These are my recommendations on how to vote on State and Local Propositions in Alameda County. Italics signify that I’m less sure about that recommendation. Comments are welcomed. Please also check out my Progressive Voter Guide to Candidates running in Alameda County.
STATE & COUNTY PROPOSITIONS
This is a huge $9 billion bond measure that will fall upon our children to pay back. What concerns me is that $1 billion of the funds will go to pay for charter schools and that the rest of the funds will not be distributed based on need but based on who applies first – a system that benefits large, well-off districts with full-time grant writers. The Express and the Green Party have recommended voting against this measure and I’m planning to do so as well – I have no doubt that there will be another similar measure in a future ballot, as these seem to cycle through every couple of elections.
In California, hospitals that want to accept Medi-Cal patients, must pay a fee to the state. This fee is supposed to help cover the state’s own responsibility for matching federal Medi-caid funds, but some of the money has been diverted to the general fund. This proposition will ensure that it all goes to pay for Medi-Cal or other health benefits for low income people. Pretty much every newspaper and party supports it and it has no credible opposition – so I’m voting for it.
Currently, the California Constitution does not require that voters approve bonds for projects, if the bonds are to be repaid by user fees rather than tax revenue. This measure would expand the requirement for voter approval for bonds of $2 billion and greater paid back by user fees. This will basically add another layer of bureaucracy and increase the costs of building such projects, needlessly. Our legislators should be let to make some decisions on their own. This measure is opposed by the Democratic, Green and Peace and Freedom Party as well as the Express and other papers. It’s supported by Republicans and Libertarians. I hesitated on this proposition as it could be used to kill the aqueducts that will drain the delta to water central California, but we really should let legislators legislate.
This measure is a no brainer. It will require that bills be posted online 72 hours prior to voting, it will require that the Legislature record its proceedings and post them online within 24 hours and will allow any citizen to record legislative proceedings. Basically, it brings a little bit more transparency to the Legislature, in line with what is done by most City Councils. The proposition is supported by the Green Party and most newspaper. It’s opposed by the Democratic Party because it would prevent last minute backroom deals and – they claim – because recording of legislative procedures could end up in campaign attack ads. Which only makes you wonder what exactly goes on during such proceedings. So this is a huge YES for me.
California schools were in crisis just a few years ago until the Prop 30, the “millionaires tax” was passed to give them much needed funding. Prop 30 expires in 2018 and this measure will extend it for 12 more years. Another easy yes.
I’m usually against all sales taxes, as they are recessive and needlessly hurt the poor. That’s particularly true of cigarette taxes. I hesitated because the higher price of cigarettes does seem to help stop young people from taking on smoking in the first place. Still, for people who are addicted, the higher price may mean the difference between feeding their kids or not – and I can’t just accept that.
This proposition will do three things: 1) Allow non-violent offenders who have done their time for their main offense with good behavior, to get automatic parole, 2) allow non-violent offenders to earn credits for good behavior and earning an education that would lead to an early parole and 3) allow judges, rather than prosecutors, to decide whether minors should be tried as adults. These are three great ideas. We need to reduce overcrowding in jails and non-violent offenders should have an incentive for behaving in prison. Most importantly, prosecutors should not be deciding whether they try children as adults. Children should be tried as children because they are children. Prosecutors have an incentive to get the maximum sentence, while hopefully judges can be more rational.
For me, this is a very personal proposition. My siblings and I came to America as children speaking very little English. I was able to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and while I never got rid of my accent, and I still have problems with my prepositions, I was able to become fairly fluent in English fairly quickly. My siblings, on the other hand, were put into so-called bilingual classes conducted purely in Spanish. Even though they were younger than me, and therefore it should have been easier for them to learn English, it actually took them much longer to do so and they ended up with accents thicker than mine. My younger sister never learned to speak English grammatically. In High School, I had classmates in my ESL classes who had been in the US for many years and had even been born here – but had not learned English because they had been in bilingual education in elementary school. This should not be surprising. The best way to learn a language is through immersion – that’s how languages are taught in college and at the most prestigious language schools.
My youngest sister was born in the US and grew up speaking Spanish. When my mother went to enroll her in school, she had to fight to keep her away from bilingual education classes. She was successful, and my sister learned English perfectly – but I fear what the consequences would have been if my mother had not been as resolute in her stance.
Prop 227 stopped bilingual education in part because of xenophobic concerns, but in part because it was failing a large part of the student population. Prop 58 brings bilingual education back, without fixing any of the problems that there were previously. Under 58, schools will be able to put students in classes conducted in Spanish without their parents’ consent, and thus prevent them from learning English quickly. I don’t want what happened to my siblings to happen to other kids. Speaking English correctly and without an accent open many doors, let’s not shut them.
This proposition is basically an affirmation that California voters oppose the Citizens United decision and a challenge for Californian legislators to bring up a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision. I’m the biggest free speech defender out there, but as long as speech and money are fungible, we will leave in a plutocracy, not a democracy. We deserve better.
This is a ridiculous proposition. It not only mandates that adult film stars wear condoms during sex acts, but it incentivizes citizens to watch porn movies, hoping to catch actors not wearing condoms, so they can sue the producers and keep part of the fine. Yes, it’s that absurd. It’s an easy “no”.
Another easy “yes”. This proposition would require state agencies that pay for prescription drugs (mainly Medi-Cal and CalPers) to not pay prices higher than those paid by the Veterans Administration – the agency that negotiates the lowest drug prices. Pharmaceutical companies have spent over $100 million to fight this measure, which tells you we should pass it.
Basically, it abolishes the death penalty and replaces it with life in prison without parole. That may not be ideal for progressives, but we need to take this one step at the time.
Where you fall on this should be based on where you fall on gun control. This proposition ads a lot of new restrictions on guns, that would make it almost impossible for hobbyists to do target shooting. For example, before you buy ammunition, you have to get a license and pass a background check – which is sort of ridiculous if you are the sort of person who borrows a gun once a year to go target shooting.
Criminals, meanwhile, can go to Nevada and buy whatever they want.
This proposition is by no means perfect. It decriminalizes marijuana for adults 21 and over, but keeps it criminalized for 18 to 21 year olds, for no good reason whatsoever. It also apparently supports big businesses vs mom & pop operations. But it’s better than the alternative and we should vote for it.
This proposition would direct the fees charged for paper bags at grocery stores go to some fund. Apparently it was put on the ballot by the plastic bag industry to mess with environmentalists. Let’s not play their game.
This would eliminate safety procedures and appeals by people sentenced to death, and make it more likely that innocent people will be executed. It’s really disgusting to see this on the ballot.
This proposition would keep state law prohibiting stores from giving disposable plastic bags to customers. It’s, literally, a mixed bag. Plastic bag bans lead to fewer plastic bags being used, but more paper bags – which require more water to produce, and lead to a release of more greenhouse gases when disposed. But the ban does reduce litter, and I’m inclined to vote for it.
A1, Affordable Housing Bonds: No
Update: This measure will provide money to build thousands of affordable housing units in Alameda County. It will cost $40-$70 a year per household. I was originally in favor of this measure, but after hearing Supervisor Wilma Chan speak about this measure (which she initiated) I’m leaning against it. Part of the money is going to be used to give middle-income first-time home buyers (those making a combined salary of $130K or less) interest free home loans. My concern about this is twofold. On on the one hand, it seems to me that these government subsidies will just push up the price of homes: the subsidies will push more people to enter the market, competing for the same homes and pushing the prices up. On the other hand, these loan subsidies will be given on a first-come, first-served basis, which I fear will work against people who are less plugged-into the system, while helping those with better connections.
The bond also includes funds to build affordable housing, and my concern here is that these will be spent to build low-income multi-unit housing projects, which work to stigmatize residents and isolate them from the community at large. Bond money will be distributed through cities, and I know that I definitely don’t trust my city government to do a thoughtful job of that.
C1, AC Transit District Parcel Tax Extension: Yes
This extends a $96/year parcel tax to continue funding AC Transit. Public transit is a key component on any climate change initiative and we need to continue to support it.
RR, BART Bond: Yes
If you are only going to vote for one tax measure this year, make it this one. It allows BART to issue $3.5 billion in bonds – a huge amount of money by any measure, though it’ll be only about $2/$100K assessed value -, but it will allow BART to repair crumbling infrastructure and get a new train management system, which will allow it to run more trains (the current system is at its limit of how many trains can operate at the same time). BART is at capacity during commute times now, so adding more trains is essential.
B1, School Parcel Tax Extension: Yes
Alameda has some of the best schools in the Bay Area because its citizens are willing to pay for them. This is an extension of the existeing 32c/sq ft tax. Good schools help keep property taxes high and make Alameda a great community – one in which I can’t personally afford to live, however.
K1, Utility Tax: No Recommendation
I haven’t looked into the implications of this tax.
L1, Weak Rent Control: No
This measure will confirm the compromise weak rent stabilization ordinance that the City Council already passed and it’s on the ballot to compete against the stronger rent control measure put in the ballot by renters rights advocates.
M1, Stronger Rent Control: Yes
This measure establishes “just cause evictions” (i.e., the landlord cannot kick you arbitrarily to get a new tenant at a higher rent), sets a limit on how much rents can be increased and creates a rent board. At a time of rising rents, our communities need rent control to keep people in their homes and community life stable.
N1, Residential Parking Amendment: No Recommendation
I haven’t done my homework on this one.
O1, Sugar Beverage Tax: No
It’s a regressive tax, and I oppose taxes that harm the poor the most.
P1, Sidewalk Repair Parcel Tax: No Recommendation
This tax will cost an average of $39/year per 10 yeas and the money will go to repair sidewalks. If you are in Albany look around, do the sidewalks look in need of repair? If so, vote yes.
Q1, Charter Revision: No Recommendation
I haven’t done my homework on this one.
R1, Civil Service Board Charter Amendment: No Recommendation
I haven’t done my homework on this one.
S1, Remove School Board Term Limits: Yes
The City of Albany is having trouble finding enough qualified candidates to run for School Board. This measure would allow candidates to run for more than two terms. Most School Boards do not have term limits, and even then they have trouble filling vacancies, so this is not panacea to Albany’s problems, but perhaps it can help.
E1, School Parcel Tax Extension: Yes
This is a 37c per square foot tax, which means that a relatively small house will pay $550 a year. But it replaces an expiring tax and good schools require investment by the community.
T1, Infrastructure Bond: No Recommendation
This is $100 million in bonds to repair streets, parks, recreation centers, etc. It will cost homeowners $40 to $120 annually. It’s probably a good idea.
U1, Big Landlord Tax: Yes
This is a tax on big landlords, it exempts non-profit affordable housing, new units and rent controlled units.
V1, Appropriation Limit Increase: No Recommendation
I haven’t done my homework on this one.
W1, Independent Redistricting Commission: Yes
This will establish an independent redistricting commission to draw Council districts after the next census. It’s worked great in California and should help prevent gerrymandering in Berkeley.
X1, Campaign Matching Funds: Yes
This creates public financing of elections in Berkeley by providing matching funds to candidates who agree to not accept more than $50 per donor. Only contributions from Berkeley residents would be matched. This is a great idea that should be exported to other cities.
Y1, Youth School Board Voting: Yes
This is a great measure, it will allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in Berkeley School Board elections. This should have the effect of getting kids involved in the democratic process before they leave school, which hopefully will install good habits afterwards, and that people that are actually experiencing the results of School Board decisions will have a voice on them. This is another measure that should be copied in other districts.
Z1, Low-rent Housing Authorization: Yes
This will allow affordable housing to be built in Berkeley. It’s amazing that people have to vote to allow this to happen, but we do. So vote for it.
AA, Rent Control Strengthening: Yes
This will prevent landlords from evicting with children in schools until the end of the school year (yes, we have to legislate compassion, because some people don’t have any). It will also increase the relocation assistance landlords must pay when they evict tenants without fault.
BB, Minimum Wage Ordinance No
CC, Minimum Wage Ordinance No
Both of these ordinances were put in the ballot during the fight to increase the minimum wage between the conservative and the progressive elements in the council. They’ve come to an agreement and both sides ask that voters vote No in both measures.
DD, Residential Rental Unit Gross Receipts Tax: No
This was put in the ballot by landlords opposed to U1 to confuse things. Vote No.
F1, Parks Bond: No Recommendation
It’s $250 in bonds to upgrade and repair Hayward parks. I don’t have a sense of how much this is needed as I don’t visit them.
EE Medical Cannabis Sales Tax: No
This measure will put a 15% tax on medical marijuana. Medications of any kind should not be taxed. It is obscene for cities to profit from the afflictions of their residents. Please vote No on this measure.
G1, School Parcel Tax: No Recommendation
Unlike the parcel taxes in other cities which assess the tax based on the square footage of the property, this is a flat $120 a year tax per parcel. This makes it rather regressive, as people who can larger houses or large commercial buildings, pay as little as those who can only afford small houses. Therefore I can’t recommend it.
HH Sugar-sweetened Beverage Tax: No
Sales taxes are regressive taxes that hurt the poor the most.
II, City-owned Property Lease Term Extension: No Recommendation
This will increase the maximum term for leasing city-owned property from 66 years to 99. Supposedly, this should make it easier to build affordable housing. I don’t know enough about the implications to make a recommendation.
JJ, Strengthens Rent Control: Yes
This measure extends just-cause evictions to buildings constructed before 1996 and forces landlords to petition the Rent Board before increasing rents above CPI. Good things to create stability at this time of quickly rising rents.
KK, Housing Bond: No Recommendation
This is a $600 million bond to build affordable housing, updating libraries and community centers, fixing streets, etc. Probably a good idea, but I haven’t looked into it.
LL, Police Oversight Board: Yes
This will create a semi-independent Police Commission that will have actual oversight over the Oakland Police. The measure is not as strong as what community advocates wanted, but it’s what the Council compromised on and is much better than what we have now. Given the extent of police misconduct in Oakland, a stronger oversight commission is needed. Please vote yes.
H1, School Bonds: No Recommendation
This will issue $66 million in bonds to improve and repair facilities. I don’t know enough about the needs of Piedmont schools to make a recommendation about it.
I1, School Bonds: No Recommendation
This will issue $270 million in bonds to improve and repair facilities. I don’t know enough about the needs of Pleasanton schools to make a recommendation about it.
MM, Keep Costco Out: No Recommendation
This initiative was put on the ballot to keep Costco out of Pleasanton, as it’s a non-union store that will compete with union grocery stores, and as it will create more traffic and hurt businesses in the existing location. It’s really an uber-local measure and I can’t recommend one way or the other.
J1, School Bonds: No
San Leandro has passed two different bond measures in the last decade and we are pretty deeply indebted as it is. This new $104 million bond measure was put in the ballot simply because it’s a presidential election, which means this measure only requires 55% approval to pass, and voters have been in a giving mood. The district started with that, and then went on to figure out how they could spend the money – rather than assessing needs, and then seeing how they could be covered. The district has also been mismanaging previous bond funds. For example, they built fences around schools, even though such expenditures had not been approved by voters. These bonds will cost $36.2 per $100K of assessed value, or about $181 a year for a medium home in San Leandro.
NN, Medical Marijuana Tax: No
Medicines should not be tax and the City should not profit from the ailments of its citizens. Please vote no.
OO Business License Relief for Small Businesses/Parking Lot & Warehouse Tax: Yes
This measure would eliminate the per-employee business license fee for businesses with three or fewer owners and/or employees, leaving them to pay a flat fee. It would also charge a 10% gross receipts fee for parking lots (this would mostly apply to the parking lots by the airport, the ones in Oakland are currently paying a similar fee) and a $100 per 1,000 sq feet for warehouses. Given how prop 13 gives a pass to large commercial land owners from paying property tax, these fees seem more than fair.
PP Hotel Tax Increase: No Recommendation
This measure will increase hotel taxes from 10% to 14% – Oakland’s occupancy tax is 14%, but Hayward’s is only 8.5%. I’m not sure how I’ll vote on this tax.