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Elections to Decide Key Issues in Cities

Voting: School bonds, council races and quality- of-life matters are on ballots in Palmdale, Agoura Hills and other area communities.


They may lack the sizzle of a presidential contest, but Tuesday's "off year" local elections nonetheless will have a big impact on schools, beaches, hillside development and even airports.

In the fast-growing suburbs of north Los Angeles County, voters will consider several measures to expand school districts that are bulging at the seams. Several valleys away in the slow-growth hamlet of Agoura Hills, meanwhile, a plan to open a Home Depot superstore has electrified the City Council race.

Among the most closely watched elections is one in Carson, where voters decide whether schools in their city will be the first to split from the massive Los Angeles Unified School District in more than 50 years. In Hawthorne, voters will weigh in on whether the city should close its historic but underutilized municipal airport and develop the site in hopes of bringing in more tax dollars.

These issues lead a list of more than two dozen local ballot measures facing voters around the region on Tuesday. Most, including a handful of school and community college bond measures, focus on taxes or "quality-of-life" issues, such as a call to restrict seaside events in Hermosa Beach and ban fireworks in Baldwin Park.

Also on many local ballots are contests to fill seats on city councils, school and college boards and on lesser-known water, library, community service and irrigation districts.

In the Santa Clarita Valley, the William S. Hart School District seeks a $158-million bond to build 10 schools, and the two-year College of the Canyons has asked voters to approve $82.1 million for new classrooms. Each institution has about 7,000 more students than schools were designed to teach.

The Palmdale School District in the nearby Antelope Valley hopes to pass a $25-million bond to build two schools. Officials say they lack permanent class space for 8,700 kids in a city whose population has soared 70% during the last decade.

"It would take two years to build those schools," said district spokesman Isaac Barcelona. "And by then we will have grown another two schools. We'd still be in the hole, in other words."

Palmdale voters will also weigh a controversial measure to assign each of four at-large council members to specific geographic districts. The lawmakers would still be chosen in citywide elections, as would the mayor.

The measure's sponsor, Mayor James Ledford, the only council member who lives on Palmdale's more working-class east side, said it would help spread representation. But opponents contend it is a thinly disguised bid by the mayor to increase his power and punish his foes.

Political tempers are also running high in Agoura Hills, where eight candidates are vying for three City Council seats. A potential Home Depot store has emerged as the key issue in perhaps the nastiest race in the city's two-decade history.

Developer Dan Selleck is expected to propose a 115,000-square-foot store as part of an ambitious retail complex on Agoura Road. Three incumbents have pledged to withhold judgment until a formal plan is presented. Other contenders have spoken out against the idea.

"Home Depot is not a good fit for Agoura Hills," said candidate Ken Horton, 54, a local businessman who said he fears that the hardware megastore would destroy the city's "open spaces, . . . our small-town feel."

Election day has not stoked nearly so much passion in nearby Westlake Village, where voters will choose three council members.

"That's the problem with the election," said Mayor Mark Rutherford, one of two incumbents seeking another term. "There's not a lot of controversy. By and large, everybody is very happy with the way Westlake Village works."

Two initiatives are also on the Westlake Village ballot. Measure T would ratify a hotel tax hike from 6% to 10%, while Measure U would give the city the option of raising it to 14%.

Residents will also choose three board members for the Las Virgenes Unified School District from a field of five. The biggest challenge facing the district, most agree, is reducing the number of students in two crowded middle schools.

In Carson, Measure D asks voters whether to carve out a 21,500-student, kindergarten-through-12th-grade system from the Los Angeles Unified School District and, to a smaller extent, the Compton Unified School District. At the same time, voters will be asked to choose among 18 candidates for a five-member board for the new district.

Would-be municipal secessionists in Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley and the Harbor area are watching Carson, where the measure's supporters are promising that an independent school district would improve student achievement, be more responsive to parents and spend tax dollars more wisely than the nation's second-largest school district.

Leaders of the drive to form a Carson Unified School District, however, have raised less than $5,000 and are relying on lawn signs, precinct walks, a series of public forums and mailers to get their message to voters.

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