Laguna sales tax measure is defeated; 2 other local initiatives win easily

Voters who went to the polls Tuesday in Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa were asked to decide the fates of three ballot initiatives.

Laguna Beach Measure P

In Laguna, Measure P, a proposed 1% sales tax increase intended to pay for placing utility lines underground along Laguna Canyon Road, plus other fire-safety projects, failed, with 53.8% voting no and 46.2% in favor as of midnight, with all precincts reporting.

The tax needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass. It was projected to generate $5.6 million annually by raising Laguna’s sales tax rate from 7.75% to 8.75% for as long as 25 years.

Supporters said the undergrounding effort is essential to prevent fires caused by downed utility lines and that the tax would be paid primarily by tourists.

Opponents called the tax a “money grab” and contended it would drive up Laguna’s cost of living.

The Laguna Canyon Road undergrounding would take place roughly between the Art-A-Fair property and El Toro Road. Other safety projects would be at locations including South Coast Highway, Glenneyre Street and Temple Hills Drive.

Construction could start in four to five years, and the entire endeavor could cost as much as $135 million.

Newport-Mesa Unified Measure H

In the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, which serves Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, Measure H, which would limit school board members to three consecutive four-year terms, was winning easily, with 83.8% voting yes and 16.2% opposed with 121 of 134 precincts reporting.

Under the measure, board members who are termed out would be able to return in the future after a break.

Currently, the seven trustees are elected for four-year stints and can remain on the board for as many terms as they and voters desire.

Current trustees Karen Yelsey and Walt Davenport joined the board in 2006, Dana Black has served since 1996, Martha Fluor since 1991 and Judy Franco since 1980.

Newport Beach Measure T

Newport’s Measure T asked voters to approve an amendment to the city charter to require 55% voter approval whenever the council wants to spend at least $50 million on capital projects using a financing method known as certificates of participation, or COPs.

At midnight, the measure was clearly ahead, with 79.8% in favor and 20.2% against with 73 of 76 precincts reporting.

COPs do not require voter approval like general obligation bonds, which lead to increased local property taxes.

The city last used the COP funding mechanism in 2010 for the Civic Center and Park, a $140-million undertaking that was completed in 2013 with about $17 million in cash and $123 million in COPs.

Costs for the project ballooned from about $105 million at the start of construction to $140.2 million by the time it opened about three years later.

Current City Council members Scott Peotter, Diane Dixon, Marshall “Duffy” Duffield and Kevin Muldoon built their 2014 campaign platform partly on the Civic Center price tag.

Opponents of Measure T argued that vital big-ticket projects such as seawalls and dredging could be hard sells in an election for residents who don’t live along the harbor.

Measure T also made news when former Newport mayors Keith Curry, Rush Hill and Mike Henn and former mayor pro tem Jean Watt sued the city clerk this year in an attempt to have their argument against the initiative run in informational election pamphlets in place of one written by local activist Bob Rush. They claimed Rush’s statement contained inaccuracies and didn’t represent true opposition.

An Orange County Superior Court judge rejected the suit in August, though another judge ruled in October that the complaint was not an attempt to chill free speech.

Bradley Zint is a contributor to Times Community News.