A closely watched Palo Alto measure that would give the city more control over police and firefighter pay and benefits is among a host of local decisions awaiting Bay Area voters on this off-year Election Day on Nov. 8.
The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, which mailed out absentee ballots last week, expects a higher voter turnout than in the last off-year election in 2009, when just 35 percent of voters cast ballots.
Registrar spokeswoman Elma Rosas said election officials expect overall turnout will reach 50 percent in November, boosted by high-interest measures in Palo Alto.
"We think there will be heavy voting," Rosas said.
As was the case two years ago, as many as 80 percent of the ballots cast are expected to be mailed in, Rosas said.
Some 125,000 voters throughout the county will be deciding on measures and candidates for elective office -- 17 percent of the total number of voters.
Here's a look at the election by city and region:
Palo Alto's Measure D would repeal the right of police and firefighters to have outside arbitrators settle their pay and benefit disputes with the city. The measure is seen as a test of the clout of public unions in a Democratic stronghold.
Palo Alto was among two dozen mostly Northern California cities to adopt arbitration. Advocates at the time argued it would protect citizens from public safety strikes. But court Advertisement decisions now bar strikes that jeopardize public safety.
Police officers and firefighters, however, say they need an outside arbitrator to settle disputes because they can't strike. City officials argue that arbitrators to often side with unions -- and that leaves cities unable to control rising pay scales and pension costs.
Voters in Vallejo and San Luis Obispo have repealed arbitration provisions -- and greatly limited the use of arbitration in San Jose.
Palo Alto voters will also decide Measure E, which would reserve 10 acres of Byxbee Park for a possible composting facility. The city's environmentalists are divided over the proposal. Proponents say it would cut greenhouse emissions and decrease the amount of trash headed to landfills, but opponents argue that it could permanently remove parkland.
Sunnyvale voters will decide how to choose their mayor and pay their council members.
Measure A calls for voters to directly elect the mayor for up to two four-year terms rather than having the council appoint one of its members to a two-year mayoral term. The mayoral powers would remain the same, but the council could no longer remove the mayor by a vote of five of its seven members.
San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Gilroy also directly elect their mayor.
Measure B would reduce the annual increase in the City Council's pay from an automatic 5 percent to an increase of up to 5 percent based on the consumer price index, a common inflation gauge. The measure would become effective in 2013.
Sunnyvale voters also will decide four council seats. Nine hopefuls are lined up in the race, which will fill the seats of termed-out Mayor Melinda Hamilton, Councilman Otto Lee and the late Councilman Ron Swegles.
Councilman David Whittum, the lone incumbent, is running unopposed for Seat 4.
For Seat 5, planning commissioner Bo Chang faces attorney Patrick Meyering. For Seat 6, there's a three-man race between corporate executive Steve Hoffman, former Mayor Jack Walker and Jim Davis, a retired Sunnyvale public safety officer. For Seat 7, former Mayor Fred Fowler will compete against management consultant Tara Martin-Milius and community volunteer Maria Pan.
Cupertino voters will decide whether to raise the city's hotel-room tax from 10 to 12 percent with Measure C. The tax has been 10 percent since 1991; the increase would raise an estimated $450,000 in additional general-fund revenues if a majority of city voters approve. Hotel and motel tax rates around the county range from 9 percent to 14 percent.
Voters also will decide two City Council seats. Mayor Gilbert Wong is seeking re-election, while Councilwoman Kris Wang's seat has opened up because she's reached her term limit. Also running are teacher Donna Austin, planning commissioner Marty Miller, environmental entrepreneur Rod Sinks, De Anza College chemistry professor Homer Tong and patent lawyer Chris Zhang. The top two vote-getters among the six candidates win the two seats.
San Mateo County
There are nine contested City Council races in San Mateo County. Races in Foster City and Millbrae feature six candidates running for three seats. San Bruno and San Mateo, however, will not hold elections because their council races are uncompetitive. In San Mateo, planning commissioner Maureen Freschet is the only candidate seeking the seat vacated by termed-out Councilman John Lee.
Patching holes in the municipal budget is a common theme in these races. Every candidate in the Foster City race lists fixing the planned community's structural deficit of nearly $3 million as their top priority.
In Redwood City, there are five candidates vying for four spots on the seven-member City Council, including four incumbents.
Seeking re-election are Vice Mayor Alicia Aguirre and council members Ian Bain, Rosanne Foust and Barbara Pierce. This is Aguirre's sixth year on the council; Bain and Foust are in their eighth year; and Pierce is in her 12th year. The one challenger, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Paul McCarthy, is running a low-key campaign that involves no fundraising.
In San Carlos, two newcomers and incumbent Randy Royce are running for two seats on the City Council. One became vacant when Mayor Omar Ahmad died from a heart attack May 10. His seat was filled by former Councilman Brad Lewis, who won't be running for the seat in November.
Also running are local Chamber of Commerce leader Ron Collins and school trustee Mark Olbert.
Money troubles find expression in local ballot measures as well. Of 11 measures, nine seek to replace money that has been siphoned away by the state or disappeared in the economic downturn.
There are four municipal tax hikes on the ballot, including two proposed hotel-tax boosts. Foster City and Redwood City are hoping to join seven other San Mateo County cities that have raised their transient-occupancy taxes since 2009.
In Newark, three candidates -- Ana Apodaca, Alan Nagy and Ray Rodriguez -- are vying to replace the nation's third-longest-tenured mayor, David Smith. He is not running for office for the first time since 1978.
Apodaca, 38, has been a council member since 2005. Nagy, 70, is a longtime friend of Smith's and has served on the City Council since 1980. Rodriguez, 65, has lived in Newark since 1973 and has been a school board member for 15 years.
In addition, five residents are running for two open City Council seats. Incumbent Luis Freitas, who has served on the council since 1995, will be competing against Richard Bensco, Mike Bucci, Maria "Sucy" Collazo and Jack Dane. The top two vote-getters will be elected. Incumbent Al Huezo decided not to seek re-election.
Newark voters also will cast ballots on Measure G, a $63 million bond measure that would tax property owners $39 for every $100,000 of assessed value. If approved, the revenue would be spent on upgrading and renovating Newark school facilities, many of which are more than 40-years-old. The bond must receive 55 percent of the vote.