Berkeley voters decided on three ballot measures during the 2022 election. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/Catchlight

Updated Nov. 18, 9:15 p.m. Election results showed Berkeley’s $650 million bond Measure L failed, while two other measures to tax vacant homes and authorize affordable housing construction passed easily after completed votes were released Friday night.

Measure L garnered 59% of the votes, short of the two-thirds votes needed to pass. The Measure M vacancy tax, and Measure N, which authorizes housing construction, sailed to victory with 65% and 76% of the votes, respectively.

Updated Nov. 15, 6 p.m. Election results continue to show Berkeley’s $650 million bond Measure L is in trouble, while two other measures to tax vacant homes and authorize affordable housing construction appear headed for passage.

Measure L is Berkeley’s biggest-ever bond, and would provide money to repair local infrastructure and build affordable housing if it’s approved by two-thirds of voters. Vote counts released Tuesday afternoon showed the measure had support from a simple majority of voters, but at 57.1% remained well short of the two-thirds threshold.

In a statement after early results were posted last week, Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who led the campaign for Measure L, acknowledged that the bond was trailing but did not concede, saying there were still too many votes left to be counted.

“Going into this election we knew it would be challenging to pass this measure with rising inflation and the ongoing pandemic. However we felt it was important to put this critical measure forward to provide needed funding for affordable housing and infrastructure,” Arreguín wrote. “We are committed to Berkeley, and regardless of the outcome my colleagues on the City Council and I will press on in search of alternative solutions to our most pressing challenges.”

Measure M would create a new tax on vacant homes, charging the owners of houses or apartments that sit unoccupied for at least half the year thousands of dollars annually, though there would be some exceptions.

It is comfortably ahead, as is Measure N, which would give the city the green light to eventually build up to 3,000 units of affordable housing. The least controversial of the measures, it’s the result of a provision of California’s state constitution requiring cities to get approval from voters before building affordable homes.

Measure L

Measure M

Measure N

Measures M and N need only a simple majority to pass.

The bond has sparked contentious debates between its backers — led by Arreguín and the entire City Council — who pitched it as a major step toward solving some of Berkeley's biggest challenges, and critics who charged that the measure is too large and vague about its plans.

City officials pledged to use $300 million from the bond to repair city streets, $200 million on affordable housing efforts and $150 million to shore up other pieces of aging infrastructure. Supporters said that would be enough money to raise streets throughout Berkeley to a "good" pavement rating, and build or preserve 1,500 affordable homes.

But it faced significant political headwinds, starting with the challenge of convincing voters to approve tax increases that average hundreds of dollars per year at a time of high inflation and economic uncertainty. And opposition to the bond wasn't just focused on taxes — it faced heavy scrutiny from opponents who said they support raising more money to improve Berkeley's infrastructure but believe a bond measure was the wrong way to do it, and pointed to a lack of firm commitments for how the money would be spent.

The campaign to pass Measure L had raised more than $380,000 as of Election Day, disclosure forms showed, driven by support from organized labor — particularly unions in the building trades — and affordable housing developers, which would stand to benefit from the infrastructure work and housing construction it would fund. The opposition campaign reported raising around $32,000.

Supporters of Measure M describe the vacancy tax as a way to push more apartments and homes onto Berkeley's housing market, and a step toward addressing the regional housing crisis that would discourage speculation. There was no organized campaign to oppose the measure, though critics questioned how effective it would be in pushing property owners to rent out vacant homes.

A similar vacancy tax in San Francisco was also leading.

Check back for updates to this breaking news story.

The deadline to register to vote online or by mail in Alameda County is Oct. 24, and the election is Tuesday, Nov. 8. We put together a guide to the essentials of how to register and vote, what’s on the ballot, voters’ rights and more.

Here are some other helpful election resources:

See complete 2022 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

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Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...