Measures aimed at bolstering California's infrastructure, schools and housing proved popular with the states voters on Nov. 8. A host of ballot initiatives were approved including several sales tax initiatives to improve local infrastructure and multiple ballot items aimed at increasing the availability of affordable housing. More than $15 billion in bond measures for school district projects were also on the ballot.
Although the final numbers are still being tallied, the successful measures already represent billions of dollars of new investment in infrastructure across the state. According to Peter Tateishi, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of California, these investments are good news for contractors concerned about the impacts of a possible recession in the near future.
“Funding mechanisms like this are exactly the kind of buffer this industry needs to keep projects moving during a recession,” he explained. “It helps keep people working across the board and help recover from a downturn.”
Infrastructure Sales Taxes
In San Francisco, voters across the county approved Measure L allowing the continuation of a half-cent sales tax devoted to funding transportation projects through 2053. According to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) the tax will direct $2.6 billion in half-cent sales tax funds to transportation initiatives over 30 years
The measure, which required a two-thirds supermajority vote, passed with more than 70% of the votes cast. In addition to extending the transportation tax, the measure allows SFCTA to issue up to $1.91 billion in bonds to fund the projects. It also allows the authority to spend additional funds for transportation over the next four years.
San Francisco County officials sought the tax extension in order to generate funds that can match grants available through the IIJA. The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority estimates that each dollar generated by the tax can generate between $4 and $7 in additional funding from federal, state or other sources.
City of Oakland voters approved a measure permitting $850 million in bonds for increasing housing for homeless, repaving streets to remove potholes, improving traffic/pedestrian safety, and updating fire stations and other public facilities. Measure U garnered more than 71% of the vote while requiring a two-thirds majority to pass.
Two other major sales tax initiatives were not successful. In Berkley, a ballot measure permitting $650 million in general obligation bonds garnered just more than 56% of the vote, falling short of the two-thirds required for approval. City officials said the funds were needed to create affordable housing, repair streets and sidewalks, underground utilities, and enhance buildings, infrastructure and safety.
In Fresno, a measure to extend the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation funds also fell short of the two-thirds support required for passage. Approval votes for Measure C, which would have extended the sales tax through 2057, reached 58% of the total cast – almost 9% short of the required amount. Over the past two decades, the tax has produced more than $1 billion of improvements to state highways, county roadways and city streets, according to the Fresno County Transportation Authority. The new tax would have provided the county $228 million annually for transportation needs over the next three decades.
A sales tax to fund Sacramento's transportation infrastructure seems likely to fall short with only 45% of ballots being cast for it passage thus far. Measure A was put on the ballot through a successful citizen initiative petition drive which required a simple majority vote for passage. The measure had been expected to generate $8.5 billion over a 40-year period.
School Districts’ Infrastructure
Across the state, more than 40 school districts sought permission for more than $15 billion in bonds for new facilities and other infrastructure. Voters in more than half of those elections opted to approve the measures.
The largest, by far, was a $5.3-billion bond package for the Los Angeles County College District (LACCD) slated for facility renovations and job training programs. The measure requires a 55% majority vote and is on track for passage with 61% approval.
As the largest community college district in the country, LACCD has nine colleges and about 229,000 students. Since 2001, voters have approved five bond measures for the district totaling more than $9.5 billion
According to the district, the funds are needed for “urgent and basic repairs such as removing asbestos and lead paint, upgrading gas and sewer lines, fixing leaky roofs, and improving earthquake safety to make our local colleges clean and safe for learning.” The funds are prohibited from being used for salaries or pensions.
Other successful bond measures on this year's ballots included a $350-million bond measure for the Compton Unified School District in Los Angeles County, a $340-million bond package for Rialto Unified School District in San Bernardino County, and a $249-million bond measure for the Santa Cruz City High School District.
Measures voters rejected included a $450-million bond package for Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District in Alameda County, a $185-million bond measure for the Western Placer Unified School District in Placer County, and a $114-million bond package for the Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County.
Affordable housing was on the ballot across the state with voters approving several local measures clearing the way for the development of thousands of affordable housing units. According to the state's Article 34, any low-income affordable housing developments that require state or local public financing must be approved by the majority of voters within a jurisdiction.
In Los Angeles, a measure authorizing the city to develop up to 5,000 low-income rental housing units per city council district for a total of 75,000 additional units was approved by almost 68% of the voters. A measure to establish 3,000 units of low-rent housing in Berkley easily passed with 71% of voters’ approval. While the initiatives clear the way for constructing housing for low-income residents, neither includes financing for such projects.
The City of Oakland was granted approval to develop, construct, or acquire, or assist the development of, up to 13,000 low-rent residential units when 76% of voters cast ballots in favor of the measure. The City of South San Francisco’s low-income rental housing measure passed with 58% of the vote. And a measure allowing Sacramento and cities within the county to develop housing for low-income people passed with almost 60% of the vote.
An affordable housing measure for the City of San Francisco failed when almost 55% of voters opposed it. The item would have allowed the development of certain affordable housing projects as well as continuing to require the Board of Supervisors' approval for affordable housing projects using city property or city financing.
Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
The only statewide measure involving infrastructure was Proposition 30, which proposed a tax on high-income residents that would help fund the state’s transition to zero-emission vehicles. A portion of those funds would have been dedicated for vehicle infrastructure, such as electric vehicle charging stations. The proposition failed when 58.4% of the states’ voters voted “no” in the Nov. 8 election.