By Adam Montgomery, SILVAR Government Affairs Director

Since August, SILVAR has been working to support property owners, businesses and residents in Saratoga, to work against an ill-conceived two-story height limit measure in Saratoga (Measure Q).

Going into the last two days of the campaign, there are almost no new ways to convince voters on an issue, so I would usually save my breath, but an e-mail I received this weekend, while picking out pumpkins with my wife, inspired me to share some thoughts on the current state of affairs in Saratoga.

On Saturday, I was forwarded a chain e-mail that originated as a neighborhood alert, warning residents through an alarming recent account of a robbery at gunpoint that occurred at a Saratoga home. A comment made by a supporter of Measure Q in the chain left me speechless: “Vote YES on Q.  Do we really need to draw more attention to Saratoga?” The only way to interpret this comment is that either the campaign has directly contributed to the robbery, or a NO vote would mean more armed robberies.

This comment might make sense if this was a campaign to support public safety funding, but for a ballot box zoning measure to limit commercial, retail and office property to two stories for 30 years, is inflammatory. As I learned back in Constitutional Law 101, defamation is not a protected form of speech, but along with fear and intimidation, this has been a cornerstone for the YES campaign.

This is simply the nastiest campaign I have ever witnessed. Beyond the theft of over 150 legally placed signs in opposition to Q, threats of boycotts against businesses against Q, and unsolicited harassment of residents at street corners or at their home if they openly oppose Q, there have been many lies put out in support of Q.

Lie #1: SILVAR has no representation in Saratoga, with no board members residing there, and they should have no say over the residents of Saratoga. SILVAR does have a board member who lives in Saratoga – his name is Bryan Robertson. SILVAR also has over 300 members living there, representing over one percent of the population. Also, since when do REALTORS® have no say on real estate and land use issues? Last we checked, that is our bread and butter.

Lie #2: Measure Q will bring less attention, preventing armed robberies. The complete opposite may be true. Measure Q’s restrictions will turn businesses away from locating downtown, creating more blight and restricting the tax base used to fund public safety. Remember the broken glass theory – with blight and less foot traffic, come vagrants, loiterers and crime. 

Lie #3: Measure Q will prevent overcrowding of Saratoga schools. Saratoga’s enrollment numbers have been declining for years. Downtown is the only area that could allow more than two stories under current height limits, which is not zoned currently for residential development. Also, the Measure Q restrictions will negatively impact commercial property value and tax receipts, reducing school revenues.   

Lie #4: Without Measure Q, small businesses will be pushed out of Saratoga. There are no plans under the current rules changed by Measure Q to evict businesses. Business is going really bad in downtown, which has lost 30 businesses so far. Without some significant investment, Saratoga’s downtown will slowly dwindle into a ghost town. Measure Q will kill that investment and wipe out the businesses that have weathered this recent downturn.

Lie #5: Only out-of-towners oppose Q, most of the moneys spent against Q is from Los Angeles. Over 400 residents and businesses have shared their names in opposition to Q, including three council members and four planning commissioners. Our PAC is shared with the California Association of REALTORS®, which is located in Los Angeles, but our Saratoga members have given more money into the REALTOR® Action Fund in this election cycle than has been expended towards the campaign.

What is the moral of this story?
First, voters should not be making complicated land use decisions through the ballot. Voters chose their leaders to listen to their concerns, entrusting them to make the most educated and fair decisions to benefit of the entire community. Land use campaigns always fall victim to emotional and erroneous information. If poorly weighed, these campaigns can handcuff a city’s control over its own jurisdiction.

Second, our association has a duty to conduct our advocacy efforts at the same high ethical levels as our members in their business. We have resisted the temptation to run a tit for tat campaign by not resorting to cheap tricks and questionable behavior; instead, we have focused on educating voters on the facts of the measure. The good news is issue campaigns are usually won or lost on the merits of the arguments used. The more time spent slinging mud at your opposition, instead of the issue, does not typically bear good results.

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