In state and local elections Nov. 7, environmental initiatives followed the law of the pocketbook: Measures that would have cost taxpayers money usually failed.
Although fiscal conservatism spelled defeat for
slow-growth initiatives in Colorado and Utah, it also contributed
to a major victory for environmentalists in Washington state, where
voters defeated Referendum 48 - the most extreme state takings
legislation to date.
Had the referendum passed,
it would have allowed landowners to seek compensation for even
slight losses in property values due to any state regulation other
than preventing a public nuisance (HCN, 5/29/95). One study
estimated the legislation would have cost local governments up to
$11 billion in compensation, and that cities would have been forced
to either spend roughly 10 percent of their budget to implement the
measure or abandon land-use regulations to avoid lawsuits.
It was a major victory for Washington
environmentalists, who scrambled to collect 231,000 signatures to
bring the takings referendum, passed last year by the state
legislature, up for a statewide vote. A week before the election,
polls had predicted a victory for property rights advocates, who
outspent the opposition by 2 to 1.
of the Washington Environmental Political Action Committee says the
most surprising news was that the vote didn't split along
rural-urban lines. Even rural areas like Snohomish and Whatcom
counties, considered leaders in the property rights debate,
defeated the referendum by roughly 60
The trump card for referendum opponents
was the argument that developers and timber companies would profit
far more than the small property owner, says Zuckerman. "The
thought of hard-earned taxpayer money going right into the coffers
of shopping-mall developers really galled people," he
Although supporters are sure to push for
some kind of state takings bill later this year, Zuckerman believes
regulatory reform will take the place of compensation-based
legislation. "I think we're going to see a move away from takings."
Environmentalists in Washington were also
pleased with the defeat of an initiative backed by the
sport-fishing industry. It would have effectively banned all
non-tribal gillnet fishing throughout the state. Opponents say
Initiative 640, nicknamed "Save Our Sea Life," only diverted
attention from the real problems affecting Washington's endangered
salmon runs: habitat loss and dammed rivers. They argued that the
commercial fishing industry would have taken an unnecessary hit to
boost sports fishing.
Another "no" vote in
Washington squelched development dreams of Indian tribes hoping to
expand Washington state's $2.7 billion gambling industry. Although
many tribes in Washington already run casinos, Initiative 651 would
have allowed "unrestricted and unregulated" gambling on
reservations. In exchange, Washington residents would have received
10 percent of casino profits in the form of annual checks. A
spokesman for Lt. Gov. Joel Pritchard, who opposed the measure,
says "most people don't want to open the gambling door that much."
Five Indian tribes in Washington funded I-651; nine other tribes
The only successful Washington ballot
initiative increased the authority of a nine-person Fish and
Wildlife Commission to regulate the state fish and wildlife
department. Now the commission, rather than the governor, will
choose the state director. It will also have authority over salmon,
shellfish and commercial fishing. Hunting and sport fishing groups
backed the referendum, environmentalists were split on the issue
and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission opposed it, fearing a
return of a "good old boys' network.
In Colorado and Utah, voters
faced ballots crowded with measures to limit growth. Because of
slick campaigns funded by local businesses, realtors and resort
companies, environmentalists weren't surprised to find two
slow-growth initiatives in Utah and some 20 others in Colorado
soundly defeated. Opponents in both states spent lavish amounts to
convince residents that growth limitations spelled economic
Since residents of Boulder, Colo.,
first passed open space measures in 1959, the town has consistently
worked to preserve its small-town amenities. But this year Boulder
turned down a Slow Growth! initiative which would have limited both
residential and commercial growth and forced builders to pay higher
impact fees. The city council recently passed a weaker growth
ordinance, which detracted support from the initiative, says Slow
Growth! supporter Steven Pomerance. Realtors and businesses
outspent supporters 8 to 1, he adds.
of slow growth in St. George, Utah, one of the state's
fastest-growing towns, also confronted well-financed opposition.
Opponents spent more than $100,000 to persuade residents that
limits to growth would translate into lost jobs. "A lot of people
are here because of construction," says County Commission Chairman
But according to former judge
Robert F. Owens, builders are already subsidized since they pay an
impact fee that is only 75 percent of the recommended amount. "It
would really have affected decisions if people had been able to
hear arguments on both sides," says Owens. "But they swamped us,
with most of the local power structure - city council, chamber of
commerce - lined up for their side."
Aspen and Fairplay in rural Colorado said no on issues involving
growth. Aspen residents trounced a proposal backed by resort and
business organizations to expand the airport runway to accommodate
The issue, heralded as crucial to
Aspen's future, drew 49 percent of registered voters to the polls -
an impressive off-year turnout. Proponents argued that increased
airport service would take cars off dangerous winter highways.
Aspen needs to provide tourists with more options, the president of
the Aspen/Snowmass Retailers' Association Steve DeGouveia told the
Aspen Times, "It's survival. Greed isn't a factor."
Aspen resident and gonzo journalist Hunter S.
Thompson said that upscale Aspen didn't need to court more tourists
or pad the pockets of "absentee landlord scum."
Fifty miles from Aspen, the unglitzy town of
Fairplay was targeted for a regional airport to serve four nearby
ski areas, but residents of Park County - already the ninth fastest
growing county in the country - voted no on the initiative that
would have transferred 3,296 acres of Bureau of Land Management
land to a private corporation for airport
In Montana, open
space backers triumphed when Missoula voters backed a $5 million
bond to protect elk corridors on nearby Mt. Jumbo. Open space
organizer Ron Erickson says city voters felt a new sense of
urgency. Bond efforts failed twice before, but had this bond been
defeated, winter elk habitat could have become Elk Estates, a
development of 300 new homes.
The morning after
the vote, the elk herd returned to the mountain for its first
seasonal visit to winter habitat, grazing above a white smiley face
constructed by open-space advocates out of bedsheets donated by
Tucson, Ariz., a city vote approved an initiative governing the use
of water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP). The successful
initiative prohibits the use of CAP water for city homes for five
years, or until the water can be treated to match the quality of
the city's groundwater. Because groundwater supplies are limited,
some environmentalists say the initiative could become a tool to
slow the city's rapid growth.
Lincoln in Missoula, Montana, contributed to this report.