On November 3 Tri-Valley voters defeated the CAPPs, a trio of closely-watched, nationally significant land use initiatives, designed to dramatically alter the planning process and ultimately curb residential development in Livermore, Pleasanton, and San Ramon.

Because of their proximity to Silicon Valley and their own booming economies, development in and around these cities is continuing apace. The pattern is suburban: expansive subdivisions, office buildings arrayed in “campus” formation with generous parking lots, and wide streets designed for cars.

With the area’s air quality among the worst in the Bay Area, it is not surprising that environmental activists and Tri-Valley residents sought to rein in growth through the ballot box. The CAPPs would have required a public vote on development proposals of 10 units or more in Pleasanton and San Ramon, and 20 units or more in Livermore.

“The CAPPs played on voter distrust of elected officials, and so it’s significant that they were defeated,” said Bill Fulton, editor of the California Planning and Development Report. “They assumed that voters would be so frustrated that they would take the reins of all development, but average citizens can’t know enough to vote reasonably about every development project.”

Opinions differed greatly on what would result from passage of the initiatives. The direst predictions came from the building industry, which foresaw the death of large-scale projects in the three cities and an immediate leap to counties further east. Stockton, Tracy, and several once-small farming communities already provide comparatively affordable housing in new subdivisions. These Central Valley communities show no signs of slowing their rapid growth, and Bay Area commuters have long since proved their stamina for two-hour commutes. If growth slowed in the Tri-Valley, the possibility of even more rapid development in the Central Valley looms large.

CAPP opponents, including Urban Ecology, suggested regional solutions. These were dismissed by CAPP proponents as a duck-and-cover tactic used to allow development to continue as usual. Indeed, the Bay Area has a bruised history of regional decision-making attempts. An effort in the early 1990s, dubbed Bay Vision 2020, collapsed when its backers could not muster sufficient support for state legislation to establish a regional planning body. The regional agency that both sets policy and has dollars to spend is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission; however, longtime MTC observers note that when decisions affect the flow of transportation dollars toward Commissioners’ jurisdictions, all pretense of regional thinking disappears.

With regional solutions distant at best, it is significant that nearly half of all Tri-Valley voters agreed with the CAPP initiatives. New campaigns are already on the horizon: in November 2000 Dublin will test a CAPP initiative of its own.

Most troubling is the current lack of political alternatives for cities in the Bay Area that accept the need to provide housing affordable to a range of households but in a pattern different than low-density, automobile-centered development. “The big policy question we all now face is to figure out how to set land use parameters that both limit outward growth and mandate infill development,” said Fulton. “Perhaps now we’ll see a new initiative somewhere in California no one ever thought politically possible before.”