This year, SPUR’s Voter Guide provided Bay Area voters with analysis and recommendations on 35 local, regional and state measures. Now that the dust has settled, a historic election in a historic year has produced a number of critical local wins in the Bay Area, despite some significant defeats.
Caltrain secures dedicated funding
During a challenging year for transit, the passage of Measure RR was great news for Caltrain and the region. The Caltrain sales tax measure received more than 69% support across San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, surpassing the 66% threshold required for passage. The ⅛-cent sales tax increase will generate an estimated $108 million per year, nearly doubling current contribution levels. It also averts the threat of service shutdown due to the loss of fare revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond near-term stabilization, the funding will support Caltrain’s switch from diesel to electric engines and will help establish a fare structure and service plan that better serves low-income residents. Looking ahead, the region will need to do more to support other transit operators and provide seamless, integrated service amidst a constrained funding landscape.
Oakland voters invest in youth and support for unhoused county residents
Oakland voters overwhelmingly approved Measure Y, which authorizes $735 million in bonds to fund classroom repair and other school improvements for Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) facilities. Measure QQ also passed, which permits residents 16 and older to vote in OUSD Board of Education elections. This measure allows approximately 8,000 new voters to participate in OUSD elections and was one of a number of measures locally and statewide that aimed to expand voting rights for youth. Oakland also approved Measure S1, which provides additional oversight power and independence to the Oakland Police Commission. Finally, Alameda County Measure W passed with a slim margin to establish an additional 0.5% county sales tax for 10 years to fund housing, health and professional development services for unhoused county residents. Measure W puts the local sales tax in several cities over 10%, among the highest rates in California. The disproportionate impacts of sales taxes on the Bay Area’s low-income people are becoming more clear. Looking ahead, Alameda County can follow the lead of several states and create a sales tax credit or similar supplement that supports low-income working households.
South Bay voters overwhelmingly support new taxes for cardrooms, open space and water
In San José, voters approved local and county ballot measures by wide margins. Measure H will expand the city’s cardroom tables and increase the tax on cardroom businesses. Despite some opposition, the passage of Measure S will extend an existing Santa Clara Valley Water District parcel tax to fund water resilience projects. Voters showed strong support for open space in the midst of a public health emergency, approving an extension of the existing Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority parcel tax by a margin of 8 to 1.
San Francisco approves new taxes and oversight
San Francisco voters passed nearly all of their local ballot measures, including a measure to expand city commission participation to all residents regardless of citizenship, a parks and health bond and a package of planning and zoning changes to support small business growth. Notably, voters strongly supported a number of tax measures, including an overhaul of the business tax system, a new tax on companies with disproportionate executive compensation and a doubling of the transfer tax rate on high-value properties. Voters also passed several measures to expand oversight. Proposition B will split the troubled Department of Public Works into two new departments and create oversight commissions for both. Proposition D creates new local oversight over the county Sheriff’s Department, which provides law enforcement for the county jails and courts.
State results deliver disappointment for local government funding
A major result among the state-wide ballot measures is the narrow defeat of Proposition 15, which would have ended a decades-old tax exemption for commercial properties and dedicated the revenue to local governments and school districts. Prop 15’s defeat puts funding for schools in an increasingly precarious position and is a blow to housing advocates’ efforts to reform the state’s problematic property tax system. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new chapter of California’s housing crisis as businesses remain shuttered and eviction moratoriums are set to end next year. Housing advocates and legislators face urgent pressure to find solutions that protect tenants as well as deliver more housing across the state.