Los Angeles voters on Tuesday will declare what kind of city they want to live in.
They will support or reject Measure S, a sweeping ballot measure that applies the brakes on certain types of large-scale development.
It’s exactly the kind of development backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who says such projects are needed to keep Los Angeles growing.
That same electorate will also make its views known about Garcetti, who faces little serious competition in his bid to win a second term. A wide margin of victory would give the 46-year-old mayor momentum should he seek higher office in the coming years.
Although few of the city’s 2 million registered voters are expected to cast ballots, the election results will have lasting impact.
Winners get a 5½-year term, rather the usual four years, because of a one-time change in election dates.
“It’s an important election,” said Jack Pitney, politics professor at Claremont McKenna College. “Despite that, I think there will be low turnout.”
The most high-profile land use initiative since Proposition U in 1986, Measure S has launched a citywide debate about planning, neighborhood growth and developers’ influence at City Hall. Millions of dollars have been spent by opponents and supporters of the measure, which seeks to end so-called “spot zoning.”
Speaking after a rally Monday in Echo Park, Garcetti, a Measure S opponent, couldn’t predict which way voters would go.
"I think it's going to be close," he said.
The No on Measure S campaign warned in an email Monday the “housing ban” caused by the ballot measure would hurt the city and cause economic damage.
“Don’t let low turnout condemn us to a decade of economic turmoil. Do your part and educate your friends. And vote NO on S tomorrow,” the email said.
Across town, Measure S backers rallied near downtown’s La Placita Church, arguing the ballot measure would reform the planning process at City Hall and stop out-of-scale “mega-developments.”
“This is our opportunity, tomorrow, to tell City Hall that we control what happens in this city — not the developers, not the unions, but the residents of Los Angeles,” said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation executive Michael Weinstein, who championed the ballot measure, former California state Sen. Gloria Romero and former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan also attended the rally.
Other ballot measures facing voters Tuesday include Measure M, which addresses taxation and operating regulations for the city’s marijuana dispensaries. The backers of a competing initiative, Measure N, ultimately threw their support to Measure M.
Another initiative, Measure P, allows builders to obtain 66-year leases for port property instead of the current 50-year limit. The measure is designed to encourage waterfront redevelopment in San Pedro.
One of the most closely watched City Council races is underway in the northeast San Fernando Valley, where 20 candidates are seeking the seat vacated by former councilman Felipe Fuentes. The politician abruptly stepped down last year for a Sacramento lobbying job.
In other council races, development and gentrification are major issues as incumbents Mike Bonin, Joe Buscaino, Gil Cedillo, Paul Koretz, Mitch O’Farrell, and Curren Price seek another term. Koretz, Price, and Cedillo all previously served in Sacramento, but are being challenged by grass-roots or well-financed upstart candidates who threaten to halt their political careers.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents the western San Fernando Valley, is running unopposed. With no challengers, City Atty. Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin are also assured of victory.
Garcetti is running for reelection against a field of 10 largely unknown contenders, with the exception of Mitchell Schwartz, a former political strategist with more than $600,000, which includes city matching funds.
The mayor — like the other City Council candidates — is hoping to win more than 50% of the vote to avoid a May runoff.
Garcetti joined L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn and other political leaders to rally support for Measure H, a countywide sales tax hike that’s expected to raise about $350 million annually to be used for homelessness prevention and housing.
"This is our chance," said Hahn, who represents communities from Long Beach to Diamond Bar. "I think that in the coming decades, we're going to look back at tomorrow's election as the turning point in L.A. County's homelessness crisis.”
The quarter-cent tax increase would raise the sales tax rate to 9% across most of Los Angeles County and up to 10% in a few communities. Because the ballot measure would increase taxes, it requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
It’s designed to complement Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion housing bond measure approved by Los Angeles city voters in November.
Three of seven seats for the Los Angeles Board of Education are on the ballot, and results could give backers of charter schools their first majority in the nation’s second-largest school system. Charter school advocates and donors are active in all three contests, while the teachers union is spending on behalf of opposing candidates in two of the races.
One seat is open; the other two have incumbents: board President Steve Zimmer and Monica Garcia, the longest serving member.
Finally, voters will also cast ballots in three Los Angeles Community College District trustee races.