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DECISION 2000 / ORANGE COUNTY | GROWTH MEASURES

Limits on Builders Get Mixed Results

Newport Beach's Greenlight initiative is faring well, and a similar bid in Brea is gaining momentum. The tally is close in San Clemente.

November 08, 2000|SEEMA MEHTA and DEBORAH SCHOCH | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Fiercely debated land-use battles in three Orange County cities were yielding split decisions Tuesday night.

In Newport Beach, with half the votes counted, a measure that would force individual citywide votes on many major projects was cruising to victory.

Jean Watt, former city councilwoman and Measure S Greenlight supporter, said, "The time seemed to be just about right in Newport." Residents also voted resoundingly against a heavily funded, developer-backed competing measure that would have invalidated Greenlight if both passed and it got more votes.

Former state senator and county Supervisor Marian Bergeson worried that Greenlight will have negative implications not only in Newport Beach, but across the state.

In San Clemente, a measure that would stop the city from issuing most building permits until a key roadway segment is built was in a dead heat, with both sides agreeing that the night was far too young to know the outcome.

In Brea, an initiative similar to Greenlight was picking up steam early Wednesday.

Debate over the slow-growth measures was fever hot in recent weeks, with residents in the three cities seeing an 11th-hour push to win their votes on four ballot initiatives. The initiatives were part of a spate of local land-use measures across the state and the nation.

The surge for local control of growth is fueled by the booming economy, said William Fulton, a land-use expert.

"Ballot measures generally follow the economy--the economy ramps up, building ramps up, people get mad and put stuff on the ballot," he said.

If any of the measures pass, litigation is a virtual certainty.

The stakes are high--more than a million dollars was raised for poll ing, blaring newspaper advertisements, a flurry of last-minute mailings and much more. While some of the money is from local residents and businesses, a hefty chunk came from out-of-town interests.

"These initiatives have a way of bringing out well-financed and wealthy members of the development community who do not want a precedent-setting initiative to be passed in the heart of supposedly conservative Orange County," said Mark Petracca, chairman of UC Irvine's political science department. "There's a lot at stake here."

In Newport Beach, voters were deciding between competing initiatives, Measure S and Measure T, known as the Newport Beach Traffic Planning and Improvements.

If approved, Measure S would require a citywide vote on projects that exceed the city's general plan by 100 homes, 40,000 square feet or 100 peak-hour car trips. Smaller projects in highly developed areas of the city--defined by a complex equation--would also trigger a citywide vote.

Greenlight backers worry the City Council is rubber-stamping massive developments without considering their impact on traffic and the city's quality of life.

Measure T proponents say Greenlight would lead to numerous, costly local elections, and is a threat to the city's prosperity.

William P. Ficker, a Newport Beach-based architect and Measure T supporter, waited with other Greenlight opponents in a suite of rooms at the Hyatt Newporter.

While some people might be bothered by added traffic because of development, he said, "I just love this city. . . . If I sit at an extra stoplight I think, aren't I lucky to live in this city, sitting here on Coast Highway. Even before a single vote was cast, the Greenlight initiative had a chilling effect on development at the Fashion Island mall, Newport Dunes resort and Conexant Systems Inc. headquarters. The Irvine Co. was the single largest backer of Measure T, contributing $187,000 as of last Thursday. Greenlight opponents as a whole raised $405,061, compared to $62,562 raised by supporters. Other major contributions include $52,000 from the California Assn. of Realtors, $24,500 from the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California and $10,000 from the National Assn. of Home Builders in Washington, D.C.

In Brea, Measure N would give residents the right to veto major development on more than 5,000 acres in Carbon Canyon and hills north and east of the city through 2021. The measure would require the city to set limits by 2002 on the impact that development can have on traffic, water quality and supply, and flora and fauna.

There has been active oil production in the hills for a century, but as the operations wind down, initiative backers say that the striking ridgelines that define the community are threatened by thousands of proposed homes.

Early on, it looked as if the measure was headed for defeat, but it gained votes steadily as more ballots were counted. Supporters were not worried.

"We expected the early votes to be conservative--it's mostly seniors. I'm not surprised by it," said Claire Schlotterbeck, organizer of the measure and head of another group that helped create Chino Hills State Park. Even if it fails, "we have already won because now everyone is aware of threats to hillside protection."

In San Clemente, if Measure U passes, it will stop the city from issuing most building permits until a 5.4-mile four-lane segment of Avenida la Pata is built between Avenida Pico and Antonio Parkway.

Proponents say it could halt projects that are already underway, such as the massive Talega development east of the city. City officials and opponents dispute that, and landowners promise to sue if necessary.

Early returns showed a neck-and-neck battle.

By 2010, San Clemente is expected to add 6,500 homes, which will add 80,000 daily car trips in the city. Proponents of the measure worry that if there was a major fire, earthquake or accident at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, gridlock could result.

The four initiatives are among 50 growth measures statewide--the most in a decade.

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