[at left: hillside sprawl in L.A. and hillside erosion in Millbrae -- imagery that should have been used to counter the BS spewed by the NO on Measure A coalition]
Measure A, the no-cost, common-sense Santa Clara land use planning measure, lost at the polls on November 7... barely: 51% to 49%.
As a result, instead of preserving hillsides, voters unwittingly preserved the rights of SoCal realtors to build trophy homes on ridgelines, and secured the rights of a few property owners to profit massively from random, sprawling developments on Santa Clara county's unincorporated ag lands.
Give the Measure A opposition credit. They overcame strong public support for slow growth. Heavily funded by SoCal real estate interests, big ranching outfits, and ag consortiums, the NO crowd spread enough disinformation to cast doubt in voters' minds and send Measure A to defeat. A Mercury News editorial commented:
"The failure of Measure A leaves the county's current general plan in place, but its enforcement is spotty. Watch for new pushes to develop the county's open land. the county Board of Supervisors, which must approve development, should take note of that close vote: Measure A's failure means misleading campaigns can work, but it doesn't mean voters want to see building in the hills."
[Powerful Santa Clara county overlord Jabba the Hut -- er, supervisor Don Gage -- wasn't going to let Measure A diminish his control of land parcels on unincorporated areas.]
Leading the NO on Measure A disinformation campaign were some prominent public figures in Santa Clara county. Supervisor Don Gage was the loudest. Measure A threatened his imperial status as lord of the parcels. Currently, it just takes three votes on the board of supervisors to approve subdivisions on unincorporated lands. Measure A would have required a public vote, which would have seriously eroded Gage's power to cut deals on behalf of housing development interests who'd like to build in his district.
Gage is more concerned about preventing erosion of his power base than preventing erosion on hillsides. That's why he was so eager to promote lies about Measure A: "If the farmer wants their children to have a house, they can't pass down their land to build a second home." Horse puckey. Measure A contained no language prohibiting estate sale or inheritance of land. Ranchers and farmers could have built second, third, and fourth homes for other family members. They wouldn't, however, have been able to solicit plans for casinos or gated golf course communities on ag and ranch land, not without a public vote.
[Santa Clara county sheriff Laurie Smith was quick to draw the ridiculous conclusion that land development restrictions would bankrupt county services.]
Santa Clara county sheriff Laurie Smith told a whopper when she said "...the intiative threatens funding for basic services like sheriff and fire protection, and limits the county's ability to fund needed road and water improvements." Smith's comprehension of land use planning could fit in a thimble with room left for the trigger finger. Why would she even comment on Measure A? Simple: to pay back political endorsement from her election. But even a sheriff should know this basic tenet of urban development: sprawling housing developments outside city boundaries bring much more cost -- in terms of environmental impact, traffic, extended city services, infrastructure upgrades -- than can be covered by the taxes they generate.
[Santa Clara Farm Bureau flak Jenny Derry also played the daffy "it hurts the farmer" card, as instructed by high-priced political consultant Tom Shepard, who was hired to create paranoia, confusion and doubt about Measure A]
Jenny Derry, the public relations director for the Santa Clara Farm Bureau, told two big whoppers during the NO campaign. The first whopper was that Measure A "will make it very difficult for farmers -- including specifically, organic and ethnic producers -- to establish a new business or expand an existing farm or ranch." Wrong. The measure put zero restrictions on processing facilities or housing for farm employees and it absolutely allowed for the sale of ag and ranch land to organic and "ethnic" operations. But painting Measure A as anti-ethnic farmer was a shrewd marketing move. (Not that the Farm Bureau actually gives a damn about the little farms.) Jen's other whopper was that farmers "were never consulted" about Measure A. Actually, they were consulted, but their only input was "no way are we getting behind that." After all, American farmers aren't much for land use restrictions, unless attached to trillions of dollars in farm subsidies. Only after deciding not to participate did the Farm Bureau claim that they weren't consulted.
[Pete McHugh: How are farmers supposed to farm without good suburbs?]
County supervisor Pete McHugh spouted the most cockamanie nonsense about Measure A: "The ballot measure threatens the future of south bay farms." Someone needs to ask old Pete to explain what he meant. How exactly does preventing random housing developments inside unincorporated ag land pose a threat to farming and farmers? Especially considering that Measure A was written to support farming by protecting the integrity of ag lands and giving the advantage back to farmers who want to farm?
[Doug McNea, tax-payer advocate, and several land use attorneys advocating on behalf of SoCal realtors, used the sky-is-falling-lawsuits scare tactic to "warn" voters about Measure A]
Doug McNea, Silicon Valley Taxpayers' Association, realized that most voters wouldn't actually examine the language of Measure A, and could be bluffed with the old "invites costly lawsuits" claim -- a scare tactic typically invoked by demagogues desperate to prevent changes to the status quo. Said McNea: "The initiative is very poorly written, it ensures years of expensive lawsuits, making taxpayers liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in potential damage claims." In truth the Measure went through careful iterations, incorporating input from diverse sources. The result was a well-written document that was specific about parcel sizes and building on hillsides, yet open to future refinement, and flexible enough to prevent lawsuits. Note that Alameda county passed and put in place much tougher restrictions -- 320-acre minimum parcels -- without incurring any litigation.
History will record that the lies and disinformation spread by heavily funded real estate development interests worked to defeat Measure A, Santa Clara county's 2006 land use planning intiative. It was a popular cause that was smeared just enough to cast just enough doubt in voters' minds.
Yet land use conservation and intelligent, controlled growth in the county's unincorporated areas still has strong support across the board. Measure A was endorsed by every major environmental organization, as well as the San Jose Mercury News, the League of Women Voters, the Council of Churches, the County Medical Association, the Democratic Party, Republicans for Environmental Protection, the South Bay Labor Council, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (representing more than 200 businesses) and the list goes on. Measure A also enjoyed the support of more than 100 elected officials, including Morgan Hill mayor Dennis Kennedy.
The NO on Measure A crowd ran a scare campaign, and they won. But Don Gage, Laurie Smith, Pete McHugh, Jenny Derry, and every other prominent Santa Claran on the NO on Measure A coalition had to lose a lot of credibilty to win this fight. Yes, the people can be snookered, but the truth will out eventually.
A new form of strip mine is being seen more frequently from our mountain highways and byways. It is the high-elevation, trophy-home development. A high-elevation trophy home is a gigantic, energy-gobbling home (or condominium) that is built to take advantage of the view, and more importantly, to be seen by the public. Trophy homes are the product of uncontrolled egos and greed. To all but the owners, builders, and developers, they are a visual blight on a landscape, much the same as a mountainside trailer park...
-- from "High-Elevation Trophy Home Developments, a New Form of Strip Mining," by Andrew J. White, APLD, CLP (see the full article from Land Use Planning Today here).