In little-watched election LA mayor's big win is development

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2017 7:43 PM
In little-watched election LA mayor's big win is development

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mayor Eric Garcetti claimed a second term in a walkaway election, but his real victory came in beating back restrictions on denser, high-rise development that he sees as part of the antidote to L.A.'s notorious traffic and smog.

The horizon of a new Los Angeles can be seen in towering construction cranes looming over Hollywood and downtown. The city is the cradle of the car culture but as more buildings reach skyward some neighborhoods fear Los Angeles is in danger of becoming a sunnier, West Coast version of Manhattan.

In downtown, the Wilshire Grand Center, scheduled to be completed this year, will be 73 stories or about 1,100 feet tall, making it the tallest building on the West Coast.

In Tuesday's election, the slow-growth proposal known as Measure S challenged Garcetti's vision for building thousands of new apartments clustered around a growing network of subway and rail stations. He's also sought to make the city's car-choked thoroughfares more alluring to walkers.

It's supporters argued that City Hall too often bends to politically connected developers whose large projects with high rents drive out lower-income residents, contributing to homelessness and increasing congestion. However, the attempt to yoke large-scale development was soundly defeated, 69 percent to 31 percent, according to unofficial returns.

The vote shows Angelenos want to "take full advantage of our 21st century transit system," Ron Miller of the Los Angeles-Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council said in a statement.

The fight over development went to a core issue as Los Angeles continues to grow — what the city should look like in years to come. For now, it was an endorsement of the mayor and his policies that are trying to encourage people to leave their cars behind.

Garcetti, 46, claimed over 80 percent of the vote against 10 little-known rivals, after building a wide fundraising edge and successfully discouraging competition. But his crushing victory also has to be considered in light of the meager turnout Tuesday and the absence of strong opponents.

Voters in the city of 4 million often shrug at local politics. On Tuesday, only about 250,000 people voted in the mayor's race, which suggests a turnout of roughly 12 percent, according to unofficial tallies.

The mayor had just over 200,000 votes.

A preliminary analysis of mail-in ballots by research firm Political Data Inc. found that those who voted were generally older and whiter than the city's voters as a whole. For example, about one-third of city voters are Hispanic, but Latinos represented 16 percent of those who mailed in ballots.

Older, white homeowners tend to be among the most reliable voters, younger people, especially, minorities among the least.

After greeting voters in a bagel shop Wednesday, the mayor didn't rule out the possibility of a future campaign for governor or U.S. Senate, but added that he's focused on leading L.A.

He told reporters that his priorities would be homelessness, jobs and transportation. He ordered a chorizo bagel, which he joked represented his mixed background, Mexican and Jewish.

"I'm back to City Hall today, the job I love," he said.

Another city ballot measure sets up a new regulatory scheme for marijuana, which will become legal for recreational users next year. Medical cannabis has been legal in the state for two decades. It was widely agreed the city had an unworkable system.

"Today is a new day for cannabis regulations in L.A.," the Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force, a trade group, said in a statement. "It's time for everyone to work together for a safer industry and toward a common goal, so our city can be a model for the state and the world."

A Los Angeles County measure that asked for a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for homeless services got 67.4 percent support from about 550,000 votes. That was barely above the two-thirds threshold needed for passage but there still are an unknown number of mail-in and provisional ballots left to count.

The election came at a time of renewal and struggles for Los Angeles.

Once-dreary downtown has seen a rebirth, and new residents and trendy restaurants have been moving in. A stronger economy has helped bring jobs, including to the tech industry hub known as Silicon Beach. And a region without an NFL team for two decades now has two, the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers.

But poverty rates remain alarming, and tents used by the homeless run for blocks along some downtown streets. Violent crime has climbed for the third consecutive year, jumping by 37 percent from 2014 to 2016. And drivers continue to face some of the nation's worst gridlock, while potholes and cracked sidewalks bring gripes across the city.

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Associated Press Writer Andrew Dalton contributed.