Counties Reap Mixed Results on Ballot Measures

March 5, 2020

Counties from Trinity to San Diego had measures on the ballot this week, some placed there by the Board of Supervisors, some by initiative, and two by referendum. Across the 58 counties, the March 3 ballot featured 13 questions about taxes, two bonds, five measures to expand or limit development, and a handful of others. The results across the board were notably mixed.

(Please keep in mind that there are many ballots left to count, which could swing the outcome considerably. All results below are preliminary.)

Taxes and Bonds

Since all local tax questions must be submitted to voters, including bonds repaid by increased property tax levies, they are a common question for voters to face come Election Day. A measure in Orange County asked voters whether they wanted to make it harder for the Board of Supervisors to place tax increases on the ballot by requiring a two-thirds vote to do so (nearly 80 percent voted yes).

Of the 12 county tax increases and two bonds voters decided, seven were rejected, five were approved, and two were probably approved but are too close to call.

Alameda County’s half-cent sales tax for children’s health and preschool passed easily, but the bond for the county’s fire department fell just short of the 2/3 needed. Shasta County voters also rejected a public safety measure, with its one-cent sales tax for public safety falling well short of the 2/3 approval needed.

Marin County appears to have gotten the 2/3 vote it needed to approve a parcel tax for wildfire prevention, but at only 67% it’s still too close to call. Sonoma County had a half-cent sales tax for disaster and fire services on the ballot, but it fell short of the 2/3 approval needed.

Trinity County voters appear to have approved a measure that imposes taxes at every stage of cannabis, from cultivation to manufacture to sales. Tehama County residents soundly rejected a one-cent sales tax for county services.

Napa County fell short of the 2/3 vote needed to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to fund open space preservation.

Two transient occupancy tax (TOT) measures both seem to have been approved. Siskiyou County’s unincorporated voters appear to have approved an increase in their TOT to 12 percent (up from 8  percent). Mendocino County voters approved the extension of the county’s TOT to private campgrounds and RV parks and also voted yes on an advisory question about whether to allocate the resulting funds 75 percent to the county and 25 percent to local fire agencies.

The City and County of San Francisco approved a sizeable $628.5 million bond to fund public safety facilities (including water infrastructure for fire response), and appears to have also approved a tax on retail space that is kept vacant for too long, though the vote still fairly close.


The other hot topic for ballot measures this week was development, reflecting the statewide preoccupation with the subject.

Two counties faced referenda on their development decisions. San Benito voters overturned a Board of Supervisors’ action to allow increased commercial development along certain parts of Highway 101, while San Diego voters overturned the Board’s approval of the Newland Sierra development plan. However, the same voters in San Diego County appear to have rejected, by a narrow margin, a measure that would have required voter approval of future general plan amendments to increase density in rural areas.

Marin County voters rejected a potentially confusing measure that would have required a particular golf course to continue operating as a golf course, although golfing operations ceased at the location some months go.

Voters in the City and County of San Francisco approved a measure that sets an annual goal for new housing units at 2,042 and restricts the development of office space if that goal isn’t met.

Other Measures

Rounding out the week’s action on county ballots, Kern County voters rejected both of two competing plans for taxing and permitting medical marijuana dispensaries, Los Angeles County voters overwhelming approved an expansion of the duties and powers of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, and Trinity County voters approved a new district to provide ambulance services, but rejected the parcel tax necessary to fund it.

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