While voters were deciding on control of the U.S. Congress and several state houses, they were also voting on 146 ballot measures, many of which benefited plans for smarter growth and land conservation.
Here is a summary of key land conservation ballot measures at the state level, as tracked by the Trust for Public Land:
- Florida voters overwhelmingly endorsed the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative. This funding measure will set aside billions of dollars over the next 20 years for a wide variety of land conservation and open space protection projects including the following: recreational trails and parks, urban open space, farmland protection, historic sites, forestland and wildlife habitat preservation, drinking water resources, and so on. Despite opposition from groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Farm Bureau, the land protection measure passed with the support of almost 75 percent of Florida voters.
- New Jersey voters approved a statewide ballot measure to dedicate 6 percent of the existing corporate business tax for open space, farmland protection, and historic preservation. The measure passed with the support of nearly 65 percent of New Jersey voters and is expected to generate more than $2 billion over the next 30 years.
- California voters approved new funding for land and water conservation, authorizing $7.12 billion in general authorization bonds for water supply improvements, including $1.495 billion for “ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration projects.”
- Maine voters approved a “Clean Water and Wetlands Bond.” The bond will finance wetlands restoration, infrastructure improvements, and the state’s Revolving Loan Fund—all of which will help keep Maine’s water clean. Maine voters also endorsed Question 3, a bond to support small-business loans that will help create jobs, revitalize downtowns, and strengthen the rural economy.
- Rhode Island approved a “Clean Water, Open Space, and Healthy Communities Bond,” which authorizes $53 million for farmland preservation, recreation, and environmental purposes. Voters also approved a separate $35 million bond to support arts and cultural facilities and preserve historic sites. In addition, voters approved a third bond measure that will permit the state to fund $35 million in mass transit enhancement and renovations.
Since the start of the Great Recession in 2008, voters have approved almost 200 public finance measures for parks and open space totaling more than $20 billion. Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land, says, “Americans of all political stripes are willing to make natural resources a priority. . . . For more than 20 years, the Trust for Public Land has seen support from Democratic, Republican, and independent voters alike. Whether voters are ‘red’ or ‘blue,’ they are both ‘green’ and they are willing to vote with their pocketbooks to protect special places.”
Since 1988, when the Trust for Public Land started to track ballot measures involving conservation, voters have approved over 1,800 referendums authorizing more than $130 billion for parks and open space.
Smart Growth America also tracked the passage of local initiatives, saying that “it was a good day for smart growth and better development strategies.” Some key local ballot measures include the following:
- Beaufort County, South Carolina, voted yes on “Rural and Critical Lands” funding, which will raise money to purchase or place conservation easements on environmentally sensitive lands.
- Berkeley, California, voters rejected a measure that would have placed restrictions on smart downtown development and made it harder to create affordable housing and walkable neighborhoods.
- Alameda County, California, voted yes on a measure that will expand and modernize mass transit in their county. According to the San Francisco–based Greenbelt Alliance, “These investments were critical to the creation of walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods with new homes and successful business within our cities and towns.”
- Arlington County, Virginia, approved three separate bond measures that will fund a variety of transportation, pedestrian enhancement, and transit improvement projects, although an anti-streetcar candidate was reelected to the county board. Another measure provided funding for parks and recreational facilities, as well as for landscaping and community beautification projects.
- Cincinnati voters approved a new sales tax levy that will help preserve Cincinnati’s landmark Union Terminal by raising $170 million over five years. This 81-year-old building—a National Historic Landmark and one of the most iconic art deco structures in the country—had been on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Historic Places List.”
- Dublin, California, voted down an initiative that would have annexed nearby Doolan Canyon. The measure would have nullified Dublin’s recently enacted “urban limit line.”
- San Bruno, California, approved the “Downtown and Transit Corridors Economic Enhancement” initiative. This measure allows slightly taller buildings in downtown and along certain corridors, as well as near a new transit station to spur private investment. The Greenbelt Alliance said the new rules “will make a huge difference for the city’s future.”
- San Francisco voters approved three ballot measures that will provide funding for new buses, trains, public transportation, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Another measure approved by voters will provide $100 million to redevelop Pier 70.
- Seattle voters passed a proposition that will prevent cuts to transit service that had been scheduled for 2015 and will expand bus routes throughout the city of Seattle.
- Wake County, North Carolina, voters replaced three county commissioners who have opposed holding a transit referendum with commissioners who favor transit.
But not all of the voter results were supportive of smart growth and public transportation. Voters in Austin, Texas, and Pinellas County, Florida, rejected measures that would have provided funding for construction of light-rail systems.