Novato Backs Strong Growth Boundary

On a unanimous 5 – 0 vote, the Novato City Council recently finalized the ballot measure to renew the city’s existing urban growth boundary for 25 years on the November 7, 2017 ballot.

Greenbelt Alliance, Marin Conservation League, and Sierra Club deliberated with Mayor Athas, councilmembers, and city staff late into the evening at the July 11 public hearing to fine-tune the ballot measure through a productive and positive exchange. The evening ended with a good result that we think the voters will strongly support.

Novato’s UGB

An urban growth boundary (UGB) separates urban areas from the surrounding natural and agricultural lands. It puts a limit on how far out the city can expand. It stops sprawl and keeps open space intact. When adopted by the voters, no significant changes to the boundary are allowed without a vote of the people, with a few legal exceptions.

The Novato City Council put in stronger restrictions on the legal exceptions to its UGB to resolve concerns about the potential for unplanned growth on the edge of town raised by environmental advocates.

“I’ve always been incredibly supportive of the urban growth boundary,” said Mayor Denise Athas. “I consider it to be one of the true treasures of Novato.”

If passed by the voters in November, the renewed UGB will maintain Novato’s commitment to protecting open space and farmland, preventing sprawl, and encouraging walkable, bike-friendly neighborhoods near downtown and the SMART line until the end of 2042. (Novato is the only city with three SMART stations.)

The Fine Print

Over the past 20 years since the Novato’s UGB was first passed by the city’s voters, the City Council has approved only four amendments for a total of 12 homes and one business. These were allowed under existing exceptions for public, health, and safety reasons, primarily failing septic systems. In such cases, the properties are required by the county to hook-up to sewer lines and get added to the city’s UGB.  This undermines the UGB by expanding it parcel-by-parcel and opens the door to bigger houses and subdivisions that would not have been allowed on a property with a septic system.

As a hedge against this type of incremental growth, the UGB renewal measure adds a new requirement for a deed restriction that limits increased development or subdivision when such properties are added to the UGB under the exception for public health and safety. It also applies to undeveloped parcels on the edge of town that are required by the county to hook-up to water and sewer in order to build a house and needs city permits to do so. If the property owner rejects the restriction, then the city will not add it to the UGB and no development allowed.

Any such additions to the UGB will require a public review and a supermajority vote of the City Council for approval to assure Novato residents that these actions are indeed the exception rather than the rule.

These additional constraints will allow the UGB to do its job and prevent incremental growth while allowing homes and businesses that have no other choice but to hook-up to municipal services to do so.

Jump In!

Greenbelt Alliance and our allies will be launching a campaign soon to pass the newly fine-tuned UGB ballot measure in November. Watch for updates and contact Teri Shore if you’d like to jump in and help by:

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