Stanislaus County voters back growth limits

Both Stanislaus County growth measures sailed toward victory late Tuesday, with the more restrictive appearing to be more popular.

That's important because the one with the most "yes" votes will become law, while the other dies.

Measure E, which wrests control from county supervisors over housing projects in unincorporated areas, captured 47,177 "yes" votes, or 66.93 percent, and 23,305 "no" votes, or 33.07 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

Voters also liked its rival, Measure L, but awarded it only 44,729 "yes" votes, or 63.42 percent.

Measure E, also known as Stamp Out Sprawl, becomes the first successful growth initiative stretching across Stanislaus County. For 30 years, supervisors cannot change agricultural zoning for housing projects in unincorporated areas without ballot permission from county voters.

By contrast, Modesto's growth initiatives, approved in 1979 and 1997, require citywide votes but are not binding on the city's leaders.

"I'm quite confident at this point," said Modesto City Councilman Garrad Marsh. He teamed with former Councilman Denny Jackman to champion Measure E.

Supporters say Measure E should channel growth into the county's nine cities, which are better equipped to provide municipal services such as water, sewer and police.

The county gives millions of dollars in subsidies each year to noncities including Salida, Keyes and Denair, whose retail districts don't produce enough taxes to cover services required by townsfolk.

Took 2 years to get on ballot

People concerned about increasing traffic, air pollution and other aspects of rapid growth gathered about 16,000 signatures in 2006 to qualify Measure E for the ballot. But supervisors, faced with losing some long-held power, stalled it long enough to delay a countywide vote for nearly two years.

Meanwhile, developers put out big money to similarly qualify an initiative allowing Salida, the county's largest unincorporated community, to someday double its population of 14,000 and add huge shopping centers. And supervisors saved them the trouble by approving the growth plan outright, negating the need for a vote of the people.

But supervisors weren't done yet. They prompted staff to craft Measure L, a ballot counterstrike to Measure E.

Measure L called for supervisors to appoint a commission of volunteers to update the county's general plan, which guides growth. Voters later would weigh in on the rewrite, and officials could continue guiding growth with comprehensive power rather than subjecting the county to piecemeal, ballot-box planning.

But county officials said they're so proud of Measure L's provisions that they intend to adopt them this year regardless of Tuesday's outcome.

Measure E over Measure L

Measure L failed to capture widespread support, enlisting only the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau and prompting no fund raising.

Measure E did not fare much better, but garnered endorsements from the League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County and The Bee's editorial board.

The Bee also compiled housing permit statistics showing that despite county officials' claim of channeling residential growth to cities, they approved 2,939 houses in unincorporated areas since 2000. The number collectively represents more homes than are in the cities of Waterford or Hughson, which have 2,574 and 1,907 homes, respectively.

Voters largely were sympathetic to both measures, according to Tuesday's results, but 2,390 more -- of about 58,000 counted by 11 p.m. -- apparently favored Measure E over L.

Marsh said the measure's formal titles, chosen by county attorneys, may have misled some voters. He said Measure E's title, "Thirty Year Land Use Restriction Initiative," sounds much more harsh than L's "Stanislaus County Responsible Planning and Growth Control Initiative."

"All that matters is the one with the most 'yeses,' " Marsh said.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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