With the loss of Measure W, San Ramon has to re-examine city planning

Sophia Kazmi

SAN RAMON — A landslide defeat at the ballot box will require San Ramon to take another look at its plans for the future.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure W — which asked for approval of an update to the city’s general plan. The measure became controversial when city officials added to the plan an extension of the city’s urban growth boundary east about 1,600 acres into the pastoral Tassajara Valley and west about 600 acres on the other side of town.

Environmental groups Save Mount Diablo and the Greenbelt Alliance and some residents feared the city’s desire to move the line was signaling interest in developing the areas of the unincorporated agricultural area.

The unpopular measure took less than 30 percent of the vote. Contributions to the Measure W campaign, on both sides, tell part of the story.

Through Oct. 16, the last reporting period for election spending, the San Ramon Residents Opposed to Measure W group had received $96,772.66 in monetary and nonmonetary contributions. More that half of that came from two environmental groups, Save Mount Diablo ($20,000) and the Greenbelt Alliance ($40,696.90), whose leaders fear massive development in the Tassajara Valley if San Ramon’s 2030 general plan update is approved. Those supporting the approval of the general plan changes raised $3,222.96 as of Oct. 16.

With the measure’s defeat, San Ramon city staff will now have to remove all mentions of the urban growth boundary extensions and the city’s ridgeline protection ordinance — which both needed voter approval — from the general plan update, said Eric Wallis, San Ramon planning commissioner.

After those are excised from the document, Wallis said, the newly proposed updated general plan would go through the regular public hearing process of seeking planning commission recommendation and city council approval.

“The city would sit down and figure out, ‘OK, where do we go from here?'” Wallis said.

Wallis said there will be an additional cost for the planning staff’s time to make those changes to planning documents, but he did not know how much. He believes the new document would be up for city approval sometime in 2011.

Matt Vander Sluis, Greenbelt Alliance senior field representative, said Measure W defeat means residents sent a strong signal to city officials.

“They want to keep their open space protection in place,” he said.

Wallis and other city officials countered that there is no development planned for the Tassajara Valley. The urban growth boundary extension was meant as a tool to give San Ramon control over the area. City officials feared that even though areas are protected by Contra Costa County’s own urban growth boundaries, the county could change its mind and allow for development to occur.

The state requires municipalities to periodically update their general plans. San Ramon’s last update was approved by voters in 2002. That document required the urban growth boundary issue and continuation of the ridgeline protection ordinance to be up for voter approval in 2010. Wallis said because of those two items were part of the general plan update, the entire updated plan went to voters.

Phil O’Loane, a former San Ramon planning commissioner, who opposed the measure said the extra work for the city created by Measure W’s defeat could have been avoided, had the city just asked voters about the urban limit line first and then used that decision to update the general plan.

‘I’m pleased we won, (but) I wish we didn’t have to go through this,” O’Loane said.

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