Based on the first absentee returns, proponents of creating Los Angeles County's 85th city from four rapidly developing communities took an early lead in the incorporation election in the Santa Clarita Valley on Tuesday.
In the hottest race in county elections, those favoring cityhood led by a 3-to-2 margin with less than 2% of the vote counted.
The cityhood issue became a classic confrontation between the new slow-growth movement and real estate interests hoping to expand development in the relatively rural area.
While results were slow coming in, voting in the four affected communities--Valencia, Newhall, Saugus and a portion of Canyon Country--was especially heavy for an off-year election. While election officials had forecast a bleak 10%-20% voter turnout to decide the more than 200 other issues in Tuesday's balloting, nearly half the 48,490 registered voters in the Santa Clarita Valley made it to the polls.
In a related election southeast of the Santa Clarita Valley, a proposal to annex 1,011 acres of unincorporated area near Chatsworth to the City of Los Angeles passed easily, with nearly all of the 189 affected voters casting ballots. Annexation supporters hoped to bring the area under tighter controls to provide low-density housing while opponents, most of whom live in a large mobile home park, feared the shift will lead to higher utility bills.
If the cityhood measure passes, Santa Clarita would become the first area to incorporate since West Hollywood became a city in a nationally watched election in 1984. While voters in this northwest county area were not as visible as their West Hollywood counterparts, the issues raised in the fight for cityhood were nevertheless of far-reaching importance.
The issue here was one of growth.
The Santa Clarita Valley until a few years ago was a relatively quiet suburban area with wide-open spaces, equestrian trails and rustic canyons. Today it still boasts all those features, but some residents have become increasingly concerned over unchecked development.
By incorporating, cityhood advocates claim that the power to make decisions on the pace of new development would transfer from a largely obscure Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to a new, more responsive five-member city council closer to the affected areas. In addition to voting whether to form a new city, voters in the four towns were casting just-in-case ballots for a new city council from a list of 26 candidates.
The incorporation effort did not go unchallenged. A heavily financed mail campaign, underwritten largely by the building industry, warned voters on almost a daily basis that incorporation would be costly, as the city would need to create a new bureaucracy and provide services now paid for by the county.
Also at stake in Tuesday's balloting were 160 seats on nine community college, 50 school, five county water, three irrigation and one library district boards scattered across the county. In 12 of the county's 84 cities, elections were also held for city council seats, mayor, city treasurer or city clerk.
Nine cities, meanwhile, asked voters to approve 20 different measures calling for increases in the local hotel bed, business license and utility user taxes, as well as for the creation of a special tax for paramedics. El Segundo and South Pasadena voters were voting whether to create a utility user tax in their respective cities, while Hermosa Beach voters were deciding whether to raise their utility user tax.
Also on the ballot was a measure to triple the monthly pay for Pomona's City Council members and mayor.
Also contributing to this story were Times staff writers Mayerene Barker, Patricia Klein and Richard Simon.