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Bonds Win Big at California Ballot Box

SAN FRANCISCO - Voters around California approved more than $2 billion of local general obligation bonds Tuesday, while in San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders won a mandate to continue his financial reform efforts.

Of 36 local bond measures on the ballot around the state, 28 appeared to be successful in preliminary returns posted by county elections offices.

The winners included all of the largest bond measures up for a vote Tuesday, topped by the $378 million Palo Alto Unified School District measure, which won handily with 78% of the vote.

Statewide turnout was a little more than 22%, reflecting the lack of high-profile state races on the ballot after the presidential primary was moved to February.

But there were a number of local races that generated heat, including the primary elections in San Diego, where voters gave the Republican Sanders a big victory and a second term. He defeated millionaire businessman Steve Francis 54% to 35%, despite being outspent by an 8-to-1 margin.

Francis ran as an independent in the primary, which was conducted on a nonpartisan basis. In a nonpartisan primary, if a candidate gets a majority of the votes, she or he wins. If nobody captures a majority, the two top vote-getters face off in a November general election. By winning an outright majority, Sanders avoided a November runoff.

Sanders' low-cost campaign touted his financial reforms after the city's pension and municipal disclosure scandal. He got a boost in the campaign's final weeks when Standard & Poor'sreinstated the city's credit rating.

San Diego city attorney Michael Aguirre , a Democrat, will face a runoff against Republican Superior Court Judge Jan Goldsmith. Goldsmith took 32% of the vote and Aguirre took 29% in a crowded field. The two advance to the November general election.

Aguirre - who has spent much of his time in office trying to roll back pension benefits that he says were illegally granted - spent little money and skipped many debates leading up to the election. His challengers bashed him for politicizing the city attorney's office. They also faulted him for blocking a $108 million certificate of participation deal backed by Sanders and the City Council.

San Diego voters approved a charter amendment that creates an independent auditor by a 2-to-1 margin. The auditor will serve a 10-year term and report to an audit committee composed of two City Council members and three members of the public.

In San Francisco, voters approved by a 4-to-1 margin a charter amendment that officials said will stop the growth of the city's unfunded $4.2 billion retiree health care liability.

The plan requires new workers to work longer before they are eligible for benefits. City workers agreed to back the change in exchange for more generous payments from the city's fully funded pension plan.

Voters had two statewide ballot measures to decide - both dealing with eminent domain reform.

Proposition 98, sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the state Farm Bureau, would have barred the use of eminent domain to acquire property for transfer to private owners.

It was defeated by a 61%-to-39% margin. Opponents said the measure, as it was drafted, has the potential to delay or halt much-needed infrastructure projects, even for purely public purposes.

The political action committee of the California Public Securities Association, representing most public finance broker-dealers in the state, contributed $250,000 to defeat Proposition 98.

Voters approved Proposition 99, the other eminent domain reform measure on the ballot. That measure, backed by the League of California Cities and the California Redevelopment Association, imposes a modest - toothless, according to opponents - limit on eminent domain, restricting the taking of owner-occupied homes for transfer to other private owners.

The biggest local bond measure to fall short came from the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, which garnered 53% of the vote but needed 55% to pass, like most school bond measures in California.

For some close measures, the final results could change after absentee ballots are counted.

They include the smallest measure on the ballot, a $715,000 authorization for the Stone Corral Elementary School District in Tulare County. Preliminary results show the measure passing by a vote of 20-15; in other words, the bare minimum needed to gain 55%.

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