Friday, November 14, 2008

In Moraga's open space debate, confusion reigned

On the surface, Sean Roberts was exactly the type of Moraga voter the Friends of Moraga Open Space hoped would support Measure K.

"I'm anti-development," Roberts said, sitting outside a Mexican restaurant in Moraga this week. The town already has vacant houses, he said, so why build more housing?

But Roberts voted for Measure J and against Measure K, because of the ballot arguments against Measure K that mentioned low-income housing.

"Everybody wants more open space, but you want to maintain your community," he said.

Roberts didn't remember the letter of the initiative he voted for, nor did he know who backed them. He just knew he didn't want low-income housing in town.

Neither of the initiatives committed the town to any housing. Supporters of Measure J said that Measure K would push low-income housing into the downtown because the state requires Moraga to build housing, and if development on open space were limited all of that housing would have to be crammed downtown, they said.

Renata Sos, spokeswoman for Measure K, called that argument a scare tactic — which worked.

"The campaign of disinformation that was put out by our opponents served to really blur and sort of confuse the merits," said Sos. And it was hard to compete with Measure J's spending advantage, she said; Measure J backers spent more than $600,000;, while Measure K backers spent a little more than $50,000.

A spokeswoman for the Measure J Advertisementcampaign said the housing issue was an important message the Measure J campaign successfully conveyed. Before the talk about Measure K's potential effects on housing, voters "didn't realize some of the impacts it would have on the community," said Measure J spokeswoman Mary Jo Rossi.

Herbert Thier was thrilled that both measures failed.

"I thought both measures were put on the ballot by special interest groups," Thier said.

And the campaigns depended too much on scare tactics, he said. "Don't threaten people with absurd claims."

Moraga has an open space ordinance which has worked well, Thier said.

Supporters of both ballot initiatives said the vote was an indication residents were looking to the Town Council for leadership.

"Moraga residents want their Town Council to put aside any agenda that they have and work toward a compromise and try to figure this out," Rossi said. Even though Measure J didn't pass, the Bruzzone family — who proposed and bankrolled Measure J — are content with the outcome of the election, Rossi said.

Jon Leuteneker, a Measure K spokesman, said he hoped the Town Council would recognize the support that Measure K had received — about 44 percent of the vote. He said he was also heartened that candidate Karen Mendonca, who made open space a central part of her campaign platform, was one of the top two vote-getters in the council election.

"I think the leadership both on the planning side and the council side will realize it's an important issue ... even if they don't have a mandate to do it." Leuteneker said.

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