The presidential race has gotten most of the focus, but several measures on next week's ballot have snagged the attention of business interests throughout Los Angeles County. As a result, local business groups have mobilized.

"Several of these ballot measures could have outcomes that have substantial impacts on business," said Tracy Rafter, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, which includes 63 organizations representing more than 100,000 businesses throughout the county.

The Business Federation and almost every local business group supports Measure R, which would increase Los Angeles County's sales tax rate a half-percent, from the current 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent.

The increase would generate up to $40 billion over the next 30 years for dozens of transportation-related projects. Those include the proposed "subway to the sea" along Wilshire Boulevard, the extension of the Green Line light rail line to Los Angeles International Airport, various freeway improvement projects and traffic light synchronizations.

"It may be unusual for businesses to come together to support an additional tax, but reducing traffic congestion is the top concern among our business members across the board," Rafter said.

Measure R has faced some opposition from San Gabriel Valley officials who say it will direct too much money to L.A.'s Westside. But the greatest obstacles are a two-thirds majority needed for approval, and a worsening economy that has voters increasingly wary of bond and tax measures.

Development caps

Two other local measures were designed to reduce traffic congestion by restricting development. Measure T in Santa Monica would put an annual cap on commercial development in the coastal community of 75,000 square feet. Proponents contend that capping commercial development would ease the crush of vehicles now choking Santa Monica streets.

The initiative has drawn fierce opposition from business leaders and property owners. They say it would hurt efforts to attract new businesses, prevent existing business from expanding and raise rents.

Meanwhile, in Redondo Beach, Measure DD would require most major developments and possibly some minor projects to get approval from voters.

Critics have assailed the measure as "ballot-box planning," while the business community is concerned that it could block businesses from expanding and drive business investment away.

"The prospect of having to put your project to a citywide vote would prompt many businesses to decide it's not worth the hassle, and to relocate to neighboring cities," said John Parsons, a real estate agent and board chair of the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce.

One Redondo Beach business owner concerned about the measure is Ellen Brown, owner of Catalina Coffee near the marina. Brown has been trying for years to get a variance to the residential zoning that has prevented her from upgrading her coffee house. She fears Measure DD would doom her efforts.

"It would forever lock in the existing zoning, meaning if you want to make additions to your business, you have to take it to a citywide vote," Brown said. "I don't have the $50,000 or $100,000 it would take to wage a citywide election campaign just to add a vent hood and dishwasher so I can serve hot food."

It's unclear whether the measure, if passed, would affect her, at least until it is interpreted by a court.

Jim Light, the community activist leading the Measure DD effort, does not believe it would impact her.

"No citywide vote is required unless a zoning change is required, so most commercial property can be upgraded or rebuilt without any vote of the people," Light said.

At the state level, business leaders are backing Proposition 11, which would give a citizen commission the power to redraw political districts. Redistricting is now in the hands of the Legislature.

The L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce is one of the measure's authors, and it has drawn strong support from almost every business group. The measure grew out of mounting frustration over the anti-business legislation coming out of Sacramento.

Gary Toebben, chief executive of the L.A. area chamber, said the current system has resulted in partisan gridlock.

"Many issues that are important to business water, health care reform, the state budget problems are not being effectively addressed in Sacramento," he said.

Proposition 11 faces stiff opposition from legislators and the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, businesses generally are opposing Proposition 7. It would mandate that the state's electric and municipal utilities speed up the integration of renewable power sources into their portfolios.

Proponents say stricter requirements are needed to prod the utilities into faster progress. But most business groups in the state oppose the measure, arguing it could discourage investment in smaller companies that are developing renewable energy sources. They also say it could raise electricity rates for homes and businesses.

Two races for local political office have generated significant interest from the area business community. A top priority locally is support of Los Angeles City Councilman and former Police Chief Bernard Parks, who is waging a closely fought contest with state Senator and former L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas for an open seat on the county Board of Supervisors.

Ridley-Thomas, who placed first in the June primary, has secured millions of dollars in backing from organized labor. Parks, who has frequently sided with business interests during his tenure on the City Council, has the support of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, the Central City Association and other local business groups.


Key seat

Meanwhile, the race for a state Senate seat that covers the northwest portion of Los Angeles County has drawn the attention of business groups across the state. Assemblyman Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, is facing off against Democrat and former Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson for the seat held by termed-out Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks.

Republicans and their business allies have made holding this seat a top priority.

"If the Democrats win this seat, it puts them only one vote away from a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which would give the Democrats carte blanche on the budget and anti-business legislation," said Rob Lapsley, political director for the California Chamber of Commerce.

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