News

County voters hike tax, change supes election method

With the substantial victories for Measures A and B, voters in San Mateo County have raised their sales taxes by a half-cent for the next 10 years to increase funding for county government, and have changed the landscape for electing supervisors. Voters rejected Measure C, which would have had ended the requirement that the county's chief accountant run for election.

The latest returns from the county Elections Office show 64.5 percent of voters approved Measure A, the half-cent, 10-year sales tax increase, with 119,889 voting for the measure and 65,842 opposed. Since the tax revenues go directly into the county's general fund, the measure required only a simple majority to pass.

In a related decision, San Mateo County voters, along with voters around the state, approved Proposition 30 by about the same margins as Measure B, thereby agreeing to raise their sales taxes by an additional quarter cent.

Measure A

Financial resources were not a problem for the Measure A campaign. Contributions totaled $997,000 as of Oct. 23, according to finance reports. The biggest donor: $893,000 from the Los Altos-based Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, which manages the Seton Medical Center. The contributions includes $50,200 in non-monetary contributions of consultant work and staff time.

Along with being a key donor, the hospital is a key beneficiary in that it has a major role in the county's public health. Seton also runs the only emergency room and skilled nursing facility on the Coastside. National healthcare reform is expected to increase the public health burden in San Mateo County by about 50,000 people, Supervisor Don Horsley told the Almanac in a pre-election interview. And if the hospital closed, the county would inherit an obligation of $30 million to $50 million to replace sub-acute care services alone, he said.

The Seton Medical Center in Daly City cares for 40 percent of the county's state Medi-Cal patients, many from the north part of the county where the need is great. "They're losing money so we want to make sure that Seton Hospital continues to be viable," Mr. Horsley said. "If Seton were to close ... it would be devastating to our health plan."

County officials expect Measure A to bring in $60 million annually.

Measure B

In approving Measure B, voters have thrown out at-large elections of county supervisors, in which candidates routinely incur the costs and complexities of running a countywide campaign. By switching to by-district elections, San Mateo County adopts the system used in the state's 57 other counties and reduces the number of registered voters involved in an election by 80 percent. Outreach to fewer voters will likely reduce the costs of running a campaign, opening the door to a more diverse selection of candidates.

Measure B passed with a 58.5 percent majority, with 101,910 voting in favor and 72,347 opposed, according to the latest Elections Office results.

"I'm stunned that it's winning 60/40," Measure B advocate Supervisor Dave Pine told the Almanac in an election night interview. "I would speculate that's just a reflection of how much the county has changed since the last time (this question) was put on the ballot. ... I do think this election will make a fundamental change in the landscape of San Mateo County. This is a historic change."

"It's a resounding victory," said Carlos Romero, an East Palo Alto resident, unsuccessful candidate for supervisor in 2012 and active backer of Measure B. "I think it was time, after 30, 35 years of not addressing this issue."

"I think that passage of Measure B is indeed going to encourage and embolden candidates that have different perspectives to enter into races," Mr. Romero added. A successful candidacy will no longer be limited to those "able to amass a couple hundred thousand dollars and blanket the county."

The question in Measure B had been put to voters in 1978 and again in 1980, but they rejected it in on both occasions. In 1980, San Mateo County's white population stood at almost 71 percent, according to data from a lawsuit filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. The Asian and Latino populations in 1980 were about 10 percent and 12 percent.

Today, those numbers have grown to about 25 percent each, Mr. Romero told the Almanac. With African Americans added in, the county is now minority-majority, he said.

The Lawyers' Committee sued the county Board of Supervisors in April 2011, alleging violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and seeking the adoption of by-district elections to address "racially polarized voting" in at-large elections. "The at-large method of election, together with a racially polarized electorate, has for years diluted and abridged the voting rights of Latinos and Asians within San Mateo County," the complaint says.

Attorneys representing the county, including from the San Mateo County Counsel's office and private firms in San Francisco and Burlingame, argue that the allegations have no merit, referring to sections of the county charter and the state constitution.

Measure C

Voters rejected the idea of having the county manager appoint the county's chief accountant -- the county controller -- thereby maintaining the current system of having the controller run for election. The Board of Supervisors put Measure C on the ballot.

A majority of 59.5 percent of voters rejected the measure, with 101,413 voting against and 68,937 voting for.

The measure would have raised standards of eligibility for the position of controller and restricted the appointment to a maximum of two consecutive six-year terms.

"These are particularly challenging and confusing economic times," the supporting ballot argument said. "Now more than ever we need an experienced professional overseeing taxpayer funds."

No one submitted a ballot argument opposing the measure.

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