Modesto’s Measure I is defeated as final results are tabulated

The Wood Colony area in Modesto, Calif., on Sept. 7, 2015.
The Wood Colony area in Modesto, Calif., on Sept. 7, 2015. jwestberg@modbee.com

After the public was left up in the air for almost a week, final election results Thursday showed the Measure I farmland preservation initiative was defeated by 215 votes.

The Stamp Out Sprawl initiative in Modesto held a slight lead in the incomplete count after the polls closed Nov. 3, but the tables turned in the last nine days as about 16,000 additional ballots in Stanislaus County were processed and tabulated.

The final margin was 50.47 percent opposed to Measure I and 49.57 in favor. The numerical count was 11,526 “no” to 11,311 “yes.”

“We are very pleased at the outcome,” said Chief Executive Officer Cecil Russell of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce. The chamber led a coalition that campaigned against the urban limit proposed in Measure I.

“The majority of the people believed what we were saying,” Russell said. “We think it is great for Modesto and Modesto’s future.”

Former City Councilman Denny Jackman, the primary author of Measure I, did not return a message seeking comment.

The initiative proposed an urban boundary on three sides of Modesto to protect fertile cropland and areas where groundwater recharge is considered effective.

The No on Measure I committee claimed the urban limit would stifle economic growth and lead to higher taxes to pay for public safety services. Measure I backers said it would permanently limit sprawl and protect the historic Wood Colony area west of the city against annexation proposals.

A public vote would have been required for development proposed outside the urban boundary.

Russell said that Stamp Out Sprawl would have added another requirement on beneficial annexation projects, which already are subject to sewer extension votes, environmental review, public hearings, landowner votes and requirements of the Local Agency Formation Commission.

He suggested that Wood Colony is not in danger of being paved for development. “Farmland is still safe; Wood Colony is still safe; so everyone should be happy,” Russell said.

Most of this week passed without a final count for the farmland preservation issue, considered by some as the most important ballot issue for Modesto in years.

Efforts to make the voting process easier for people created challenges to providing timely results for the Nov. 3 election. More than 80 percent of people who voted used mail ballots.

Following the last incomplete tally early on Nov. 4, county election workers spent the rest of last week processing and then counting about 14,000 ballots for an update last Friday. They were not finished.

Late-arriving mail ballots postmarked on or before Election Day are now valid under California law. About 500 provisional ballots, which guarantee registered voters can cast ballots if their names are missing from the polling place roster, also required a careful a review to ensure those people didn’t vote twice.

County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who has served as an election observer for years, said the vote-by-mail ballots created a lot of extra work. “This was the first election where you could count (mail ballots) if they were postmarked on Election Day, and they came in for three more days,” DeMartini said.

The supervisor added, “It used to be you voted on Election Day and it was pretty much over that night. Now it goes on for days.”

DeMartini was among county leaders who supported Measure I. He said the same building interests that opposed the urban limit also fight against requirements in the county to mitigate farmland that is covered for development.

County Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan was duty-bound to follow the rules for processing ballots, while trying to satisfy the public’s appetite for election results. There was no word on whether things could be done differently in future elections.

The turnout for the election was 22 percent, which is typical for off-year elections in Stanislaus County.

On Tuesday, Lundrigan released a list of tasks that her office had completed. It was everything from organizing trays of vote-by-mail ballots to processing seven-day ballots voted at the office, to finishing a hand count for an Oakdale Joint Unified School District contest that overlapped territory in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, and preparing stipends for volunteer election officers.

The last item on the list was running the uncounted ballots through high-speed scanning equipment to finish the count.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321