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Californians Using Ballot Box To Slow Boom Times

June 6, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ For more than a century, California has been the promised land for those who heeded the age-old American advice to ″go west.″ But now, the millions who have gone west are causing many others to go to the polls.

Across the state, and particularly in Southern California, voters are being asked to put the brakes on growth, at least until the roads, sewers and water supplies can catch up.

In last November’s local elections in California, 15 of 17 ballot measures aimed at limiting growth won approval.

On Tuesday, voters in Orange County, Seal Beach, San Clemente, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena, Hemet and San Marcos are being asked to adopt growth-related initiatives. In rapidly developing northern and western Los Angeles County, Supervisor Mike Antonovich is being challenged by candidates who say he has allowed developers to make lives miserable.

And more such challenges and slow-growth measures are in store for November.

″What we have is an authentic grass-roots movement,″ said Bob Buster, who co-wrote a successful 1979 Riverside growth initiative and who supports a new Riverside County measure.

″We think it’s time to fight back,″ he said.

The movement started to gather steam in 1986, when Los Angeles voters chose Proposition U as a means to slow growth by cutting housing densities in some areas. Also that year, San Francisco voters passed Measure M, slashing office construction in half for up to 10 years.

Worries about rapid growth are especially severe in Southern California, where the 13.1 million residents of the six-county region are expected to be joined by 5 million others by the year 2010, an amount equal to the population of Indiana.

In Riverside County, the 4-year-old city of Moreno Valley, a patchwork of housing tracts and shopping centers, is often cited as an example of growth gone awry. In 10 years, its population has tripled to near 90,000.

Flood control in some areas consists of crude ditches and sand bags. Many schools are surrounded by trailer classrooms, laid like dominos to hold a student population that has more than doubled in four years.

The story is the same in school districts throughout the state - wherever populations are expanding.

″We are being packed in like sardines,″ complains Gerald Silver, 55, a San Fernando Valley no-growth activist.

Studies have predicted that by 2010 the average Southern California freeway commuter can expect to limp to work at 11 mph unless roadways are improved.

Already, pollution levels fail to meet federal clean air regulations, and for the last two years drought-like conditions have stirred concerns about future water supplies.

″It’s like the lifeboat that says 65 (capacity),″ says Bill Cunningham, a slow-growth advocate on the Redlands City Council. ″The 66th guy steps in. They all drown.″

Critics say the growth-control measures will mean even higher housing costs for California, where the average home price tops $152,000.

A study by the Center for Economic Research at Chapman College in Orange found the Orange County slow-growth initiative would cost the county nearly $270 million in lost sales tax by 1997, and in that period, 100,000 jobs would vanish.

The initiative, Measure A on Tuesday’s ballot, would limit growth outside city jurisdictions, depending on the impact that growth would have on roads, emergency services, flood control and parklands.

Identical measures are on the ballot in the Orange County cities of San Clemente and Seal Beach. Proposition E in Manhattan Beach, in Los Angeles County, would limit building heights and require voter approval before residential areas can be rezoned for commercial developments.

Critics say the anti-growth sentiment is a sign of racism and elitism, a product of the same thinking that spawns bumper stickers reading ″California Native″ or ″Welcome To California, Now Go Home.″

″The people involved in the movement are typically well ensconsed and have their piece of the American dream,″ said John Erskine, executive director of the Orange County Building Industry Association.

Pasadena’s ″Responsible Growth Initiative,″ or Proposition G, does less to stop growth and more to direct it. It asks that developments of 25,000 square feet or 25 units be approved unanimously by the city’s directors for the next two years and requires that developers pick up the tab for sewers and road improvements and dedicate land or fees for parks.

Measure C in the Riverside County farm town of Hemet also would require developers rather than taxpayers to pay for growth, as would Proposition R in the San Diego County city of San Marcos.

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