Local California ballot measures recap, January - June (2014)

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California
Local California measures
Measure type: Approved Defeated
School bonds 35 (79.5%) 9 (20.5%)
City & district bonds 5 (83.3%) 1 (16.7%)
Parcel taxes 26 (76.5%) 8 (23.5%)
Hotel taxes 2 (100%) 0 (0%)
Vehicle registration tax 1 (50%) 1 (50%)
Sales taxes[1] 15 (93.8%) 1 (6.2%)
Marijuana tax 1 (100%) 0 (0%)
Utility tax & fees 1 (50%) 1 (50%)
Marijuana regulation 1 (100%) 0 (0%)
Public pensions 3 (100%) 0 (0%)
Property use & development 7 (77.8%) 2 (22.2%)
City governance 18 (72.0%) 7 (28.0%)
Boundaries and incorporation 3 (60.0%) 2 (40.0%)
Charter amendments 16 (62.5%) 8 (37.5%)
Term limits 1(100%) 0 (0%)
Totals: 128 (79.5%) 33 (20.5%)

An important aspect of California politics centers around local direct democracy. Every year hundreds of important decisions are made directly by local voters impacting a wide range of issues. According to state law, local taxes and bonds must be authorized by voters. This means that hundreds of millions of dollars in public revenue and spending are decided every year through local ballot measures. This year, the most notable measures have related to property use and development, with decisions concerning some of the most valuable real estate on the west coast being decided by the average citizen. This report breaks down and analyses the approval rate of ballot measures that have been decided in the first six months of 2014, including the June 3, 2014 primary election, which featured a vast majority of the measures seen so far. As July 1, 2014, a total of 161 ballot measures have appeared on local ballots on six election dates. Of the total 128 were approved and 33 were defeated.

Property use & development

With development versus preservation proving to be one of the most volatile and prolific local issues of 2014, nine ballot measures concerning property, land use, zoning and development projects were on local ballots across California in the first half of 2014. Four consisted of two pairs of competing measures, in which voters decided the fate of some of the most valuable real estate on the West Coast in the cities of San Francisco and San Diego.

The cities of San Diego, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay all saw measures that pitted proponents of development or renovation against those in favor of the status quo. In all three cities the preservationists won solid victories.

Rendering of Golden State Warriors' arena project by Steelblue

Perhaps the most notable measure on the ballot so far in 2014 was the waterfront initiative, Proposition B, in San Francisco, where voters saw a question to require voter approval for any construction project on the waterfront that exceeded 2014 height zoning limits. The approval of Proposition B essentially pushed the Golden State Warriors away from their proposed arena on Piers 30-32, forcing them to settle for a location in Mission Bay neighborhood. This measure triggered a battle between development interests, including the Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco Giants, and preservation activists which featured many of the same key players that were active in November of 2013 campaigning on both sides of the 8 Washington Street project. Proposition B, having been approved by nearly 59 percent of voters on June 3, requires voter approval before arena projects proposed by the Giants and the Golden State Warriors could go forward. It also delayed several proposed hotel and condo development projects. The prospect of such a delay and the possibility of voter-rejection motivated the Golden State Warriors to abandon their project on Piers 30-32, moving the site of their new arena to the Mission Bay neighborhood instead.[2][3]

The waterfront battle in San Diego, centered on the fate of a thousand acres in the Barrio Logan Community near the bay shipyards, was won by the status quo advocates. Although, in this case, Measures B and C, which proposed residential development and the curtail of industrial operation, were defeated more by the companies operating in the shipyard area than by historic, cultural or environmental preservationists. The conflict in this prominent California city was between shipping yard companies such as Cal Marine Cleaning, as well as the U.S. Navy they supported, and city officials, along with developers, eager to establish a valuable commercial and residential neighborhood. Focusing on the fear of job loss caused by shutting down the shipping yard businesses, the campaign against the Barrio Logan development plan won a solid victory, with close to 60 percent of voters rejecting Measures B and C.[4]

The Half Moon Bay Main Street Bridge

In the city of Half Moon Bay, competing measures proposed completely different fates for the Main Street Bridge. The city council's proposal called for the old, somewhat cracked bridge to be torn down and replaced by a wider, disability-friendly bridge. Proponents of an initiative to preserve the bridge, making minor repairs and renovations, argued that the bridge was an important historical element of the city. Main street business owners also noted that nearly all of their customers exited the highway and came across the bridge to reach the city's attractions. They expressed concern that extended closure of the bridge during major renovations could prove fatal to their livelihoods and the economy of Half Moon Bay. On election day, voters soundly rejected the city's proposal and voted 66 percent against 34 percent to keep the old bridge intact.[5]

Other measures concerning development:

Approveda Measure A: City of Monterey Park Zoning and Development Plan Ordinance - changed 2015 Potrero Grande Drive area from commercial zoning to residential zoning
Approveda Measure E: City of Big Bear Lake Rimforest System Sale - Approved the sale of Rimforest Water System providing services to Lake Arrowhead customers
Approveda Measure B: City of Solana Beach Fletcher Cove Community Center Special Use Permits - Allowed special use permits for Fletcher Cove Center, expanding public use.

A high-profile initiative designed by a group called Sacramento Taxpayer's Opposed to Pork (STOP)[6] to require voter approval for any proposed subsidy of a sports arena development by the city failed to make the ballot due to a lawsuit over petition format and elections law technicalities. The measure would have specifically targeted the use of $258 million from the city's general fund to subsidize the construction of a $450 million Sacramento Kings sports arena in Downtown Sacramento.[7]

Pensions

Voting on Local
Pensions

Pension Hotspots Report
Local Ballot Measures
By state
By year
Hotspots Reports
Current edition
Original Case study
San Jose & San Diego
State-wide Measures
See also: Local pensions on the ballot

Three pension related measures made local California ballots so far this year. All three were approved.

Measure A in Orange County was overwhelmingly approved on June 3, 2014. The Orange County system requires contributions to the public pension fund from both employees and employers. Prior to Measure A, however, the county was allowed to pay the employee contribution on behalf of many county officials. Measure A prohibited the county from paying the mandatory employee contributions to the pension fund for county supervisors or any other elected county officials.

The Orange County Register editorial board wrote an article endorsing Measure A. The editorial, in fact, called for ever stronger reform to entirely eliminate pensions for elected officials. An excerpt of the editorial is below:[8]

While largely a symbolic gesture, since the actual cost savings for a handful of elected officials will be minor, this strikes these editorial pages as a common-sense and fair reform, especially given the fact that the county has been asking its employees to likewise cover their own pension contributions. As Supervisor Todd Spitzer told us, “If we’re going to ask our rank-and- file employees to pay their fair share, we should, too.”

One question remains in our minds, however: Why do elected officials earn pensions in the first place? Pensions were intended to provide stability and encourage long tenures, while elections (and term limits, in the case of the supervisors) are supposed to allow for change. We hope the Board of Supervisors will take the next step and do away with pensions for elected officials altogether.

Vote Yes on Measure A. [9]

Orange County Register editorial board[8]

Measure Y in Porterville was an element of fourteen comprehensive charter reform measures recommended by the Porterville Charter Review Committee. Measure Y ensured that the city's charter was consistent with the California Constitution with regard to pensions and pension benefit termination. It also affirmed that the city retains full power over its pension system, including creating, modifying or eliminating pension and healthcare benefits, provided alterations are consistent with the state law.

Piedmont City Measure A concerned the financial problem of unfunded pension liabilities. It authorized the city to issue $8 million in bonds in order to refinance a $7.8 million side fund debt owed to CalPERS, seeking a lower interest rate than the 7.5 percent that CalPERS was charging.

Marijuana

Medical marijuana

N Means No campaign logo

Two measures concerning regulation and restrictions on the use of medical marijuana were intended for ballots in the first half of 2014, but only one, Measure N, made it to the ballot in Lake County, where voters narrowly upheld a regulatory ordinance - Ordinance 2997 - put forward by the county supervisors. The law, which inspired organized campaigns on both the opposing and supporting sides, largely restricted areas available for outdoor cultivation of marijuana, limited indoor grows to 100 square feet or less, kept outdoor cultivation 1,000 feet from schools, parks or other facilities serving children and 100 feet from bodies of water, dictated quicker law enforcement response to violations and made the Lake County Sheriff's Office responsible for enforcement. A group of pro-marijuana organizations and individuals called the Community Alliance to Ban Illegal Cannabis Cultivation (CABICC) thought the restrictions on marijuana growth found in Measure N were unfair and unnecessary and would keep patients in need from accessing medical marijuana. The group collected enough signatures to challenge the ordinance by putting it before voters at the June 3, 2014 election. Opponents of Measure N also argued that the ordinance targeted harmless growers and did not contain provisions to restrict illegal grows on public land and producers of harder drugs such as methamphetamine.[10]

Citizens for a Safer Lake County campaign logo

Advocates of Ordinance 2997 argued that it was important to regulate marijuana growth in the county because of the widespread growth of cannabis not used for medicinal purposes. The county sheriff's department reported that, in 2013 alone, 141 unlawful marijuana cultivation sites were discovered. The sheriff's department supported the board of supervisors in their attempt to limit the amount of marijuana grown in the county, allowing only for regulated growth of medical marijuana.[11]

The measure that did not make the ballot was the second failed attempt at an initiative in the city of Imperial Beach seeking to allow a medical marijuana dispensary to operate within the city.[12]

Although only one measure directly related to regulation of marijuana was featured in the first half of 2014, at least four pot measures are slated for local ballots in the November election.

Marijuana tax

A Long Beach election in April of 2014 featured a marijuana tax measure, Measure A, that could restrict medical marijuana use through making it slightly more expensive. The possibility of keeping marijuana from needy patients through prices boosted by the tax was the basis for many of the unsuccessful arguments opponents used against what they called an unfair tax measure, which imposed a sales tax of 6 percent on all medical marijuana and gave the city power to raise the rate to a maximum of 10 percent. The measure also authorized an annual tax of at least $15 - with a potential maximum of $50 - per square foot for pot plant cultivation spaces in marijuana dispensaries. Many pro-marijuana activists were proponents of the tax, eager to pay taxes in exchange for a legal medical marijuana presence in the city. Proponents generally argued that the tax would being in essential revenue to the city.[7]

Boundaries and incorporation

See also: Incorporation, merging and boundaries of local jurisdictions on the ballot
Jefferson state seal.jpg
Map of one proposed boundary of Jefferson State
Three countywide advisory questions concerning a California state split, creating the state of Jefferson, were featured on the June 3, 2014 election ballot - one in Del Norte County, one in Siskiyou County and the third in Tehama County. The measures were defeated in Del Norte and Siskiyou counties. It was approved in Tehama County.

The push towards forming a 51st state from counties in northern California and southern Oregon has been ongoing for more than half a century. Although some envision a state consisting of counties from both Oregon and California, the efforts for state splits in each state are separate and, according to Tom Knorr, chair of Tehama for State of Jefferson, counties that are able to achieve a state split from California will form a state whether they are joined by counties from Oregon or not. The effort is motivated by those who think that the rural counties of Northern California do not receive adequate representation in the state or federal government because of their small population relative to southern California. They hope to form an independent state in order to have their own legislators representing rural interests.[13]

"Yes" votes on these measures advised county supervisors to urge state lawmakers to allow the state to split up. Even if enough counties wanted to participate in Jefferson State, the division would require approval from the California State Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Ethan Rarick, director of the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at the University of California, Berkeley, posited that the state and federal lawmakers would never approve such a proposal because it would spread what power they have even thinner. He said, “There is no incentive. If you’re one of 100 senators you don’t want to become one of 102.”[14]

Bonds

School bonds

See also: School bond elections in California

From 2009 to the beginning of 2014, over 70 percent of all bond issue questions have been approved. Approval rates in 2014 so far have exceeded 77 percent. Out of the over $2.4 billion in bond money requested by schools in the first half of 2014, about $2,432,290,000 was approved and $385,630,000 was rejected, which amounts to 86.32 percent approval. The school bond money approval rate exceeds the rate of approval for bond measures themselves because more large bond issue requests were approved than defeated.

The average amount requested by 2014 school bond measures in the first half of 2014 was just over $64 million. The average amount among the 34 approved bond measures was $71.5 million, while the average amount among the defeated bond measures was $38.6 million. The largest bond measure, Measure E, approved $650 million in additional debt for the Fremont Unified School District in Alameda County. The largest defeated bond measure - Measure H - unsuccessfully requested $270 million from the voters in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Measure H was the only one out of the six bond measures that requested over $100 million that was rejected.

2014 school bond question election overview
Status Number Win/Loss % Dollars[15] Dollar %
Approveda Approved 34 77.27% $2,432.29 M 86.32%
Defeatedd Defeated 10 22.73% $385.63 M 13.68%
Totals: 44 100% $2.81792 Billion 100%

City bonds

See also: City bonds on the ballot

Three cities requested bond authorization from voters in the first half of 2014, and they were all granted with over 75 percent approval. The three bonds together authorized $428 million in additional city debt.

The largest bond was approved by 79 percent of voters in San Francisco under Proposition A, which authorized $400 Million in additional city debt to improve specific public safety and emergency response facilities in the city with the intent of boosting earthquake safety.

Eighty percent of Orinda City voters approved $20 million in road and storm drain bonds.

Measure A in the city of Piedmont sought $8 million in bonds to refinance a side-fund debt owed to CalPERS in order to slightly decrease the interest required from the city budget for unfunded pension liabilities.

Special district bonds

See also: District bonds on the ballot

There were also three special districts that featured bond measures during the months of January through June. Two were approved and one was defeated. A total of $302.6 million was requested in these bond measures, most of which was narrowly approved by a $300 million bond measure in Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, located in areas of Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. The bond money authorized by Measure AA was earmarked to "improve access to hiking and biking opportunities, protect and preserve redwood forests, natural open spaces, the scenic beauty of our region and coastline, critical wildlife habitat, restore creeks to protect water quality, and reduce forest fire risk."

The Navato-Pacheo Valle Community Facilities District, located in Marin County, convinced voters to approved Measure A, which authorized $600,000 in bond money to purchase land at the entrance to Pacheco Valle, preserving it as permanent open space.

Contra Costa County voters in the Kensington Police Protection and Community Service District defeated a $2 million bond measure - Measure A. The requested bond money was designed to modernize the community center if it had been authorized.

Taxes

Parcel taxes

See also: Parcel tax elections in California

A Parcel tax is a form of property tax assessed at a rate based on the characteristics of a "parcel," rather than on the assessed value of the property, which is the standard method of levying property taxes. A parcel tax rate can be different for different types of property, such as improved versus not-improved or residential versus commercial. Examples of methods used to divide parcels include:

  • by single-family home
  • by acre
  • by apartment unit
  • by square foot

In the first half of 2014, 34 local ballot measures concerning parcel taxes were voted on. Some requested the renewal or replacement of a previous existing parcel tax, and some requested the imposition of an additional parcel tax. Of the total, 26 were approved and eight were defeated, yielding an approval rate of 76.5 percent, which is high compared to the 55.6 percent overall approval rate of parcel taxes in California since 1983. This year, voters have approved parcel taxes in all of the thirteen school districts that requested them.

Vehicle taxes

See also: Local vehicle registration tax on the ballot

Example of abandoned vehicle abatement, accessed July 28, 2014

Two vehicle registration taxes, which generated a fair amount of contention, were voted on during the June 3, 2014 election - one in Fresno County and one in San Benito County. Both were designed to fund the disposal and abatement of abandoned and broken vehicles throughout the county, but Measure A in Fresno County was narrowly defeated, while Measure F in San Benito County was decisively approved.

Defeatedd Measure A sought to establish a registration tax of $1.00 per year. Supporters stressed that the tax was simply a renewal. Opponents argued that the tax funded an unnecessary and freedom-violating "service." One opponent of Measure A submitted the following statement:[16]

It gives a "cov" officer funds to go around rural communities and harass hard working people about vehicles in their own yards. What happened to private property laws and rights. The land of the free is just about gone. The working man gets his vehicles towed but the guy with no job on government subsidies barely gets slapped on the wrist. Justice is as a thing of the past.[9]

—Anonymous Measure A opponent[16]

Approveda Measure F also authorized a standard vehicle registration fee of $1.00 per year, with a $2.00 fee for certain commercial vehicles. Less opposition was found for the vehicle tax in San Benito County.

Hotel taxes

See also: Local hotel tax on the ballot

The cities of Banning and Winters had hotel taxes on the ballot for the June primary. Both were decisively approved. The Banning City measure - Measure E - sought to renew a 12 percent hotel tax. The city's tax was increased from 6 percent to 12 percent in 2009. The Winters City measure - Measure Q - increased the hotel tax from 10 percent to 12 percent.

Utility tax and fees

See also: Local utility tax and fees on the ballot

Utility fees drew negative reactions from city voters in both Sierra Madre, where a utility fee continuation measure was rejected, and Davis, where a measure reverting water rates to a previous, lower level was approved. In Davis, Measure P was put on the ballot through citizen petition in response to the city council's approval of water rate hikes.

Sales taxes

See also: Local sales tax on the ballot

Sales taxes were the focus of 16 local California measures in the first half of 2014. All of them were voted on during the June 3, 2014 election. All of the measures were referred by city councils or county boards of supervisors, and 15 were approved, with only one defeated. Two cities - Anderson and Woodland - used a method in which they put general sales tax measures on the ballot, with advisory questions asking about how that money should be spent. This allowed these taxes to be approved with a simple majority, rather than the 2/3rds supermajority vote required by special taxes earmarked for a particular purpose. Four out of the 16 measures were simply advisory, and they were all approved. This left 12 measures that actually sought to approve either increased or renewed sales taxes. Lake county voters narrowly rejected the only sales tax measure to be defeated so far in 2014. The measure, Measure L, was a "healthy lake" special tax designed to provide funds for maintaining the water quality, removing of algae and weeds and the eradication of invasive mussels in Clear Lake and the restoration of wetlands. The measure received affirmation from 65.2 percent of the votes, falling just 220 votes shy of the 66.7 percent voter approval required.

References

  1. Note: These figures include advisory measures concerning sales taxes and a marijuana sales tax
  2. Golden State Warriors, "Arena Development Project Announcements," accessed February 4, 2014
  3. San Francisco Chronicle, "Signatures for SF Waterfront Height Limit," February 4, 2014
  4. San Diego County elections department, Measure C voter pamphlet information," accessed April 22, 2014
  5. Half Moon Bay Bridge "Yes on Measure F" website," accessed May 13, 2014
  6. Pork or Pork barrel is a term that means government spending on a private enterprise expected to bring revenue and money into the district or area.
  7. 7.0 7.1 News 10 ABC, "Strong Mayor, Prop, 8 lawsuits may pave way for potential arena lawsuit," December 13, 2013
  8. 8.0 8.1 Orange County Register, "Editorial: Yes on Orange County Measure A," May 2, 2014, archived May 15, 2014
  9. 9.0 9.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  10. Lake County News, "Political action committee launches referendum on marijuana cultivation ordinance," December 24, 2014
  11. Record-Bee, "The Lake County Deputy Sheriff's Association supports a "YES" vote on Measure N," April 17, 2014
  12. Imperial Beach Patch, "Marijuana May Be Back on IB Ballot in 2014," December 16, 2013
  13. Jefferson State movement website
  14. The Raw Story, "Voters in two CA counties to vote on separating into new state called ‘Jefferson’," June 2, 2014
  15. In millions
  16. 16.0 16.1 Ballotpedia staff writer Josh Altic, "Email correspondence with Measure A opponent," June 30, 2014