Distrito La Novia: No means NO - The Measure B Referendum

Editorial

On June 7, SJC residents will witness democracy in action. Voters will have the opportunity to decide whether to overturn the City Council’s approval to change the General Plan and to Re-zone the property along Valle Road and La Novia above San Juan Creek Road and the “Meadows”, in order to facilitate the Distrito La Novia “mixed-use” development. A “No” vote means that the Council’s approval of the development is overturned. A “Yes” vote means that the Council’s approval of the development is affirmed.

The original development plan granted to the previous property owner differs from what is being proposed now, which is why the current owner asked the City Council to change the General Plan and Re-zone the property to allow a high-density, mixed-use retail/commercial development. The proposed development will include apartments and condos stacked on top of ten 3-story retail and commercial buildings, a 4-story parking structure plus single family homes, 500 horses and an equestrian center. In a 4-1 vote (with Councilman Derek Reeve opposed), the City Council voted to approve the change.

The Council approved it over the objections of hundreds of residents, who implored the council to reject the new development plan. The residents say the new development plan is too dense, will create too much additional traffic, is out of character with our “small town”, requires excavation of the old hazardous waste dump with unknown consequences and improperly places 500 horses (which can be increased up to 1500 with one vote of the Council) and night lighting next to their quiet neighborhoods. After all, the residents argue, they were promised protection from intrusive, dense development through the General Plan and Zoning laws.

The Planning Commission agreed with the residents and recommended that the Council reject the proposed development, citing the “…significant building massing and intensity and a 4-level parking structure that will be incompatible with the low-density character of the nearby neighborhoods.” The Council ignored the concerns of the Planning Commission and the residents and instead voted to approve the GPA and Re-zone, using as justification the need to “generate revenue” for the City through what the Council assumes will be increased sales tax revenue from the retail/commercial and equestrian component (a risky assumption in our estimation, given the city’s track record).
Residents were angered by what they viewed as the Council majority’s dismissal of their concerns and collected over 3,000 signatures in 30 days to allow the voters to have a say.

Those opposed to the proposed development argue that the General Plan is much like a covenant, or a promise, made with residents so they will know what they can expect from future development in their community. The residents maintain that the Council violated the general principle that development must be compatible with the surrounding community.

We think they have a point.

The beauty of the referendum process is that it serves as an important check on the power of three or four individuals to impose their will on many thousands in the community who are opposed to proposed changes. We saw it at work in the 2004 Measure Y Golf Course Re-zone Initiative, and we see it at work now.

So, come June 7 (or before if you are an absentee voter) when you are marking your ballot, we hope that you do so with the thought in mind that while it’s a shame that elected leaders must be forced to listen, at least they must now acknowledge the will of the people. And for that, we can thank our system of democracy.

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