Developers asking voters to open land for housing / Opponents say builders are bypassing planning process
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Developers asking voters to open land for housing
Opponents say builders are bypassing planning process
- Erin Hallissy, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, October 24, 2005
Developers in the fast-growing East Bay suburbs are touting ballot initiatives that would allow them to build thousands more homes, saying their projects would be the best way to control sprawl in the Bay Area's outer reaches.
The measures, which the builders qualified for the Nov. 8 election in Pittsburg, Antioch, Brentwood and Livermore, would expand current urban limit lines and allow the developers to build more homes on land that has been protected from development.
Opponents say the campaigns, the latest in 15 years of growth battles in the East Bay suburbs, are deceptive because the new developments would exacerbate already congested traffic and overcrowded schools.
Developers are promoting their projects by promising a variety of amenities, from road improvements or bypasses, money for schools and parks and an all-solar-powered development in Livermore that would have other environmentally friendly features.
Spending reports filed so far by the homebuilders show the three in eastern Contra Costa County have spent more than $500,000, including $370,000 by Albert Seeno III in Pittsburg alone. Pardee Homes has spent more than $2 million pushing its North Livermore development, and more spending is expected in the final weeks of the campaigns, both sides said.
Sam Singer, a spokesman for Seeno, whose family has built tens of thousands of homes in Northern California, said Measure P in Pittsburg empowers local residents to decide the future of that fast-growing city.
"The city of Pittsburg must plan for its future, and what it really needs is managed growth and the ability to have manifest destiny for its future,'' Singer said of the measure, which would extend a county-imposed urban limit line to allow development on 2,000 acres more above the Concord Naval Weapons Station and along Kirker Pass Road.
Supporters of new homes in Antioch, Brentwood and Livermore make similar arguments. Tom McNell, who has fought housing developments in Antioch for years, backs Measure K, which would allow 700 executive homes on the Roddy Ranch outside the current urban line.
"I really do think Antioch needs a high-end development,'' McNell said. He said he's pleased that the developer, Castle Companies, will donate $1 million to Antioch schools and another $1 million to improve Vasco Road, and the development would not be allowed until Highway 4 is widened to eight lanes all the way to L Street in Antioch.
"These are things that developers have never done before in Antioch,'' McNell said.
But opponents charge that the enticements are just a way for developers to get approval for their projects.
"These are measures designed by pollsters and by political consultants,'' said Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, D-Pittsburg, who favored stricter growth limits as a county supervisor. "They realize that titling them in an honest way would mean that more people would be more likely to vote no, so they cloak them either as local control or growth-control measures.''
David Reid of the conservation group Greenbelt Alliance, which opposes all four growth measures, said developers are trying to avoid planning procedures by staging elections to allow them to build their projects.
"They've caught onto this idea of using the ballot box to get around planning laws they don't like,'' he said. "If the developers win, it sends a signal that you can buy your way through an election. We're hopeful people will see through the deception and see what the measures are really about, which is opening more land for development.''
The three measures in eastern Contra Costa County, which include Brentwood's Measure L calling for 2,800 homes on 1,300 acres to be added to the city, stemmed from the inability of county supervisors and city officials to agree on an urban-limit line required by a transportation sales tax measure passed by Contra Costa voters last year. County supervisors wanted a more restrictive line, but Antioch, Brentwood and Pittsburg officials wanted to allow more growth.
The urban limit line notion started in Contra Costa County in 1990, when voters concerned about the growth in the San Ramon Valley approved reining in development. County supervisors in 2000 pulled in the line because of concerns over a construction boom and ensuing traffic congestion on Highway 4 in east Contra Costa County, angering some city officials and developers.
In Livermore, Pardee Homes qualified an initiative that would allow it to build 2,450 homes in North Livermore outside a city and county urban growth boundary. Carlene Matchniff, a vice president for Pardee Homes, said the company spent three years talking to residents about a project, and now voters should decide whether the green development with solar-powered homes, open space and parks should be built.
"This gives Livermore voters an opportunity to control the growth within an area that has been very contentious for 30 years,'' Matchniff said. Opponents "aren't looking at the merits of the plan. They're pushing (growth) further out to the Central Valley. They're creating sprawl in that area.''
But Bob Baltzer, who has lived in Livermore since 1962 and is a spokesman for the anti-growth Friends of Livermore, said residents have already decided they don't want growth in North Livermore.
"Pardee has come along and decided that even though the voters have said no something like five times, they still want to develop that land,'' Baltzer said. "We're already gridlocked on the freeways, and our streets at rush hour go into gridlock now. It's an unbelievable mess.''
Pardee has already spent more than $2 million on its campaign and will spend at least $500,000 more, Matchniff said, calling the amount "just the cost of an election today.'' Baltzer called the amount obscene.
Opponents say they can only raise a fraction of the amount developers will spend.
"They're trying to buy the election,'' Reid said. "That to me is not local control. It's developer control.''
However, he said, "I'm feeling confident in the ability of people in these cities to get the word out to each other. The power of the grassroots shouldn't be underestimated.''
Page B - 1
©2005 San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
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