Op Ed: Measure W Ballot Language ‘Deceptive’

City officials are out of control and want to pull the wool over your eyes, say Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance.

Seth Adams and Matt Vander Sluis

San Ramon residents care about the environment and are wary of overdevelopment.

They’ve voted three times since 1999 for strong growth controls. City officials are out of step and incredibly pro-development, and are now trying to get around the controls with Measure W, a misleading ballot item in which they’re trying to appear green.

They want voters to believe that Measure W is an environmentally sound initiative to preserve land. The politicians say they don’t want to develop the land; they just want to “plan” it. They want to “extend” the city’s urban-growth boundary and “renew” Ordinance 197 to protect hills and ridges.  Sounds like motherhood and apple pie. Why, then, do conservation groups like ours, and many San Ramon residents, oppose Measure W?

Because the city’s claims aren’t true. Measure W paves the way for massive development, on top of thousands of houses and millions of square feet of commercial that are already approved but not yet built. They don’t want to “extend” the growth boundary; they want to break and expand it by adding 3.5 square miles of the Tassajara Valley and other areas — a 20 percent increase in the size of the city — without telling us what the impacts will be on property values, schools, drinking water supplies, traffic, and on open space and wildlife.

Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance have been defending the Tassajara Valley for over 30 years. We helped create and defend strong city and county urban growth boundaries, as well as measures to require voter approval for growth boundary changes.

How do we know the claims aren’t true? When city officials claimed they weren’t interested in development in the Tassajara Valley (despite all evidence to the contrary), our organizations replied, “OK, let’s work together to put in place measures that will guarantee preservation.” They rejected our suggestions and offers to be involved.

The city could have asked voters “do you want to expand the urban growth boundary?” Instead, they put an entire 2.000-page general plan on the ballot, with a lot more than growth boundary expansions buried inside.  For example, part of Measure W is a new redevelopment “Specific Plan” along North Camino Ramon, including approval of general plan amendments and rezoning. They want residents to approve it before the city actually looks at the environmental impacts.

Meanwhile, city officials have tried unsuccessfully to cast the county as the villain, pointing to the development of Dougherty Valley. In reality, this area was planned and approved 20 years ago with full cooperation from the city. And the land was inside the county growth boundary. Tassajara Valley and the west side hills are currently protected because they’re outside growth boundaries. By expanding the growth boundary into these areas, the city is opening them up to development.

The city warns about county review of two applications in Tassajara Valley, “New Farm” and the Corrie cemetery, without mentioning that it’s their developer friends who have been proposing both to the county for years. Neither application has moved very far in their county planning efforts. If the city of San Ramon truly opposed development, they’d speak out against “New Farm” — but they haven’t — and they adopted a resolution supporting the cemetery project.

So please ignore “pass the buck” scare tactics and deception. It’s not about local control, it’s about self control.

As for the “renewal” of Ordinance 197 to protect hills and ridges? It’s more green washing, an attempt to appear environmental. City officials added it so they and their developer supporters could claim they were “saving our hills.”

The ordinance has limited value, the city has argued that it doesn’t apply in a variety of cases, and they’re proposing to extend it just five years — so they can use it to run for council again in 2015.

If they were serious they would have extended it the full 20-year duration of the “General Plan 2030” they’ve put on the ballot as Measure W. It’s like a bracelet on a broken leg. If the city wasn’t trying to break the growth boundary, they wouldn’t need to cover it up.

A few Measure W proponents have claimed that our organizations have “sued the city four times” and that we’re “outsiders.” Seriously? Our organizations have hundreds of members in San Ramon and have never sued San Ramon. We’re not anti-development; we seek open space preservation balanced with well-planned development. That’s what urban-growth boundaries accomplish.

San Ramon residents have donated $12,000 to the “San Ramon Residents Opposed to Measure W” campaign, more than on any other San Ramon campaign in years.  Other individuals in nearby cities have donated another $12,000. We’ve matched those contributions with our own financial support. By contrast, the ‘Yes’ campaign’s funds come from city officials, most of whom are dependent on campaign contributions from developers to get elected.

Our contributions have funded literature and a campaign office where San Ramon volunteers give their time. They’ve dropped fliers at nearly every house in San Ramon, hand written thousands of postcards to residents, and held neighborhood meetings in their living rooms to get the word out. We’re proud to help.

Please join San Ramon residents, Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance in Voting No On Measure W on Nov. 2.

Seth Adams is Save Mount Diablo’s director of land programs.  Matt Vander Sluis is the East Bay senior field representative for Greenbelt Alliance.

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