Voters Reject Solar-Powered Housing Development

Published January 1, 2006

Voters in Livermore, California on November 8 rejected an initiative that would have allowed construction of the nation’s largest solar-powered community. Developers had sought to move the city’s urban growth boundary so that Livermore Trails, a development with 2,450 solar-powered homes and nearly 1,000 acres of open space, could be built by Pardee Homes, a division of Weyerhaeuser Real Estate.

The initiative was defeated 72 to 28 percent (19,593 to 7,624). There are approximately 75,000 residents of Livermore, which is 45 miles east of San Francisco and home to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federal facility for researching nuclear weapons and energy research.

Proponents Trumpet Renewable Power

Livermore Trails would have placed homes on 450 of the 1,400 acres of ranchland at issue. The remaining 950 acres would have been reserved for open space, habitat, and space for public schools. According to the proposal, the 950 acres would have offered sites for hiking, biking, jogging, equestrian trails, cricket fields, bocce ball courts, and community farming and gardening.

The 2,450 homes in the project would have been built using “available ‘green’ building and ecologically friendly landscape technologies … [and] environmentally sound, healthy, and energy-efficient features,” according to the text of the initiative. The homes would have made use of solar technologies such as rooftop panels. The California Energy Commission supported the proposal because it felt the Livermore Trails project would promote energy efficiency.

Proponents also included some local businesses and outdoor recreationists who support local parks and recreation facilities. A statement posted on the city’s Web site by proponents of the measure claimed the proposal would benefit all city residents through investment in infrastructure and additional recreation facilities for all citizens.

In an attempt to reduce the environmental footprint of the community, a majority of the new homes would have been built within a quarter mile of the main mass transit corridors, and there would have been shuttles to the Bay Area Rapid Transit and downtown Livermore.

Negative Effects Cited

Despite the promised benefits, opponents of the initiative included several local environmental groups, a majority of the city council, and the Livermore mayor. In a statement on the city’s Web site, Livermore city officials argued the measure would have led to greater traffic congestion, declining air quality, and unprecedented sewage hazards from Pardee’s privately operated wastewater treatment facility. They also argued the measure would set the stage for uncontrolled growth.

“The world is full of tradeoffs, and sometimes ‘renewable power’ activists fail to recognize that,” said Ben Lieberman, senior fellow and air quality expert at The Heritage Foundation. “Solar energy collectors must displace a tremendous amount of natural landscape to produce any significant amount of energy. And anything less requires a great deal of financial expenditures for very little and very inconsistent power.”

“There are no technology options without environmental impact,” said Marlo Lewis, energy policy analyst and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Environmental activists would like us to believe that solar energy is a magical technology that is all benefit and no cost. But that is not true. There are not only environment vs. economy trade-offs, but also environment vs. environment tradeoffs, as this vote indicates.

“Solar power has a smaller emissions imprint than fossil fuels,” Lewis explained, “but a much greater impact on land use and site depletion. These are not renewable resources, because the amount of land we have is finite. The good citizens of Livermore have recognized this and voted accordingly.”

Michael Coulter ([email protected]) teaches political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

For more information …

The full text of Measure D, the Livermore Trails Plan Initiative, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and search for document #18156.