Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | October 10, 2006

Measure A: Bad for residents, farmers, ranchers

Measure A proponents are really bugging me. Why? Let me count the reasons.

First, they’re bugging me because the measure they’re backing, the “Initiative for the Conservation of Hillsides, Ranchlands and Agricultural Lands,” would unnecessarily infringe on a precious civil liberty: private property rights.

If Measure A passes, it will create onerous restrictions on the use of land in unincorporated Santa Clara County with these amendments to the county’s general plan:

• Increases to the minimum size of parcels in hillside and ranchland areas
• Cuts to the number of houses than can be built per acre
• Imposition of new regulations on where structures can be built and, in some cases, complete prevention of building structures at all
• Restrictions on allowable land uses in areas designated as hillside, agriculture or ranchland

Second, Measure A proponents are bugging me because they lack simple common sense; you know, as in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

With fewer than 100 houses built in unincorporated Santa Clara County each year, there’s no need for Measure A. Clearly, the county’s current general plan is working well to control growth in unincorporated county lands.

Third, they’re bugging me because fixing Measure A’s numerous flaws will be inordinately expensive.

The initiative states that it “may be repealed or amended only by the voters of Santa Clara County.” That’s a difficult and impractical hurdle to overcome, not to mention a pricey one. If a rancher needs a structure outside of the building envelope prescribed by Measure A, or a homeowner wants to build a granny unit that Measure A disallows, they’ll need to ask voters for permission in a countywide election.

Fourth, they’re bugging me because they worked hard to keep voters in the dark about Measure A’s economic impacts.

Three Santa Clara County supervisors (Blanca Alvarado, James Beall and Liz Kniss) caved into Measure A backers who didn’t want a fiscal impact study of the initiative done. Other counties, including Monterey and San Benito, conducted fiscal impact studies before similar measures were placed on their ballots.

If Measure A is so good for the county, why would its proponents want voters uninformed about what it will do to the county’s budget? What are Measure A’s backers afraid that a fiscal impact study might reveal?

Perhaps they didn’t want anyone to look too closely at the initiative’s vague language, which is open to interpretation and will invite costly lawsuits.

Or perhaps they hoped to hide very real concerns that Measure A could bankrupt the county.

If it passes, Measure A’s downzoning of ranchlands and hillside properties would reduce the value of land in unincorporated Santa Clara County by more than $1 billion, according land use attorney Bart Hechtman.

If voters approve Proposition 90, which is on the statewide ballot, it would require that governments compensate property owners for significant economic impact from land-use regulation changes.

So, if Measure A passes, devaluing property in the county to the tune of $1 billion, and Prop. 90 passes, requiring the county to compensate property owners for that lost property value, Santa Clara County taxpayers would be in a world of hurt. That $1 billion tab doesn’t include legal fees.

This pickle demonstrates one of Prop. 90’s assets: It will make sweeping changes to land-use regulations – like Measure A – prohibitively expensive.

Fifth, Measure A’s backers are bugging me because of their solution to this problem: They advise voters to reject Prop. 90.

Measure A backers are “obviously opposed” to Prop. 90, according to Palo Alto City Councilman and Measure A backer Peter Drekmeier. That’s right, they want you to endanger your property rights so that they can impose onerous regulations on ranchers, farmers and hillside residents for free.

That’s bass ackwards.

The common-sense solution is to protect private property rights by passing Prop. 90 and rejecting Measure A.

When Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy successfully convinced supervisors not to order that fiscal impact study on Measure A, he told them, “I urge you to trust the voters, have confidence that the voters are intelligent, that they can read the language and can vote appropriately.”

I hope Kennedy’s right. I hope voters carefully read and fully understand the language of Measure A and Prop. 90. If they do, they’ll vote no on Measure A and yes on Prop. 90 on Nov. 7.

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