Sacramento elects former basketball star as mayor

Chawkins is a Times staff writer.

Sacramento made a former NBA star its first African American mayor and San Francisco proved it’s not quite the anything-goes place that both its fans and foes depict.

In San Francisco, voters Tuesday decisively turned down the chance to become the first major city in the United States with legalized prostitution. And, by a margin of 2 to 1, they thumped a plan to rename a sewage plant after George W. Bush -- a prospect that critics saw as demeaning to the city and unfair to the plant’s workers.

They also chose not to require that all power in the city be generated from renewable resources, probably by a city-owned utility. Opponents, including the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., cast the measure as giving a blank check to politicians.


“People around the country like to think of San Francisco as a leftist paradise where any progressive or liberal measure gets approved without thought,” said Jaime Rossi, vice president of a San Francisco public affairs consulting firm. “But at the end of the day, voters here use their brains.”

Throughout California, local voters decided hundreds of issues.

In Sacramento, they swept Kevin Johnson, a former player for basketball’s Phoenix Suns, into the mayor’s office. After a star-studded campaign with the likes of Magic Johnson and Michael Bloomberg, the 42-year-old Sacramento-area native beat two-term incumbent Heather Fargo by a 15-point margin.

A Democrat, he likened himself to Barack Obama, noting that both campaigned on a platform of change. Race was not an overt issue in Sacramento, where African Americans make up about 14% of the population.

“The mayor stared blindly into her rear-view mirror while Johnson was focused on the road ahead,” said Doug Elmets, a Sacramento political consultant.

Johnson was seen by some as more conservative than his opponent. Unproven accusations of past misconduct with underage girls dogged his primary campaign, but he expressed conservative views that jibed with those of “the business community and the minority of Republicans that live in a very liberal city,” Elmets said.

Development issues appeared on the ballot in many localities. Though about 60% of the slow-growth efforts were approved, one of the most sweeping was defeated with a 24-point spread.

The measure, in Oxnard, would have required a public vote on residential developments of five or more units and commercial plans of more than 10,000 square feet. It was advanced by residents who said they were fed up with the city’s traffic.

In Atascadero, residents trying to block a proposed Wal-Mart were resoundingly defeated. The store’s supporters said the small San Luis Obispo County city sorely needs the sales tax revenue.

On the anti-growth side, Napa County residents voted in a 50-year extension of a law mandating a public vote to rezone agricultural land. The 1990 measure was the first of a series in California that limit development.

“In 1990, it was a ferocious fight,” said Bill Fulton, a Ventura-based consultant who publishes the California Planning & Development Report. “Now it’s motherhood and apple pie.”

As usual, school funding measures -- some $25 billion worth -- were put before local voters. In Camarillo, creation of a unified school district -- a possibility that had been discussed for 40 years -- lost by three points.

In San Diego County, voters would not let developers build a 96-acre concrete structure looming 40 feet over a busy port terminal. While the massive deck would have been crowned with a hotel, a football stadium or other yet-to-be-determined amenities, voters said thanks -- but no thanks -- by a 40% margin.

Among the foes were the State Lands Commission, the area’s congressional delegation and the Secretary of the Navy.

No such heavyweights were lined up against a lodging tax in coastal Encinitas. A hefty majority of residents there approved the levy to buy sand for the town’s eroding beach.