By Richard Halstead
Marin Independent-Journal Staff Writer
Marin residents will vote Tuesday on a number of tax measures and choose representatives to serve on the councils of six different cities and towns, but election officials expect less than half of the county's registered voters to participate.
"I'm thinking it's going to be about 40 percent," said Marin County Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold, predicting local turnout. Ginnold said voter turnout for off-year elections such as this one, where no federal or state offices are in play, is generally low.
There are 151,407 Marin residents registered to vote on Tuesday, and 105,847 of them, about 70 percent, have requested an absentee ballot. By Friday, 27,610 of those absentee ballots had already been returned to the Registrar's Office.
Elizabeth Bergman, a California State University East Bay assistant professor of political science, surveyed the 50.19 percent of Marin registered voters who failed to vote in the June 2012 primary election. Fifty-four percent told Bergman they didn't vote because it was "inconvenient" to their schedule, 42 percent said they were "not interested" in the election, and 37 percent said they simply forgot to vote.
While Marin residents who vote Tuesday won't be electing a new U.S. president or senator, they will be weighing in on several important issues.
Four Marin municipalities — San Rafael, San Anselmo, Corte Madera and Larkspur — will have measures on the ballot to boost local sales taxes. San Rafael will ask voters to approve an additional 0.25 percent, raising its total to 9.25 percent, the highest in the county. The other three towns will seek to add 0.5 percent to the sales tax rates, boosting them to 9 percent. Each of these measures require the support of a majority of voters to pass.
Another high-profile measure on the ballot will be Measure F, a $394 million general obligation bond to pay for a major rebuild of Marin General Hospital. Under state law, Marin General has until 2030 to make its facilities earthquake safe, and the hospital's managers say the hospital needs to be modernized to remain competitive. The tax would be paid by all Marin residents with the exception of those living in Novato; it would amount to about $20 per $100,000 of assessed valuation or about $11 to $12 per household. Two-thirds support is necessary for passage.
In addition, six Marin municipalities — San Rafael, Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Novato and Fairfax — will elect new council members on Tuesday. And, former Marin County supervisor Brady Bevis is vying with incumbents Barbara Dolan, Diana Conti and Wanden Treanor for a seat on the Marin Community College District board.
"I don't feel like there is a unifying theme in these campaigns," said former San Rafael councilman Paul Cohen, who is managing the campaigns of several Marin candidates in the November election.
Cohen said, "I'm not sure one big issue has emerged to dominate in any of them."
All summer Marin was abuzz over the vote on Plan Bay Area, a regional plan that seeks to promote the development of new, more affordable housing along transportation corridors and near mass transit to reduce greenhouse gas production. Opponents of the plan asserted it would result in overly dense development that would ruin Marin's quality of life.
One of the candidates for San Rafael City Council, Randy Warren, has said he was motivated to run by his opposition to Plan Bay Area. And Kevin Haroff, one of the candidates for Larkspur City Council, is serving as the attorney for a community group that is challenging the county's decision to permit denser development at 17 sites.
But Cohen said the housing issue never emerged as a central issue in this election.
"If you look at Randy Warren, he's now trying to stir up interest in other issues," Cohen said. "He's talking about pensions again. He's talking about crime. I think that is because the housing issue isn't the central issue of the campaign."
David McCuan, a Sonoma State University associate professor of political science, said the housing issue, "is an issue that excites a base that is not Marin's typical voter. It activates or agitates a core group of voters who tend to be anti-tax, anti-big government. They're very vocal, but they are a small minority, and they tend not to be well resourced."
Cohen, who has served as an adviser on both the hospital bond campaign and the campaign to pass the San Rafael sales tax, said he is optimistic both will pass. He doesn't believe the local tax measures on the ballot will suffer due to the uncertainty generated by the seemingly endless debate over the national budget.
"I think that people really draw a distinction between the dysfunction they see in Washington, D.C. and what they see going on in their local government," Cohen said.
Last week, campaigns were checking with the Registrar's Office to see how many of the people they've identified as supporters have mailed in their absentee ballots. Lolis Ramirez, who is managing the campaign to pass the hospital bond, said she expects to mount an ambitious get-out-the-vote push on Election Day.
"We have about 60 volunteers coming in from noon until about 5 p.m. and then expect another 40 to come in for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.," Ramirez said. "It will be a packed day."