Chacon Bid to Hinder Slow-Growth Initiatives Dies Early in Assembly

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Times Staff Writer

Legislation that environmental groups feared would have crippled the slow-growth initiative process was shelved Thursday after the measure’s author concluded that he could not muster the votes to move the bill through a state Assembly committee.

Opponents of the controversial measure then promptly drove a political stake through the legislation’s heart by forcing the bill’s supporters to promise that they would not attempt to revive it later, perhaps in the final frantic days of the legislative session.

Assemblyman Pete Chacon (D-San Diego), who introduced the bill at the behest of the California Building Industry Assn., amended the controversial provisions out of the measure even before the Assembly Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee considered the bill Thursday.


If they had been enacted, the sections Chacon removed would have delayed the implementation of certain ballot initiatives until after the city or county affected by them had completed a thorough study of how they would affect the environment.

Chacon said such a change would close a “loophole” that allowed voters to pass initiatives into law without environmental review even though the same measures would require study if they were approved by a city council or board of supervisors.

Chacon, who represents a heavily minority and poor district in central San Diego, said he believes slow-growth initiatives harm his constituents by driving up the cost of housing and slowing expansion of the job market. He said the kind of environmental study of initiatives that he is seeking would prove his point.

But environmental groups complained that Chacon’s bill would allow public agencies to thwart slow-growth initiatives by, in effect, studying them to death. Builders could win approval for massive projects while a local government was trying to determine what effect a cap on building permits might have, they argued.

Paula Carrell, Sacramento lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said her organization and others throughout the state organized a broad campaign to defeat Chacon’s bill.

“I think voters all over the state who have participated in land-use initiatives contacted their representatives and said, ‘This ain’t right, we approved something, it’s law. They don’t get to delay it for a year or 18 months,’ ” Carrell said.


Carrell said the lobbying effort included heavy pressure on Chacon from San Diego, where two slow-growth measures may be on the November ballot.

“He heard from a lot of people in his district,” Carrell said of Chacon. “He got a lot of letters, a lot of phone calls. He heard from local government, and he heard from citizens.”

Besides the Sierra Club, the bill’s opponents included the Planning and Conservation League, the County Supervisors Assn. of California and the League of California Cities.

In the end, the bill was trapped between Democrats who opposed it on environmental grounds and Republicans who, though sympathetic to the builders’ cause, were reluctant to tamper with the initiative process.

Don Collin, lobbyist for the Building Industry Assn., said the idea is going “nowhere.”

“There weren’t the votes for it,” Collin said. “Between the sides that might want to do something versus the sides that want to do nothing, there was no middle path to find.”

Committee members agreed to send forward an amended version of Chacon’s bill that dealt with another matter, but only after forcing Chacon and Collin to promise not to bring the issue up again this year. Two lawmakers said they feared Chacon would try to slip the measure through later without a hearing by the elections panel.


“Let’s not fool anyone here,” said Assemblyman Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro). “No one up here is an idiot. We’re going to send this bill on its merry little way, and we’re leery that you’re going to be amending this bill in the Senate with its original provisions and try to skirt the committee and . . . send it to the governor’s desk.”

“The bill will remain in its present form,” Chacon replied.

In an interview later, however, Chacon said he intends to meet with representatives of “low-income people,” minorities and builders in an effort to develop a new strategy to beat back the slow-growth movement.

Chacon attributed his legislation’s demise to election-year jitters of conservative lawmakers who normally would have supported the measure.