Proposition A, the county-sponsored measure that would increase sales taxes temporarily to pay for new jails and courthouses, was defeated Tuesday.
The measure needed approval from two-thirds of the voters for passage and appeared to be falling far short of that mark.
"The government just has to realize that there's only so much money they're going to be able to take from the public, and that money should be allocated to the highest priorities in the public's minds," said Fred Schnaubelt, a former San Diego city councilman. Although Schnaubelt was the measure's most prominent opponent, he did no more than sign the ballot argument against Proposition A and grant newspaper interviews.
"People don't want to pay more taxes," added Dick Rider, a Libertarian candidate for Congress who also opposed Proposition A.
Schnaubelt and Rider both said they supported the construction of jails, but they said they believed that the jails could be built without a tax increase.
County Supervisor George Bailey conceded early Tuesday night that the measure would not get the two-thirds vote necessary for passage.
"The problem still exists," Bailey said. "We will keep looking for a solution, and we will do everything possible to protect the public in any way we can. But we can't, without additional money, have a permanent solution to the problem."
Proposition A would have increased the countywide sales tax a half-penny on the dollar to finance a $420-million jail and courthouse construction program. The tax increase would have expired in five years unless approved again by two-thirds of the county's voters.
The measure was placed on the ballot by a 3-2 vote of the county Board of Supervisors and was endorsed by almost every police and judicial agency in the county. The issue also won support from the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and various Neighborhood Watch groups.
Supporters of the proposition argued that the recent outcry for stricter punishment of criminals--such as jail time for drunk drivers--has gone unheeded because the jails are so overcrowded that only the most dangerous criminals and suspects can be housed there.
Since 1984, the County Jail downtown has been under court order to keep its population at no more than 750 inmates. As a result, the Sheriff's Department has sent extra inmates to the regional jails in Vista, Chula Vista and El Cajon. Now those jails are overcrowded, too.
On Tuesday, for example, the Vista jail, designed for 246 inmates, held 407. The Chula Vista jail, with a state-rated capacity of 192, held 591 inmates. The El Cajon jail held 452 in space designed for 120. The women's jail at Las Colinas held 365 inmates in space rated for 176 and the jail camp in Descanso, designed for 225 men, held 410. The downtown jail held 858. Overall, the jail system held 3,083 inmates in space meant to house 1,689.
County officials estimated that Proposition A would raise a minimum of $75 million a year--an average of $38 per resident.
A master plan for criminal justice facilities prepared by the county's staff earmarked half the money for the construction of jail cells--1,800 maximum- and medium-security beds, 900 probation honor camp beds and 90 juvenile detention beds. The rest of the money was slated for the construction of space for 58 new judges and their support staff.