Urban Growth on the Ballot

Lauren Sommer

In the East Bay city of San Ramon, voters are deciding a measure that would substantially expand their city limits. Measure W is one of several urban growth measures on Bay Area ballots this November.

San Ramon is largely home to rows of suburban houses. At the edge of town, those homes give way to open, grassy hills.

“This really is the edge of development,” says Matt Vander Sluis of the Greenbelt Alliance, an environmental non-profit. “You’ve got the beautiful rolling hills of the Tassajara Valley and then more and more open space stretching out essentially until the Central Valley.”

The Tassajara Valley is at the center of a hot debate in San Ramon. The valley is a sparsely developed strip of land just south of Mt. Diablo and is home to a handful of ranches and orchards.

“This is one of our most important wildlife corridors and it’s also just an important piece of the mosaic of protected lands across the Bay Area,” says Vander Sluis.

Measure W would put 1,600 acres of this valley in San Ramon city limits by expanding the urban growth boundary. More than 40 cities in the Bay Area use these boundaries, typically to control the growth of housing development.
Measure W would increase the size of the city of San Ramon by 19 percent. But city officials say they have no plans to develop that area.

“There is no secret plan to develop Tassajara Valley,” says Eric Wallis, a member of the San Ramon Planning Commission. Wallis says the reason city planners are supporting Measure W is so the city can decide the future of Tassajara Valley. Right now, the valley belongs to Contra Costa County.
“We feel very strongly that this area should be within our urban growth boundary for planning purposes because we’ve had some negative experiences with having the county plan areas that wound up going into San Ramon,” says Wallis.

Right now, Tassajara Valley is zoned for agricultural use. If a developer wants to build something bigger than 30 acres, today it would require the approval of Contra Costa County voters. Wallis says that isn’t local enough. “Bottom line is – who do you trust? Do you trust someone who lives in the same city and is responsive to you as a voter? Or do you trust someone who lives miles and miles away?”

If Measure W passes and a local commission approves the changes, the valley’s future would be decided by city officials, without going to city voters. That’s a concern for Measure W opponents.

“About 70 percent of the land here in the Tassajara Valley that would be affected by Measure W is owned by major developers and land speculators. The only reason to expand an urban growth boundary is to open up an area for development,” says Matt Vander Sluis.

Voters in Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Cloverdale are also deciding urban growth measures in November.

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