California 2013 Ballot Measures: Statistics and Highlights

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Local ballot measures play a vital role in the politics of California. On an average year hundreds of decisions are made directly by the voters about important local issues. In 2013, which was an off year for elections, 126 local ballot measures were decided by local residents. These measures ranged in topic from local parcel taxes, sales taxes and bond issues to public retiree health care funding and prescription drug prices. There were 160 measures on local California ballots in the last off year, 2011. For comparison, there were 461 measures in 2010 and 523 measures in 2012, the last two even numbered election years.

Bonds and taxes

Below is a table showing the approval rates of the most common type of local measure in California and comparing these rates to those of 2011, the last odd-numbered election year:

Type of measure # of measures approved 2013 (2011) # of measures defeated 2013 (2011)  % approved 2013 (2011)
Bonds 8 (8) 4 (3) 66.7% (72.7%)
Parcel tax 24 (30) 8 (20) 75% (60%)
Sales tax 10 (8) 2 (4) 83.3% (66.7%)
All measures: 89 (110) 37 (50) 70.6% (68.8%)

The following table shows the amount of bond money that was approved and defeated in 2013 and compares these numbers with the amounts approved and defeated in the two previous years. It can be seen that a much larger sum of bond money is likely to appear on the ballots in 2014. It is also interesting to note that while there was less money approved in 2013 than in 2011, the approval rate was much higher - 80.2% versus 46.9%.

Election Year Bond money approved Bond money defeated  % bond money approved
2013 $714.55 million $176.3 million 80.2%
2012 $15,521 million $1,659 million 90%
2011 $1,229 million $1,392 million 46.9%

Notable measures

California is home to some of the most well funded and the most intensely fought local ballot measure campaigns in the country. Even in off years, there never fails to be several ballot measures that pique the interest of activists and financiers, resulting in an intriguing struggle to win the approval of the voters. Here are some of the more interesting measures from 2013:

LA Medical Marijuana

See also: Los Angeles County, California ballot measures

In May of 2013, Los Angeles voters had to decide between three different proposed ballot measures, all vying for the right to regulate the operation of the medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. In this case, the city council used a ballot measure to counter initiative measures proposed by various activist groups in the city. Measure D was put on the ballot by the city council in response to Measures E and F and was seen by some as a compromise between the two initiatives. Ultimately, the electors chose the council's measure and rejected both of the more extreme measures proposed by citizens.

San Francisco

See also: San Francisco County, California ballot measures

In November, the more interesting and heartily contested measures were in San Francisco, in which voters condemned two ballot measures that would have allowed a new waterfront construction and development project known as the 8 Washington Street project, while approving the reformation of the public retiree health care fund and a measure demanding the decrease of prescription drug costs. All four of these measures made for strong opinions on both sides.

The 8 Washington street project issue, in Propositions B and C, featured a classic battle between two sides taking up the mantle of "preservation" and "progress" respectively. The voters chose "preservation" and sent the builders and developers back to the drawing board. If the vote had gone the other way, the San Francisco water front would have been drastically altered, making that election a important, voter-driven moment in San Francisco's history.

Proposition D, which sought to reduce the city's cost of prescription drugs by requiring direct negotiation with drug manufacturers and establishing a policy that the city request state and federal government representatives to sponsor laws that would reduce drug costs by 33%, produced opponents that were divided into two camps. One that thought the measure would simply be ineffective, saying it was vague and unenforceable, and the other camp that believed it would be harmful to drug production and supply companies, eventually stymieing the research and development of better and cheaper drugs. Ultimately the expressed goal of the measure, namely having cheap prescription drugs for city residents, swayed the voters more than critics of the measure, and Proposition A gained approval from nearly 70% of voters.

City supervisors proposed Proposition A with a goal that was beyond reproach from anyone. It sought to eliminate the $4.4 billion shortfall in the city's retiree health care fund, without adding to employee or taxpayer contributions. But the measure still had its fair share of critics, who believed that, however good its intentions, the measure opened the fund up to withdrawals from the city and left tax payers on the hook if the city's financial situation continued to decline. The voters gave the final say, choosing to trust the supervisors' proposal.