Measures Affecting Businesses Dominate Local Ballots
By HOWARD FINE
While virtually all the media and public attention has been focused on the governor’s race and the Valley secession bid, local voters will be casting ballots next month on a number of key issues in cities and school districts throughout the county.
Many of those, from living wage and condo conversion measures in Santa Monica to tax hikes in Whittier and Gardena, will have direct a impact on businesses.
School Bonds Galore
A large number of school bond measures 14 in all dominate the local ballots. All told, there are roughly $4.4 billion in school bonds on L.A. County ballots, complemented by the massive $13 billion Proposition 47 education facilities bond on the state ballot.
“It should come as no surprise that we’ve got so many school bond measures,” said Harvey Englander, senior vice president with the Los Angeles office of the MWW Group and a veteran campaign manager. “With the 55 percent approval threshold now in place instead of the old two-thirds vote, it’s a lot easier to pass them now, which is why school officials are putting them on the ballot.”
The granddaddy of all the school bonds is Measure K, the $3.35 billion school facilities measure put forward by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The state’s largest school district is now in the midst of siting and building at least 80 new schools in the L.A. area.
But Measure K also faces the toughest challenge. Just five years ago, local voters approved Proposition BB, a $2 billion bond measure for the LAUSD. Since then, allegations have surfaced periodically of inadequate controls over how the funds have been spent.
“There is a feeling out there among some voters of ‘Look what happened with BB, so why should I now send even more of my dollars to that same district?'” Englander said.
Other school bond measures on local ballots range from $395 million for the El Camino Community College District to $13.6 million for the Hermosa Beach City School District.
And there is one school funding measure that faces a tougher challenge: Measure EE, a parcel tax for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Unlike the other school funding measures, which all go towards capital programs to build new facilities or renovate existing ones, the money from this parcel tax is going towards the district’s operating budget. As a result, it does not qualify for the 55 percent threshold and must instead get two-thirds support.
Santa Monica Battles
Outside of the City of L.A. and its secession battle, Santa Monica has the most controversial local ballot, with a host of contentious measures.
Garnering the most attention is Measure JJ, the first in the nation to extend a living wage beyond the traditional realm of local government contractors to businesses that have no such ties to the city. Measure JJ would require businesses with more than $5 million in revenues along the city’s “coastal zone” to pay their workers at least $10.50 an hour with benefits and at least $12.25 an hour without benefits, starting next July 1.
Just as controversial is Measure HH, which would restructure the electoral process for Santa Monica’s City Council and mayor. Currently, all seven councilmembers are chosen at large; the mayor is chosen by the councilmembers. Measure HH would create an elected mayoral post, give the mayor more power, and create a district system for electing city councilmembers.
Proponents say the measure is needed to open up the electoral process to a broader cross-section of the community.
“We put this measure on the ballot because we don’t have any really meaningful choices in our elections,” said Paul DeSantis, a local real estate attorney and affordable housing advocate.
But opponents say it’s an attempt by business and others to remake the city in their own image.
“This measure is purely the result of frustration on the part of real estate developers, landlords and hotels who haven’t been able to gain control over the City Council,” said Denny Zane, co-chair of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights and a former mayor.
Also on the Santa Monica ballot is Measure II, which would resurrect the city’s condo conversion law. The law, which expired several years ago, allowed apartment owners to convert units to condos with the approval of two-thirds of the tenants. Measure II would allow buildings to convert to condos with only majority approval from the tenants. It is strongly opposed by SMRR.
Utility, Bed Tax Hikes
In a sign that tough economic and budgetary times are taking their toll, three cities have placed measures on the ballot to hike or retain key taxes.
In Gardena, Measure L would increase that city’s transient occupancy tax from 7 percent to 11 percent. Traditionally, increasing the TOT, or bed tax, is viewed as painless for local residents, since it is paid by visitors. But hotels and other tourist-dependent businesses typically oppose such hikes in the fear that it would drive away tourists and reduce revenues.
Meanwhile, in Whittier, Measure W would increase the utility user’s tax by 50 percent, from the current 5 percent to 7.5 percent. Proponents argue that the city needs more revenues to make up for cuts in state funding and boost police and other vital services. Opponents say city officials need to do a better job of budgeting with existing resources.
Pico Rivera voters are being asked to retain the city’s 5 percent utility tax. Back at the height of the energy crisis, when both natural gas and electricity costs spiked, city coffers quickly filled with extra dollars from the tax, prompting complaints. City officials then decided to place a referendum on the utility tax on the ballot.
Other Business-Related Measures
In Long Beach, voters will decide whether to grant locally based companies a 1 percent bid preference on city contracts. Many cities have such preferences some ranging as high as 5 percent to encourage local businesses to apply for contracts.
And just up the San Diego (405) Freeway, in Lawndale, city officials are seeking to restore the power of eminent domain for the city’s redevelopment agency. Back in the late 1980s, voters passed a measure forbidding the redevelopment agency from taking property. But now, the city is trying to revitalize run-down commercial areas dominated by small parcels. City officials say developers are interested in larger-scale projects and are thus seeking eminent domain power to assemble the smaller parcels.