This past spring, it looked like California lawmakers would finally take action to address the housing crisis. But the legislative session ended with only one small gain for affordable housing: a bill that makes it easier to build backyard in-law units. Proposals for streamlining local housing approval, a statewide construction bond and outlawing discrimination against people with public housing vouchers all died on the floor.
Years of inaction in addressing the biggest problems at the state level and beyond has forced local governments to shoulder a greater share of the responsibility. This fall, Santa Clara County voters will decide the fate of 32 local initiatives that tackle a wide range of issues, including not just affordable housing, but school funding, urban growth, local land-use authority and term limits.
In San Jose, voters will have a chance to replace contentious pension reforms they approved in 2012. County voters will decide whether to fund an unprecedented local investment in public housing for the most vulnerable residents. Another regional measure would pay for new public transit connections and wider freeways.
Some citywide measures in Sunnyvale and Milpitas would fundamentally change the way those cities deal with land-use transactions and future growth. While bigger cities and the county hope to take on more responsibility by investing in public housing and infrastructure, residents in many smaller jurisdictions are trying to limit the authority of their elected city councils.
And with that, here’s the rundown of local measures. For more information about the Nov. 8 general election, visit the Registrar of Voters website.
The longstanding failure of the federal and state government to invest in affordable housing has prompted states, counties and cities to take matters into their own hands. In Santa Clara County, the plan of attack comes in the form of a $950 million affordable housing bond called Measure A. If voters approve the measure this fall, it would become the South Bay’s largest-ever public investment in affordable housing. As proposed, the bond debt could build 2,000 households for the most vulnerable county residents—primarily the homeless, including veterans, seniors, the disabled and mentally ill, foster youth and abuse victims. The bulk of the money, about $700 million, would pay for extremely low-income and homeless people. The remaining $250 million would go toward first-time homebuyers and loans for people who commute from outside the county to move closer to work. As a general obligation bond, the measure will require a two-thirds vote to pass. To repay the debt, the county will charge homeowners about $12.60 per $100,000 in assessed property value for 30 years. The ballot language also calls for independent citizen oversight and routine audits to make sure the county sticks to the spending plan.
With two transit-linked sales taxes still decades away from expiring, the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) will ask voters to approve a third one this fall. Measure B’s 30-year half-cent sales tax would generate $6.3 billion for countywide transportation projects. Forty percent of the revenue—$2.5 billion—would fund commuter train projects ($1.5 billion of it for BART’s southward extension to San Jose and $1 billion for Caltrain upgrades). Some $750 million would pay to upgrade 24 highway interchanges and another $750 million to upgrade county expressways. Local streets and road repaving would take up $1.2 billion. A transit study, congestion relief and noise-minimizing infrastructure along Highway 85 would come to $35 million. Eight percent would go toward expanded bus and light rail services and 4 percent to bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements. Public transportation advocates have criticized the tax plan for carving out such a large percentage for freeway projects, which they say would induce more congestion instead of easing it. Similar measures in other Bay Area counties inverse the ratio to prioritize public transit over highway expansion. The VTA measure needs a supermajority vote to pass and includes a built-in citizen watchdog committee to keep an eye on spending.
Cupertino’s Measure C would revise the city’s blueprint for growth to limit development of the Vallco Shopping District. The initiative would limit building heights along major mixed-use corridors, increase maximum building height to 45 feet and establish new setbacks on busy thoroughfares.
A related initiative, Measure D, would enact a specific plan for Cupertino’s 58-acre Vallco Town Center shopping district. The plan would require up to 800 residential units with a 20 percent set-aside for seniors, 2 million square feet of office space, 640,000 square feet of retail and room for a hotel, a park and educational uses.
Called the “Opportunity to Work” initiative, Measure E would require San Jose businesses to offer extra hours to part-time workers before hiring new ones. The idea is to provide stability to low-wage employees who often juggle multiple part-time jobs to get by. Workers caught in the part-time grind also lack retirement and health benefits, which makes them particularly vulnerable. The South Bay Labor Council, which collected enough signatures to qualify the initiative, had hoped San Jose’s City Council would adopt it as an ordinance to save taxpayers the $1 million cost of placing it on the ballot. But the council opted to bring it straight to voters. Measure E, which triggered opposition from the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and the San Jose Downtown Association, would only apply to businesses with 35 or more employees. It would also exclude government jobs and allow companies to apply for a “hardship” exemption. Labor groups say the measure would raise living standards for thousands of low-wage workers barely scraping by in Silicon Valley, as well as prevent employers from withholding benefits by keeping people as part-timers.
Four years after San Jose voters dialed down benefits for city employees, they will have the option of reversing some of those cutbacks by way of a compromise on the ballot in Measure F. The deal hammered out by the city and its unions earlier this year would replace Measure B, which triggered years of litigation and an exodus of police officers who defected to agencies with more generous benefits. According to the ballot language, Measure F would “stop funding retiree health care for new employees, potentially reduce costs of supplemental pension payments [and] reinstate disability retirement provisions for injured police officers, firefighters and other city employees.” Critics from the Silicon Valley Taxpayer Association claim the measure would hike city retirement contributions by 36 percent and give 1,000 city workers a retroactive pension bump. But Measure F backers argue that restoring some of the benefits hacked away by Measure B in 2012 is the only way to make people want to work for San Jose. That’s especially true for the city’s cops, according to San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia. Even Mayor Sam Liccardo has come around, endorsing Measure F as both a way to save money and restore the city’s depleted police force.
Armed with a meager arsenal of revenue-boosters, local governments tend to seek voter approval to up sales and property taxes. Santa Clara County has upped the sales tax four times since 2000. San Jose passed yet another quarter-cent sales tax over the summer to pay for essential services like public safety and libraries, while VTA angles for another half-cent increase this fall. But three decades have passed since San Jose revised its business tax. Measure G would double the city’s business tax revenue to $25.4 million while exempting small businesses. The proposal started as a citizen initiative penned by San Jose State sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton, whose original plan would have upped the gross-receipts tax for medium to large businesses. But the city—unwilling to be sidestepped by direct democracy—pitched a compromise that instead raised the base tax incrementally based on company size and adjusted for inflation. As a general sales tax, Measure G requires a simple majority vote to pass.
Proponents call Measure H a tool for Gilroy residents to control how fast the city will grow. The initiative would add an urban growth boundary to the city’s general plan. Lands outside the boundary would be off limits to urban development. The measure has drawn opposition from folks who want to make room for commercial and industrial expansion to keep the town competitive. If voters approve the measure, it would extend those restrictions through 2040.
Farther north, a similar initiative aims to protect an existing urban growth boundary near the base of the Milpitas foothills. Measure I would limit development within Milpitas to the valley floor by prohibiting the city from extending public services to new hillside developments. If voters approve the measure, it would remain in effect through 2038.
A related initiative in Milpitas would require a vote by residents to make any changes in hillside development rules. Like Measure I’s growth boundary protection, Measure J wouldn’t expire until 2038.
Measure K would grant Milpitas residents land-use authority traditionally held by the City Council. If the initiative passes, any attempt to rezone or redevelop parks and open space would require a two-thirds vote from the public.
Measure L gives Milpitas voters the power to affirm or repeal the city’s decision to send its trash to Guadalupe Recycling and Disposal Facility in San Jose starting next year. The contract with Waste Management, Inc., was approved by the City Council earlier this year but quickly suspended by a petition from Republic Services of Santa Clara County, which runs Newby Island landfill and hauled Milpitas’ trash for nearly three decades until this year. Now it’s up to voters to decide whether the new franchise agreement with Waste Management is the best deal for the city.
Called the Public Lands for Public Use Act, Measure M would reassign land purchase, sale and lease authority in Sunnyvale from the city’s elected leaders to its residents. The initiative stems from the city’s decision in 2013 to allow a private school to purchase Raynor Activity Center. A joint-use agreement allowing the for-profit Stratford School to use the adjacent Raynor Park angered residents who filed a lawsuit and campaigned to put Measure M on the ballot. The initiative would revise city code by requiring voter approval “for any sale, lease, lease extension, lease renewal, land swap or transfer of any property facility, or land that the city owns, leases, or uses” for public access or city administration, according to the ballot language. It’s an unprecedented measure that would tie the council’s hands in otherwise routine land-disposition agreements as long as the property falls under the definition of a “community service amenity.” Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone opposes the initiative, as do a host of current and former Sunnyvale elected leaders, including the city’s former Mayor Dianne McKenna, Councilman Jim Griffith and the Sunnyvale Democratic Club. A city-hired consultant’s report estimated that Measure M would risk litigation and cost Sunnyvale taxpayers anywhere from $41,000 to $700,000 per election cycle, depending on the number of land transactions on the ballot.
Not since 1969 has the city of Sunnyvale updated its utility tax, which collects 2 percent from all electricity, gas and telecom charges and comprises 5 percent of the city’s general fund. Measure N would revise the telecom portion of the tax to include mobile phones instead of just landlines, which have become increasingly unpopular as residents opt for cellphones and Internet-based lines of communication. The initiative wouldn’t raise the tax rate—it would simply extend the charge to Internet and mobile phone communication. Email and online downloads would remain exempt. Measure N would result in a $1.5 million annual boost in utility taxes, by the city’s estimate. The revenue would remain earmarked for the same essential city services the tax was designed for: public safety, road and sidewalk repairs and maintaining city parks.
Santa Clara will have the option of giving their part-time mayor a raise from $1,387 to $2,500 a month and the City Council members a pay bump from $832 to $2,000 a month. Measure O—a city charter amendment—would also create a Salary Setting Commission to review and adjust those stipends every two years.
A related initiative, Measure P would impose term limits on the Santa Clara City Council. The proposal—a city charter revision like Measure O—would limit the council to no more than two full terms per office. Measure P was ostensibly designed to prevent the “revolving door” effect of council members taking a two-year hiatus before running for office again. But the initiative would not count retroactively and would not count time served before December this year. Because of the way it’s written, Measure P appears to stand at odds with its intended objective by, in effect, giving sitting council members even more time on the council.
Measure Q is inspired, to some degree, by former Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, whose abrupt resignation in the middle of his term left his City Council colleagues in a lurch. The initiative would revise the city charter to require a four-fifths vote of the council to fill vacancies in elected office until the next general election. Proponents say the measure would motivate the council to appoint someone they could all work with until voters have a chance weigh in.
Should Measure R pass, the city of Santa Clara would be unable to sell public parkland or open space without voter approval. The initiative would shift the responsibility for city-owned property sales and land-use changes from the City Council to the public. Under Measure R, any applicable land transactions would require two-thirds voter approval.
Morgan Hill’s slow-growth initiative—called Measure S on the ballot—would cap the town’s population at 58,200 to preserve local character, “encourage more efficient land-use, conserve water and preserve open space.”
In a bid to keep its small town charm, Los Gatos is asking voters to up its short-term rental tax by 2 percent. Measure T would apply to hotel and AirBnb guests and raise up to $400,000 a year for traffic improvements, public safety, pothole repairs and maintenance of local parks, trails, creeks and playgrounds.
San Benito High School District’s Measure U asks Hollister voters to authorize $60 million in bond debt to pay for science lab upgrades and new classrooms, seismic retrofitting and resources for students preparing for college and career.
A years-long campaign to rein in skyrocketing rents in Mountain View has been channeled into Measure V, a citizen initiative drafted by tenant rights advocates. Measure V is one of a pair of competing rent control measures in Mountain View, where renters make up 60 percent of the population and average rents soared by 52 percent since 2011. The measure would revise the city charter to tie rent control to inflation, as long as it falls within the range of 2 and 5 percent. Under California law, landlords can up the rent by well over 10 percent with a two-month notice and have been taking advantage of Mountain View’s lack of tenant protections to do just that. Like all rent control laws in California, Measure V would apply only to apartments built before 1996. It would also include provisions for just-cause evictions, requiring landlords to give tenants a valid reason for kicking them out. As a charter amendment, the initiative would require another vote of the people to change. Not so with its rival initiative: Measure W.
The Mountain View City Council’s answer to Measure V—dubbed Measure W on the ballot—would also address just-cause evictions, require relocation assistance for renters and include a binding-arbitration clause for disputes between tenants and landlords. The city’s proposal, however, would allow the council to change the law in the future. If Measure W passes, tenants could challenge rent hikes over 5 percent a year by pulling landlords into mediation. The provision for binding arbitration was prompted by public pressure after the council left it out of a rent-dispute ordinance earlier this year. Members of the Mountain View Tenants Coalition responded by drafting Measure V. The council’s decision to put its own version on the ballot as Measure W, to protect their ability to tweak the policy going forward, may confuse voters. But if both secure at least a simple-majority vote, the tenant-backed Measure V would supersede the council’s measure by its strength as a charter amendment.
Voters within the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District will decide the fate of a $748 million bond measure to expand and renovate two campuses. District officials say Measure X would allow them to update nursing, science, technology and engineering labs. It would also pay to expand educational resources for military veterans, bolster campus safety and security and remove asbestos and lead paint at some of the district’s older buildings. According to the ballot description, none of the money would go to salaries or pensions and all would be subject to citizen oversight.
The San Jose Unified School District will ask voters to approve a property tax to support core academic programs in reading, writing, math, the arts and science. Measure Y would require a two-thirds vote to authorize an annual $72 parcel tax, which would raise $5 million a year for eight years until it expires. The measure calls for independent citizen oversight and would restrict funds from paying district salaries. Like many parcel taxes, senior citizens would be exempt.
Voters in East Side Union High School District will be asked to approve a $510 million bond measure to upgrade science, technology and engineering classrooms, remove hazardous materials from campuses, upgrade security systems and replace deteriorating roofs at more than a dozen schools. Measure Z proposes built-in citizen oversight and interest rates below the legal limit. Like the other local school funding measures, it would make sure that none of the revenue pays for administrator salaries.
Campbell Union High School District hopes to spend $275 million in bonds on classroom modernization, facility upgrades, seismic retrofitting and toxic material removal. A “yes” vote on Measure AA would authorize the district to take on the new bond debt, which it plans to pay off by collecting a $30 parcel tax for every $100,000 in assessed value.
The Sunnyvale School District will need a two-thirds vote to pass Measure BB, which would extend an existing tax by another seven years. The tax, which assesses a $59 parcel tax, raises about $1 million a year for math, science, English and technology programs, attracting and retaining quality teachers and keeping class size small. As with most parcel taxes in California, it would exempt the 65-and-up crowd and require citizen oversight.
The Campbell Union School District—not to be confused with the similarly named high school district—hopes to raise $72 million in bond revenue for new classrooms, science equipment and labs, access for disabled students and teachers and new security systems. Measure CC would impose $49 parcel tax for eight years, with exemptions for senior citizens and a requirement for citizen oversight.
Like many surrounding educational jurisdictions in the South Bay, the Oak Grove School District will ask voters to approve a new parcel tax to keep class sizes small and pay for core academic programs. Measure EE, which requires a supermajority vote to pass, would levy a $132-per-parcel tax for nine years, exempting senior citizens and mandating citizen oversight. District officials expect the tax to generate about $3.1 million a year.
The Los Altos School District’s Measure GG would renew an existing $223-per-parcel tax for another eight years. The initiative would exempt senior citizens, require public oversight and provide about $2.8 million a year for the district’s schools to maintain core academics and attract qualified teachers.
Measure HH would renew an expiring parcel tax in the Franklin-McKinley School District, which won voter approval to extend yet another tax during the primary election this past June. Called the Local Elementary School District Achievement Measure, the upcoming Nov. 8 initiative would extend a $72 annual parcel tax for another nine years, with exemptions for senior citizens and provisions for public oversight.
This article has been updated.