Advocates: Brentwood Sprawl Measure a Litmus Test for SB 375

San_Ramon_sprawl_small.jpgThe ongoing struggle to contain growth within urban boundaries will likely move to San Ramon this November. Photo: cjaureque

While municipal planning organizations around California try to develop the metrics and models required to meet the goals of SB 375, a law mandating smarter growth, a local voter initiative in Contra Costa County is being held up as a bellwether of the public’s support for strategic and sustainable development.

Brentwood voters rejected Measure F on Tuesday, June 8th, an initiative which would have increased the city’s growth boundary by 740 acres to allow 1300 new homes to be built on open land, some of which is used for farming.

Despite proponents outspending opponents 35-1 and flooding voters’
mailboxes with brochures extolling the economic benefits of
development, the vote wasn’t very close (57 percent – 43 percent ).

"It’s very exciting that in Brentwood, a place where the battle over
sprawl has been fought recently, the voters stood up and said we need to
respect growth boundaries," said Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director Jeremy Madsen, a Measure F opponent.

"I’m very hopeful that the results we got out of Brentwood will send a
very clear message to the [sprawl] proponents," he added.

Madsen described the proponents’ campaign, led by Contra Costa County political mover-and-shaker Tom Koch on behalf of developers in the area, as a high-spending, glossy affair, "an ad campaign," whereas opponents "stood out in front of grocery markets, went door to door and put up a Facebook page."

Even Koch gave credit in part to the organizing strategy of the opponents. On Tuesday night, Koch told the San Jose Mercury News the opponents had successfully used Facebook to reach voters through their networks and that the anti-development sentiment resonated with them.

"We’re processing a very difficult loss," he told the Merc.

Advocates like Madsen, however, don’t expect the Measure F defeat to slow down the push by developers to build beyond urban growth limits. Madsen said Koch and his team are already gathering signatures to put another ballot initiative forward in the Tassajara Velley near San Ramon that would extend urban growth boundaries there. The initiative hasn’t qualified for the November ballot, but Madsen expects it will shortly.

Measures like these will increasingly be the benchmark for how serious policy makers are about containing growth within city limits and developing strategically around transit, the purported smart growth goals soon-to-be mandated by SB 375.

At a recent panel discussion hosted by Greenbelt Alliance, Al Courchesne, a farmer and owner of Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, said "local communities and regional and state governments need to support
agriculture." Courshesne argued cities like Brentwood should put up money for agricultural land trusts that would support local agriculture by buying the land and preserving it from development.

"What we need to do going forward is manage [farm land] properly," said Courshesne. "It’s going to require an education effort, stronger local support by residents and policy makers."

The link between preservation of open space and agricultural lands and the promotion
of transit-oriented development in urban areas is a specific tenet of Greenbelt Alliance’s Grow Smart Bay Area initiative and a dynamic that is likely to intensify as the regional population expands.

"If you are a smart growth advocate, you need to be an ardent supporter
of protecting agriculture and farmland," said Madsen. "Increasingly, those who believe in smart growth are not just thinking
about what to do with our cities, but how to build truly sustainable

  • What exactly are the economic benefits of more sprawl? I’d love to see that brochure.

  • Andy K

    In times of foreclosures, and falling home prices, people don’t want more sprawl. It will be harder to defeat these during a housing bubble.

  • Good thing we won’t have to worry about a housing bubble again.

  • Sean T Hedgpeth

    Brentwood and Antioch had so many foreclosures, Im surprised that developers thought they needed more empty houses.

  • JJ

    Somehow, even with the huge glut of empty homes, it still makes sense for developers to take farmland and build even more homes. Im in Fresno, and race to prawl is still on, even as slightly older developments (2 years old) sit unfinished.

    It should NOT make financial sense. There should either be more hard limits (no homes here), or financial limits (want to sprawl? add a million to the bus fund)

  • Betsy York

    this is s comment for JJ. Please check out and see how Fresno can stop the sprawl.

  • Gretchen

    Tom Koch and the landowners behind Measure F blanketed Brentwood with flyers every week. If the measure had followed Brentwood’s general plan-550 houses and no retail-they might have had a chance. But 1,300 houses and 35 acres of retail was just a ridiculous and outdated development plan. I’m so proud of Brentwood voters for seeing through the hype and the promised “goodies” (those “goodies” are hardly ever as good as promised) and voted to hold the line on overdevelopment. People power prevailed over gobs and gobs of money.

  • Gretchen, how would 550 houses and no retail been better? I’m not being snarky, I really don’t know.

  • Alan from Berkeley

    While this was a heartening vote, let’s remember one underlying principle: yesterday’s newbies become today’s NIMBYs. The population of Brentwood exploded from sprawling suburban development, and the new arrivals apparently voted down growth that might have added traffic and other impacts to inconvenience their auto-dominated lifestyle.

    We can start genuinely rejoicing when newbie-bloated peripheral towns start voting to create actual center-city developments they could actually get to and use without their cars.

    That’s a dynamic even in actually developed cities like here in Berkeley. Many of our newbies from the 60s on apparently think Berkeley was just perfect the day they moved in, and now fiercely resist anything that smells of “development” (our contested downtown plan) or “better transit” (fierce resistance to BRT).



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