In the end, history was its undoing.
Proposition 1, the $171-million bond issue to pay for police facilities, could not completely overcome the stigma attached to a similar ballot measure in 1989 that won over the public but then produced only a handful of the new buildings it promised.
However, with 62% of the votes in their favor Tuesday--just shy of the required two-thirds majority--supporters of Proposition 1 believe that momentum is on their side and hold out the possibility of trying again, perhaps as early as the spring of 1996.
"Maybe by next year we'll get those other four percentage points," City Councilman Nate Holden said Wednesday.
"The fact that 62% of the city believed that this is a good thing to do can't be discredited," said Councilman Richard Alarcon, the author of the defeated ballot proposal, which would have raised property taxes by about $9 a year on average. "So I still consider it a victory in the sense that we made people more aware of the need for enhancing our police facilities."
Alarcon would not rule out introducing another bond measure, but said his immediate priority is to come up with innovative ways of funding police construction projects, including new stations in the San Fernando Valley and the mid-Wilshire district.
Other Proposition 1 backers say that the March, 1996, ballot, when Californians vote in the state's presidential primary, would be a prime ticket for drawing out more voters, many of whom did not bother to cast ballots Tuesday in one of the city's lowest-ever turnouts.
But in the unstable world of politics, dynamics and issues are liable to shift dramatically over the course of nine months, making current support of police bonds moot, observers warned.
"What happened [Tuesday] will not necessarily translate to some future election," said political consultant Paul Clarke. "Sometimes, with candidates and issues both, they don't wear as well when they get old. You've got to start from ground zero again."
And critics promised to rally against a revived effort to pass a bond measure, unless the proposal is scaled back to include a "bare minimum" of facilities and a provision to hire more police officers, said Richard Close, leader of the fight against Proposition 1.
This time, Close and other opponents, who raised no money for their campaign, were content to hammer at the theme of broken promises. They argued that taxpayers could ill afford entrusting more money to officials who have so far built fewer than half the projects voters expected to come out of the 1989 bond measure.
Despite pledges from Alarcon and others to avoid past missteps, the message resonated. And other, more recent events spelled trouble for a campaign faced with the hurdle of winning substantially more than a simple majority of the vote.
Few of the elected officials who endorsed Proposition 1--including all 14 City Council members--actively stumped for it, leaving the lion's share of the campaigning to Alarcon, a relative newcomer to the council. Council members cited other obligations, but one suggested that Alarcon held the reins of the campaign too tightly.
A reported flap between the ballot measure's two most visible proponents, Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Willie L. Williams, also may have prompted some voters to hedge. The two men made only one or two joint appearances on behalf of the bond proposal, including one just a week before the election.
"The perception that some of the voters raised in our telephone banks was: Can they really get this done, because they're not talking to each other," Alarcon said.
"When you're talking about such small margins, any one of those [reasons] could've been the killer," he said.
Some participants on both sides of the debate agreed that Proposition 1 had a strike against it from the beginning, when the City Council took a $100-million proposal to finance the new mid-Valley and mid-Wilshire stations and added several more projects--to the tune of an extra $71 million.
Close said he would have not been so vocal in his criticism of the bond measure if it had remained in its original form.
"This was classic pork barrel. Give every council person a piece of the action," Close said. "It started out modest, but in the true fashion of politics, it just bloated up."
Councilwoman Laura Chick initially asked her colleagues to delay the bond proposal until a cost analysis of new police facilities is completed in October. But when it appeared that a majority of the council would support Alarcon's proposal, she recited the litany of other expansion projects that the 1989 bond measure failed to produce. The council promptly added them to the list.
Chick rejected suggestions Wednesday that her action led to Proposition 1's demise.
Instead, with the addition of projects across the city, the bond measure drew greater voter support, Chick said. "It appealed to more than just mid-Wilshire and Valley residents," she said.
* MORE ELECTION NEWS: A1, B13, B14