In an apparent paradox, voters in two heavily congested areas of Southern California--Orange County and the Santa Clarita Valley--rejected tax increases to finance road improvements in Tuesday's elections, while voters in outlying, less-congested areas were approving such increases.
In Orange County, a half-cent sales tax boost for traffic improvements, including a six-lane widening of the often-jammed Santa Ana Freeway, lost, getting a 53% negative vote. In the Santa Clarita Valley, a measure to add $75 to $200 to residential property tax bills for $285 million to build and widen roads went down to a 79.7% defeat.
At the same time, voters in relatively less-congested San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Imperial counties all approved half-cent sales tax increases to build better roads.
In other significant election results around the state:
- Voters in San Francisco narrowly rejected, by 50.5%--or less than 2,000 votes--a proposal to issue bonds to build a new downtown baseball stadium for the San Francisco Giants. The city's bitterly disappointed mayor, Art Agnos, promptly predicted that the Giants would leave town.
- San Franciscans, however, approved a half-cent increase in the sales tax for traffic improvements by about a 2-1 margin, and 87% cast ballots for a $59.7-million earthquake safety bond issue that had been placed on the ballot before the Oct. 17 earthquake.
- San Diego voters gave environmentalists apparent control of the City Council, rejecting two pro-developer candidates. It was the first time in decades that council candidates ran in separate districts.
- With scattered exceptions, voters in municipalities up and down the state rejected special-purpose property or utility tax increases ranging from providing more money for law enforcement to financing school and sanitation improvements.
Despite the many anti-tax votes, however, some observers said Wednesday they detected a slow trend in California toward less resistance to tax increases.
For instance, a spokesman for the County Supervisors Assn. of California, Dan Wall, pointed out that, adding the new county sales tax increase votes to past ones, 16 of California's 58 counties have now approved taxes in excess of the state's basic 6 1/4% sales tax rate.
"I think the basic message that has been going out from county supervisors for the past five years now is that the revenue we're getting from the state is not sufficient to do the job," Wall said.
Even in Orange County, the vote this time against the proposed sales tax increase was less one-sided than on an earlier try for an increase, in 1984, when voters rejected a proposed 1-cent hike by a massive 70%.
Competence of Leaders
In both Orange County and the Santa Clarita Valley, some activists said, a lack of confidence in the competence and integrity of elected officials might also have been major factors in rejection of the tax-increase proposals.
In San Bernardino County, by contrast, the Board of Supervisors worked with considerable political skill to reshape a previously rejected road improvement tax increase to ensure that a substantial amount of the money went to improvements in the High Desert areas that had voted massively against the proposal the first time.
The most expensive campaign was waged in Orange County, with proponents of the tax increase spending an estimated $2.5 million compared to only about $10,000 for the victorious opponents. That campaign brought the voter turnout to 22%, a record for an off-year election in the county, but it could not put the road improvement program over.
Generally, across the state, regardless of any trend toward less decisive defeats of tax, salary and bond measures, most such proposals still were defeated. Some examples:
- In San Diego County, voters in Encinitas defeated a $25-million park bond issue, in Imperial Beach a 5% utility tax measure, in Vista a $38.8-million school improvement proposal and in Ramona a $2.2-million bond issue for the water district.
- In Modesto, 63% of voters turned down a proposal to raise the salaries of the mayor and council members.
- In Selma, 72% voted against increasing utility bills up to 5% for added police and fire protection.
- In Arvin, 88% rejected a property tax increase of $100 for homes and $400 for businesses.
- In Chowchilla, voters refused, by nearly a 2-1 margin, to form a hospital assessment district.
- Sales tax increases for roads were rejected decisively in Nevada County and trailed by only seven votes among 42,000 cast in Monterey, with 500 absentee votes remaining to be counted.
But there were exceptions. For example, in Tulare, voters narrowly approved a six-year extension of an earlier-voted property tax increase for the schools.
One of the angriest reactions to an election outcome in the state came in San Francisco where municipal officials vowed to investigate $50,000 in what they termed suspicious contributions that came in in the final days for a mail campaign against the proposed Giants baseball stadium.