Reading the minds of voters is always difficult.
But in elections in Santa Barbara and Ventura there are stirrings of an electoral backlash against the extreme regulation of business in the Highway 101 corridor.
By substantial margins, voters turned back height-limit measures in both Santa Barbara and Ventura. In Ventura they also turned back an anti-big-box store amendment that would have prevented Wal-Mart, among others, from building a store inside city limits.
And voters failed to provide the necessary supermajority to approve a half-cent sales tax hike in Ventura, an ill-timed move that comes on the heels of increased state income and sales taxes.
The bottom line on the election is that voters are fairly traditional in their choice of candidates. But when it comes to issues they are wary of solutions that put sharp limits on business or that impose new costs on society.
What we are learning daily is that supersizing the public sector and taxing people at very high levels is no way to run a local government. The cuts we are facing —at the state and local level — in terms of layoffs and furlough days are making it that much more difficult for businesses, particularly smaller ones, to generate the revenue they need to make ends meet.
In order to dig out from deep budget problems that plague virtually all of our cities and counties, local governments face two choices. They can encourage private development and business formation that grow jobs and refill local governments’ coffers. Or they can get out of the way and let things grow organically. In Santa Barbara, voters have sent a clear message that they want the deteriorating urban corridors rebuilt as long as they adhere to the current height limit of 60 feet. In Ventura they have sent a similar message about height limits but they’ve also signaled that they would rather bring in a big box or two in order to grow retail sales tax revenue rather than see taxes rise into what would have been the double-digit range in order to bail out the city.
It will take years to restore city balance sheets — and a complete return to fiscal health will depend on fixing much bigger issues, including the state’s permanent budget gap and looming pension liabilities.
But by rejecting draconian new rules that would directly and indirectly affect nearly every business in their cities, voters in Santa Barbara and Ventura have taken some important first steps.