A Big Night for Down-Ballot Contests
Local voters say yes to taxes for mass transit, parks, schools and affordable housing
By Gary Walker, Phoenix Tso and Joe Piasecki
As 1.6 million Hillary Clinton voters in Los Angeles County watched in varying levels of shock as Donald Trump unexpectedly cruised to the presidency, other important Election Night stories played out a lot closer to home.
The L.A. area and California as a whole voted decisively — in some cases overwhelmingly — to legalize recreational marijuana, increase taxes on the wealthy, reform criminal sentencing, restore bilingual education, and approve billions of dollars in new spending on public education facilities, public parks, mass transit and housing for the homeless.
The Left Coast, it seemed, inched even further away from the Heartland.
During a boisterous rally in Downtown Los Angeles, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Westside ally City Councilman Mike Bonin celebrated the strong passage of tax measures in support of mass transit expansion and affordable housing construction.
Garcetti invested a great deal of his political capital in county Measure M, a half-cent sales tax increase expected to raise $860 million a year for mass transit over the next four decades.
“This was an amazing, historical mission,” the mayor told a crowd of supporters who gathered for a celebration at the Farmers and Merchants Bank building. “The one thing that unites us is that we’re getting the job done in Los Angeles on mass transit.”
Bonin, who along with Garcetti is up for re-election in March, praised the overwhelming 76% voter support for L.A. city Proposition HHH — a parcel tax assessment funding a $1.2-billion general obligation bond that over just 10 years promises to create 10,000 units of permanent housing for the homeless and those at greatest risk of becoming homeless.
“People in Los Angeles have responded to the idea that we need to solve problems locally and are willing to invest in that,” Bonin said. “This is absolutely foundational to our efforts to get people off the streets and into housing. … I think when we really dig down into the numbers next week, we’re going to see huge numbers in favor of HHH on the Westside.”
While casting ballots at the Playa Vista Library on Tuesday, 34-year-old Ellen Smith mentioned homeless housing and 40-year-old Natasha Gatlin highlighted public transportation as key issues outside the presidential contest that brought them out to the polls.
“That was a big one for me … anything they can do to improve public transportation,” Gatlin said.
Meanwhile, voters in Santa Monica approved local campaign finance reform, a massive community college bond and a retail tax hike but rejected a populist local initiative that would have required just about every major development project in the city to go before voter approval.
Measure LV, authored by Santa Monica City Council candidate Armen Melkonians, won 43.8% voter support despite opposition by most of the city’s political establishment. Melkonians finished fifth in the at large council contest, trailing each of the four incumbents who retained their seats.
During a No on Measure LV party at The Victorian night club on Main Street, council incumbent Terry O’Day — the council race’s top vote-getter — said divisiveness over LV leaves more work to do.
“It becomes clear to all that we need to become engaged in planning issues at a deeper level,” O’Day said.
“Regardless of outcome, we need to strengthen communication and find a way to work together to address problems in Santa Monica,” added Councilwoman Gleam Davis, who also won reelection.
Voters casting ballots at the Church in Ocean Park went both ways.
Lalida Nakatani, an architect who has lived in Santa Monica for 18 years and voted against LV, said most residents fail to take advantage of an already inclusive city approvals process.
“We have a say in it already,” said Nakatani, also concerned that putting the brakes on growth would exacerbate housing scarcity and price families out of the area.
Tech firms have created a growth-oriented local economy in Santa Monica, “but what about people who have lived here their entire lives? It would be nice for voters to get involved if it’s a big project,” said David Leifer, who voted for Measure LV. “Change is good, but sometimes you lose with it.”
Christina Campodonico contributed to this story.