Stiffest opposition to Prop. 105 came from areas with light rail lines or plans

By: - September 16, 2019 6:00 am

Photo by Valley Metro

The South Phoenix neighborhoods where the fight over a light rail extension originated were the only areas in the city where Proposition 105 earned a majority, but voters in every other Phoenix neighborhood where light rail exists or is planned were among the most staunchly opposed to the measure, an Arizona Mirror analysis finds.

Overall, voters in the Aug. 27 special election roundly defeated Prop. 105, a ballot measure that sprang out of opposition to the proposed light rail extension south of downtown along Central Avenue, but which morphed into an effort to completely halt all new light rail projects. The ballot measure lost by a nearly two-to-one margin, with 63% voting it down. 

With the exception of South Phoenix, proximity to existing rail lines or planned extensions translated into overwhelming opposition to Prop. 105. For instance, the ballot measure was crushed in downtown Phoenix, which houses the central hub for light rail, earning less than 13% support in some precincts. 

Those already with light rail support it

In neighborhoods where the light rail already runs, voters opposed the ballot measure nearly four-to-one, with 78% rejecting it and only about 22% supporting it. For instance, along the 19th Avenue stretch of the light rail line between Camelback and Bethany Home roads, voters opposed the ballot measure three-to-one, with 75% voting against the measure. And where the light rail connects downtown Phoenix to East Valley cities, 72% of voters said no to Prop. 105. 

Similar voting patterns emerged in neighborhoods along the city’s next planned light rail routes. Voters who live along the planned “Capitol/I-10 West” extension opposed the ballot measure even more than the rest of the city, with 72% opposing Prop. 105. And voters along the “North Phase II,” which will extend light rail from 19th and Dunlap avenues to Metrocenter Mall, voters agreed generally with the rest of the city, with 62% opposing Prop. 105.

Only majority for Prop. 105 was south Phoenix neighborhood

There were only two precincts in the city where Prop. 105 won a majority of the vote. Both are situated along the planned South Central extension, a 5.5-mile route connecting the city’s downtown core to its south side down Central Avenue to Baseline Road, which has a target completion of 2023. 

In all, 54% of voters in the two precincts south of the Salt River wash, north of Baseline Road, east of 19th Avenue and west of 7th Street, voted for the measure. 

It was opposition to this project in the Spring of 2018 – and its plans to turn Central Avenue from four lanes to only two lanes – that sparked what turned into Prop. 105. 

Business owners along Central Avenue argued that reducing vehicular traffic would harm them and fundamentally change the neighborhood, for which the street serves as both a major artery and a hub of neighborhood activity. They dubbed themselves “Four Lanes or No Train” and lobbied the city to change its plans, but couldn’t convince the Phoenix City Council.

In response, the group drafted a ballot measure to stop the extension plans. Scot Mussi, a political operative who runs the Koch-funded political action group Arizona Free Enterprise Club, approached the business owners organizing against the light rail plans and offered to help. 

Mussi became heavily involved in drafting the language of the ballot measure, and what started as an effort by local residents to stop a project in their community evolved into a push to prohibit all future light rail extensions across the city. The ballot measure ultimately echoed similar Koch-funded efforts to stop public transportation projects in places like Little Rock, Ark., central Utah, Nashville, Tenn. and southeast Michigan. 

Republicans got the message

The precinct-level results also suggest a somewhat partisan aspect to the election outcome. The anti-light rail vote correlated with the vote for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in the 2018 election, in the parts of the city where Ducey beat his Democratic opponent, David Garcia. 

But in parts of the city where Garcia won a majority of the votes, the vote against Prop. 105 did not always correlate with Garcia votes. 

This suggests that Republican-leaning voters, defined as those who supported Ducey over Garcia, supported Prop. 105. But Democratic-leaning voters – those who supported Garcia – voted less monolithically. Some of the most pro-Garcia precincts voted against Prop.105 by an eight-to-one margin. But others that favored Garcia just as much were the south Phoenix districts that supported Prop. 105.

Even in areas where voters favored the ballot measure more than the city as a whole, such as in the more Republican-leaning northern Phoenix neighborhoods and the relatively competitive Ahwatukee area, where no light rail extensions are planned, a majority of voters still voted against the measure. 

Light rail supporters more enthusiastic

Turnout for the special election, which stood at 26%, surpassed that of the mayoral runoff in March, signaling relatively high interest.

But the precinct-level results show a slightly higher participation in areas that voted strongly against Prop. 105. In the ten precincts where Prop. 105 did the worst, turnout was about 32%. In the ten precincts where the ballot measure performed the best, turnout was only 24%.

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Evan Wyloge

Evan Wyloge is a California-based journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, The Center for Public Integrity, the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, the Arizona Capitol Times, Huffington Post, Mashable, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, France24 and Phoenix New Times. He has a master’s degree in journalism from Arizona State University and a bachelor's degree in political science and French from Northern Arizona University.