Riverside voters, going to the polls in low numbers Tuesday, approved a $20-million fire bond and reelected incumbent City Councilman Ed Adkison in the 5th ward.
But three City Council races remain undecided, forcing a runoff in January. With 100% of the ballots counted, none of the 18 candidates running to represent wards 1, 3 and 7 received more than half the vote, so the top two vote-getters in each ward will battle it out on Jan. 13.
About a fifth of the city's registered voters turned out Tuesday, among the lowest showings in recent city memory. Mischelle Townsend, county registrar of voters, attributed the turnout to the electorate's political hangover from the gubernatorial recall election, the Southern California wildfires and typical slim interest in local races.
"These elections should be the most important, because they so directly affect the quality of life in an individual's community. But yet they are not as high-turnout as statewide elections," she said.
Townsend said the wildfires prompted overwhelming support for Measure G, the $20-million bond measure that will build new fire stations, training facilities and an emergency operations center in the city. It will cost the average property owner $18 per year.
Fire officials were thrilled, saying the money is desperately needed to replace out-of-date facilities, already stretched in serving a booming population.
"It's a big step," said Tim Strack, president of the Riverside City Firefighters Assn. "There's no question: It's going to make our response times better. It's going to put several stations in better placement.... They'll be in more populated centers where the city has grown. And it's also going to bring the weakest stations up to [seismic] compliance."
In Ward 5, Adkison, a land surveyor who has served on the council since 2000, celebrated his election lead with a victory party at his home.
"I feel there's a vote of confidence here," he said. "I think there's been a lot of things put in motion and a lot of things done in the ward, and I think there's a lot of things left to do that I would like to see completed in the next four years."
The incumbent had a $76,000 campaign chest and a string of endorsements. Opponent Don Walters, an insurance agent, said Adkison "killed me. I don't think I would have much of a chance -- he had [more than] $70,000 to work with, and I did it in less than $1,000."
Walters, who spent the evening, as he does every Tuesday, at bowling league night in Riverside Lanes, noted that despite the financial disparity he received hundreds of votes.
"At least that shows that there are some people out there that are unhappy," he said. "I don't think that's too bad. I might run one more race out there yet."
The race to represent Riverside's 1st Ward was the costliest and most competitive. Nine candidates divided the vote in the ward, which includes downtown and the Wood Street, Northside and Grand neighborhoods.
Fewer than 100 votes separated businessman Dom Betro, the top fund-raiser of all candidates citywide, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Fick. The two men will face each other in the January runoff. In Ward 3, businessmen Art Gage and attorney Mike Goldware had the highest vote tallies late Tuesday to represent the central districts, from the Wood Street neighborhood to the Riverside Municipal Airport.
And in Ward 7, the gap between the first- and third-highest vote-getters was 22 votes, making a recount likely in the race to represent the westernmost portions of the city. Former mayor and councilwoman Teresa Frizzel was in the lead, with retired policeman Steve Adams 20 votes behind. Mary Lou Morales, a retired educator, was two votes behind Adams.