The City on the Ballot

In election years, the race at the top of the ticket gets the lion’s share of the media coverage, but it is often the down ticket races and ballot initiatives that will have most tangible impact on voters’ lives.  (This is not to say that the top-of-the-ticket race is not important, but rather that everything else on the ballot is just as important).  This year in California, in addition to voting for President, Senate, House, and local races, voters will also be weighing in on no less than 17 statewide ballot initiatives.  And in Los Angeles, voters will have the unique opportunity to vote on at least three initiatives that will directly impact the future of the physical form of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan

After a successful effort in 2008 (Measure R) to provide a half-cent sales tax increase for 30 years to fund transit projects, and a near-miss in 2012 (sales tax increases require a 2/3 vote to pass, and Measure J received 66.1% of the vote), Metro and Los Angeles County have approved another measure to fund further transit expansions.  This year’s initiative proposes a further half-cent sales tax increase (in addition to the increase passed in 2008), and would make both permanent.  This new measure would support a range of new transit expansions and improvements over the next 40 years, including rail, dedicated bus lanes, and even some road projects, as outlined in Metro’s long range plan.

Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers Protection and Water Conservation Measure

Also at the county level, this measure would add a parcel tax of one-and-a-half cents per square foot of developed property to fund parks and open spaces around the county.  As the county Department of Parks and Recreation notes, the new parcel tax works out to $22.50 per year for an average homeowner with a 1,500 square foot home.  The measure would raise $94 million annually, and funds would go directly to cities and local communities around the county “to protect, enhance and maintain our neighborhood parks, open space, trails, beaches, natural habitat and rivers, creeks and streams.”

Homeless Services and Housing Initiatives

Both the county and the city of Los Angeles are considering separate measures that would increase property taxes in efforts to greatly increase support services for homeless people.  The county effort would provide funding for mental health services, rental subsidies, and short-term housing, while the city proposal would be entirely dedicated to building housing.  In a twist of state and federal law, proceeds from the city’s bond measure is required to go toward “brick-and-mortar” facilities, and the city is required to own the land where the housing is built. 


Politics and public policy tend be largely abstract for many voters, but all of these initiatives have the potential to reshape the physical form of Los Angeles in real and necessary ways.  Los Angeles continues to grow, putting increased strain on transit and transportation infrastructure; parks are sparse and in poor condition; and nearly 47,000 Angelenos are homeless according to the latest Homeless Count.  As these ballot measures seek to address those challenges, the key question will be whether voters agree on the strategies in these proposals.  Despite the best intentions, and desirable outcomes, the fates of these initiatives may hang on the details of their plans.

people[PLACES]spaces will be following these issues, and many other ballot initiatives that impact cities, leading up to election day in November.