California election guide
November 4, 2008
You may have heard that there is a presidential election going on, and you probably already have an opinion on who to vote for. But there's also a pile of Propositions and Measures and other sorts of things that you get to vote on. Let's see what we got! Below are my summaries and recommendations, but also links to the proposition text, legislative analysis, and the supporting and opposing websites. My recommendations are based on my priorities and my beliefs about what government should be doing for us, but you may disagree. If in doubt, vote NO on the propositions to keep the status quo.
Proposition 1: High Speed Rail Bonds
This act would $9.95 billion to start building a high speed rail infrastructure for the state. Having rail transportation is undoubtedly a good idea for the environment (and for reducing traffic) and the cost would likely be offset by the savings in road construction and maintenance. But while it may be a wise investment, it's also a large investment at a time of serious budget crisis. The decision to make is mainly whether now is the time to spend the money. I recommend: Yes.
The Derail High-Speed Rail site
Proposition 2: Standard for Confining Farm Animals
This is mainly about chickens. The proposition would make it illegal, starting in 2015, to confine chickens in a space where they can't stand up or stretch. It sounds silly, but there are a lot of chickens in California: five billion eggs per year from more than 19 million laying hens, valued in 2007 at $337 million. (!!!) The main argument against it is that costs would increase and they might take their chickens and go. There is a lot of money flying around in support and opposition to the law. Luckily, you don't really have to weigh the cost of humanely caging chickens because polling is wildly in favor of it so it's going to pass anyway. I recommend: Yes.
Proposition 3: Children's Hospital Bond Act
This would give about $980 million in bonds to hospitals that care for children and infants. While nobody is arguing that we shouldn't have such hospitals, the main argument is that we can't afford it right now and that the money might go to special interest groups (like drug companies) rather than the hospitals. I don't find those arguments very compelling - the cost to the state is a relatively minor $64 million a year - about what we spend on the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Meanwhile, the pediatric population is likely to grow by 35% over the next 20 years, so we'll have more kids in dire need of these services. I recommend: Yes.
Proposition 4 : Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of a Minor's Pregnancy
It would be impossible for me to overstate my opposition to this proposition, which would require a medical provider to notify the parent in writing and wait 48 hours before performing an abortion for a minor. They have laws like this in other state and studies indicate the main effect of these laws is to delay an abortion from the 1st to 2nd trimester, when it has more significant health effects on the young girl. Similar laws have done nothing to increase the frequency or quality of communication between teenagers and their families. Teen pregnancy rates are already falling in California - reduced by half in the past decade - thanks to laws and policies promoting comprehensive sex education and confidential access to low cost family planning services. Let's continue down that road instead of penalizing the health of young girls and endangering those girls who choose not to involve their parents due to abuse and fear of physical harm. I recommend: NO.
Campaign for Teen Safety: No on 4
Proposition 5: Nonviolent Drug Offenses, Sentencing, Parole and Rehabilitation
This would expand existing drug diversion programs, which allow people convicted of minor drug offenses to go to rehabilitation rather than prison. It would also create new drug diversion programs for juveniles, who currently don't have that option, and allow imprisoned drug criminals to take time off their sentences for time in rehab and reduce the penalties for possession of marijuana under 28.5 grams. This would do a lot to address prison overcrowding, and the money spent on drug rehab would be vastly outweighed by the money saved on building new prisons. Combining treatment with incarceration also makes a lot of sense to help prisoners prepare to transition back into society. The main arguments against this are
that it's not sufficient punishment and lets evil drug people run the streets and hurt your kids. I think addressing addiction and cutting back on meaningless punitive incarceration are a good direction for our drug policy. I recommend: Yes.
Proposition 6: Police and Law Enforcement Funding
There is a whole lot going on in this law. First, it gives $365 million to a bunch of law enforcement things: new jails, money to enforce gang laws, juvenile facilities and probation staff, etc. Next, it increases penalties on a bunch of gang-related crimes, like gun possession and meth stuff. And then a whole pile of unrelated stuff making it easier to prosecute gang crimes, like expanding the definition of hearsay in situations where a witness was intimidated. Finally, it would make it possible to try juveniles as young as 14 as adults in some gang related crimes. Basically, it promises at least $1 billion that would have to be taken away from other programs, like schools and health care, to finance unproven programs that would likely result in higher prison populations rather than safer neighborhoods. Gangs are certainly an issue that need to be addressed, but this uses a blunt hatchet to address a complex and nuanced problem from a solely criminal perspective. Even the conservative Orange County Register thinks this is a bad approach. I recommend: No.
Proposition 7: Renewable Energy Generation
This one sounds good - it would broaden requirements on utilities to move towards renewable energy sources (like solar and wind) instead of oil. However, California is already going down that path, and has led the country in fostering and renewable energy over the past 30 years. The things keeping California from progressing are largely federal requirements and regulations that this Proposition can't change. Instead, the complicated scheme it sets up would potentially delay innovations in renewable energy and have unclear fiscal effects beyond a likely cost increase for utility consumers (you and me!). It would also create a regulatory scheme that out of state companies could easily manipulate, as happened during the last energy crisis. People call this "fatally flawed" and "a step backward."Yikes!
Proposition 8: Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry
You probably already have an opinion about this one. If it does not pass, same-sex marriage will continue to be legal. If it passes, same-sex marriage would be illegal and the marriages that have already taken place would be invalidated. I believe that everyone should have the same access to the legal and contractual benefits of marriage and that civil unions are a pale substitute. I believe we should encourage stable, loving families, regardless of the gender of the members. I am proud that California recognizes these marriages now and would hate to see us take a step backwards. I recommend: NO.
Equality for All: No on Prop 8
Proposition 9: Victim's Rights, Parole
This Prop goes together with Pro 6 to create changes to criminal law. This one relates to the parole system and makes a number of changes, including involving victims in the parole process and reducing the opportunity for parole. Many of the provisions relating to victims are already contained in CA law, though, and this would just add them to the Constitution, which isn't really the place for this. It would also reduce the number of parole hearings for which an inmate is eligible, effectively keeping people in prison longer and further exacerbating the prison overcrowding problem. This one is getting pretty universally panned. I recommend: No.
Proposition 10 : Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy
This would sell bonds to fund energy research and create incentives for people to buy hybrid cars - but only those that use natural gas, not electricity. While this promotes alternative energy sources, the way it does it is a bit odd. Bonds are usually used to pay for capitol improvements that will last a long time, like the children's hospitals improvements in Prop 3, or building schools, or other infrastructure. Using a bond to pay for something as short term as hybrid car purchases means we'll still be paying off these bonds for the next 30 years - long after those cars are off the road. This does good things but pays for them the wrong way. Turns out it's sponsored by a Texas billionaire and would end up making him a bunch of money. I recommend: No.
Proposition 11 : Redistricting
Right now, political boundaries and voting districts are drawn by elected politicians. This would switch that power to a 14 person commission made up partly of regular registered voters like you or me and partly of appointed commissioners. Frankly, both groups seem to me equally likely to do a poor job of redistricting, so I don't really know how to figure this one out. The Democratic Party opposes it because a tie on the commission would go to the CA Supreme Court for resolution and the majority of the justices were appointed by Republican Governors and thus are presumably more likely to favor redistricting that would help Republican incumbents. Also, a study predicts it won't do much, if anything, to reduce partisanship in the CA legislature. I recommend: probably no but you might just flip a coin.
Proposition 12: Veterans' Bond Act of 2008
Let's finish off the state propositions with an easy one - bonds expanding an existing program that allows California veterans to buy houses and mobile homes in which to live that they would otherwise be unable to afford. Opponents' arguments are mainly that too many veterans are eligible for this help. This bond is enough for 3,600 additional veterans to afford housing, a fraction of the 2.5 million veterans who live in the state. I recommend: Yes.
no opposition website available
JUDGES - these are endorsed by the progressive legal community
Office No. 72 Hilleri Grossman Merritt
Office No. 82 Cynthia Loo
Office No. 84 Lori-Ann C. Jones
Office No. 94 C. Edward Mack
Measure R: This measure places a ½ cent sales tax on L.A. County residents, for 30 years to pay for certain specified transportation costs to expand the subway and bus systems, make street improvements, and reduce highway traffic congestion. I am a big fan of public transportation, both because of its environmental effects and because it's often the only form of transportation available to low-income folks, so I support this measure. Others feel that a county-wide sales tax should benefit all areas of the county equally, which Measure R would not, largely ignoring the Antelope and San Gabriel Valleys in favor of more densely populated areas. Mainly because I really want to be able to take the subway to LAX, like you'd be able to do in a grown-up city, I recommend: yes.
LA METRO's Yes on Measure R site
Glendora City Council opposes Measure R (no official opposition website)
Measure J: Local community college repair, public safety, nursing and job training. This is a $3.5 million bond to make technological improvements to community colleges in the county. These colleges are essential education and training options and it's crucial to our local economy that we keep them supported and updated. I recommend: yes.
Measure Q: Safe, healthy neighborhood schools. This measure would raise property taxes to pay for things like asbestos removal, replacing lead pipes in drinking fountains, and meeting current earthquake safety standards. Bonus: if you don't own property, you won't have to pay for this. I recommend: yes.
CITY OF LA
Measure A: Special gang and youth violence prevention. This is another property tax increase to fund programs to keep kids out of gangs. The problem is that LA's anti-gang programs have been a corrupt and ineffective mess for lots and lots of years and it's not clear whether what they need is more money or a whole new overhaul. Also, existing anti-gang programs seem to mainly put kids in jails or juvenile camps, which is something I don't want to increase. On the other hand, a major reorganization of the anti-gang programs happened over the past year, and we haven't been able to see whether the changes are helping yet. So - risk wasting money on ineffective programs or withhold money from programs trying to help kids? Flip a coin. I recommend: yes-ish.
Measure B: Update of low rent housing authorization. This is so LA can get a cut of the $2.8 billion housing bond passed by California voters in 2006. There is no real reason to vote against this. I recommend: yes.