How Berkeley Voted in November’s Lower Turnout Election

by Rob Wrenn

Measure L: The big news in this year’s local election is the defeat of Measure L, the $650 million bond measure. It needed two thirds to pass and only received support from 59.4% of those who voted pro or con. This is the lowest percentage a city bond measure has received since 2004.

Measure L failed to win 2/3rds support in every Council district except in District 3 in South Berkeley ( 67.1% YES) and District 7, the student super-majority district, where the few who bothered to vote favored a bond, that few of them will have to pay for, by a  84.4% to 15.6% margin.

Measure L did worst in Districts with the largest percentage of homeowners. In District 5, represented by the bond measure’s principal author, council member Sophie Hahn, the measure won only 51.7%, its worst performance in any district. In one large consolidated precinct in the Northeast Berkeley hills in District 6, and in one District 5 consolidated precinct bounded by Hopkins on the south, the measure also fell short of 50% support. Measure L also did relatively poorly with 56.5% in District 1, a majority of whose voters are homeowners.

Turnout and % Yes on L by Berkeley City Council District:

Registered Voters Ballots Cast Percent Turnout
Percent YES on L
1 10,435 7,252 69.5 56.5
2 10,197 6,179 60.6 63.8
3 10,202 6,184 60.6 67.1
4 7,300 4,372 59.9 65.6
5 11,986 9,115 76 51.7
6 9,969 7,131 71.5 53.5
7 2,432 1,061 43.6 84.4
8 9,120 6,134 67.3 60.8
Citywide 71,641 47,428 66.2 59.4

Measure L, a bond measure, required a two-thirds vote to pass

Measure L is by far the biggest City of Berkeley bond the City Council has ever put on the ballot, and was also substantially larger than any School District bonds. The next largest city bond was the $135 million affordable housing bond which passed easily with 77.5% voting in favor in 2018. In March 2020, a $380 million Berkeley Unified School District bond, passed with 80.5% support. Historically, bond measures and most tax measures have done well in Berkeley.

Measure L was defeated despite record spending by supporters and unanimous support on the City Council. To date contributions totaling $412,141.00 have been reported. This is substantially more than has been raised in support of previous bond measures. Contributions were generally large and many came from groups and businesses who could benefit from passage of bond, including building trades unions and construction companies. Non-profit affordable housing developers, who had contributed to support Measure O in 2018, also contributed to this bond which promised local funds for affordable housing which could be used to leverage other public funds. Local elected officials who backed the bond also contributed.

Among those who voted in Berkeley this year, 94.2% cast a vote pro or con for Measure L. Fewer people left their ballot blank on L than on other local races or on bond measures in previous years.

While there have been ballot arguments submitted against almost all previous bond measures, this year’s argument against and rebuttal were signed by three former City Council members, Laurie Capitelli, Shirley Dean (also a former mayor) and Carla Woodworth.  Most previous bond measures have not drawn active opposition campaigns. Little money has been raised in opposition to previous bond measures. This year, opponents raised $32,433.27 from 126 contributors according to campaign filings to date. This helped fund an active grassroots campaign with signs and mailers.


A look back at City of Berkeley and School District Bond Measures, 2008 to 2022

City of Berkeley Measures

Year Bond Measure Amount of bond YES votes % YES votes Contributions in support
2022 L: Streets, sidewalks, Civic Center, underground utility wires, affordable housing, pedestrian, bike safety $650 million 26,545 59.4%
2018 O: Affordable housing $135 million 42,384 77.50% $302,299.64*
2016 T1: Infrastructure, facilities $100 million 50,413 86.60% $35,482.29
2012 M: Streets and Watershed improvements $30 million 37,998 73.30% $6,270.79**
2012 N: Warm Water and Willard Pools $19.4 million 31,671 62.4% (failed) $25,883.00***
2010 C: Warm Water Pool & Pools renovation (June election) $22.5 million
Also special tax to finance indebtedness
16,341 62.2% (failed) $41,091.06
2008 FF: Renovate branch libraries $26 million 37,973 68.00% $87,420.00

Berkeley Unified School District Bond Measures

2020 G: (March primary election) $380 million 37,403 80.50% $166,227.78†
2010 I: School Facilities $210 million 31,723 77.20% $128,526.96††

*also in support of Measure P transfer tax increase for homeless services. ** also in opposition to Measure U.
*** also support for companion Measure O that would have provided operating revenue for the pools; that measure also failed to pass
† also support for Measures E and H, educator recruitment and retention parcel tax and school maintenance parcel tax (replacing earlier tax
†† also support for Measure H, School Maintenance parcel tax.
*also in support of Measure P transfer tax increase for homeless services.    ** also in opposition to Measure U.

*** also support for companion Measure O that would have provided operating revenue for the pools; that measure also failed to pass

† also support for Measures E and H, educator recruitment and retention parcel tax and school maintenance parcel tax (replacing earlier tax

†† also support for Measure H, School Maintenance parcel tax.

Measure M: the vacancy tax measure, did better than Measure L, winning 64.9% of the vote. As the revenue that would be generated is not earmarked for any particular purpose, it only required a simple majority to pass. In Districts 1 and 5, Measure M did substantially better than Measure L; while in District 6 it did only slightly better. In District 7, the student district, Measure M got a smaller percentage that Measure L, the only district where M did worse than L. Compared to a previous housing related tax measure, 2016’s Measure U-1, Measure M did not do that well. Measure U-1, which increased the business license tax on rental housing to raise funds for affordable housing, passed with 75% support (in a Presidential Election year), despite heavy spending against the measure by rental property owners. Measures like L and M would likely have fared better in a higher turnout Presidential election year when more students and tenants typically vote.

Turnout: Turnout for the November election in Berkeley was substantially lower than it was in the last midterm election in 2018. Close to 11,000 fewer people voted, for a turnout of 66.2%, which nonetheless was higher than the 53.3% turnout countywide. Turnout in Berkeley in recent decades has always been higher in Presidential Election years and the drop off from 2020 is even greater, about 17,000 voters. The number of people registered to vote in Berkeley was the lowest since 2006, despite the increase in Berkeley’s population as considerable additional housing has been built over the last 25 years.

Turnout was lower in majority tenant districts like Districts 3 and 4 than in predominantly homeowner districts like 5 and 6. The student super-majority district, District 7 had both a very low rate of voter registration and a low turnout of those who were registered. Only 2432 students registered in District 7 and only 1,061 votes were cast there.  More than 8 votes were cast in District 5 for every 1 vote cast in District 7. Within District 4, the consolidated precinct comprising downtown and a little bit of the Southside, where many students live, had a 45% turnout, while the consolidated  precinct encompassing the neighborhoods west of Martin Luther King had an 68% turnout and more than twice as many votes were cast there.


Turnout in Berkeley, November Elections, 2002-2022
Year Registration Ballots Cast Turnout (%)
2022 71,641 47,428* 66.20%
2020 79,072 64,450 81.5
2018 79,154 58,367 73.7
2016 83,778 65,430 78.1
2014 79,928 40,301 50.4
2012 82,104 60,559 73.7
2010 78,631 49,640 63.1
2008 86,020 66,703 77.5
2006 69,780 46,166 66.2
2004 78,638 60,818 77.3
2002 70,184 41,363 58.9

*The Statement of Vote reports slightly different figures for “Voters Cast” with results for different offices; 47,394 for state props, 47,412 for governor and some state offices. The  number I have used is the one reported for local measures L and M. Differences may be due to fact that there were multiple ballot cards, with different races on each card. Ballots Cast  includes undervotes (leaving the ballot blank for a particular office, measure or proposition) and overvotes (voting for more candidates than are allowed for that office).


Rent Board and School Board

This year’s lower turnout had an impact on the Rent Board race. For the first time, a candidate who was not part of a slate, Stefan Elgstrand, was elected, finishing fourth in the race for five seats. The Right to Housing slate candidates led in all five seats in 17 out of 28 consolidated precincts, including all consolidated precincts in Districts 2, 3, 4 and 7 and and two out of three in District 1. Elgstrand did not finish in the top five in any of the precincts in these districts.

Elgstrand, whose ballot statement was signed by Mayor Arreguin and six of eight councilmembers, did best in the hills, and came in first in five consolidated homeowner precincts in Districts 5, 6 and 8. Incumbent Rent Board Commissioner Soli Alpert was the slate’s top vote getter and he came in first in the precincts where Elgstrand did not finish first.

The Right to Housing slate was only endorsed by two councilmbers, Ben Bartlett and Kate Harrison, who both represent majority tenant districts. Elgstrand finished 1482 votes ahead of sixth place Right to Housing candidate Negeene Mosaed, and that margin is certainly related to the lower turnout in tenant and student areas compared to that in the hills and homeowner neighborhoods. People who turned in or mailed in ballots closer to or on  Election Day were more likely to vote for slate candidates. The Right to Housing slate did not have a very visible campaign in the first weeks after the Vote by Mail ballots arrived in the mail and that may help explain their failure to elect all five slate members.

In the election for School Board, the three candidates endorsed by the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Ka’disha Brown, and Jennifer Shanoski won all three seats. Fourth place finisher Reichi Lee finished in the top three in a few consolidated precincts, doing best in the District 6 Northeast Berkeley hills and the hills above Claremont precinct.


Berkeley City Council and Auditor

In District 1, Incumbent Rashi Kesarwani came in ahead of Planning Commissioner Elisa Mikiten by a 49.6 to 41.5 margin. Since Kesarwani fell short of 50%, the second choice votes of third candidate, Tamar Michai Freeman, were counted. 53% went to Mikiten, but 27% went to Kesarwani, while 20% made no second choice. The final tally was 3457 (52.9%) for Kesarwani and 3077 for Mikiten (47.1%). Mikiten ran ahead of Kesarwani by one vote in the consolidated precinct east of Sacramento, but she ran well behind Kesarwani in the precinct west of San Pablo, with 34.9%  of the first choice votes to Kesarwani’s 52.7%. In the consolidated precinct between San Pablo and Sacramento, which includes the North Berkeley BART station, Kesarwani had 50.1% of the first choice votes to 42.0% for Mikiten.

In District 8, the only election this year for an open seat with no incumbent, Mark Humbert won by a large margin, getting 63.5% to only 25.9% for Rent Board Commissioner Mari Mendonca, who finished second. In the consolidated precinct that includes the hills above Claremont, Humbert got 75.7% to only 16.5% for Mendonca.

In Districts 4 and 7, incumbent council members ran unopposed. Kate Harrison in District 4 received 3,049 votes, with 29% of those voting opting not to vote for her. Rigel Robinson in District 7 won with only 691 votes, by far the lowest number of votes received by a winning Council candidate since District elections began in 1986. 34% of those who voted did not vote for him. (Some may have voted for a write-in candidate, Aiden Hill, whose votes were not counted because he failed to file as a write-in candidate.) Incumbent City Auditor, Jenny Wong, also ran unopposed and received 36,949 votes, with over 78% of those casting ballots voting for her.

District 7, on the Southside mostly north of Dwight Way, is home to high rise and other dorms, student coops, fraternities and sororities and some apartment buildings. Robinson received substantially fewer votes than losing candidates in other districts. Does it make sense to have a student super majority district if students aren’t really interested in participating in significant numbers in local elections? In the 1980s and 1990s, there was greater student participation in local politics and elections, but participation has dropped off a lot in recent elections.


Propositions 1 and 30

Statewide, 66.9% of voters voted for Proposition 1, the amendment to the State Constitution to include a fundamental right to abortion and contraception. In Berkeley, 95.6% voted for Proposition 1. In Oakland 92.8% voted for it; and in San Francisco, 89.5% were for it.

Proposition 30, which would have increased taxes on incomes above $2 million to fund incentives for electric vehicle purchases and to pay for EV charging stations and wildfire prevention, lost statewide, with 42.4% voting yes. But it won in Berkeley in 65.8% support. San Francisco voters were 65.5% in favor and Oakland voters were 61.7% in favor. Prop 30 was supported by the California Democratic Party but opposed by Governor Newsom. Newsom not only opposes a measure to incentivize EVs but his appointees on the California Public Utilities Commission are still actively considering a proposal that would undermine rooftop solar by reducing the amount paid to panel owners for excess energy provided to the grid.  Electrification to replace gasoline and natural gas is facilitated by solar panels and the purchase of  EVs. Shouldn’t both be encouraged?


Alameda County District Attorney: Pamela Price was elected over Terry Wiley by a 53% to 47% margin countywide. In Berkeley, Price received support from 63.1% of voters. Wiley won three hills consolidated precincts in Berkeley, two in District 6’s Northeast Berkeley hills (one by a single vote) and one in District 8 in the consolidated precinct that includes the hills about Claremont Ave .


A Note about Consolidated Precincts

In the 2016 and 2018 elections, results in the Statement of Vote issued by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters included results from 107 and 108 precincts respectively. This year, results are only reported for 28 precincts citywide along with 3 odd mini-precincts with a very small number of votes located in some unspecified part of District 8. Most of the 28 precincts include results for 5 or more precincts. In 2016 and 2018, some reporting precincts were consolidated with other adjacent precincts, but  each council district continued to report results from 10 to 15 precincts. If you volunteer your time walking a precinct for a candidate or measure, you used to be able to find out how the candidate or measure did in your precinct, but now with the extreme consolidation you can only see how a much larger area voted.

In District 1, in 2018, results from 14 precincts were reported; this year, results from only 3 consolidated precincts were reported. The development of the North Berkeley BART station was an issue in the campaign for District 1 Council this year, but if you want to see if the precincts closest to the station voted differently from those further away, the results in the Statement of Vote won’t tell you. The precinct that includes the station is consolidated with 5 other precincts, comprising all of District 1 between San Pablo and Sacramento.

Perhaps our City Council could be asked to lobby the Registrar to report results from more precincts as in previous years.

You can explore the election results yourself on the Registrar of Voters Web site here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.