California voters defeated a pair of statewide ballot initiatives Tuesday to repeal a year-old gas tax increase and to allow cities and counties to expand rent control, initiatives designed to address two of the state’s most pressing problems.
The defeat of Proposition 6, which would have nullified a 12-cent-per-gallon tax increase that legislators passed in 2017, was the more surprising loss. The measure had served as a symbol of high-tax California and helped energize a state Republican Party that has faded as a political force over the past two decades.
The proposition was rejected by 55 percent of voters, after polls showed it as too close to call heading into Election Day. The tax increase is projected to raise $52 billion over the next decade for roads, highways and bridges, projects the proposition’s opponents said would be in jeopardy if voters repealed it.
Rural parts of the state, where traffic is lightest, largely supported a repeal. But urban voters plagued by round-the-clock “rush hour” traffic killed it.
The rent-control measure — Proposition 10 — appeared doomed heading into Tuesday’s election, and nearly 62 percent of voters opposed it. The initiative would have effectively repealed a 1995 law that limits local jurisdictions’ ability to impose rent control on single-family homes and to set the rent once an apartment becomes vacant.
The measure’s proponents, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), cast it as a nod toward strengthening local control at a time when many of California’s urban areas are experiencing housing shortages, skyocketing rents and rampant homelessness.
But a well-financed opposition, led by California’s powerful real estate and apartment-owner interest groups, argued that the measure would stifle home and apartment construction at a time when supply is short. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom (D) opposed the initiative, as did the influential building trades association.
It also appeared that a ballot measure in Santa Cruz that would have expanded rent control also did not achieve the majority vote it needed to pass. Rent-control advocates say more such measures will appear on local ballots in the years ahead.
But a San Francisco ballot initiative to raise revenue to address a spiraling homeless crisis by taxing businesses did pass. Proposition C, which would raise an estimated $300 million for homeless programs, split the tech community in the city and pit Marc Benioff of Salesforce, who favored the measure, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, who opposed it, against each other in the run-up to the vote.
Mayor London Breed (D), who has made addressing homelessness a priority of her new administration, opposed the initiative, arguing that it would discourage businesses from moving into the city. The measure is likely to draw a legal challenge in the coming months.
In East Palo Alto, a city squeezed by the expansion of nearby tech companies that bring jobs but no housing, voters appeared to approve their own “tech tax.” Measure HH would impose a tax on large office space and put the money toward affordable housing and job training programs.
The measure needed two-thirds of the vote to pass, and it appeared to have achieved that with the majority of votes counted.
By early Wednesday, House races in the state appeared to boost Democrats’ majority by a net of three seats, although demographic changes and recent voting trends had raised their hopes for a better result.
In a Democratic flip, businessman Harley Rouda appeared to defeat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R). Rohrabacher, whose affinity for Russian leader Vladimir Putin puzzled many in his party, had represented his southern Orange County district since 1988. Rouda won a little more than 50 percent of the vote.
Democrats also picked up a seat viewed as a test of their ability to win over working-class Democrats who had been voting Republican. Homeless advocate Katie Hill defeated Rep. Steve Knight (R) in a district representing northern Los Angeles County.
In the race to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Darrell Issa (R), Democrat Mike Levin remained ahead of Republican Diane Harkey with more than half of precincts reporting. Levin is an environmental activist.
But Republicans appeared to be holding onto three other heavily contested seats. In the race to succeed Rep. Edward R. Royce (R), former state Assemblywoman Young Kim defeated Democrat Gil Cisneros in an Orange County district the Democratic Party had considered winnable.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R) also appeared to hold onto his Central Valley seat, and Rep. Mimi Walters (R) held off Democrat Katie Porter to win a third term.