Registered voters, by Nov. 6, will determine the fates of two Los Angeles County measures– one that seeks to make the office of the county assessor an appointed position, rather than elected, and another that proposes to extend a previous voter-approved sales tax increase for 30 years to further fund transportation and infrastructure improvements.
Long Beach voters will have made their voices heard on two citywide ballot measures– one that proposes to increase wages for certain hotel workers in Long Beach and another that intends to move municipal elections for electing city officials to coincide with state and national election schedules.
The Los Angeles County Assessor has the responsibility of locating all taxable property in the county, establishing a taxable value of all property subject to taxation, assessing property values and applying legal exemptions. The county assessor position is currently elected by LA county voters, since the position has traditionally been seen as more responsive to the public rather than to an appointing authority.
But an ongoing corruption scandal regarding Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, who was recently arrested on suspicion of taking bribes in exchange for lowering certain property tax bills and misappropriation of public funds, has brought into question whether political campaign contributions may influence the assessor to carry out such public duties while in office.
In order to better safeguard against the potential for conflicts of interest and cut down on election costs, Measure A seeks an “advisory” vote, or voter opinion, to make the Los Angeles office of the assessor an appointed position rather than elected. If passed by voters, the measure would require that the County determine a legislative sponsor to place a California constitutional amendment and a Los Angeles County charter amendment on a future ballot to allow voters statewide and countywide to decide if the assessor should be appointed.
While no arguments for or against the measure are provided in the state’s voter information guide, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has unanimously endorsed putting the measure on the ballot.
LA County Supervisor Don Knabe said he has been pushing to make the assessor an appointed position for 10 years, but now the recent investigation into allegations about Noguez has brought the issue to the forefront. He added that, currently, all a person has to have is an appraiser’s license to run for the assessor office position. “At the end of the day, [the assessor] is much more administrative than it is political,” Knabe said. “Obviously, with the Noguez issues, it has a lot more support of it becoming an appointed position.”
Measure J proposes to authorize the adoption of an ordinance proposed by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) to extend a previous voter-approved sales-tax measure, known as Measure R, for an additional 30 years, from 2039 to 2069. The measure would maintain current additional sales tax rate of .5 percent and would adopt an expenditure plan.
In 2008, voters approved Measure R, which imposed a 30-year sales tax increase to raise revenue for transportation related projects, including expanding and enhancing rail and bus systems, improving highways, repairing potholes and streets and suspending scheduled fare increases. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation estimates the sales tax increase costs county residents about $25 per year.
If approved by voters, Measure J would extend the sales tax for an additional 30 years, providing for an additional $90 billion in revenue during that time. The measure is being proposed to “accelerate the completion of Measure R projects, until those projects are complete, and to provide reduced fares to senior citizens, disabled individuals and students and to expand Metro’s reduced fare programs, and other expenses as provided in the ordinance,” according to an impartial analysis by LA County Counsel John F. Krattli.
The sales tax measure includes funding up to seven transit and eight roadway projects, with 15 percent of revenues going to local projects in 88 cities, along with unincorporated areas in the county.
Measure J would carry the same provisions as Measure R, with one exception– the new initiative would allow LA Metro to adopt an amendment (by a two-thirds vote of its board) to transfer net revenues between the Transit Capital Subfund and the Highway Capital Subfund within the same sub-region. Krattli states that the sales tax would only be extended if the Legislature approves pending legislation specifically authorizing the extension. Assuming those legislative approvals are obtained, Measure J would take effect on January 2, 2013.
Supporters of Measure J, including the Committee for Jobs and Traffic Relief, say the initiative would allow LA Metro to issue low-interest-rate bonds to fund projects based on the sales tax extension. Supporters also claim the new measure would ensure accountability through annual audits and public review and would help speed up local highway and transit projects, including seismic upgrades to bridges, tunnels and overpasses, creating over 40,000 jobs in the county without actually increasing taxes.
Opponents to Measure J, however, say the initiative gives LA Metro too much leeway in allocating the potential revenues for specific projects and communities, adding the proponents “overstate job creation possibilities,” that would mostly be funded by state and federal governments.
While the LA County Board of Supervisors is divided on the measure, Knabe said he recommends a “no” vote on Measure J, since it is too soon to be asking voters to extend the previous measure that hasn’t shown any real progress yet. He said the new initiative removes previous provisions that prevented LA Metro from moving funding from one project to another, adding that under Measure J, “one project can take all the money.”
Measure N proposes to mandate that employees, such as waiters, bartenders, maids and bellhops, at hotels with 100 rooms or more in Long Beach be paid a minimum wage of $13 per hour. The measure would apply to about 15 hotels in the city.
If approved by voters, the measure would also require that hotel workers under the proposal be given at least a 2 percent annual pay raise and a minimum five paid sick days per year, while requiring that all service changes, tips, gratuities or commissions be given to hotel workers who perform services for which the charges are collected.
Heavily supported by unions, Measure N, also called the “living wage” measure, was spearheaded by a community-driven initiative to “restore balance” and put “money back into the local economy,” said Christine Petit, a leading member of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, which is sponsoring the measure. She said about 30,000 signatures were gathered to put the measure on the ballot.
Hotels in Long Beach have received millions of dollars in subsidies and have prospered from a thriving tourism industry over the past decades, Petit said. Still, many hotel workers are only paid a little more than California’s minimum wage of $8 per hour, which isn’t enough for hotel workers to pay for basic living expenses, such as food, rent and utilities, she said, adding that many of the workers must rely on public assistance.
“This measure is really about fairness,” said Petit, a Cal State Long Beach sociology professor. “Workers aren’t fairly compensated and yet the hotels are highly profitable.”
Proponents of the measure claim “hundreds of small businesses” support the initiative since it would encourage hotel workers to spend more money at local stores. Long Beach City Councilmember Suja Lowenthal, who signed on to support the ballot measure, did not return phone calls by the Signal Tribune seeking comment.
The opposing campaign, however, supported by the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and major hotel companies, asserts that Measure N is an attempt by unions to unionize hotels in Long Beach, since the measure stipulates that any hotels that enter into collective bargaining wouldn’t be required to follow the wage mandates.
Out of all major hotels in the city, currently only employees at Hotel Maya – A Doubletree by Hilton are part of a union, while workers at the Queen Mary’s hotel are part of a seafarer’s union. UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents more than 20,000 workers at hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers throughout Southern California, has tried for years to get workers at both the Hyatt and Hilton hotels downtown to join a union, but so far their attempts have been unsuccessful.
“[The union’s] failure to organize folks at those hotels led to the union to spend a quarter of a million dollars to go out and gather signatures to put this measure on the ballot, which is a backdoor way of collective bargaining and unionizing hotels,” said Randy Gordon, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “Like trash flows right down the river to our city, this is LA politics flowing right down the river … this is a very, very bad measure … and would really set our hotel industry back.” He added that Measure N would cause hotels to pass costs on to consumers in the form of increased room rates, which would make Long Beach “less competitive for convention business and tourism,” resulting in a loss of local jobs and a loss of revenue for the city.
Petit, however, said that similar living wage ordinances, such as the one passed for hotels surrounding the Los Angeles International (LAX) Airport, have raised the bar for service standards, resulting in a benefit to employees and customers. She said hotels would ultimately still continue to remain profitable from the bustling local tourism industry.
Leigh Shelton, spokesperson for UNITE HERE, said, although the union is a major supporter of the measure, the goal is not to unionize hotels, but to raise standards of the tourism industry, which she said “the biggest job generator” in LA county. “In order for the whole economy to thrive, [hotel workers] need to be making a decent wage,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you have a collective bargain agreement or not, we want to raise standards in this industry.”
Voter approval of Measure O would amend the Long Beach City Charter to change primary and general municipal election dates for electing positions of mayor, city council, city attorney, city prosecutor and city auditor, to match the election dates for state and national races. This would require that city’s primary election be held in June and the city’s general election be held in November, as is the case with statewide elections. Currently, Long Beach city elections are held in April and June, causing Long Beach voters to vote on three separate elections. However, even if elections were consolidated, the city would still potentially have to administer three separate elections, since the measure wouldn’t apply to elections for the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education and the Long Beach Community College Board of Trustees, which are held in April and June during even-numbered years.
If passed, the elected city officers whose terms would have expired in July 2014 will serve until their successor take office in December 2014.
In an impartial analysis, Long Beach City Attorney Robert Shannon states that while there will be a financial impact, estimated at about $1 million, to the city if the measure passes, “the exact nature of the impact will depend upon whether the County will agree to consolidate elections in June and November and administer the City’s elections, placing them on the same ballot as the statewide elections.” However, Shannon adds that the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters has indicated that the County “will not consolidate elections … whether the position of the County will change in the future and amount the County would charge the City for consolidation is unknown.”
Long Beach Vice Mayor Robert Garcia, who has signed on as a sponsor of the measure, said Measure O “makes common sense,” since the measure would save money in the long term and would increase voter turnout, specifically since more voters participate in statewide and national elections. He said “anytime you consolidate anything you’re saving money,” adding that the County is expected to move into a new system, making it financially feasible for the city to move its election schedules. “Every city in California, with the exception of a handful, do it this way,” Garcia said. “We’re one of the very last to hold out and have our very own April election.”
Ultimately, he said the goal is to increase voter turnout, adding that moving the elections will increase turnout by 1,000 to 2,000 votes. “Voter turnout always goes up in November,” Garcia said. “Our current system is not encouraging voter turnout and that’s because voters in Long Beach have voter fatigue.”
Opponents of the measure, however, say that Measure O would cost the city $1.2 million per election, since the County has not implemented a system to add city elections to the ballot. Long Beach City Councilmember James Johnson said the measure would force the city to pay “unnecessary” costs during a time when the City is financially struggling, potentially forcing the city to make reductions in other city services.
“What this does is [cause] unconsolidated elections and force the school district to have their elections in April and the City to have its elections in June and November, breaking apart elections,” he said. “I think it’s a bad thing in terms of additional cost that are going to lead to direct cuts that we can’t afford.”
Johnson added that moving the election dates would cause incumbent elected officials to spend more time campaigning and less time governing, since campaigns would span a longer time period. “It’s going to make local elections more partisan and longer, leading to more fundraising.” City officials elected in November would also have no role in forming the city budget, which ends in October.
Gordon, who said the Chamber also opposes Measure O, said the initiative is backed by labor unions that seek to sway city elections by gaining more union-member votes during high profile elections. “A lot of these union members vote in November only because of presidential elections… and the fact that there’s state and national issues at stake … [this provides for] much more higher-profile voting and it also gives [unions] more time to raise funds for election purposes.”