Growth Management Ballot Measures in California

The concept of “ballot-box zoning” is more deeply embedded in California than it is in any other state. Over the past 30 years, it is estimated that at least 1,000 different measures dealing with development, growth, and land use have appeared on local ballots around the state. Virtually all of these measures have called on local governments to engage in some form of “growth management” — that is, they have sought to impose additional planning policies that focus on the timing and geographical sequencing of growth within a community.

The impact of growth management ballot measures in California has been widely debated — and, indeed, litigated — over the past 20 years. Builders have often argued that ballot-box zoning slows growth by subjecting development approvals to expensive and unpredictable political campaigns. Planners have often argued that ballot-box zoning undermines comprehensive community planning by de-coupling specific development decisions from the overall planning processes. Even environmentalists have split on the question of ballot-box zoning. Though they generally favor “direct democracy,” some environmentalists have pointed out that ballot-box zoning can exacerbate sprawl by lowering densities.

This report concludes that growth management techniques that are proposed and adopted via the ballot do not — in and of themselves — encourage or discourage “Smart Growth.” Rather, the impact of ballot-box zoning on community growth patterns in California depends on circumstances and especially on the way the ballot measures are subsequently implemented by cities and counties around the state. Ballot-box zoning can be used to defeat Smart Growth, either by builders who want to continue sprawl or by citizens who want to lower densities. But ballot-box zoning can also be used to promote Smart Growth if it is used to combine enhanced public involvement with thoughtful consideration of the growth choices most communities face.

Download the Report:

Growth Management Ballot Measures in California PDF, 1 MB

Authors: William Fulton, et al.
Published: June 2002
Pages: 75