North County versus South County is becoming a recurrent theme in Orange County politics, at least according to a city-by-city breakdown of last week's vote on Measure M.
The half-cent transportation sales tax proposal was defeated countywide, 52.6% to 47.4%, in the Nov. 7 balloting.
Using the Costa Mesa Freeway as a rough dividing line, Measure M was rejected overwhelmingly, 60.1% to 39.9% in the north. But the measure edged ahead in the south, 50.1% to 49.9%.
The outcome parallels the north-south split seen in last year's balloting on a countywide slow-growth initiative that was rejected 56% to 44%. In that election, the measure carried in the south, but failed in the north.
Experts have attributed the outcome to several factors, including the county's historical antipathy to taxes and the inability of Measure M proponents to get their supporters to the polls. They also cite a belief among North County voters that the $3.1 billion in tax proceeds expected over a 20-year period would chiefly benefit newly developing South County at the expense of the older, more populous north.
The numbers, gathered from city-by-city election results released this week by Registrar of Voters Donald F. Tanney, tell part of the story.
In Irvine, the only city where Measure M actually won, the margin of victory was so great that it drastically skewed South County totals.
Irvine voters approved the measure 63.7% to 36.3%, and posted a 33% turnout--the highest in the county and well above the countywide average of 22.6%.
North County turnout was 16.5% compared to 24.2% in South County.
The results have prompted some Measure M backers, including campaign Chairman Bruce Nestande, to suggest that Measure M might have succeeded if held during a general election, which draws a far higher percentage of voters.
The Nov. 7 balloting was considered a special countywide election because without Measure M, only a few cities and school districts would have had elections.
Largely because of the results in Irvine, Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley was the only supervisor whose district supported the measure--51.1% to 48.9%. Riley's 5th District is contained almost entirely within South County.
"I've been trying to figure out if this was a case of the north versus the south," Riley said Wednesday. "I've heard comments to that effect."
Riley chairs the Orange County Transportation Commission, which authored the ballot measure.
The election results showed that, in the face of a $2.5-million mail-and-telephone blitz by Measure M's supporters, the tax proposal generally scored the lowest in cities where council members volunteered their time to stump against it--most notably in Costa Mesa, Garden Grove and Placentia.
Ironically, Measure M proponents opted to keep most of their supporters who hold elective office off the campaign trail since public opinion surveys showed that endorsements by political figures might backfire.
Riley, observing the impact of council members who opposed Measure M, asked: "How does one expect the public not to be doubtful about its own best interest when our own colleagues at the city council level encourage a lack of trust in those of us serving at the county level? I don't know how to overcome this kind of thing."
In the 4th District, represented by Supervisor Don R. Roth, a member of the Orange County Transit District board, voters rejected Measure M by 59.8% to 40.2%. In Anaheim, where Roth served as mayor, it lost by an even bigger margin--60.6% to 39.4%.
"When I look at my district," said Roth, "I see that it is an older population, a more stable group of people concerned about their future and living on a fixed income. They are not concerned about roads used mostly by others, and they say 'you're not going to raise my taxes.' "
Roth said he was miffed over the Measure M campaign because it "bashed" politicians and believes now that carefully chosen political leaders could have effectively countered the negative campaign waged by opponents on area city councils.
Roth, however, said turnout was a bigger factor than any north-south rivalry, with North County simply turning out a preponderance of older, more frequent--and more conservative--voters.
The cities with the lowest pro-M vote also were the cities that had been targeted by opponents' campaign mail, said Russ Burkett of San Juan Capistrano, a leader of the campaign to defeat Measure M.
"It was a combination of the mail and the local elected official syndrome," said Burkett, referring to the impact of city officials in some elections.
Burkett said that Measure M was too complicated for many voters and that higher turnout would not have made a difference because some cities with higher than average turnout, such as La Palma and Fountain Valley, also rejected it overwhelmingly.
Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, meanwhile, said Measure M's strong showing in his city was partly the result of years of residents' exposure to transportation controversies, including the planned construction of the San Joaquin Hills toll road.
"I do take some credit for being part of the consensus-building process," Agran said. "We've been struggling as a city with this stuff in a very conscious way. . . . There is something to the notion that all politics is local. But I think in places like Garden Grove, the opposition was apt to see which way the parade was marching and then tried to get out in front of the parade."
Referring to the north-south split, Agran said: "I think there is a division of opinion in the county on the need for prompt investment in rebuilding our transportation system. I think residents in the north believe, with some justification, that excessive growth in South County has overburdened the transportation system and they are reluctant, in their view, to bail out their neighbors to the south.
"In the end, of course, we find that we're all in this together."
HOW THE COUNTY VOTED ON MEASURE M
County % Turnout % YES % NO County Total 22.6 47.4 52.6 BY CITY SUPERVISORIAL DISTRICT 1st Supervisorial 16.5 38.9 61.1 2nd Supervisorial 16.7 38.1 61.9 3rd Supervisorial 17.5 45.3 54.7 4th Supervisorial 16.0 40.2 59.8 5th Supervisorial 25.5 51.1 48.9 BY CITY Anaheim 14.8 39.4 60.6 Brea 16.0 45.6 54.4 Buena Park 12.6 41.3 58.7 Costa Mesa 19.0 36.2 63.8 Cypress 16.7 44.7 55.3 Dana Point 20.3 48.0 52.0 Fountain Valley 24.6 40.0 60.0 Fullerton 17.0 42.3 57.7 Garden Grove 14.8 32.8 67.2 Huntington Beach 16.5 35.8 64.2 Irvine 33.0 63.7 36.3 La Habra 15.3 46.3 53.7 La Palma 23.7 38.0 62.0 Laguna Beach 22.0 40.4 59.6 Los Alamitos 14.5 45.9 54.1 Mission Viejo 20.0 48.6 51.4 Newport Beach 25.9 49.3 50.7 Orange 21.3 44.2 55.8 Placentia 17.2 41.2 58.8 San Clemente 21.1 46.0 54.0 San Juan Capistrano 22.4 45.3 53.7 Santa Ana 13.0 43.0 57.0 Seal Beach 22.9 49.0 51.0 Stanton 12.4 39.6 60.4 Tustin 17.1 40.5 59.5 Villa Park 27.6 48.6 61.4 Westminster 15.4 32.5 67.5 Yorba Linda 15.1 41.3 58.7 Unincorporated area 23.5 48.7 51.3 NORTH VS. SOUTH North County -- 39.9 60.1 South County -- 50.1 49.9
Source: County registrar of voters