

Under existing growth boundaries Fairfield can grow from 100,000 to 136,000 people. The city will emphasize high-density infill growth and develop a few remaining large tracts of vacant land with subdivisions, such as near Cement Hill Road. The City Council can still vote on annexations within the growth boundaries.

Beyond that, key growth decisions must go to the ballot box and voters.

The only debate remaining is what Measure L will mean to Fairfield in coming years.

If Autumn Bernstein is right, Measure L will help settle the area's long-running growth disputes. She is with the Greenbelt Alliance, the Bay Area group that helped with the Measure L campaign.

She pointed to San Jose as an example. Voters there approved the "Green Line" growth boundary in 1999.

"That put to rest 10 years of disputes about the hillsides around San Jose," Bernstein said.

Nor does she think Fairfield voters will go to the polls every year to decide whether to expand the city's growth boundaries for a project.

"Things tend to settle down after these things pass," Bernstein said. "Voters are sending a clear message of what they want to see happen. These messages are generally heard."

Plus, she thinks Measure L can promote the infill development called for in the city General Plan.

"It's a classic case that the market responds to conditions," Bernstein said. "Developers are smart people."

Former Fairfield City Councilman Steve Lessler was in the thick of 1990 disputes over building in middle Green Valley and near Travis Air Force Base. He doubts Measure L will end the debates.

Some landowners have too much money invested to just let things go, Lessler said. Other people want to keep things as they are, he said.

"I think it's going to continue to be a conflict, as long as I can see it," Lessler said.

Crisand Giles of the Home Builders Association of Northern California said growth will continue to come to central Solano County, even with Measure L.

"You're not really voting for no growth," Giles said. "You're just changing the type of growth that will happen in your community."

To avoid building out, communities have to build up, Giles said. Fairfield could see higher densities and four-story buildings, she said. But the City Council must be prepared to face neighborhood opposition to such projects, she said.

Measure L might drive up home prices, Giles said. Then prospective major businesses might pass Fairfield by and locate in Vacaville or other communities, she said.

Jack Martin of the North Texas Street Business Association doesn't expect Measure L to help or hinder the shops and businesses in this part of town. The association took no position on the measure.

There's very little room for infill growth on North Texas Street, he said.

Fairfield City Councilman John English opposed Measure L. Some citizens mistakenly linked opposing Measure L with favoring a proposed Indian casino in Suisun Valley, he said.

These are different issues and he hopes the casino didn't sway the vote, English said.

The tribe could bypass local growth laws - including Measure L - by getting the land put in trust by the Department of the Interior. But Bernstein thinks Measure L can indirectly help stop a casino.

The federal government considers local opinion, Bernstein said. Measure L sends a message Fairfield doesn't want development in Suisun Valley, she said.

Barry Eberling can be contacted at

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