The California slow-growth movement was left in disarray Wednesday after decisive defeats of growth-control measures in Riverside County and in the city and county of San Diego.
The losses follow the crushing defeat of a slow-growth initiative in Orange County last June and raise questions about the future of a movement that only a few months ago, seemed to be gaining momentum throughout the state.
Statewide, 75 land-use measures appeared on local ballots, by far the largest number ever, according to the California Assn. of Realtors. Thirty-two of the measures were slow-growth proposals and 15 of the 32 passed, while a year ago 15 of 17 were approved.
The slow-growth results were among the most significant returns on an Election Day that included votes on a hodgepodge of local issues. In San Francisco, for example, voters were narrowly approving in incomplete returns a plan to berth the battleship Missouri there. Across the bay in Berkeley, citizens declined to adopt a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp as a sister city. Voters in Rialto, in San Bernardino County, failed to approve a new property tax to be used to fight gang violence. Residents of Nevada County, in the foothills of the High Sierra, voted to ban steel-jawed leg-hold traps used to capture coyotes and raccoons.
Meanwhile, proposals to sharply limit construction of onshore oil and gas facilities were approved in Humboldt and Mendocino counties and in the city of San Clemente.
In both Riverside and San Diego, slow-growth supporters were heavily outspent by developers, the building industry and related businesses.
Measure B, the Riverside County initiative that would have limited future growth in the county’s unincorporated areas to the statewide average of the preceding year, was trounced 60% to 40% after developers and their allies poured about $1.7 million into the campaign. The measure’s supporters said they spent about $30,000.
“We faced a very well-financed and deceptive campaign,” said Bill Havert, a Sierra Club official who was co-chairman of the Measure B effort.
Havert cited a “mock Democratic Party endorsement” mailed late last week that urged Democratic voters to support the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket and also to vote “no” on Measure B.
The mailer was paid for by Residents for Responsible Planning, the developer-builder organization that led the opposition to B.
But Frank Wilson, who ran the “no” campaign, said the mailer was sent “under the signatures of four prominent Democrats” in the Riverside area who opposed B and that “it had disclaimers all over the place” stating that the mailer did not represent the viewpoint of the local Democratic Party as such.
“These guys are trying to make excuses for losing,” Wilson stated.
In San Diego, heavy spending by developers, builders and related enterprises helped to defeat growth-control measures sponsored by citizen groups and by the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors.
Propositions D and J, sponsored by Citizens for Limited Growth, would have placed caps on future building and would have tied growth to improvements in such “quality of life” areas as traffic congestion, air quality and sewer capacity.
Propositions B and H, less ambitious growth-control proposals that were the creations of the City Council and the Board of Supervisors, also lost decisively. B, the county measure, won only 41% of the vote, while Proposition H, the City Council proposal, was approved by only 44% of the voters.
Tom Mullaney, co-chairman of Citizens for Limited Growth, which sponsored D and J, blamed “the large amount of money spent to convince people of a ‘doom-and-gloom’ scenario for the defeats.
Mullaney said San Diegans for Regional Traffic Solutions, started by a handful of major builders and developers, spent more than $2 million on the campaign, much of it to persuade voters that housing prices and unemployment would soar if growth caps were adopted.
Mike Madigan, senior vice president for Pardee Construction Co. and spokesman for the Regional Traffic Solutions group, said it was necessary to spend a lot of money because the news media gave too much attention to the growth-control proposals.
Elsewhere in San Diego County, slow-growth measures were approved in Chula Vista and Poway but defeated in Encinitas.
Slow-growth supporters also received better news from Orange County, where, with some absentee votes still not counted, local growth-control propositions were winning in Costa Mesa and San Juan Capistrano but losing in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.
In San Luis Obispo County, slow-to-moderate-growth forces took control of the Board of Supervisors with the election of David Blakely, a Santa Marguerita schoolteacher.
Advocates of slow growth in Morro Bay successfully defeated an attempt to build a gazebo in the city’s main park and also won approval for a plan to develop a new shopping center in the center of the city, rather than across U.S. 101 in undeveloped hill country.
In Santa Cruz County, voters approved, 70 % to 21%, a slow-growth initiative urging the University of California not to expand campus enrollment without fully mitigating the impact of increased student enrollment by building roads, sewers and other facilities.
UC Santa Cruz enrollment currently stands at 9,400 and plans call for it to be expanded to 15,000 by the year 2005. A campus spokesman said officials fear that the measure approved Tuesday “promises a lawsuit on everything” except new student housing, which is exempted from terms of the proposition.
On a non-growth issue in San Francisco, the outcome remained unclear on the home-porting of the battleship Missouri and a dozen of its support ships at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
A plan backed by former Mayor Dianne Feinstein and the Navy was leading narrowly late Wednesday, and the outcome depended on about 20,000 absentee ballots not yet counted. The plan would require the city to spend $22 million over the next 20 years to dredge San Francisco Bay for the ship.
An alternate proposal by Art Agnos, the current mayor, which would have prohibited the spending of city money for the Missouri, went down to defeat with 45% of the votes.
However, the election of two new anti-Missouri supervisors-- Angela Alioto, daughter of former Mayor Joseph Alioto, and lawyer Terence Hallinan--seemed to make it unlikely that the famous warship will ever call San Francisco its home.