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2020 Election Results for Transportation and Land Use

Thinking beyond the presidency: Here's an Election Day 2020 roundup of election issues related to planning, urban design, and the built and natural environments.
November 4, 2020, 12pm PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Michele Ursi

It's possible that sometime between Florida, Ohio, and Arizona reporting their results for the Office of the President of the United States, a lot of otherwise deeply passionate planners and urban designers lost track of many of the other significant elections on the ballot on Election Day in 2020.

The 2016 version of this same article noted that President Donald Trump's victory speech commenced with a promise to rebuild America. With the optimism of a developer, Trump talked about fixing bridges and schools and rebuilding the country's infrastructure. The Trump administration has yet to deliver on most of these kinds of promises, but there are many around the country who never stopped pursuing a new, more prosperous vision for the country's cities and communities.

That ambition and those visions are apparent in the many measures, initiatives, and candidates on the ballot at the state and local level, and as of this writing, the results of these elections offer more certainty about the will of the American people than the results of the presidential election.

We'll continue updating this post as we find more relevant results. [Updates: Results for several local elections, including San Francisco, Culver City, and Burbank in California, have been added. A second round of updates for the state of Georgia; Atlanta; and Columbus, Ohio have been added. A third update revised election statuses where possible and added results for Boulder, Colorado; Sonoma County, California; Charlotte, North Carolina; Orange County, Florida; and Bellaire, Texas. A final result was added for San Diego and Missoula.]

(See also election roundups from Super Tuesday 2020, 2019, and 2018 for a more complete picture of how issues related to planning have fared on recent big election days in the United States.)

Transportation 

The American Public Transportation Association calculates that Americans approved $38 billion in new funding for public transit around the country with their votes on November 3.

State of Arkansas. Voters approved Issue 1, which continues a .5 percent sales and use tax to fund surface transportation improvements—highways, bridges, streets, and roads.

Austin, Texas. Voters approved Proposition A to support Project Connect—a $7 billion transportation plan and overcame significant obstacles on the way to victory on Election Day.

Bellaire, Texas. Voters approved one of three ballot measures that would set restrictions and regulations on new sidewalk construction—a historically controversial proposition in the city. The votes were close, but Proposition A passed, while Proposition B and Proposition C failed.

Berkeley, California. Voters approved a tax on Transportation Network Company trips of $0.5 per private trip and $.25 for pooled trips. The revenue will be used to fund general services.

State of California. Voters approved Proposition 22, one of the most closely watched ballot initiatives around the country and the most expensive ballot initiative in California history. Proposition 22 overturns a state law requiring ride-hailing companies to treat drivers like employees, rather than contractors.

Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte voters approved $102.732 million in bonds for transportation projects designed to "improve traffic flow, expand bike and pedestrian routes, and build or repair bridges and sidewalks."

Fairfax County, Virginia. Voters approved a proposal that will allow Fairfax County to issue bonds to raise $160 million in funding for transportation improvements in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) system.

Gwinnett County, Georgia. The "Transit Special Purpose Local Option Sales and Use Tax" is the latest effort to get Gwinnett County on board with regional transit system in and around Atlanta, after several previously failed attempts. Alive 11 is reporting that the transit sales tax failed by a very slim margin. [A follow up article reports that the vote on the sales and use tax in Gwinnett County will be subject to a recount, along with the state's presidential election results.]

Missoula, Montana. Voters approved a Missoula Urban Transportation District mill levy that will allow new levels of service and capital upgrades on the Mountain Line bus system.

Portland, Oregon. Voters rejected Measure 26-218, which would have enacted a payroll tax to support the "Get Moving" plan for transportation in the Portland region.

San Antonio, Texas. Voters approved 1/8th of the city's sales tax revenue to raise funding for transit improvements in the VIA Metropolitan system. The redirect of existing sales tax revenue creates new funding for the system without raising taxes.

San Francisco Bay Area, California. Voters in the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara approved Measure RR, which will implement a sales tax to fund improvements on the Caltrain commuter rail system. Measure RR was treated as a political football by county representatives in the three counties before finding its way onto the ballot and winning approval from voters.

Seattle, Washington. Seattle voters approved Proposition 1, which would implement a new transit funding sales tax.

Sonoma County, California. Voters approved a countywide sales tax that will fund improvements for the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. Measure DD, also known as the "Go Sonoma" transportation sales tax, would renew for 20 years the county's existing .25 percent sales tax.

Land Use

Alameda, California. Voters rejected Measure Z, which would have legalized the construction of multi-family housing by repealing the city's density limit of one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land.

Charlotte, North Carolina. Voters approved $44.5 million in bonds for neighborhood infrastructure projects, including sidewalks, bike lanes, lighting, storm drainage, and landscaping in distressed neighborhoods.

Detroit, Michigan. Voters approved proposal N, which will allow the city to issue bonds for $160 million in demolitions and spend $90 million to mothball homes as a strategy for dealing with the large number of vacant properties in the city.

State of California. As of this writing, Proposition 15 is trailing. The proposition would implement substantial reform of the property tax system imposed by Proposition 13 (1978) by removing property tax caps for commercial properties—a reform known popularly as the "split roll."

State of California. As of this writing, Proposition 19 is leading [Update: Proposition 19 won]. Proposition 19 is the latest attempt by the state's real estate industry to spur real estate transactions among the state's elder population. Proposition 19 also would have ended the "Big Lebowski Loophole," which allows Prop 13-enabled property tax rates to be passed along with the inheritance of properties in the state.

Culver City, California. Early votes are trending toward approval for Measure RE, which add to the city's property transfer tax to generate an estimated $6 million per year for essential services including parks, street maintenance, addressing homelessness, youth services, senior services, and economic recovery.

State of Louisiana. Voters rejected Constitutional Amendment 5, which would have allowed local governments to negotiate property tax payments with manufacturers. 

Orange County, FloridaOrange County, Florida voters approved a charter amendment, Question 2, to "prohibit commissioners from altering or modifying existing restrictions on development of the Split Oak Forest, a nearly 2,000 acre conservation area spanning Osceola and Orange counties southeast of Orlando." 

San Diego, California. "San Diego voters show early support for passing Measure E, which could dramatically reshape future development in the blighted Midway District by allowing buildings taller than 30 feet," according to Andrew Bowen. [Update: More analysis on the voting patterns of San Diego residents on Measure E is available from MacKenzie Elmer.]

San Francisco, California. Voters approved Proposition H, which increases permissible uses in neighborhood commercial districts. The planning code amendment would also eliminate public notification processes and require an expedited process for permits of some uses.

San Francisco, California. Voters re-elected State Senator Scott Wiener, one of the most prominent pro-development legislators anywhere in the country.

San Mateo, California. Two competing general plan changes proposed by measures R and Y in the city of San Mateo are losing with the vote too early to call, as of this writing. Measure Y would extend existing density and height limits and blocks developers from opting out of inclusionary zoning requirement. Measure R would also extend current height and density limits with some exceptions in the urban core and transit rich parts of the city. (More background on the most prominent example of ballot box planning in this year's crop of local elections is available here.)

Sonoma County, California. Voters in Rohnert Park in Sonoma County approved Measure D, which extends the county's urban growth boundary (UGB) for another 20 years while exempting an 80-acre area from the UGB restrictions.

Housing

The narrative on various matters related to housing is that voters were mostly willing to approve taxes and bonds to raise funding to provide more services and support for growing homeless populations (with the glaring exception of San Diego). Rent control was dealt a string of setbacks in California while earning a win in Portland, Maine.

Alameda County, California. Measure W, a temporary sales tax increase to fund homeless services including housing is slightly ahead with 100 precincts reporting.

Atlanta, Georgia. Voters approved the Community Land Trust (CLT) Homestead Exemption Referendum, which allows a tax break for community land trusts. Specifically, the tax break extends the city's standard $30,000 homestead exemption to people who buy houses on land owned by non profit land trusts, like the Atlanta Land Trust.

Baltimore, Maryland. Voters have given a large, early lead to Question A, which allows Baltimore to borrow up to $12 million for the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Some of the bond would be used to fund demolitions of vacant properties.

Berkeley, California. Measure MM, a rent stabilization ordinance that will prohibit the eviction of qualifying tenants during state and local emergencies, along with other changes, is slightly ahead with all precincts counted as of this writing.

Boulder, Colorado. Voters approved Ballot Issue 2B, the "No Eviction Without Representation" issue. Ballot Issue 2B authorizes the city to raise an excise tax on property owners of dwelling units with rental licenses. The new revenue will be used to fund a program to provide legal representation to tenants facing eviction.

Burbank, California. Measure RC is trailing in early votes but too close to call. Measure RC would implement more protective just-cause eviction requirements than state law to about 24,285 units in the city in addition to setting new rent control limits and and updating the city's Landlord Tenant Commission.

State of California. Voters rejected Proposition 21, which would have allowed more rent control limits to be set by local governments around the state to address the state's housing affordability crisis. It's the second time that rent control has failed on the statewide ballot in recent California elections.

Charlotte, North Carolina. Voters approved $50 million in bonds for housing projects. "Financing costs for the bonds are included in the city budget, so property taxes won’t be increased to pay for them," according to Keith Cockrell, as cited in the Charlotte Observer.

Culver City, California. Early vote counting is trending toward a defeat for Measure B, which would require voter approval of all interim or permanent rent control.

Denver, Colorado. Voters approved Measure 2B, which will raise the city's sales tax to provide services, including housing, to homeless people.

State of Georgia. Voters approved Referendum A, which exempts nonprofit housing developers, like Habitat for Humanity, from paying property taxes on land owned for the purpose of developing as affordable housing. 

Mountain View, California. An early but comfortable lead is reported as of this writing for Measure C, which would prohibit the parking of RVs on specific streets around the city.

Portland, Maine. Voters approved Question D, which will implement rent control by capping rent increases according to the rate of inflation.

Portland, Maine. Voters narrowly defeated Question E, which would have prohibited short-term rentals except for owner-occupied units, and increasing registration fees for short-term rentals. The editorial board of the Press Herald predicted Question E would gut the short-term rental market in the city.

Raleigh, North Carolina. Voters overwhelmingly supported a bond to fund $80 million in affordable housing investments. The bond will be financed with revenue from additional property taxes.

Sacramento, California. Voters rejected Measure C, a citywide rent control measure that would have capped rent increases at 5 percent and extended eviction protections for renters.

San Diego, California. Voters rejected Measure A, which would have required two-thirds of the vote, to issue bonds to fund low-income, substance abuse, and mental health service housing. The Measure A bonds would have been funded with additional property taxes.

San Francisco, California. Measure A has more than the two-thirds approval required with 80 percent of votes counted. Measure A would allow the city to issue up to $487.5 million in bonds for permanent investments in transitional supportive housing facilities, shelters, and facilities that serve individuals experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges, or substance use. Funding could also be used to improve the safety and quality of parks, and improve the safety and condition of streets. The bond will be financed by an estimated property tax levy of $14 per $100,000 in assessed value.

San Francisco, California. Voters approved Proposition K, which authorizes the city to develop or acquire 10,000 units of low-income rental housing. No specific funding source is tied to the proposition.

Environment

State of Alaska. Early returns indicate that Proposition 1, a new tax on oil producers, will likely lose.

Boulder, Colorado. Voters approved Measure 2C to enter the city into a new franchise agreement with Xcel Energy. As a result, "Boulder will pause its efforts to create a local electric utility and Boulder residents and businesses will remain Xcel customers in a new partnership," according to a press release from the city.      

Columbus, Ohio. Voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 1, which creates an electric service aggregation program. The "opt-out" renewable electricity aggregation plan "promises to supply 100% of the city's power needs with renewable energy by 2023," according to Bill Bush.

Denver, Colorado. Voters approved Measure 2A, which increases the city's sales tax to fund green initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including public transit.

Portland, Maine. Voters approved Question C, which proposes a "Green New Deal" to update green building standards for qualifying projects, along with implementing job training programs.

State of Michigan. Voters overwhelmingly supported Proposal 1, which changes how the state spends royalties and earnings from gas and oil extractions to fund parks around the state. Proposal 1 split the environmental lobby on its way to approval by voters.

State of Nevada. Yes votes prevailed for Question 6, which would require electric utilities to source 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Miscellaneous But Still Relevant

Baltimore, Maryland. Voters are giving strong early support for Question C, which would issue a bond of up to $38 million to fund community and economic development programs in the city, including blight reduction efforts.

Baltimore, Maryland. Voters are giving strong early support for Question D, which would borrow $72 million to issue a bond to fund public infrastructure improvements, including improvements of public buildings and streets.

Berkeley, California. Voters approved Measure KK, which will, among other actions, allow Berkeley firefighters to move beyond the city limits for the first time. The allowance is made with consideration for the high cost of housing in the city.

State of Colorado. Proposition 114, which would reintroduce gray wolves in western Colorado, has been approved by voters.

Hayward, California. Voters approved Measure NN, increasing the city's hotel tax from 8.5% to a maximum of 14% to fund city services, including street repair, emergency response, disaster preparedness, library services and after-school programs.

Portland, Maine. Voters soundly rejected Question B, which prohibits the use of facial recognition by the city of Portland and all its departments.

Rochester, Minnesota. Voters approved a parks referendum that slightly raises property tax levies in the city to fund water and air quality projects and parks improvements.

San Francisco, California. Voters approved Proposition B, to create a Department of Sanitation and Streets ,with oversight from a Sanitation and Streets Commission, as well as a new Public Works Commission to oversee the Department of Public Works.

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