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Voters take on pot, sick pay, minimum wage and healthcare

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Times Staff Writers

Voters on Tuesday weighed in on a vast array of local issues, with three cities leaning toward relaxed marijuana enforcement and San Francisco on the verge of becoming the first U.S. city to require all employers -- regardless of size -- to provide paid sick leave.

In San Francisco and Berkeley, voters were voicing their disapproval of the current administration in measures calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on grounds including warrantless spying and what were presented as other wartime civil rights violations.

In returns from Santa Monica, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, voters were siding with proposals requiring local police to make marijuana arrests their lowest priority. Financed largely by Ohio insurance magnate Peter Lewis, the measures were opposed by many police officers, who described the issues as unnecessary and a possible obstacle to investigating major crimes.

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“I think voters here have sent a really clear message -- that the war on drugs has failed and it’s time for a new approach,” said Lara Cassell, an organizer of the effort in Santa Barbara.

In San Francisco and Santa Cruz, worker advocates pushed measures that alarmed small business owners. The San Francisco sick leave measure -- which would apply even to part-time and temporary help -- was placed on the ballot on the last possible day by four county supervisors and is backed by the group Young Workers United. As the evening wore on, the measure appeared to be headed for victory, to the chagrin of some business groups.

“For this to end up on the ballot, let alone passing without any public comment, without any discussion, is more than unfortunate. It’s outrageous,” said San Francisco Chamber of Commerce President Steve Falk. “This amounts to a 3.5% increase in costs for all businesses that don’t provide sick days now, without any discussion of alternatives.”

Voters in Santa Cruz, meanwhile, seemed doubtful about a citywide boost in the minimum wage, to $9.25, with automatic yearly increases. San Francisco, Santa Fe, N.M., and Washington, D.C., have similar citywide minimums, and proponent Nora Hochman said Santa Cruz needs one because it has “Burger King wage levels” with some of the steepest housing and gas prices in the country.

“My nickname is Nora ‘You’re ruining Santa Cruz’ Hochman,” she said. “The perception is business is going to fail wholesale. Well, that hasn’t happened in any other community, and it’s not going to happen here.”

Also in Santa Cruz, voters were picking sides in a nasty town versus gown dispute, with the city seeking to curtail campus growth. On Tuesday, they appeared to heavily favor a measure barring the city from providing services to UC Santa Cruz until the university agrees to offset environmental strains.

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Development measures in San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara counties also were bitterly debated before Tuesday’s election. In San Luis Obispo County, voters were on the way to approving a long-debated shopping center that was designed to placate environmentalists with a butterfly preserve, an organic farm and more.

In Santa Clara County, a measure that would restrict development on ranchland and open hillsides was trailing late in the evening. Proponents called it a key to smart-growth policies, while opponents saw it as an attack on private property rights.

In several areas across the state, rural hospitals captured the attention of voters.

Nowhere was the situation as stark as in Trinity County, where officials had said that if two tax measures failed, they would be forced to begin shutting down the public hospital Wednesday.

That would have left no emergency room in the remote county, hours from the nearest hospital. On Tuesday night, the measures were approved by a wide margin.

“It’s a huge thing for the community,” said County Administrator Larry Layton, who said layoff notices had already been drafted. “They got what they need to keep the hospital in continuous operation.”

In Mendocino County, voters were asked to choose between the recently deceased longtime incumbent, Norm Vroman, and his challenger, attorney Meredith Lintott. If Vroman wins, the Board of Supervisors will appoint a successor. Meanwhile, the acting district attorney has gone to court seeking a special election.

No matter the outcome, the 1st District Court of Appeal has ordered the results sealed, for now.

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lee.romney@latimes.com steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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