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Coalition of Whatever 

Bizarre outcomes in California bond measures, social issues, taxes. Mystery voters have their say.

Wednesday, Nov 5 2008
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California’s record-breaking 13-million-plus voters on Nov. 4 proved to be a mercurial throng who followed no code or discernible ideology, placing into the state constitution a ban on gay marriage, even as they trampled a proposal to require notification of parents whose daughters seek abortions.

It was an almost schizophrenic Coalition of Whatever — jammed with many new and infrequent voters excited over the chance to elect Barack Obama. They approved a $10 billion bond measure sought by California’s long-stymied and often-ridiculed bullet-train fanciers, yet delivered several landslide losses to other big bond measures whose goals, critics said, were just as unworkable as a new steel track running from San Francisco to San Diego.

After embracing high-speed rail, voters trounced Prop. 6 (an unfunded mandate to expand criminal justice programs), Prop. 7 (to require utilities to double renewable-energy sources by 2010) and Prop. 10 (to provide big subsidies to buyers of new, low-emission cars).

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Continuing their mysterious path, voters eviscerated Prop. 5, a plan to create drug-treatment programs and reduce prison time for nonviolent offenders. Then, down a few lines on the ballot, they backed Prop. 9, which creates a system that permits crime victims to participate in the bail, parole — and public humiliation — of the criminals who crossed them.

One predictable voter behavior trend did emerge from the many mixed signals: Voters rejected most of the huge state bond measures as luxuries they could not afford. (Although they backed roughly two dozen local school bonds, including a vague $7 billion spending plan from Los Angeles Unified School District.)

Another surprise was the predawn failure of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s antigang tax, which, if the trend holds among uncounted absentee and provisional ballots, lost by a tiny margin.

In Measure A the mayor had proposed charging every owner of land in Los Angeles $36 per year per parcel. Those owning more than one land parcel would be taxed $36 for each parcel. The City Council backed the idea, which would have handed the mayor tens of millions of dollars per year for still-undesigned programs he claimed could keep L.A. kids from joining gangs.

Measure A preliminary results show how close the mayor came: YES — 567,560, or 66.12 percent. NO — 290,799, or 33.88 percent. Villaraigosa and the City Council need 66.67 percent to win.

Voters swerved the other way on a far costlier ballot measure, Prop. R, which raises the L.A. County sales tax to pay for regional transit systems. If the measure’s modest lead is maintained after the count of remaining ballots, the county sales tax will be raised by one-half cent to 8.75 cents and will remain at that level for 30 years. A huge pot of money, estimated at $40 billion, will flow to the Metro to create an extensive rail and subway system.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky tells L.A. Weekly, “Getting 67.5 percent of the vote for anything that costs money, in this environment, as Prop. R did, is testament to how deeply people feel this is a quality-of-life issue.”

Two of L.A.’s upscale satellite cities, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, saw bitter fights over slow-growth measures. In Beverly Hills, the voters narrowly rejected Measure H, which would have allowed a 12-story Waldorf-Astoria hotel and two luxury condo towers at the site of the Hilton Hotel, at the congested corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards. The percentage of the vote was 49.73 yes, 50.27 no.

But in Santa Monica, after developers poured a small fortune into glossy mailers, voters overwhelmingly agreed not to enact Measure T, a tough antigrowth, anticongestion law that would have slashed commercial development in gridlocked Santa Monica.

Amid the contradictory decision making by voters, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger must have found it a near-miracle that the bipartisan Prop. 11, written by a respected Democratic legislator and backed by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and conservative tax groups, was narrowly approved pending a final tally.

Schwarzenegger, speaking at a Los Angeles press conference with Prop. 11 backers Sheriff Lee Baca and Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick, said voters supported the measure that wipes out longtime gerrymandering because “they’re sick and tired of politicians getting stuck in their ideological corners.” But even Prop. 11 came with a twist. It was roundly attacked by the California Democratic Party, whose intense opposition resulted in a huge amount of “no” votes from Bay Area counties, a dedicated Democratic stronghold. It also lost in L.A. County. County-by-county voter data show the measure passed largely due to support from Republican voters and inland, rather than coastal, Democrats.

Proponents of Prop. 11 noted the irony. With Democrats ascendant nationally and in California, they are expected to benefit from Prop. 11, which has protected incumbents — Democrats and Republicans alike.

Reach the writer at jstewart@laweekly.com

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