Second Thoughts: Slow-growth battle is back
by Jon Mendelson
Apr 19, 2013 | 6650 views | 9 9 comments | 836 836 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was going to happen eventually. Sooner or later, Tracy was going to have another debate about Measure A, the slow-growth law passed by a majority of city voters in 2000.

Thanks to Mayor Brent Ives and the State of the City spotlight, the measure — the protagonist of so many political pageants in the city’s recent past — is back on center stage.

Ives lit the limelight during his March 27 address, the first of his final term as mayor. He proposed a “serious discussion” about what he called “the negative impact” of Measure A, which was passed to brake a runaway train of residential growth.

On April 5, Ives clarified what he meant.

He told me the measure — which limits the issuance of residential growth allotments to 750 single-family houses each year, with a 10-year annual average of 600 houses — is a serious impediment to attracting retailers and employers to Tracy.

They balk, he said, when they see a growth cap on the books.

“They don’t want a limitation in the amount of market they have to impact,” he said. “When people in town don’t get a Trader Joe’s or another retail outlet, part of the reason is that when retailers do their due diligence, they see Measure A.”

The only way to overturn or amend a voter initiative such as Measure A is with another communitywide vote, something that can consume time and political capital — not to mention the patience of those who see it as a stumbling block  to bringing jobs to the city.

“It seems to always come up in the discussion” with potential business clients, Ives said.

“I think we need to create a better potential for development,” he added. “…There are even job-generating impacts — not being able to have enough allocations to build the kind of housing that attract the higher-paying jobs.”

Though Ives said the right number of houses to allow each year is up for debate, it would be better for growth if the City Council were in control of that number.

It would certainly make that number easier to change.

If an amendment to Measure A ever reached a citywide vote, Ives said the language should spell out specific conditions under which the City Council could change growth horizons.

“It would have to have numbers and criteria for changing those (housing) numbers,” he told me. “But it would be at a council level, not a voter level.”

Of course, that means voters would have to trust the City Council.

It’s worth remembering that Measure A was passed precisely because voters did not — and possibly could not — trust the council to set a reasonable limit on growth.

From 1990 to 2000, Tracy exploded from a population of about 35,000 to a population of 56,929, according to the U.S. Census. It’s now about 83,000.

Many who lived here during that time have told me the problem wasn’t just that the residential growth was sudden — it was ill-planned, and city amenities couldn’t keep pace.

The only thing it appeared the city knew how to do was build houses.

But old axes need grinding to stay sharp, and there are few dull blades around Tracy.

City Manager Leon Churchill — who arrived in 2008, well after Tracy’s boom days — gave me the perspective of an outsider when I talked to him April 2.

“Ten years ago, the economic development strategy was housing development — that is not an economic development strategy,” he said. “That is my personal and professional opinion.”

His insight hints at what many have long understood. The concept of “If you build it, they will come” might work with baseball fields and Shoeless Joe Jackson, but not necessarily with housing tracts and jobs.

Measure A was undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction, but it sought to achieve something Tracy lacked — balance.

Yes, there must be available housing for people at all income levels, from a company president to an entry-level worker. And yes, there might only be a handful of homes currently on Tracy’s open market. But houses alone don’t guarantee economic prosperity.

Tracy’s been down that road, and it led to Measure A.

Whether because of the slow-growth law or the Great Recession, the fulcrum has started to shift and redistribute the city’s balance when it comes to growth.

City Council discussions routinely — sometimes exhaustively — revolve around job creation. More weight has been given to strengthening industry and commerce. Elected and hired leaders are so attuned that a keynote speech by technology expert Vivek Wadhwa at the State of the City inspired a new goal in the city’s strategic plan.

It’s clear that Ives, the council and city staff earnestly hope to turn Tracy into a hub for commerce and industry, a city that far outpaces its San Joaquin County sisters.

But when it comes to amending Measure A, it’s my belief that residents should remember the path that brought the city here, and not rush to turn over the reins of residential growth.

• Second Thoughts is a personal opinion column by Editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts at
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May 22, 2013
Since there is nothing in the paper today about last night's council meeting, I will ask here if anyone else was watching the droning on. Finally, two the of the gang of three sided with Rickman and Young to move forward one step towards the California adventure for Tracy.
April 24, 2013
Gee Whiz let's pass another Measure so attorneys can stay busy suing everyone and getting attorney fees.

It's time to allow commerce and industry in Tracy and get jobs for people who need them.
April 19, 2013
"Of course, that means voters would have to trust the City Council."

Given the clear disrespect Ives has for the will of the voters in passing measure A why in the heck should we trust him or the council? They just want to jam in more and more houses on smaller and smaller lots so they can grab more and more tax money, and damn the impact on the quality of life for those living here.
April 19, 2013
Every time I turn around another retail business is closing in this city. 83,000 people in this city and still it isn't enough to support a small retail mall. Well gee whiz, what's going to happen if more homes are built and the population rises? Probably nothing but the city will continue to lose businesses. Tracy will continue to lose businesses but increase in population. Doesn't make sense to me. Before this is put to the voters, let's wait until Ives' term is up and see what direction the next mayor of Tracy goes.
April 19, 2013
Ives must have forgotten why the people passed Measure A. Look at our roads particularly Corral Hollow and Lammers. We built 5,000 homes in that corridor but Mr. Ives and company failed to collect enough money to improve the roads. We built Super Wall Mart, Costco and Winco but Grantline Road is still a mess in that area.

We didn't collect enough money from developers to repair the old sewer pipe at the wastewater treatment plant. Now the Council wants to raise our sewer rates $3.00 a month for every ratepayer. It could be only $1.66 a month but oh wait Ives and company had to give Surland 5.5 million dollars in free waste water.

I think we ought to scrub measure A and vote in a no growth limit. Then we wont have to subsidize infrastructure for Mayor Ives developer buddies. I could care less about more big box stores with their $8.25 an hour wage scale.

The voters passed Measure A because there were thousands of expensive new homes and only $8.25 an hour jobs in Tracy. That hasn't changed. Now Ives wants to build more than 750 homes a year as Measure A allows. Why don't you go run for mayor of Stockton Ives if thats the type of town you want to live in.
April 19, 2013
In addition to your comment "We didn't collect enough money from developers to repair the old sewer pipe", Ives is supposedly not going to charge Surland for water/sewer lines when homes are built in south Tracy. Sort of a trade-off for the water park Ives is known to want badly for this city. BUT......the city will get 16 acres and $10m from Surland but will let Surland off the hook for about $8.5m in water lines. Hmmmmm, that $10m now looks closer to $1.5m. I wonder how Ives plans on building a water park with so little money?

April 20, 2013
Just wondering... did the fact that Ives business had been hired by Surland get lost in the shuffle? And you wonder why Serpa and Surland gets such special deals? Surland has their own hired mayor.
April 19, 2013
Let's see. The Council wants to control the growth of Tracy housing rather than the voters...and we can trust the gang of three ??? when the Council has lost on the lawsuits over unlegal developer agreements that are still pending? I think not.
April 19, 2013
So lets see, the mayor wants transfer decision making power from the voters to the City Counsel - Shocking did not see that one comming. Another unexpected move is three of the five in the city counsel is backed by Developer money. You guessed it: Ives, Maciel & Mann. I wonder if there is some ulterior motive in them wanting to reverse Measure A? can't see one, can you?

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