The City Dweller’s Guide to the Election: Part I (California)

October 23, 2008

Okay, I’ve kept politics out of this blog up till now, but as the November election gets closer, it’s time to start sorting through all those races and ballot measures that are coming up. I though it would be interesting to look at these issues with an eye towards what might be best for Oakland, and for cities in general. This is Part I, which focuses on the California statewide ballot initiatives. Part II will look at local Oakland measures, and Part III will tackle the national race. Here goes!

Prop 1A: Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century
YES. This would be even more important if the East Bay spur of the rail were still under serious consideration, because that would have connected Oakland and the other East Bay cities to what may well be one of the most life-changing infrastructure improvements in California in generations. High speed rail not only provides connections between all of the state’s cities, but it helps get traffic off the freeways, and ultimately may help us get the freeways out of the cities altogether. This initiative will build dedicated tracks for passenger rail to avoid scenarios like the horrible LA train collision earlier this fall. In most parts of our country, freight companies own the tracks, so passenger trains must stop and wait for freight trains to pass before they can go on their way; some Amtrak trains wait for hours to allow a late freight train to pass through. A new system is costly, yes, but most good infrastructure is; we’ve simply grown accustomed to not paying for new infrastructure (and not even keeping up what we already have terribly well). We need a new era of public investment in our facilities. If you’re under 45, this will probably be the most important transportation infrastructure project in your lifetime. Be a part of it, and help California set a new precedent for train travel! A very big YES on 1A!

Prop 2: Standards for Confining Farm Animals
YES. This one is hugely controversial. Basically, it requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. I think that’s a great thing. The argument against it is that it’s too expensive to raise animals this way, so stores will start importing these products from out of state. I don’t buy it. It is similarly “too expensive” to pay living wages to workers in the U.S., and so we import products made by children in Indonesia. The funny thing is that people have started caring about Indonesian kids, and realizing that there’s a tradeoff to things that are cheap. I think the same will be true of raising animals for food. If other states follow suit—and fuel costs continue to rise—we’ll see the relative cost of raising animals humanely drop. In the meantime, I think it will also be a boon for California’s small farms, many of which are doing this already, and for backyard agriculture. A chicken for every yard. Yes on 2.

Prop 3: Children’s Hospital Bond Act
A lukewarm YES.
No, it’s not *that* Children’s Hospital bond measure! This one would benefit children’s hospitals (and hospitals in general) across the state. Is it true that the Prop 61 money isn’t even spent yet? Yes, but that’s intended for grants through 2014, and is a much smaller pot of money that doesn’t begin to make a dent on needs. Oakland’s own Children’s benefits from both measures (and has already completed its Prop 61 work) and does desperately need seismic improvement even if the measures on the last ballot weren’t the right way to get it—and for that reason, I say yes on 3. (The best argument against it, I think, is that the state is already massively bonded and should be avoiding any more debt right now. I buy that, too; if we’re only going to bond for one thing this year, it ought to be high-speed rail.)

Prop 4: Abortion Waiting Period & Parental Notification Initiative
How many times has this one been on the ballot?? No, no, no to creating disincentives for pregnant teens to seek counseling and support for difficult decisions like abortions. An issue for Oakland, as for other communities, because we have a high incidence of teen pregnancy….and they need all the support they can get. I’m not opposed at all to involving parents in this process, and ideally they’re actively involved, but there shouldn’t be a mandate or waiting period that will interfere with teens’ rights to choose. No on 4.

Prop 5:
Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA)
YES. This is another tricky one that will have a big impact on Oakland, where drug busts barely phase me anymore. There are compelling arguments for and against it, but at the end of the day, I say yes on this. It prioritizes treatment over incarceration, and I think we have pretty compelling evidence that California prisons just aren’t working (and may actually be making the gang/drug problems worse). This proposal is based on Prop 36, which has largely succeeded at treating nonviolent drug offenders. This one also includes youth treatment, which is significant—we know that our prison system is failing youth right now, so if this provides an alternative for just a few of those kids, we may have fewer adult offenders down the road. Substance abuse and mental health are woefully underfunded across the country, and I do have faith that, given the resources, many drug offenders can become productive members of our community. Let’s just hope it works. Yes on 5.

Prop 6: Safe Neighborhoods Act/Runner Initiative
NO. Like much of what seems to wind up on the California ballot (have I mentioned what a screwed up system of governance this is?? Remind me again what we pay our lawmakers for?!?), this proposition has a happy sunshine goal, but a pretty misguided way of getting there. Of course I want a safe neighborhood, but this isn’t how I’m going to get one. It introduces a number of unfunded (or partially funded) mandates for counties, cities, and housing authorities, and moves a chunk of funding from crime prevention programs to crime prosecution. More youth will be tried and jailed as adults (yup, we know how well our prisons work for kids!) It’s incredibly expensive (try one BILLION dollars!) for a not-especially-well-thought-out program, too. The list of people opposing it is ridiculously long, and includes not only the Oakland police chief, but also the mayor and entire city council (not to mention most of the elected officials in shouting distance of Oakland, plus many community organizations I highly respect). No on 6.

Prop 7: Renewable Energy Generation (aka “Big Solar”)

NO. Surprise surprise. This is another one that sounds like it should be a good idea, but really isn’t. Clean, renewable energy is great. Done right, it will actually cost us less and establish California as a leader in the field, which is important for Oakland because we have a green jobs initiative to build an urban workforce for energy and related industries. But Prop 7 goes about this the wrong way, and will actually make it cost more. It’s inflexible, so we’re not positioning ourselves to change with the science. And it excludes the small local renewable companies from the benefits, which just isn’t right—they were the ones forging this path long before the big producers got on board. (For what it’s worth, though, the big boys aren’t on board for this proposition either.) No on 7.

Prop 8: Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry
Has your life changed dramatically since same-sex couples gained the right to marry last spring? No? Okay, so why take away someone else’s right—just to be mean? (Smear campaigns aside, this doesn’t change nonprofit status for churches or force new teaching in schools—churches marry people spiritually, not legally, so their practices are unaffected, and schools already teach tolerance of all families and will continue to do so regardless of how marriage is defined.) From a more practical perspective, this one is important to Oakland because our city is home to many gay and lesbian families, especially families with children, who would be very directly affected by losing the rights associated with civil marriage. Let’s keep our communities family-friendly for everyone. No on 8—don’t discriminate!

Prop 9: Victims’ Rights & Protection Act of 2008
Okay, so right off the bat, this one is another constitutional amendment, which should raise a red flag. The California Constitution is not something we should be amending every November depending on how the wind blows. This is yet another proposition that tries to address very real problems with our criminal justice system in a convoluted, not-especially-effective way. Yes, victims should have rights. But they already have the notification rights that are included in this proposition. Should those rights also include being paid restitution before any other creditors? Maybe, maybe not; consider a multi-million dollar fine, for instance, for a criminal who also owes child support. Not so sure that the victim ought to get every asset before the kids. Should the wait for parole increase? Maybe, but amending the constitution is not the way to do that, either. The point of parole hearings is that people are evaluated case-by-case based on the nature of the crime and the individual, so a blanket approach to barring early releases defeats the system. At the end of the day, this proposition throws more people in jail who may or may not belong there, and gets rid of some basic rights like due process. I don’t like getting rid of rights, in case you can’t tell. (Also interesting is that the only major supporter of this proposition, Henry Nicholas, stopped advocating for it after he was indicted for felony drug conspiracy. Oops.) No on 9.

Prop 10: California Alternative Fuels Initiative (aka “Big Wind”)

NO. This is a proposition that was hastily put together by all the people opposed to Prop 7. Yay, I love legislation from the ballot box. Read everything on Prop 7 again, except put “will cost much more” everywhere it says “will cost more.” It still doesn’t do much for the little guys. We need renewable technology, but I’m comfortable leaving that to our legislature to work on. (C’mon, we need to leave them *something* to do!) No on 10.

Prop 11: Voters FIRST Act
YES. Is this going to affect Oakland? Hard to say, but I’ll count it that way. Basically, I have no issue with commissioners drawing district boundaries, and I think we should be redrawing district boundaries as demographics change. The notion that appointed officials are more likely to be corrupt than elected officials just seems a bit off. Right now politicans get to draw their own district lines. (I know, if you don’t live in California, you’re shaking your head in disbelief right about now.) If anything, bureaucrats seem *more* likely to draw them fairly, not less. Let’s give it a shot, at least. Yes on 11.

Prop 12: Veteran’s Bond Act of 2008

YES. This extends an existing program, and with more veterans coming home every day (many of them to Oaktown!), it seems to me that we ought to keep this around. Opponents include a guy in Mountain View, who doesn’t actually object to the act, but thinks it ought to define veterans as those who served in combat, not just anyone who was in the armed forces. Proponents include everybody else. (Okay, that’s a little exaggeration—but really, there basically aren’t any opponents on record!) So I say yes on 12.

Next up: local issues, including the Oakland City Council race and some important local funding measures.



  1. You have some valid statements in your testimony about the props. Although, I have concern to your answer about proposition 7. I have carefully read the bill and examined the opposition. There are several environmental philanthropists and Nobel Prize winning scientists backing this prop. S. David Freeman: solved the energy crisis in 2001. No where in the bill does it say that it will leave out smaller solar companies, in fact the proposition entirely includes them. It opens up their market because PG&E will have to buy the energy from them; the same way they do from the coal companies. I also found that PG&E has been giving money Over $1 mil) to both parties for years. The dem and repub parties are apposing the prop because they have to, they get a lot of money and they don’t want to risk those funds. So it seems like the “big boys” are against it because contractually they have to be. I feel like this proposition is really important to know the real information behind both sides. If the utilities want us to do our job to conserve energy and go green, then they should to! This blogger cleared up a lot of the mis information that we are being fed!

  2. Thanks, Natalie. You’re right that Prop 7 does have several high-profile backers, and it does include some provisions and policies that would be good for renewable energy. Here’s a bit of clarification on my issues with the proposition: it currently contains language that seems to exclude small companies (producing under 30mw) from counting towards its goal of 50 percent renewable power by 2025, which is already an ambitious target. This would have a considerable impact on small energy producers and locally-owned utilities that operate on a small-scale and don’t meet that threshold. Will courts stand by this or interpret it otherwise, as your link suggests? Hard to know, but I’d rather not find out the hard way when we can write it right the first time. Small, local energy firms are important to me, and to Oakland, where the city is working to build a local green corps to employ residents in just those sorts of firms. If anything, I’d like language that gives small firms a status above larger producers (on the basis that less transmission of energy is required for local suppliers, and a significant amount of energy is lost in transmission). I don’t see that here.

    Prop 7 also requires a two thirds vote of the legislature to change these provisions, which I find problematic (true, that’s not unique to this proposition, but given how rapidly this field is changing, I want to see an explicitly flexible method for changing these policies). It also complicates regulatory oversight of new power plants by introducing approval from an additional agency to the mix, and it establishes prices for renewable energy as a means of creating a stronger market; while this could work, it could also backfire, and we won’t have any way to change it.

    Don’t get me wrong—I want to see California leading the nation on renewable energy production and use. But I think Prop 7 may do more harm than good to that end. I don’t believe voting it down puts us at risk of losing ground on the renewable front, either—the market is beginning to demand clean energy, and California’s recent climate impact laws are a great first step at mandating that communities promote renewable sources in other ways. We’ll have future opportunities to put good, solid legislation into place to require and regulate renewables. If we jump the gun on this and put something imperfect into place, we may come to regret it down the line.

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