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Southern California voters decide a range of ballot issues

Culver City's $96 annual parcel tax hike for schools is approved. But in Long Beach, a similar measure is defeated. In Ventura, a sales-tax hike for roads and public safety is rejected, 56% to 44%.

November 05, 2009|Jean Merl and Catherine Saillant

Backers of various tax proposals were celebrating ballot-box victories Wednesday in such places as Culver City, Palm Springs and South Pasadena.

But there was little to cheer about for supporters of similar measures in Long Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes and Ventura, where voters in Tuesday's local elections kept the purse strings tightly shut.

Along with filling scores of local offices, voters in four Southern California counties decided a range of ballot measures, many of which sought money for cities and school districts hit hard by the recession and state budget cuts.

Voters in the Culver City Unified School District overwhelmingly passed a parcel tax of $96 a year for the next five years to help pay for math, science and technology and music and art programs; update instructional materials and libraries; and keep class sizes small. The measure, which will produce an estimated $1.2 million annually, needed two-thirds of the vote to pass and garnered nearly 75%.

"I was floored when I turned on my computer" during the ballot counting Tuesday night and saw the wide margin, said Supt. Myrna Rivera Cote. "To me it just shows what an amazing community, a very supportive community, Culver City is."

Scott Zeidman, a school board member who co-chaired the campaign for the parcel tax, said Wednesday he was gratified to see that "we have people voting 3 to 1 in this economy" to tax themselves.

"I always believed the community was going to come around for their schools, and they did," Zeidman said.

The Culver City district also probably was helped by its small size (just over 6,700 students) and relatively affluent population. A Times report this year found that voters in small wealthy communities were more likely to approve parcel taxes than those in larger, less-affluent areas.

The Long Beach Unified and Oxnard school districts faced deep disappointment -- and more budget cuts -- when their parcel tax measures, very similar to Culver City's, failed to win even simple majorities.

Even opponents of the tax measure "consistently acknowledged the high quality of our schools, so that's not the issue," said Chris Eftychiou, spokesman for the Long Beach Unified School District. "People are tapped out financially."

"We knew this was a long shot, but we wanted to give voters one last chance before we make some severe cuts," Eftychiou added. "There are some very difficult decisions ahead, but hopefully we can all find a way to come together for our kids."

Voters also delivered mixed results to cities turning to them for financial help. They approved an extension of a library tax in South Pasadena by 80%. They agreed to hotel tax measures in Banning and Norco but said no in Artesia (where voters also rejected a higher business-license tax), Blythe and Rancho Palos Verdes.

Several cities successfully sought to update and retain their utility-use or communications taxes, including Coachella, Huntington Park, Palm Springs and Pico Rivera. But voters in Redondo Beach rejected a proposal to end a utility-users tax exemption for a corporation-owned electricity-generating plant, despite the city's assertions that the measure would raise money for municipal services without affecting residents' utility taxes.

A four-year sales tax hike in the city of Ventura was rejected 56% to 44%. The half-cent increase would have raised an estimated $8 million annually for road projects, parks, libraries and public safety.

The measure's loss means that the city will cut three fire-fighting positions and four jobs on the city's police force, said City Manager Rick Cole. Those slots were added this year with the understanding that the funding would expire if the city's voters turned down the sales-tax increase, Cole said.

Continued operation of Wright Library near Ventura College also is in jeopardy, he said. But a decision on whether the branch will close when funding runs out Dec. 1 rests with the county's library district, not the city. City leaders had hoped to use some of the tax revenue to help pay for upgrades to its storm-water runoff system, and other budget cuts may become necessary to cover that expense, Cole said.

The city cut $11 million from its $96-million proposed budget earlier this year, Cole said. Despite the gloomy outlook, Cole said the sky was not falling at Ventura City Hall.

"We made the cuts that needed to be made," he said. "The question was whether the community wanted to restore them or live without them. And we got a pretty clear answer."

An even clearer answer came in Ventura voters' 75% to 25% rejection of a view-protection measure for some of the city's commercial corridors. Measure B would have imposed maximum building heights in those areas.

Diane Underhill, a spokeswoman for the citizen's group backing Measure B, said the group's efforts were hampered by low voter turnout and a successful misinformation campaign by critics.

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More complete returns are available at these websites:

Los Angeles County: www.lavote.net

Riverside County: www. voteinfo.net

San Bernardino County: http://www.co.san-bernardino .ca.us/ROV

Ventura County: http:// recorder.countyofventura.org /elections.htm

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jean.merl@latimes.com

catherine.saillant @latimes.com

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