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Bond Measures Win--Except for Plan to Improve Crime Labs

Parks, water and library propositions garner strong support from voters. Backers of police proposal, which lost by about 7 points, speculate on what went wrong.


California voters approved bond measures for parks, clean-water projects, libraries and veterans homes but rejected a measure that would have paid to build, renovate and equip local crime laboratories.

Boosters of Proposition 15, the $220-million crime lab measure, wondered Wednesday whether they should have used a higher-profile approach to persuade voters that even in this time of dropping crime rates local police need all the help they can get.

The Proposition 15 forces had opted not to raise money for television commercials or find a celebrity spokesman to carry their message. The measure, backed by the California District Attorneys Assn., lost 53.7% to 46.3%.

"Maybe we should have had Quincy explain it to people," said San Diego County Dist. Atty. Paul Pfingst, a reference to the popular television show of the 1970s and '80s in which a crusading coroner, played by Jack Klugman, used forensic science to unravel baffling murder mysteries.

The biggest share of the funds would have gone to bolster the Los Angeles Police Department's crime laboratory, heavily criticized for its work in the O.J. Simpson murder case.

Shelly Sullivan, spokeswoman for the Yes on 15 campaign, said the proposition may have suffered by proximity to measures whose benefits are more immediately apparent and thus have greater appeal.

"Voters know about parks, water, veterans and libraries, but crime lab is a new idea, something unfamiliar," she said.

Pfingst said the Legislature could take up a crime proposal during its budget sessions.

Spirited Competition for Library Funds

If the failure of Proposition 15 left boosters deflated, the passage of Proposition 14, the $350-million library measure, had bibliophiles preparing for a spirited competition among cities for a share of the money. Proposition 14 won by 59% to 41%.

Unlike the parks, water and veterans homes measures, the library proposition did not contain a list of projects to be funded. By one estimate, there are 425 library projects in the state thirsting for money, many having been deferred since the tax-slashing Proposition 13 turned local government topsy-turvy in 1978.

One highly motivated competitor will be San Diego, where the downtown main library is seen by politicians of varying stripes as a civic embarrassment. For two decades one effort after another to find a site and funding for a new library have fizzled.

Like military service itself, Proposition 16, providing $50 million for two additional retirement homes for veterans who are California residents, brought together supporters from different backgrounds and viewpoints: for example, Gov. Gray Davis and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), both Vietnam veterans.

The measure, which won by 62.4% to 37.6%, will also pay for renovation of the state's 1,400-bed veterans home in Yountville, outside Napa.

Joint Effort Gets Results

In the warm glow of victory, supporters of Propositions 12 and 13, the parks and water bond measures, said they may have set a standard for convincing warring interests to make common cause. Proposition 12 won by 63.1% to 36.9%; Proposition 13 by 64.8% to 35.2%.

Proposition 13, the $1.97-billion water measure, brought together the building industry and the environmental movement, as well as both Northern California and Southern California interests. Only the State Farm Bureau, which believed the measure did not contain enough funding for water storage, stayed outside the fold.

Ron Gastelum, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said he hopes the coalition that formed behind Proposition 13 will now turn its energy to the state and federal effort to save the troubled San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta, the state's main watershed.

Some observers say that effort is mired in regional and philosophical conflicts.

"Relationships are building, dialogue is going on. It can't hurt," Gastelum said.

The victories of Propositions 12 and 13 did not come cheaply. A joint campaign spent about $7 million, including $5 million on two weeks' worth of statewide television advertising.

The commercials steered away from doom-and-gloom talk of water shortages and deteriorating parks. "They were much softer than the usual yell and scream of television advertising," said Steven Glazer, spokesman for the campaign.

Major environmental groups contributed to the campaign, led by $1 million from the Nature Conservancy.

Business groups also kicked in, including with a contribution that seemed to take its cue from the acclaimed 1992 Mexican film "Like Water for Chocolate": See's Candies Co. of South San Francisco contributed $20,000 to Proposition 13.

Jerry Meral, executive director of the Sacramento-based Planning and Conservation League, said that to sustain public confidence the Legislature must move quickly to authorize Proposition 12 money for specific projects.

Although the proposition provides $2 billion, some estimates say that more than $9 billion is needed.

"I think we need results quickly, with one or more new parks started right away, by the end of the year," Meral said. "We can't wait for one of those lengthy Caltrans-like studies."

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