Big Ol’ Voter Guide – California Measures (Nov 2016)

That’s it. I’ve had it. With 17 measures statewide, and 25 in San Francisco, this ballot is way too long, and has too many questions on it that require serious research and thought. I’ve decided I’m founding a new fake organization called Democrats Opposed to Overlong Ballots (DOOB) which opposes all measures that clutter our mailboxes and our ballots in each election.

I have several friends who just vote no on everything to protest how long the ballot is. And there’s evidence that measures on long ballots are 5% less likely to pass because of voter fatigue. But here’s the thing: you really shouldn’t just vote no on all of them. This ballot is asking you to decide some BFD issues, such as legalizing recreational marijuana, increasing the cigarette tax, eliminating the death penalty, restrictions on guns and the porn industry, and trying children as adults in criminal court. Since you’re reading this, it means you’re interested in learning about what you’re voting on, so you’re probably not one of those “no on everything” people, so kudos to you. (Now post this on your FB page and help everyone else be informed, K?) 😉

I’ve researched and grumbled and pondered each measure on this ballot, and I’ve adopted a new template to make your decisions easy. In this voter guide, I give you a summary of the measure, my analysis, a list of its main supporters and opponents, and whether this is a decision that has to be made by ballot.

Without further ado, I submit to you my thoughts on the California measures.* In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a liberal Democrat attorney and a government nerd, whose passions include defending nightlife and culture, getting more women elected to public office, and protecting our environment for future generations. I’ve been involved in politics for as long as I can remember, I’ve been to Burning Man enough times to know that the world doesn’t revolve around it, and I also like long walks on the beach.

For the San Francisco candidates and measures, go here.

For the cute pocket guide version that is easy to take to the polls, go here. (If you’re not in SF, you can ignore the SF races and measures on the pocket guide)

And if you find this guide useful, please make a donation here! Thanks.

First the summary:

Prop 51 – $9 billion in bonds for education and schools – YES
Prop 52 – Voter approval of changes to the hospital fee program – yes?
Prop 53 – Projects that cost more than $2 billion – NO
Prop 54 – Bills must be posted on the internet for 72 hours – YES
Prop 55 – Continue income tax on incomes over $250,000 – YES
Prop 56 – Increase the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack – YES
Prop 57 – Felons convicted of non-violent crimes – YES
Prop 58 – Bilingual education in public schools – YES
Prop 59 – State’s position on Citizens United – YES
Prop 60 – Require the use of condoms in pornographic films – NO!
Prop 61 – Prescription drug price regulations – YES
Prop 62/66 – Repeal the death penalty (YES!) or execute faster? (NO!)
Prop 63 – Background checks for ammunition purchases – YES!
Prop 64 – Legalization of adult use of marijuana – YES!
Prop 65 (NO) & 67 (YES) – Banning plastic grocery bags

And here’s the complete analysis:

Proposition 51 – $9 billion in bonds for education and schools – YES

It’s a shame this exciting ballot starts with such an unsexy topic. But it’s an important one. Prop 51 would allow the state to take a $9 billion loan out for school construction projects. Most of the money will go towards upgrading public K-12 schools, with $2 billion to go toward community colleges.

It’s been 10 years since the last statewide school bond measure, and the schools are outdated and crumbling. YES – it is INFURIATING that this is the way we have to fund our educational system, bond measure by bond measure, but that’s the subject of a much larger conversation about how the state pays for things, and how the voters in 1978 severely restricted state tax revenues by passing Prop 13, how set-asides cause structural budget deficits, etc. Another time, over a glass of rosé, screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-41-53-pmperhaps. 😉

It is also annoying that this $9 billion bond will cost the state $500 million per year over the next 35 years. That’s $8.6 billion in interest! Which is almost the size of the original loan itself. Ick.

That said, I’m not sure what other choice we have, given how starved our state is for tax revenues. (Yes! Even in a booming economy) It’s clear California needs a complete overhaul of its tax system. But that’s a huge undertaking and not likely to happen soon. In the meantime, we approve bond measures like this one to make sure that our kids have structurally sound places to learn.

Prop 51 will likely pass. It has wide-ranging support, from the two major parties, all of the educational and business communities, unions, etc. The yes side has raised over $9 million, while the opposition hasn’t raised a dime. Jerry Brown is the only politician in California openly opposing 51, and he says it’s because 51 is a boondoggle for construction firms who want to build all the new infrastructure.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes. General obligation bonds like this one must be approved by the voters, since it is a loan that taxpayers have to pay back over time.

Supporters: State politicians on both sides of the aisle, the Republican Party AND the Democratic Party, all of the educational organizations and chambers of commerce, teachers groups, the state PTA, building and construction trade unions, every school district in the state, SF Chronicle

Opponents: Governor Jerry Brown, the Libertarian Party and taxpayers’ rights orgs, LA Times.

Proposition 52 – Voter approval of changes to the hospital fee – yes?

This is a complicated one, but to summarize: this measure wiscreen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-46-04-pmll make it so that the legislature can’t divert funds from an obscure hospital fee program away from Medi-Cal patients (poor people).

Here’s the background: California receives federal funds to help pay for health care services for poor people, and it has to match those funds with an equal amount of its own money. In 2009, the state government created a program imposing a fee on hospitals to help the state obtain these matching funds. The fee revenues were supposed to go towards the medical care for poor people, but apparently the state legislature has started to divert some of those monies to the state’s general fund. If the initiative is approved, it will add language to the state Constitution to require voter approval of changes to the hospital fee program to make it harder for the legislature to divert these funds away from poor families. AND it requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to make any changes to the hospital fee program.

Measures like this make me so mad! It’s so complicated that you really have to do your research to understand it, and nobody has the time to dive deep (except me, of course). Isn’t this why we elect a legislature to represent us? To make decisions like this? Argh. And if it passes, it adds ONE MORE THING to the long list of matters that can only be decided by the voters. Thus, it will make future ballots even longer. BUT – the whole reason why this is on the ballot is because the legislature has shown that it can’t be trusted with decisions like this. Frustrating!

SO – If you hate ballot measures generally, and think we should be forcing the legislature to do its job in other ways other than ballot measures, this is a good one to vote against. But if you want to make sure more money is spent on poor people’s access to health care, hold your nose and vote yes. I’m holding my nose.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it has to go to the voters. But did it have to be a constitutional amendment? Probably not.

Supporters: The initiative was developed by the California Hospital Association, and supporters include the Democratic Party; the Republican Party; most elected members of the state legislature; advocates for children, teachers, seniors and families; hundreds of hospitals and health care organizations; LA Times; SF Chronicle

Opponent: The only opponent on record is the Libertarian Party of California. (By the way, the Libertarian Party has 0.6% of the total registered voters in California. So their endorsement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.)

Proposition 53 – Projects that cost more than $2 billion – NO

Wealthy farmer and food producer Dino Cortopassi, age 78, is really pissed off. Which is why he put Prop 53 on the ballot and is spending $4.5 million of his own money on the campaign to get it passed. He says he’s doing it because he wants to make it harder for the state to take on new debt. But most people agree he just wants to kill one of Governor Jerry Brown’s pet projects.

Prop 53 would require statewide voter approval of any government project to be financed with more than $2 billion in state revenue bonds. Allow me to explain for a moment: Not all bonds have to be approved by the voters, only “general obligation bonds” which are basically loans that taxpayers have to screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-48-05-pmrepay (like the one in Prop 51, above). Then there are “state revenue bonds” that don’t require voter approval because they are basically loans that are paid back by a project’s users, like when the bridge tolls were jacked up to pay for the new Bay Bridge.

Prop 53 would require ALL state bonds over $2 billion to be approved by the voters. That’s right! Your ballot just keeps getting longer. Grrrrrr.

In reality, bonds that are valued at $2+ billion are extremely rare. But we do have two major projects pending in California that are threatened by Prop 53, and they are the $64 billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail project (LOVE! SF to LA in under 2 hours!) and the $17 billion twin water tunnels in the delta. And these are Governor Brown’s two big legacy projects, so he takes this ballot measure as a personal affront.

And Dino Cortopassi? Is a wealthy farmer. And he hates those tunnels. They will siphon fresh water from the Sacramento River and send it to Central and Southern California. So that’s what this is really about. As it stands, the twin water tunnels will be paid for over time by ratepayers in Southern California who will benefit from the project. And unless Prop 53 passes, it won’t be subject to a vote of the public.

There’s a reason why state revenue bonds aren’t subjected to voter approval, and that’s because they only benefit a portion of the population. Unlike general obligation bonds, the entire state isn’t affected by these projects, and so the entire state doesn’t weigh in on them. Prop 53 could potentially give the entire state’s voters the power to veto local projects, and I think that’s just silly.

I personally think that it’s dumb to create yet another category of things that has to be decided by the voters. My fake organization Democrats Opposed to Overlong Ballots (DOOB) would absolutely oppose it, because it will make California ballots even longer in the future. Vote no.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes. Because it is a Constitutional Amendment, it has to go to the voters. But did it have to be a constitutional amendment? Probably, because it is imposing a new voter approval requirement.

Supporters: Dino Cortopassi, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, 22 taxpayers rights groups

Opponents: Governor Jerry Brown, Democratic Party, NAACP, League of Conservation Voters, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, farmers organizations, League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, firefighters and sheriffs groups, hospital groups, water agencies, chambers of commerce, about a hundred labor unions, SF Chronicle, LA Times

Proposition 54 – Bills must be posted on the internet for 72 hours – YES

Prop 54 would prohibit the state legislature from passing any bill until it has been in print and published on the Internet for 72 hours prior to the vote. It will also require public legislative meetings to be recorded, and make them available to the public for at least 20 years.

This measure is happeniscreen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-49-31-pmng because of yet another rich guy with a bee in his bonnet. Conservative Charles Munger, Jr. is the son of billionaire Charles Munger, Sr., and he happens to be an experimental physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center with a thing for government reform. He joined forces with good government group Common Cause to propose Prop 54, and has poured $10.5 million of his own money into the measure.

Local governments have a 72-hour notice requirement, and I’ve often wondered why the state government doesn’t have the same. I think it’s a good thing for citizens to have advance notice of the decisions that its government is making. Keeps politicians accountable, and it makes legislation better by allowing more opportunity for input.

Opponents argue that requiring 72 hours notice will make it harder for government to act nimbly when necessary. But Prop 54 will prevent shenanigans when the legislature doesn’t want to give the public an opportunity to weigh in. It will also stop the practice of “gutting and amending” which my political nerds know is the way that legislators take a bill that’s already on the agenda and replace – at the last minute – every single word of the bill, often with no relationship whatsoever to the original legislation, so that they can avoid having to go through the lengthy deliberative process.

Transparency in government is a good thing. Vote yes.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes, because it’s a Constitutional amendment, and because the legislature would never vote for a measure to limit its own power.

Supporters: Republican Party, LA Times, SF Chronicle, good government groups such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, League of California Cities, a few dozen pro-business groups including chambers of commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Opponents: California Labor Federation, LA Times, Democratic Party (and only, IMO, because they control the legislature right now. If the GOP had a majority, you better believe they would want this measure to limit their power).

Proposition 55 – Continue income tax on incomes over $250,000 – YES

In 2012, California voters raised the personal income tax rate on individuals making $250k or more, and on couples making $500k or more (top 1% of all earners in CA). It was called Prop 30, and at the time Governor Brown promised it was a temporary tax and said, “…to the extent that I have anything to do with it, will remain temporary.” It was sold as a way to restore funding cuts that were made to schools during the recession.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-23-38-pm

This tax is set to expire in 2019. And once it does, the state will face a drop in revenue of $4.3 billion, according to Brown administration estimates. The gap will be even larger if California’s economy takes another dive.

Prop 55 – proposed by unions and education advocates – would extend the Prop 30 tax until the year 2030. 89% of these tax revenues will be allocated specifically to K-12 schools and 11% to California Community Colleges, with some strict accountability measures to ensure that the money is being spent where it should be. Supporters say that if we don’t approve Prop 55, we are likely to see cuts to schools because of California’s screwed up budget process.

Opponents say, “But Jerry, you promised this tax would be temporary!” They point to California’s $2.7 billion budget surplus, arguing that we can afford to pay for education without extending this tax. (As I understand it, though, a big chunk of this surplus is going toward the state’s rainy day fund).

As I’ve said before, we need comprehensive tax reform to solve the state’s structural budget issues (don’t get me started on Prop 13!). And in the meantime, we keep passing smaller fixes like this one to stop the bleeding. At what point do we rip the band-aid off and force our legislators to come up with a better way of paying for critical government services? Are they even capable of it? Ugh.

That’s why I’m torn on this one. But I have decided to support it for this one reason: California’s schools went from being the best in the country to among the worst in just a few short decades. This is because we lack the funding or the political will to make education a priority. It’s shameful. So let’s pass Prop 55, make the wealthiest 1% pay a little bit more, send the money to the schools. AND ALSO push for comprehensive tax reform to fix this problem once and for all. Stop using the public schools as a political football in every election.

Does it need to be on the ballot? No. The legislature could pass this bill, but it would require a 2/3 vote and they lack the political will to make it happen.

Supporters: Gavin Newsom, Controller Betty Yee, Treasurer John Chiang, Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, California Medical Association, hospital and health organizations, school groups, Firefighters Union, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, San Jose Mercury News

Opponents: Republican and Libertarian Parties, taxpayers rights groups, LA Times, San Diego Union Tribune, SF Chronicle.

Proposition 56 – Increase the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack – YES

This measure will make it more expensive to smoke by enacting a $2-per-pack tax, bringing the total cigarette tax in California to $2.87. Most of the revenues – estimated at $1 billion/year – will go toward Medi-Cal (state sponsored health care for poor people).

And because I have many friends who vape, I looked it up: Prop 56 will also increase taxes on e-cigarette products that contain nicotine by “an equivalent amount.” I couldn’t find an exact figure, but it looks like the state Board of Equalization will set the amount if the measure passes. (E-cigarette devices are not included in this tax, just the nicotine.)screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-25-28-pm

Prop 56 promises to help save thousands of lives from smoking-related illness. I don’t smoke, but I have lots of friends who do, and they have all struggled with quitting. They know smoking could shorten their lifespans, and about 10% of Californians are in the same boat. I’m all about the so-called “sin taxes” on those sins that I don’t commit myself. Kidding! Sort of.

Raising cigarette taxes has been proven to reduce smoking, says the New York Times and health experts. In New York where the cigarette tax is a whopping $4.35 per pack, every time the tax is increased, more smokers quit. Incidentally, California currently has the lowest cigarette tax in the country, New York’s is the highest, and three other states (Colorado, North Dakota and Missouri) are also considering increases this November.

For me, this one is about the children. With every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes, the number of kids who start to smoke goes down by 6 or 7%. Prop 56’s proposed tax represents about a 30% increase, thus about 20% fewer kids will start smoking if it passes. Which makes it a no-brainer for me. (Sorry friends who vape.)

Tobacco companies are spending over $55 million to defeat it, and the only other people opposed to it are the Republican and Libertarian parties (of course), and anti-tax organizations. The folks supporting it comprise a broad spectrum of health organizations and environmental groups, immigrant and gay rights groups, education groups and children’s advocates, even chambers of commerce and unions, all of the big California newspapers.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes, it’s a constitutional amendment, so it has to go to the voters. It repeals previous requirements in the constitution regarding tobacco taxes.

Supporters: American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Democratic Party, environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer, California Medical Association, California Dental Association, dozens of health organizations and environmental groups, immigrant and gay rights groups, education groups and children’s advocates, chambers of commerce and unions, LA Times, SF Chronicle

Opponents: Tobacco companies, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association.

Proposition 57 – Felons convicted of non-violent crimes – YES

Oh, Jerry Brown. When he was governor 40 years ago, he signed a crime bill that made criminal sentences longer and eliminated “good behavior” credit for prisoners. Now that he’s governor again, he admits that law was a failure and placed Prop 57 on the ballot to reverse it.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-27-27-pm

In related news, California is facing serious prison overcrowding and health care problems. In 2011, the US Supreme Court held that the state’s prison situation constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the US Constitution, and in 2014 it was mandated by a federal court to reduce its prison population dramatically.

Prop 57 would do two things: (1) It would allow the state parole board to release non-violent inmates who have served their full sentence for their primary offense, but are still in jail because of “enhancements” to their sentence that were within the court’s discretion based on prior or related offenses. These prisoners could receive credit for behaving well and for participating in school programs or drug rehab. (2) It would allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court. This will probably mean fewer children are tried in adult courts.

As of the beginning of 2016, there were about 25,000 nonviolent state felons that could seek early release and parole under Proposition 57 (or about 1,300 each year according to the Brown administration). This one is likely to pass: Supporters have outraised the “No” campaign almost 32-to-1, and it’s polling well. If you think children shouldn’t be tried as adults except for the most heinous crimes, and if you think that prisoners should be incentivized to improve themselves, vote yes.

The opponents are the people you would expect: Republicans and law enforcement types (cops, prosecutors, sheriffs). The supporters include Democrats, teachers, nurses, other labor unions. But two supporters will come as a surprise: LA Police Chief Charlie Beck and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – who apparently has become a vocal advocate for prison reform. (Who knew?)

Does this have to be on the ballot? Yes. It’s a constitutional amendment, so it has to be approved by the voters.

Supporters: Democratic Party, Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, Newt Gingrich, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck, the President of the Chief Probation Officers of California Mark Bonini, ACLU, SF Chronicle, LA Times, Sacramento Bee, teachers, nurses, other labor unions.

Opponents: Republican Party, District Attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs, crime victims groups.

Proposition 58 – Bilingual education in public schools – YES

In 1998, California was a different place. That year, the voters approved Prop 227, which required that all public school instruction be conducted in English. Republican Pete Wilson was Governor at the time, and he had been elected on an anti-immigrant platform.

Today, California is more diverse than it was 18 years ago, as 43% of all public school kids speak a language other than English in their homes. Experience has shown that Engliyes-on-58sh learners in bilingual classes attain higher levels of academic achievement. And more parents (regardless of national origin) are asking for more language immersion options in schools.

Prop 58 would eliminate the English-only requirement. If it passes, public schools can teach English learners in any way that their community feels is appropriate, so long as English proficiency is achieved. It returns local control to the schools on language matters.

There’s some disagreement about whether forcing English learners into English-only immersion classes has actually worked. The San Jose Mercury News wrote “In just five years after its passage, the English proficiency of limited-English students tripled.” On the other hand, the LA Times argued that bilingual education could lead to even better outcomes if it is done right. That said, California is a huge state, and every school district is different. It would seem to me that returning this issue to local control is the best formula for success.

It’s likely to pass, since supporters have raised $1.1 million, and the opponents haven’t put a campaign together. Vote yes.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes. The only way to repeal a ballot measure (Prop 227) is by another ballot measure.

Supporters: Democratic Party, Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, 4 members of Congress and 34 members of the state legislature, California Teachers Association, dozens of teachers and immigrant groups, school administrators, chambers of commerce, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, LA Times, SF Chronicle

Opponents: Republican and Libertarian Parties

Proposition 59 – State’s position on Citizens United – YES

When the US Supreme Court decided Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission in 2010, many of us knew it would be catastrophic. Here’s what I wrote about it in 2012.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-30-40-pm

Citizens United held that political spending is protected under the First Amendment, and it allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political activity. The decision has opened a flood of political spending by wealthy donors, giving them an unfair amount of influence over elections, and it has allowed them to do it anonymously! Boo.

To overturn Citizens United, you either need a future Supreme Court decision to reverse the decision (which is actually possible with a few Clinton appointees); or a constitutional amendment, which is huge undertaking in that it requires Congress to propose the change and at least 38 states to approve it, one by one.

Prop 59 is a non-binding measure that urges state leaders to “use their authority” to start the Constitutional amendment process. There is only a tiny campaign supporting it, and no official campaign opposing it. The folks supporting it say that we need to send a message to Congress (and future Supreme Court justices?) that it’s a terrible decision. That anonymous corporate contributions are eroding our democracy.

And the official ballot arguments against it say that it’s non-binding AF, so why bother? Stop adding advisory measures on an already too-crowded ballot. This argument resonates with me (42 measures on this ballot!! Argh)

But I do agree that Citizens United is making our political system more corrupt than it already is. It’s a message worth sending to Congress, that this state won’t stand for it. Vote yes?

Does this have to be on the ballot? Nope. Doesn’t even do anything if it passes.

Supporters: Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, good government groups, teachers and nurses unions, SF Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee

Opponents: Some Republican state legislators, LA Times, SD Union Tribune

Proposition 60 – Require the use of condoms in pornographic films – NO

There are some controversial items on the ballot this fall, but nothing as juicy as this one. Prop 60 is pitting gay leaders against gay leaders, AIDS activists against AIDS activists, and doctors against doctors. If it passes, Prop 60 will require porn actors to wear condoms while filming, and provide proof that they have done so. (ew)

It creates a right for any California citizen to sue the porn producers, workers or actors if they think a condom isn’t used. (Yay! California needs more lawsuits! said no one ever). And finally, it requires the legal names and addresses of the film producers to be public, even if the producer is also an actor who goes by a pseudonym to protect themselves from stalkers and weirdos and anti-porn crusaders.

“But wait,” you ask, “doesn’t California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) already require condom use during sex in pornographic films?” That’s right, but it only enforces the law when complaints are filed, which is almost never. (A lot of heavy breathing on THAT non-existent hscreen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-34-55-pmotline…the one where you report your outrage over a scene in a porno where you’re pretty sure there was intercourse and a condom wasn’t used).

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, put Prop 60 on the ballot with the hope that it would make the condom rule enforced more often. Weinstein’s argument is simple: no one should have to risk their life on the job, and that is what we are asking porn actors to do when they don’t use condoms.

But I think he (over)shot his wad. By requiring the involvement of Cal/OSHA in the filming of every movie, insisting on medical inspections, and revealing the names and identities of the people involved, it clearly poses serious worker privacy issues. Opponents claim that the adult film industry already does a lot to minimize disease transmission, including frequent testing. And they may be right that this measure is going to send the porn industry to Nevada, or worse – underground – where there will be even less worker protection.

Creating a right to sue the filmmakers – by any private citizen! – is scary and will lead to frivolous lawsuits by maladjusted people. Even if these lawsuits are baseless, defendants will need to spend time and money getting rid of them.

Porn or no, it seems to me that workplace health and safety regulations are the kind of thing that shouldn’t become law by way of the ballot box. They need to go through the iterative process of the legislature or another state agency, so that they can be adjusted over time. If California approves this measure, it will be (set in stone? firm? hard? inflexible? I can’t think of the right word) until another well-endowed campaign comes along to change it. And as you know, I’m all about cleaning up the box. I mean the ballot.

And there’s something that bothers me about Prop 60, it feels like an anti-porn measure masquerading as a pro-actor law. The author didn’t consult the industry when he wrote it, and the effect it will have will be to drive some porn producers out of business or out of the state. As my friend Gil Silberman so eloquently said, “There is absolutely no reason why this law is needed, it is to AIDS what voter ID laws are to political corruption, it advances an unrelated agenda by promising to solve a problem that does not exist.”

A lot of people I respect are on the “No” side of this one: Columnist Dan Savage and his Courage Campaign (see “It Gets Better”), State Senator Mark Leno, and many gay rights and AIDS advocacy groups. I’m voting no too.

Does this have to be on the ballot? NO! In fact, it really shouldn’t be.

Supporters: Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California Academy of Preventive Medicine, American Sexual Health Association

Opponents: Dan Savage, Sen. Mark Leno, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, Courage campaign, Equality California, SF AIDS Foundation, San Francisco Medical Society, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), LA Times, SF Chronicle

Proposition 61 – Prescription drug price regulations – YES

When drug maker Mylan increased the price of the Epi-Pen by 548% this year, it only verified what we already know, that drug companies are evil. Or rather, that drug companies can set prices to whatever they think the market will bear, and hospitals and patients have no choice but to pay. And if you don’t have health insurance that covers a medication you need, you are totally screwed.

And how does Pfizer explain the $5 Viagra pill that you bought over the counter in Canada because it would cost you (or your insurance company) ten times more here in the States? I think you know the answer. Some countries, and some government agencies, are able to negotiate much lower prices withprop-61 drug companies because they provide care for large populations, and thus they have a lot of bargaining power. (See: why a single payer system would control costs)

And then there’s the fact that California spent $3.8 billion last year on prescription drugs for people covered by state health programs. This figure – along with the wild variability in drug prices – is the reason why many politicians are wondering aloud: what would happen if we forced Big Pharma to be more transparent about the prices they set?

Thus: Prop 61, which hopes to do just that. It says that California public agencies will pay no more for prescription drugs than what the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs pays, the thought being that the VA provides care for so many people (9 million), it pays a lot less money to drug manufacturers than does the state or the average consumer.

The politics of this measure are weird. The drug companies have been able to hire the very best lobbyists and campaign consultants, and Democratic Party activists up and down the state. They have even intimidated the state Democratic Party into not taking a position on it.

The author is Michael Weinstein – yes, the same guy from the condom measure (Prop 60) – and he is not very popular in progressive circles these days. It seems that some people are opposing this measure just because he wrote it. Also: there are veterans who worry that Prop 61 will mean that their drug prices will go up, which is a valid concern since the drug companies have actually threatened it. (See? Evil!).

That’s right. The drug companies are ACTUALLY ARGUING that Prop 61 will hurt veterans because the companies will be “forced” to increase the VA’s drug prices. But it is completely within their control as to whether to increase those prices! Poor Pfizer, I guess a 42% profit margin isn’t quite high enough. Greedy bastards.

And there are many labor unions and political groups that aren’t usually allies of Big Pharma opposing this measure. Here’s my hypothesis: The drug industry has spent over $87 million on the campaign so far (yikes!), and they are spending it in ways that smell a lot like bribery. I’ve seen this before*…they hire progressive activists all over the state to help with “getting out the vote” and surprise! These progressive clubs now oppose the measure, toeing the party line that it will hurt veterans.

The LA Times makes a good point, that the drug pricing problem should really be handled at the federal level. But that’s not a good enough reason to vote no on this measure. If you agree with me that Big Pharma shouldn’t be able to buy its way out of this one, vote YES.

*See also Measure V in San Francisco, and Big Soda’s efforts to derail the local soda tax.

Does it need to be on the ballot? Nope. The legislature could approve this bill. But it’s here because the legislature hasn’t been able to stand up to the powerful drug lobby.

Supporters: Bernie Sanders, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, AARP, California Nurses Association, civil rights activists Dolores Huerta and Al Sharpton

Opponents: All the pharmaceutical companies, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, NAACP, a dozen medical organizations, 2 dozen veterans groups, anti-tax advocacy orgs, chambers of commerce, unions.

Proposition 62 (YES!) & 66 (NO!) – Repeal the death penalty, or execute faster?

Here’s why I don’t support the death penalty: It is applied unequally to defendants depending on their skin color; the likelihood of executing an innocent person is shockingly high; and the state can’t find a way to administer it that isn’t cruel and unusual. Besides, if what we want is retribution for the most heinous of crimes, a lifetime in prison would seem to be a far worse fate than death, IMO.

And here’s why it’s on the ballot in November: our capital punishment system is in crisis. California has more prisoners on death row than any other state: 747 humans. And yet we haven’t put anyone to death since 2006, because the state’s lethal injection protocol is legally questionable, and the government has been unable to find a legal source for the fatal drugs it uses. These death row inmates are in legal limbo, costing the state billions of dollars. Far more of them have died of natural causes or suicide than by execution.

On this November ballot, we have the chance to eliminate the death penalty in California, by voting yes on Prop 62. If 62 passes, it would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment. And it would require screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-13-32-pmprisoners sentenced to the maximum punishment to work and pay restitution to victims’ families. Even though these prisoners will live longer in prison, the state will actually SAVE money since it will no longer be paying lawyers and courts to deal with the lengthy and inefficient appeals process.

Prop 66, on the other hand, was put on the ballot by pro-death penalty folks who wanted to kill Prop 62. It would keep the death penalty in place and speed up legal challenges to death sentences, so that the entire appeals process would be completed within 5 years of the original conviction. Death penalty appeals are notorious for dragging on for years, and costing the taxpayers a lot of money. There’s a reason for this, though, which is that if that state is going to execute someone, we better be damn sure that person is guilty, by allowing defendants to exhaust every possible legal option. So speeding up death penalty appeals makes it LESS likely, not more, that justice will be served. (I personally think that Prop 66 will be found unconstitutional for due process reasons, but I digress)

Between 62 and 66, the measure that passes with more votes, wins, and the other becomes void.

If Hillary Clinton is elected President, the whole death penalty question may soon be resolved, since I think it’s only a matter of time before the US Supreme Court rules that capital punishment is unconstitutional. Moreover, even if Prop 66 prevails, the state will continue to struggle to secure a legal source for the lethal injections. (If you have time, listen to this amazing podcast about how people are executed).

Yes on 62, NO on 66.

Do these measures need to be on the ballot? Nope! The legislature could take this hot-button issue on, but it doesn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Supporters of 62/Opponents of 66: Gavin Newsom, Bernie Sanders, Mark Leno, Democratic Party, NAACP, ACLU, Amnesty International, criminal defense attorneys groups, California Labor Federation, teachers and nurses unions, LA Times, SF Chronicle, religious groups, Van Jones, Dolores Huerta, an unusual number of celebrities.

Opponents of 62/Supporters of 66: Former Governor Pete Wilson, Republican Party, law enforcement officials and unions, district attorneys, and some high profile crime victims.

Proposition 63- Background checks for ammunition purchases – yes

Every time there’s a mass shooting in America, we collectively shed tears and shake our heads. “Something must be done!” we cry, and then we move on with our lives and nothing is done. Prop 63 – authored by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom – is an attempt to do something about gun violence in California.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-20-31-pmIt’s a complicated measure, but here’s the gist: If you believe that ammunition sales should be regulated and that we should get guns out of the hands of convicted felons, you will vote yes on Prop 63. If you believe that there are already too many restrictions on gun rights in California, you will vote no.

Here are the problems that proponents say this measure attempts to solve:

  1. Gun sales are regulated with background checks for buyers and licenses for gun dealers. But there isn’t a similar regulation for ammunition, and a person who acquires a gun illegally can buy ammunition freely. Prop 63 will control ammunition sales the same way that guns are regulated, thus making it harder for someone who possesses a gun illegally to actually use it.
  2. The weapon of choice for mass shooters is the assault rifle, which uses high capacity ammunition magazines. Prop 63 would ban these magazines in California to make it harder for these guns to be used to kill large numbers of people.
  3. Newsom says there are an estimated 34,000 guns, including an estimated 1,000 assault weapons, in the hands of people who are not legally allowed to own them in California (felons and the mentally ill). Under the current laws, there is no way to locate these guns or hold these folks accountable. To solve this problem, Prop 63 would: (a) require gun owners to report lost and stolen guns to law enforcement; (b) create a process for convicted felons to turn in their guns, and certify that they have done so; and (c) make stealing a gun a felony (How is this not already the law?! Currently it’s a $150 infraction. What the actual fuck.)

Yeah, yeah, Newsom is using this measure to elevate his profile and raise money for his campaign for Governor. And yeah, this is a bill that the legislature could have approved without going to the voters (and in fact, it did approve some portions of it). My fake organization DOOB would absolutely oppose it, but this time I would disagree with them. I, for one, am sick of inaction by our government on gun violence, and I’m impressed with Newsom’s leadership on the issue.

The NRA is right about a few things: if this passes, it will be tied up in the courts for a while, because the “second amendment people” have already teed up their constitutional challenge. And it’s true that if Prop 63 is enacted, people will just go to Nevada to buy ammo without a background check. But we have to keep chipping away at this problem, and California has always been a leader in legislative innovation. Maybe other states will follow our lead when more of them become affected by mass shootings. Enough is enough. Yes on 63.

Does the have to be on the ballot? Nope. Some of it has already been approved by the legislature. Getting it approved by the voters just makes it a lot harder to repeal.

Supporters: Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Democratic Party, a ton of Mayors and City Council members from all over the state, SF Sheriff Vicki Hennessey and other law enforcement officials from progressive counties, anti-violence groups, physicians organizations, LGBT organizations, League of Women Voters, teachers and nurses unions, LA Times, SF Chronicle.

Opponents: The NRA, California Police Chiefs Association, Sheriffs in Republican counties, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, Jews Can Shoot (families of Holocaust victims who, understandably, want to arm themselves)

Proposition 64 – Legalization of adult use of marijuana – YES!

I’ll be brief because this one is going to pass, and it’s unlikely that any reader of mine believes that the war on drugs has been a worthwhile endeavor.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-16-23-pm

Prop 64 (The Adult Use of Marijuana Act) will legalize marijuana under state law, for recreational use by adults 21 or older. It will restrict where it can be sold and consumed, and who can sell it. It will tax the stuff and provide for a licensing structure, as well as industry standards for marijuana products (much like FDA approval of pharmaceuticals). It will rake in between $300 million to over $1 billion (With a B!) in tax revenues every year.

The new law will reduce the state’s criminal justice costs by tens of millions of dollars annually. And here’s the best part: it would make everyone in prison today for a marijuana-related crime eligible for resentencing or release. YESSSSSSS.

It’s about time we end prohibition in this state.* It’s about time we tax pot, and provide industry standards to benefit consumers (what IS in the stuff we are smoking, anyway?). It’s about time we stop imprisoning people for possessing small amounts of a drug that is far less dangerous to society than alcohol or prescription opiates.

The people I know who oppose this initiative are: (1) pro-law enforcement types who hate drugs, and (2) small pot farmers or distributors who are worried that Big Agriculture is going to come in and wipe them out with their huge resources and their strict cultivation standards. The latter group was able to write in a provision that would limit licenses for large-scale marijuana businesses for five years, and reserve a number of licenses for small-scale and artisan cultivators.

The measure isn’t perfect, for sure, it has some holes in it that many in the industry have identified. But the hope is that these holes will be fixed by regulation in the coming months. Prop 64 is a HUGE step in the right direction. Please vote yes.

*NOTE: If 64 passes, marijuana will still be illegal under federal law. Enforcement of marijuana crimes in states where it is legal is no longer a high priority of the federal government (under Obama), but of course the future of enforcement will depend on the outcome of the presidential election in November. Recreational pot is already legal in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington. It’s on the ballot this fall in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. Smells like momentum, doesn’t it?

Does it need to be on the ballot? Nope! The legislature could have (and should have?) taken up this controversial issue, but like ammunition sales and the death penalty, it was too scared to touch it.

Supporters: Gavin Newsom, the CA Democratic Party, NAACP, ACLU, CA Medical Association, Drug Policy Alliance, LA Times, SF Chronicle

Opponents: Law enforcement officials, Senator Feinstein (really, Dianne?), Sacramento Bee, and the CA Republican Party

Proposition 65 (NO) & 67 (YES) – Banning plastic grocery bags

These two measures are confusing, and they are a cynical ploy by the plastic bag companies to frustrate you and make you vote no on both of them. But if California does vote no on both of them, a lot of hard work by environmental groups and the state legislature will go out the window. Lemme splain…

A few years ago, the state legislature passed a law that bans plastic bags (SB 270), and that requires grocers to charge at least 10 cents for every paper bag they give to customers. In a deal cut with the grocers to get their support for the ban, the bag fee goes to the grocers. This really pissed off the plastic bag industry, which then put both Prop 65 and 67 on the ballot.

Prop 67 asks the voters to approve or reject the statewide ban, which hasn’t yet taken effect. It only applies to those localities in California that don’t already have their own ban. San Francisco has had a ban since 2007, so if Prop 67 passes, nothing will change here.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-37-45-pm

Prop 65 would punish the grocers for supporting the plastic bag ban, by taking the bag fee and send it instead to a special fund to support environmental projects. Very sneaky, plastic bag barons! That one is perfectly designed to confuse the voters and undermine the bargain that was struck to make SB 270 possible.

If you look below at the Supporters/Opponents of the measures, you might be surprised to see that the environmental groups are generally opposing Prop 65. They see right through the ploy, and say that the two measures are designed to frustrate the voters into voting “no” on both. The Surfrider Foundation and Californians Against Waste, for example, advocated for SB 270 for years, and they are upholding the legislative deal that they helped to cut.

Still with me? Here’s how the results could play out:

  1. If voters approve 67 and reject 65, then the bag ban will take effect, and the bag fee would go to the store owners. In localities with their own plastic bag bans, nothing would change.
  2. If voters reject 67 and approve 65, then the statewide ban will not take effect, and cities and counties with local bans can continue to use funds as currently set up or they can opt to direct the money to the new special environmental fund. Revenue from any future statewide ban would go toward the environmental fund.
  3. If voters pass both measures, then the bag ban will go into effect statewide, and whichever measure has more “yes” votes will determine where the money goes.
  4. If voters reject both measures, then no statewide ban goes into effect, and there will be no restrictions on revenues from future bans similar to SB 270. Localities with existing bans keep doing what they’ve been doing.

Show the plastic bag companies that you’re smarter than they thought. Vote No on 65, Yes on 67.

Does it need to be on the ballot? NO and GRRRRR! The legislature DID pass this law, and the ballot measures are an endeavor by the plastic bag companies to gum up what the legislature has already passed.

Supporters of 65: Republican Party, plastic bag manufacturers

Opponents of 65: League of Women Voters, Surfrider Foundation, California Nurses Association, Californians Against Waste, LA Times, SF Chronicle

Supporters of 67: Jerry Brown, Bernie Sanders, Gavin Newsom, John Chiang, Democratic Party, Tom Steyer, good government groups such as the League of Women Voters, California Labor Federation, NAACP, LA Times, SF Chronicle, every environmental group in the state including the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Nature Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Surfrider Foundation, Heal the Bay, Audubon Society.

Opponents of 67: Plastic bag manufacturers, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Libertarian Party

Thanks for reading all the way through! If you found my voter guide helpful, please throw a few dollars in the jar to support my voter guide writing habit. Thanks!

Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2011

If you’re like me, you’ve been getting piles and PILES of mailers from the campaigns in the upcoming San Francisco election.  I even got two of the same flyer in one day!  It’s over the top.

Why is this happening? Two reasons: (1) All three candidate races (Mayor, District Attorney, and Sheriff) are competitive, boasting several strong candidates for each office; and (2) San Francisco has a robust public financing program, which has pumped several million dollars into the campaigns, so that they can spend more money on things like, uh, mailers.

Despite this colossal waste of trees, and despite the dramatic claims in those mailers about what will happen if certain campaigns win or lose, this is actually a relatively tame election. Why? Because polarizing figures are out of the picture (I mean you, Gavin Newsom and Chris Daly).  And because the candidates for each office are relatively good-natured, competent leaders, with their hearts in the right place and with some great ideas for governance.

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly some candidates who are MUCH better than others, with a lot more relevant experience and better priorities, IMO.  In the pages below, I offer my thoughts and suggestions, explanations and advice.  I expect to get some heat for many of the choices I’ve made below, particularly in the Mayor’s race. I say: bring it! If you disagree with me, please comment below.  I love to hear opposing opinions (so long as they are not personal attacks), and other readers will appreciate it too. And if you find this guide useful, please post it on your Facebook page, or email it to your friends and frenemies.

If you want to compare this voter guide with other endorsing organizations, I strongly recommend checking out DemDash. It’s a site that allows you to compare easily various endorsements of groups like democratic clubs, newspapers, and political parties.

At the top is a brief summary, and below you can find more detailed explanations of my endorsements.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an attorney who specializes in municipal law, elections and entertainment law, and a San Francisco progressive whose passions include preserving and promoting nightlife and culture, fighting for economic and social justice, and getting more women elected to office.  I like to boast that I’m the lowest ranking elected official in California, having been elected last year to the governing body of the San Francisco Democratic Party. And I also like long walks on the beach.

Before we begin, I should also mention that I serve as counsel for two of the campaigns I endorse below (Sharmin Bock for District Attorney and Yes on Proposition G), though my support of each of those campaigns predated the campaigns hiring me to do their legal work.  I have not been paid for any aspect of this voter guide.

With those caveats, here are my choices for the November San Francisco election.

Mayor: (1) David Chiu (2) John Avalos (3) Dennis Herrera
District Attorney:
(1) Sharmin Bock (2) David Onek
Sheriff:
(1) Ross Mirkarimi

Proposition A (School Bonds): YES
Proposition B (Street Repaving and Street Safety Bonds):
YES
Proposition C (Pension Reform – Consensus Proposition):
YES
Proposition D (Pension Reform – Adachi Proposition):
NO
Proposition E (Reforming the Initiative Ordinance Process):
YES
Proposition F (Campaign Consultant Ordinance):
NO
Proposition G (Sales Tax):
YES
Proposition H (School District Student Assignment):
NO

MAYOR:

It’s confusing… what do you do when there isn’t a polarizing character in the San Francisco Mayor’s race? Incumbent Mayor Ed Lee is widely considered to be the front-runner. He’s a competent manager with a disarming mustache and many years of experience in city government.  He has also brought openness and a sense of humor to the office. However, he has a serious problem keeping his promises, some of his supporters have been accused of election fraud, and most agree that he takes direction from Willie Brown and Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak.  But he’s no wine mogul who sleeps with his employees, marries B-list actresses and hates the little people.  Ahem. That said, there are several better candidates for Mayor in this race, so why settle for Mr. Not-a-Douche?

But first, can we talk for a second about Joanna Rees? She’s not going to win, but I feel like saying a few words about her candidacy. Rees is the least qualified person on the ballot. She’s Meg Whitman – a lifelong Republican (until recently) who has shown no interest in government until she decided to run. Managing a city with a multi-billion dollar budget and with complicated and unique problems requires a leader with experience in those same problems. We’re talking about complex civil service rules, transparency requirements unique to public officials, public contracting laws, the intricate budgeting process, understanding the nuance of negotiating a legislative agenda… it’s going to take Rees all four years of her term just to get up to speed on these things. Please don’t vote for her.

My choices are (1) David Chiu (2) John Avalos (3) Dennis Herrera. These guys are the most qualified candidates to be Mayor because of their experience, progressive ideals, and ability to cut through the bureaucracy and get things done.

#1 – David Chiu

Chiu is a pragmatist, a progressive, and a really smart guy. He serves as the President of the Board of Supervisors and on the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) with me.  He doesn’t own a car, he rides his bike to City Hall every day, and environmental initiatives are his highest priority.  David has been a great friend to the women’s political organizations in SF, having carried legislation for them for many years. He has made urban agriculture and funding for public art two of his highest priorities. (Yay for public art and urban farming!) At my urging, he came to Burning Man this year for a brief visit, and he loved it; he’s already planning to come to the desert on his own in 2012.

David is an independent thinker, and he often finds himself as the swing vote in Board of Supervisors decisions, because his politics are somewhere in the middle of the Board’s.  This Board, keep in mind, ranges from super-lefty Democrat to moderate Democrat. (That’s right, every single member of the Board votes blue.)

David has been endorsed by the Chronicle (#1), the League of Conservation Voters (#1), the Bicycle Coalition (#2), many labor unions, San Francisco Arts Democratic Club (#3), Supervisors Mar, Kim and Cohen, four members of the school board, among many others.

David caught some heat from the left for supporting Ed Lee’s appointment to complete Newsom’s term as Mayor (See: “It’s on like Donkey Kong!”), and it is probably his biggest regret in his tenure on the Board.  He and Lee were friends for many years, and when the Board was considering appointing Lee as interim Mayor, Lee promised Chiu and others on the Board that he would only serve as a caretaker for the remaining year; that he would not run for a full term. Lee’s decision to renege on this promise was a personal and political betrayal.

I support David because I trust him to do the right thing, because he is great at finding practical solutions to complex problems, and because he is focused on government accountability.  (Here’s his Blueprint for San Francisco if you want to know more about his vision.) And besides, I’d really like for the next Mayor to be a Burner. ; )  Please vote for David as your #1 choice.

#2 – John Avalos.

My second choice for Mayor is John Avalos. This guy tops Ed Lee on the facial-hair-and-likeability index.  He’s also very smart, and he’s got some exciting ideas for San Francisco’s future. He will bring a progressive reform agenda to the Mayor’s office; he understands the plight of the poor, working class families, and small business. He’s also been a vocal supporter of the Occupy movement, staying up with them until 4am on the night the police were supposed to raid the camp. John is the 99%.

Something else I love: John’s life partner Karen Zapata is at the front and center of his campaign. She’s a teacher and activist, his partner in every sense of the word.  John and Karen are raising two kids in the Excelsior, one with special needs. They live and breathe the life of a working family in San Francisco.

John is the most lefty candidate in the race. He serves on DCCC with me and on the Board of Supervisors, representing the oft-neglected District 11 (Excelsior, Ingleside, Outer Mission).  As the progressive thought leader on the Board, Avalos has been a strong voice for bicycling and livable streets, for tenants and labor unions, for urban agriculture, and for a vibrant arts community.  And you have to see his rad bike video.

John has an impressive list of endorsements: San Francisco Democratic Party (#1), the SF Bicycle Coalition (#1) Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club (#1) San Francisco Bay Guardian (#1), League of Pissed Off Voters (#1), Dog PAC (#1), SF Arts Democratic Club (#2), Sierra Club (#2), League of Conservation Voters (#3), Assembly member Tom Ammiano, and many labor unions. This many lefties can’t be wrong! Vote for Avalos #2.

#3 – Dennis Herrera.

It can’t be easy to run for Mayor as City Attorney, particularly when you are running against half of your clients in City government, but Dennis is doing a good job of navigating the ethical minefields. Dennis is known to be a good manager, a top notch City Attorney, and an innovator in government. Part of me doesn’t want to endorse him because I’d really like for him to stay on as City Attorney.

He is endorsed by many of the organizations I care about, including San Francisco Women’s Political Committee (#1), SF Arts Democratic Club (#1), San Francisco Labor Council (#1), League of Conservation Voters (#2), San Francisco Democratic Party (#2), San Francisco Bay Guardian (#2), Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club (#2), and many, many more.

Dennis walks the walk. He has won all of those endorsements because of his many years in the trenches fighting for each of the constituencies that these groups represent, from women (see: battling the Bush administration over abortion records), to environmentalists (see: suing to shut down polluting power plant). And he has worked tirelessly to make marriage equality a reality in California. Vote for Dennis.

District Attorney: (1) Sharmin Bock (2) David Onek

Incumbent George Gascon made a good police chief. He has decades of experience, he brought professionalism to the SFPD, he is very personable, and has a long history of standing up for immigrants in the criminal justice system. But he is a bad fit for District Attorney.

When then-Mayor Newsom appointing Gascon as District Attorney, it had the intended effect: it surprised the political elite and frustrated his adversaries. We all wondered, “Does he have a law degree? Did he pass the bar? Has he ever practiced law?” It was very confusing. [The answers are yes, yes, and no]. The switch to DA created all kinds of conflicts of interest, particularly in police misconduct cases. Can we trust that the former police chief is going to aggressively prosecute misconduct cases? Will he be transparent about accusations made against his former colleagues? Is he going to be an objective judge of the credibility of officers who testify in cases brought by the DA’s office? Absolutely not. The fox is guarding the henhouse.

#1 – Sharmin Bock.

My choice is Sharmin Bock.  A career prosecutor, Bock has spent decades working on crimes against women and children, she has extensive experience managing several divisions within the DA’s Office in Alameda County.  This point bears repeating: Sharmin has 22 years of experience prosecuting crimes and managing other prosecutors. She is the only candidate in this race with this kind of experience.

Sharmin has an extraordinary 95% conviction rate in felony cases brought to trial.  She has led the way in focusing public attention on and prosecuting the purchase of children for sex. Though she has good working relationships with police officers, she believes it is vital that the DA and the police be entirely independent of one another so that the public can be assured of police transparency and accountability.

Sharmin has been endorsed by lots of people and organizations I care about, including the Sierra Club, SF Women’s Political Committee, Bay Area Lawyers For Individual Freedom (BALIF), African American Democratic Club, EMILY’s List, Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club (#2), SF Democratic Party (#2), San Francisco Bay Guardian (#2), SF Arts Democratic Club (#2), SF League of Conservation Voters (#2), San Francisco League of Young Voters (#2), Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Supervisors Cohen, Mar and Mirkarimi.  For more about her campaign, go here. Please vote for Sharmin!

#2 – David Onek

Like Gascon, Onek has also never prosecuted a case. He is a progressive and a smart guy who has made a career of thinking about criminal justice issues.  Onek understands that the criminal justice system is broken, and that the entire system needs to change.  It bothers me that he has no experience working as a prosecutor, but he would be a better DA than the incumbent.

Onek’s endorsement list is long and impressive, and includes dozens of law enforcement professionals, elected officials and organizations, including outgoing Sheriff Mike Hennessey; Assemblymember Tom Ammiano; Supervisors Chiu, Avalos, Chu, and Mar; six members of the school board, the SF Democratic Party, the California Police Chiefs Association, SF Bay Guardian, several unions, SF League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, SF Young Democrats, SF League of Young Voters, SF Arts Democratic Club.

Sheriff: (1) Ross Mirkarimi

Retiring Sheriff Mike Hennessey has done a great job. He’s been Sheriff for over 30 years, and has implemented many innovative reforms to the City’s jail system, such as creating the country’s first charter high school within the jails.  He has handled evictions in a humane way, he has held his deputies to a high standard of behavior, and he has done great work in reducing recidivism and providing alternatives to incarceration.

Hennessey has endorsed Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to replace him as Sheriff. The two have much in common; both are progressives and reformers. They both think outside the box when it comes to how law enforcement can prevent crime and reduce recidivism, not just penalize criminals. Ross is the candidate best situated to carry Hennessey’s legacy forward.

What’s interesting about Mike Hennessey is that he had no law enforcement experience going into the job; he was a civil rights attorney before being elected. By contrast, Mirkarimi has extensive law enforcement experience, having graduated from the Police Academy, where he was president of his class, and having worked as an investigator in the DA’s office for nearly a decade.

Ross represents a district with many crime-related challenges (Western Addition, Haight, Fillmore) and he has spent much of his tenure on the Board of Supervisors focused on public safety issues. He personally appeared at every homicide scene, pushed for community policing and for organizing the community around crime — and he delivered the first veto override of Mayor Newsom’s career over forcing the police to use foot patrols in high crime neighborhoods.

Ross is endorsed by just about everybody: Sierra Club, San Francisco Democratic Party, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, SF Tenants Union, San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, San Francisco Arts Democratic Club, San Francisco for Democracy, African American Democratic Club, Latino Democratic Club, San Francisco Young Democrats, League of Pissed Off Voters, San Francisco Labor Council, Senator Mark Leno, Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano, Supervisors Mar, Kim, Campos, Avalos.  For more about his candidacy, go here. Please vote for Ross!

Proposition A (School Bond): YES

Yes, I know. It seems like we are asked to approve a school bond in every single election. Why? Because California’s budget process is bleeding schools to death, and this is really the only way local school districts are able to make capital improvements. Sad.

The $531 million new bond will go towards upgrading the seismic safety of 50 of 140 schools in the district, and it will require homeowners to pay about $21 per $100,000 of assessed value every year until the bond is paid off.  If you are not a homeowner, frankly you have nothing to lose in voting yes. You don’t have to pay for it, and the money will improve these schools significantly. I’m a (child-free) homeowner, and I’m voting yes because improving school quality in San Francisco makes it easier for families to stay here, it improves my property value, and because $21 is a small price to pay for seismically safer school facilities. Every member of the school board signed the ballot argument for this one, and it has been endorsed by just about everybody I care about. Vote YES.

Proposition B (Street Repaving and Street Safety Bond): YES

If you ride a bike or a scooter, you know that pavement quality in the City is horrible and dangerous. If Prop B passes, the new $248 million bond will accelerate major streetscape enhancements for biking, walking, and transit. It will make it easier to obtain grants from federal, state, and local agencies, and it will fund other badly needed infrastructure work. The Bike Coalition supports it, and so do I.

But one thing bothers me: City streets are supposed to be maintained by the general fund as a part of the City’s normal maintenance budget. Paying for this by way of a bond sets a really bad precedent. However, the City’s financial situation is dire, and delaying street repair can lead to exponentially higher costs down the road (not to mention the safety hazards), and so all things considered, the city will be worse off if B fails.  Vote YES.

Proposition C (Pension Reform – Consensus Measure): YES
Proposition D (Pension Reform – Adachi Measure):
NO

Everyone agrees: San Francisco’s pension liability is a huge cause for concern.  While pension costs are rapidly increasing, the investment funds that support them are being decimated by the economy.  By 2013, the Department of Human Resources estimates that pensions are going to constitute 52% of the City’s payroll expenses. And according to the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco owes $4.476 billion in pensions to its employees but can only afford to pay three-quarters of that cost. Yikes!

How did we get into this mess? Because during the fat years, city management offered increasingly better and better retirement options and benefits to city workers to improve the quality of employees they could attract, and to make the unions happy. The promise to a new city employee was: Take a pay cut to come work for the public sector now, and we’ll take care of you after you retire. I know, I was one of these public employees who took that deal.

Then, the City’s pension investment fund took a $4 billion hit in 2008, and the City was forced to start contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to pension costs using its annual revenues that pay for basic services such as police, fire, parks and roads. So here we are. With battling pension reform measures that we need to decide between.

Propositions C and D present voters with two different pension reform options. If both propositions receive a majority vote, the one with the most votes will go into effect.

Prop C is called the “consensus” measure because it was the product of a collaborative effort by Mayor Lee, the Labor Council AND the Chamber of Commerce, and the Board of Supervisors. It requires all City workers to pay a higher percentage of their salary into their own pensions – 2.3% to 12.5%, depending on the type of job and the City’s future investment successes. It also requires recent and future employees to contribute a percentage of their salaries into their retirement health plan.

Proposition D, by contrast, was written by Public Defender Jeff Adachi with little or no input from the City’s managers or organized labor. It will save the city $50 million more a year than Proposition C. It will require a higher contribution percentage across the board, and it will set a $140,000 cap on the total annual pension payout to any employee. Prop D does not address how the city handles health care for retired workers.

Labor strongly opposes D, and it will be a much more difficult burden to bear for most public employees, who have already taken many hits in recent years, including cuts to pay and benefits, and increases in workloads as the City has been laying off workers. Believe me, it is very difficult to be a public employee in the current environment. Please vote YES on C and No on D.

Proposition E (Reforming the Initiative Ordinance Process): YES

The ballot measure system is seriously flawed.  If the voters approve a law by ballot measure, that law can’t be amended except by going back to the voters.  This makes it nearly impossible to amend the law in many cases, and burdensome on voters who shouldn’t have to vote on a law every time it needs tweaking.

Because of the way the ballot measure system is set up, the City’s municipal code is a patchwork including dozens of crazy unworkable (and sometimes unenforceable) laws.  Prop E is an important reform to the way in which voters can make law, and coming from a person whose job it is to interpret the municipal code, I tell you this measure is a breath of fresh air.

If it is approved, Prop E will make the following changes:

  • For the first three years after a measure is approved, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will not be able to amend it.
  • In years four to seven after the law is passed, the Board will be able to amend or repeal a measure with a 2/3 vote.
  • After seven years, the measure will be amendable or repealable by a simple majority vote of the Board of Supervisors.

Prop E does not apply to any past voter-approved measures. It will only apply, if it is approved, to ballot measures adopted in the future. Sometimes laws have unintended consequences that need fixing, or they need a little tweaking to make them more workable. This law allows the Board of Supes to do the fixing and tweaking, and to remove provisions ruled illegal or unenforceable by the courts.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, SPUR (the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association), and the Chronicle support Prop E. It is opposed by the San Francisco Democratic Party, the Bay Guardian, Supervisor John Avalos and former Ethics Commissioner Eileen Hansen. They each say that Supervisor Wiener, the measure’s sponsor, hasn’t provided an adequate explanation as to why the law is needed, and that the democratic process is fine the way it is.  I disagree! This reform is a modest and thoughtful one, and it includes protections against abuse by future lawmakers. I suspect that much of the opposition is due to political biases against Supervisor Wiener, and due to fears that he has a particular law or laws in mind that he wants to change. Sup. Wiener is a former Deputy City Attorney, and I’ve spoken with him at length about his motivations – I think he genuinely wants to make the Municipal Code easier to use.

Reduce the size of future ballots, and allow City government to operate more efficiently.  Please vote yes on E.

Proposition F (Campaign Consultant Ordinance): No?

Prop F asks you whether you want to modify the law that sets reporting rules for local political consultants.  The San Francisco Ethics Commission, which is in charge of administering rules governing political consultants, asked for the changes.

Under the existing law, consultants are required to register if they earn $1,000 or more a year on political consulting (which is nothing, IMO). Under Prop F, that threshold would be raised $5,000 in annual consulting income (which is still very low). These changes are fine by me because it really won’t change the number of people registering as consultants. However, the new law would also allow the Ethics Commission to make any other changes it wants in the future.  In the words of Supervisor Wiener, the measure’s sponsor, “We don’t want to have to go back to voters and ask whether consultants should file every month or every three months.”  Sounds good, except that I’m not so sure the Ethics Commission can be trusted – it is not elected, but appointed by the very elected officials who would probably do away with the registration law if they had the chance. Unlike Prop E, this measure doesn’t include the same safeguards in exchange for taking away the voters’ power to make amend this law.

Prop F is supported by Supervisor Wiener, SPUR, and the Chamber of Commerce.  Environmental groups and lefty organizations like the Sierra Club, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and the San Francisco Democratic Party oppose it. So does Assembly member Tom Ammiano, who drafted the original law.

I’m all for streamlining government (see Prop E above), but I think this measure goes a little too far.

Proposition G (Sales Tax): YES

The next few paragraphs are very dry and involve math, so bear with me.

At the beginning of the year, the sales tax in SF was 9.5%.  It is now 8.5% because state lawmakers couldn’t agree on whether to extend a 1% temporary sales tax that expired June 30. Letting that 1% expire means less money coming from Sacramento for cities and counties.  (If you haven’t been paying attention, in the last few years the state government has been starving city and county governments by imposing new fees on them and refusing to pass along monies that the localities used to depend on for basic services).

So the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors put Prop G on the ballot to increase the local sales tax rate by 0.5% to make up some of that revenue loss – and it will pump approximately $60 million back into the City’s general fund. The sponsors say the money will go toward public safety, children’s services and programs for seniors.  AND – if Sacramento acts to raise the California sales tax by 1% sometime before November 30, or by 0.75% by January 2016, this new local sales tax hike will be scrapped. If it’s not scrapped, the increase will expire after 10 years.

The City needs the money really badly. And the new tax doesn’t even take us back to where it was earlier this year. Yes, OK, it’s regressive – meaning, poor people are hurt more by this tax than the rich.  But I honestly don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference to people’s pocketbooks – if it passes, it will add 5 cents to your next $10 purchase.  And $60 million WILL make a big difference to the services that the City is able to provide. Vote yes.

Proposition H (School District Student Assignment): NO

Prop H is based on a fallacy: that every San Francisco family wants their kid to go to the school that is closest to their home. If Prop H is approved, it will become an official policy of the City of San Francisco to encourage the school district to give the highest priority to assigning each student to the school closest to where they live. And I understand the premise: that families are leaving SF in large numbers because their kids are being bused across town.  And yet proximity is only one of many factors in a family’s school choice, and this premise ignores the many complicated factors that go into school preferences.

The teachers union and every member of the school board oppose Prop H, and for good reason: this measure only helps those families who live in neighborhoods with good schools. And it punishes those who live in poor neighborhoods and/or near underperforming schools.  Moreover, there are lots of different kinds of schools to choose from, depending on your child’s interests and abilities. Even if you live near a “good” school, you still might want your kid to go somewhere else. As if that weren’t enough, the measure is badly written, and will encourage school reassignments to happen in the middle of the school year if it passes. Prop H is just a bad idea all around. Please vote NO.

Big Ol’ Voter Guide – California & SF 2010

Now that I sit on the governing board of the San Francisco Democratic Party, I’ve had to pay very close attention to the campaigns that are vying for your vote in November. I’ve researched and grumbled, debated and pondered.  And here’s what I’ve come up with for the upcoming election in California and San Francisco.

At the top is a brief summary, and below you can find more detailed explanations of my endorsements.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a government lawyer and a San Francisco progressive whose passions include preserving and promoting nightlife and culture, fighting for economic and social justice, and getting more women elected to office.  I also like long walks on the beach.

If you live in California, but not SF, check out the statewide endorsements at the very top.  SF peeps? Hang on, this is a long one. You have 53 decisions to make before election day. Yikes. Aren’t you glad you know a policy nerd who did the research for you? ; )

CALIFORNIA BALLOT:
U.S. Senate – Barbara Boxer
Congress, 8th District – Nancy Pelosi
Governor – Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown
Lieutenant Governor – Gavin Newsom? Kinda?
Secretary of State – Debra Bowen
Controller – John Chiang
Treasurer – Bill Lockyer
Attorney General – Kamala Harris
Insurance Commissioner – Dave Jones
Board of Equalization (Dist. 1) – Betty Yee
Superintendent of Public Instruction – Tom Torlakson
State Senate Dist. 8  – Leland Yee
State Assembly Dist. 12 (West side of SF) – Fiona Ma
State Assembly Dist. 13 (East side of SF) – Tom Ammiano
Prop 19 – Legalize Marijuana – OH HELL YES
Prop 20 – Congressional District Reapportionment – NO
Prop 21 – Vehicle License Fee for Parks – YES
Prop 22 – Stop the State’s Raid on Local Government – YES
Prop 23 – Suspending Air Pollution Control Laws – OH HELL NO
Prop 24 – Restore Business Taxes – YES
Prop 25 – Simple Majority Budget Passage – OH HELL YES
Prop 26 – 2/3 Vote for Fees – OH HELL NO
Prop 27 – Eliminating Redistricting Commission – YES
 

SAN FRANCISCO BALLOT:
Supervisor District 2 – Janet Reilly
Supervisor District 4 – Carmen Chu
Supervisor District 6 – Debra Walker!
Supervisor District 8 – Rafael Mandelman!
Supervisor District 10 – Malia Cohen
SF Board of Education: Margaret Brodkin, Emily Murase (and Hoehn, Maufas or Mendoza)
SF Community College Board – John Rizzo
BART Board of Directors – District 8 – Bert Hill
Assessor-Recorder – Phil Ting
Public Defender – Jeff Adachi
SF Superior Court Judge (Seat 15) – Richard Ulmer
Prop AA – Vehicle Registration Fee – YES
Prop A – Earthquake Retrofit Bond – YES
Prop B – City Retirement and Health Plans – OH HELL NO
Prop C – Mayor Appearances at the Board – YES?
Prop D – Non-Citizen Voting in School Board Elections – YES
Prop E – Election Day Voter Registration – YES
Prop F – Health Service Board Elections – NO?
Prop G – Transit Operator Wages – NO
Prop H – Local Elected Officials on Political Party Committees – NO
Prop I – Saturday Voting – YES
Prop J – Hotel Tax Clarification and Temporary Increase – YES
Prop K – Hotel Tax Clarification – NO
Prop L – Sitting or Lying on the Sidewalk – OH HELL NO
Prop M – Community Policing and Foot Patrols – YES
Prop N – Real Property Transfer Taxes – YES

CALIFORNIA BALLOT:

U.S. SENATE – BARBARA BOXER
It’s a fascinating trend in politics, particularly in California. The Republican billionaire with little or no political record (or voting history) takes on a sorta well-liked Democrat with a long history in politics. The GOP tries to use that history against the Democrat, with some success. Here that Republican – Carly Fiorina – might just win. She’s arguing that she has run a multi-billion dollar company, and so she can help recover California from its financial mess. Nevermind that Fiorina was fired from HP after screwing up a merger, and exported 30,000 jobs while she was there. The choice is clear – Boxer’s one of the leading progressive voices in the U.S. Senate. She’s good on foreign policy and on immigration issues, she has been a lifelong champion of the environment and reproductive rights. Nuff said.

CONGRESS, 8TH DISTRICT – NANCY PELOSI
First female Speaker of the House. She’s a fighter, and a survivor. She’s also not perfect, but she takes care of her district, she is doing the best she can under extremely trying (highly partisan) circumstances.

GOVERNOR – EDMUND G. (JERRY) BROWN
Having worked in Oakland City Hall under Mayor Brown, I know him well. He’s a far more moderate guy than the Jerry who served as Governor from 1975-83, and perhaps that’s what it takes to get elected statewide in 2010.  Brown opposes tax cuts for the rich, he is promoting green jobs and takes bold stands on the environment and on gay marriage. And his hail-Mary campaign strategy (save all your limited resources until the very end when the voters are actually paying attention) is a HUGE risk. But it might just work. The more money Meg Whitman spends on her campaign, the less popular she becomes. And she’s just awful. First thing she wants to do is lay off 40,000 state employees. Really? The state’s unemployment rate will skyrocket. She’ll cut taxes at exactly the time that we’re closing state parks and libraries due to revenue problems. She’s yet another billionaire Republican who thinks she can buy the election – she has no political experience or background, and hasn’t indicated an interest in voting or government until she decided to run.  Ew. Vote for Jerry.

 LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR – GAVIN NEWSOM? KINDA?
Yeah, I’ve heard the argument. Vote for Newsom to get him out of San Francisco. But given his history in City Hall, his political pettiness (see Prop H below) and his pattern of sabotaging the careers of strong women in government, I have a hard time promoting his career any further. Besides, the job of Lieutenant Governor is not very important. The LG sits on, or appoints representatives to, several of California’s regulatory commissions and executive agencies. He or she doesn’t write laws or issue executive orders, and has very little influence over policies that come out of Sacramento. Both Newsom and his opponent are political moderates – there isn’t much difference between them. If you were to vote for a Republican for any statewide seat, this would be it. BUT – Newsom is a little better on promoting a green economy and on marriage equality. If you can’t bear to vote Republican, vote for Newsom.

SECRETARY OF STATE – DEBRA BOWEN
This office runs elections and keeps corporate filings, and Bowen has done a great job at both, IMO. As a former Elections Commissioner in SF, I care very much about maintaining the integrity of electronic voting systems – and this is something Bowen has excelled at.  Like Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, Bowen’s opponent is another wealthy Republican who has shown no interest in voting or government until recently.  Damon Dunn is a 34-year-old former pro football player who FIRST REGISTERED TO VOTE LAST YEAR.  If you picked a random person off the street, chances are they would have more elections-related experience than this guy.  And he wants to run the office that oversees elections? His campaign is an insult to your intelligence. Vote for Bowen.

CONTROLLER – JOHN CHIANG
Get to know John Chiang (pronounced “chung”). This guy’s a keeper. Aside from being a perfectly competent Chief Financial Officer for California, Chiang butted chests with Gov. Schwarzenegger when the Guv tried to cut the pay of state employees to minimum-wage level — and forced the Governator to back down.  Chiang is great.

TREASURER – BILL LOCKYER
Lockyer is a lock. His opponent is a weak candidate, and Lockyer has been a decent Treasurer by all accounts. Done.

ATTORNEY GENERAL – KAMALA HARRIS
This is a tight race, and an easy one for me.  Kamala’s opponent – Steve Cooley, DA of LA County – is your typical law-and-order, throw-more-cops-at-the-problem Republican. He’s a big proponent of the death penalty, vowing to make it easier to send people to the death chamber. Cooley has hammered Harris  on problems in the SF crime lab, and in the failure to out bad cops – problems that Kamala’s people should have detected earlier. But Kamala is still a far a better choice. Where Cooley is focused on punishing crime, Harris is focused on deterring it. She has placed an emphasis on preventing recidivism, being “smart on crime” rather than just “tough on crime.” She wants the AG’s office to attack a broad range of issues, including environmental justice and human trafficking. She has refused to seek the death penalty in San Francisco, and would bring the perspective of a woman of color to the AG’s office. She’s the future. Vote for Harris.

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER – DAVE JONES
Assemblymember Dave Jones is a former Legal Aid attorney who is widely known as a consumer advocate.  I like him because he’s so earnest. He’s got the chops – and more important, the integrity – to do this job well.  His opponent, a classic conservative, opposes consumer protections, and wants to limit lawsuits that would keep corporate America accountable.  Jones it is.

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION, DISTRICT 1 – BETTY YEE
The Board of Equalization is more important than you think – it sets and enforces tax policy, and has a hand in just about every area of revenue generation for California.  Betty is one of my political heroes. She was one of the first elected officials to endorse the legalization – and TAXATION – of marijuana. Betty’s a strong progressive, she mentors young women who want to run for office, and she’s one of the rare San Francisco political figures who is liked by folks on both sides of the (San Francisco) aisle. Go Betty!

SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION – TOM TORLAKSON
This race is a battle over the power of the teachers’ unions. Torlakson – who has the support of the unions – is in a runoff with Larry Aceves, who thinks the unions are the biggest problem in public education.  (I personally think chronic underfunding is the problem, but what do I know?)  Torlakson is a former science teacher who has made education his focus while in the state legislature. Aceves is a former principal and school superintendent who wants the unilateral right to suspend labor contracts. I think the teachers unions have done a good job of keeping school funding at the forefront of every budget debate in California, and I support their endorsement in this race. Vote Torlakson.

STATE SENATE – DISTRICT 8 – LELAND YEE
Yee has no real opposition, and he’ll be easily re-elected.  Even so, he’s running hard because he’s probably running for Mayor next year. He’s worth sending back to Sacramento, because he’s particularly good on governmental and corporate transparency issues.

STATE ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 12 – FIONA MA
Fiona represents the more conservative district in SF, and her politics align with her constituency. I disagree with many things she’s done in Sacramento, including promoting anti-tenant laws – but she’s good on lots of other issues I care about, like public power and high-speed rail. If you live on the west side of town, vote for Fiona.

STATE ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 13 – TOM AMMIANO
Ammiano is the elder statesman of San Francisco politics; his accomplishments are too plentiful to enumerate here.  He was the author of SF’s universal health care law and the City’s rainy day fund – both game-changers.  In the Assembly, he’s championed legalizing and taxing marijuana, and has demanded accountability on public safety issues. Tom is great, please vote for him.

PROP. 19 – LEGALIZE MARIJUANA – OH HELL YES
Millions of Californians have been waiting for this day. Prop 19 lets cities and counties set their own regulations for the adult use of marijuana – it’s a modest way of going about ending prohibition.  Fresno may want to keep it illegal, and Oakland may want to become the weed capitol of California, thereby benefiting from taxing and permitting grow-houses and dispensaries.  Experts agree that marijuana use is far less bad for you than cigarettes or alcohol, both of which are legal and widely used. The Bay Guardian said it best: continuing with pot prohibition will (1) empower the Mexican drug cartels and their violence and political corruption, (2) perpetuate a drug war mentality that is ruining lives and wasting law enforcement resources, and (3) deprive state and local governments of tax revenue from California’s number one cash crop.   Yes on Prop 19! It’s about time.

PROP. 20 – CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT REAPPORTIONMENT – NO
Full disclosure – I’m a big-D Democrat. And this issue is a Democrat versus Republican issue, period. Prop. 20 has to do with the power to draw congressional districts in California – and whether we want to re-draw the district lines to give more power to Republicans (and moderate Democrats) than there is now. The Prop 20 campaign argues that the measure would create more competitive elections and hold politicians accountable. I’m all for holding politicians accountable. But Prop. 20 could also give the GOP an advantage in a Democratic state. Doesn’t make sense to me.

PROP. 21 – VEHICLE LICENSE FEE FOR PARKS – YES
Before the Governator took office, Californians were paying a reasonable vehicle license fee – one that helped cover the full impacts of cars on the state – in road maintenance and repairing environmental damage, for example. Schwarzenegger repealed that fee, costing the state tens of billions of dollars. Prop 21 would charge an $18 annual fee on vehicle license registrations and reserve at least half of the $500 million in revenues for state park maintenance and wildlife conservation programs. The measure would also give cars free entrance to the state parks – bonus! $18 a year? We can afford it. Vote yes.

PROP. 22 – STOP THE STATE’S RAID ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT – YES
As an employee of local government, this one is close to home. In 2009, the California state legislature raided about $5 billion from city, county, transit, redevelopment and special district funds. These local taxpayer dollars would have been used to fund public safety, emergency response, and other local government services (and uh, my salary). Prop 22 would prevent the state from raiding these funds. Which is the right thing to do, because when these taxes were approved, taxpayers were expecting the revenues to go toward LOCAL services, not state programs.  Vote yes.

PROP. 23 – SUSPENDING AIR POLLUTION CONTROL LAWS – OH HELL NO
This one is really REALLY bad.  Prop. 23 was put on the ballot by oil companies and wingnuts in order to repeal a really important law that is helping combat global warming. Assembly Bill 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, imposed enforceable limits on greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 — and Prop. 23 would reverse that law, by suspending it until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent for a full year. Right. Like that’s going to happen any time soon. They call it the “California jobs initiative,” which just makes me sick. By pitting jobs versus the environment, you would think the business community would get behind 23 – right? Wrong. The SF Chamber of Commerce is actively opposing Prop. 23. And many business leaders recognize that green jobs are the future, and AB 32 is actually going to lead to more jobs, not less. For more, see this interactive video by my friends at Green for All. No on 23!!

PROP. 24 – BUSINESS TAXES – YES
Prop. 24 will restore certain taxes on large corporations (that had previously been repealed), and it will raise about $1.7 billion for the state’s general fund. California is in dire straits and the money to support our essential services has to come from somewhere. Might as well be the people who can afford to pay. Vote yes.

PROP. 25 – SIMPLE MAJORITY BUDGET PASSAGE – OH HELL YES
This is a really important one. The state budget was a full THREE MONTHS LATE this year. Why? Because California requires a 2/3 majority of the legislature to approve the budget. Which means that a minority (Republicans) can hold the budget process hostage until they get what they want. And in the meantime, workers can be furloughed, state offices can be shut down, the state can issue IOU’s, until a budget is passed. Prop. 25 would fix this problem by allowing the state legislature to pass a budget with a simple majority vote.  And the budget, frankly, will look a lot more like the priorities of the progressives in the legislature. End the gridlock. Vote yes on 25.

PROP. 26 – TWO-THIRDS VOTE FOR FEES – OH HELL NO
Currently, state and local governments must ask the voters to approve any new tax with a 2/3 vote. But “fees” are different from taxes because the revenues that fees generate go directly toward covering costs. For example, SF can charge a fee to block off a street for a festival, to cover the costs of cleanup or re-routing traffic. But Prop 26 would require the legislature or City Council or Board of Supervisors to go to the voters every time they wanted to impose a new fee. You think the ballot is too long now? Wait ‘til this measure passes. Seriously. It’s yet another attempt to make it harder for the City to cover the cost of doing business. Oh yeah, it’s also supported by Big Business and Big Oil, because it would also prevent governments from imposing new environmental impact fees on polluters. Vote NO!

PROP. 27 – ELIMINATING REDISTRICTING COMMISSION – YES
In 2008, voters approved a measure to create a redistricting task force on the premise that the state Legislature shouldn’t be drawing its own district lines. Yeah, I can see how that’s a conflict of interest. But the new task force – which is composed of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans – isn’t the solution. While the task force is supposedly less political, it is not representative of the state, which is dominated by Democrats. (Which of course I think is a good thing). Prop 27 would abolish the task force and return the task to the state legislature. Vote yes.

 

SAN FRANCISCO BALLOT: 

SUPERVISOR, DISTRICT 2 (Pac Heights, Marina, Cow Hollow, Presidio) – JANET REILLY
Frankly, Janet Reilly is overqualified to be Supervisor. She sits on the governing board of the Golden Gate Bridge, she’s a crackerjack fundraiser and policy wonk, she’s smart, thoughtful and level-headed. Which is exactly why City Hall needs her. Janet and I won’t always agree – she opposes most tax measures and she won’t always be aligned with the progressive majority on the board. But her politics seem to closely reflect that of her district – which is on the conservative side of town. And she has far more good ideas and experience than her opponents. Vote for Janet.

SUPERVISOR, DISTRICT 4 – (Sunset) – CARMEN CHU
You may start to detect a theme here. Carmen Chu and I usually disagree, but I recognize that she represents a conservative district, and her politics are similar to those of her constituency.  What I find interesting is that Chu never wanted to be Supervisor – Mayor Newsom plucked her out of his policy staff to serve out the rest of Ed Jew’s term. But she quickly got the hang of it, and she’s running unopposed for re-election. While we may not see eye-to-eye, I trust that she arrives at her decisions honestly, and with her constituents’ best interests in mind.

SUPERVISOR,DISTRICT 6 – (SOMA, Tenderloin, Civic Center, parts of Inner Mission) – DEBRA WALKER!
This is a fascinating race. Debra Walker serves on the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) with me, she’s worked on District 6 issues for a couple of decades, and has served on the Building Inspection Commission for many years. She understands land use and housing, the key issues in D6.  School Board member Jane Kim moved into the district recently in order to run for Supervisor, because she thinks her background, name recognition and political leanings can get her elected in this very leftist district. She, too, is a solid progressive, and her candidacy has split the City’s political left, opening the door for the more conservative candidate to win.  Theresa Sparks is the Chamber of Commerce’s candidate, though it’s interesting to note that she’s also transgender, used to be CEO of Good Vibrations, and served on the Police Commission – an interesting combination. It’s a big field, but those are the three candidates to watch. I’m supporting Walker because she’s paid her dues, she knows the district well, and she’s a progressive with proven integrity and a sharp mind.  Vote for Debra!

SUPERVISOR,DISTRICT 8 – (Castro, Noe Valley, Inner Mission, Glen Park) – RAFAEL MANDELMAN!
I ran for this seat four years ago, and so I’ve been following this race very closely. The three top candidates are Rafael Mandelman, Scott Weiner, and Rebecca Prozan. (All three are gay Jewish attorneys. Funny.)  This is a critical race for San Francisco, because District 8 is ground zero for the changing demographics of the City, the gentrification of our neighborhoods, the flight of families and the middle class. Rebecca Prozan is a deputy prosecutor and former campaign strategist who is painting herself as the middle-of-the-road candidate. She’s endorsed by outgoing Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose focus on neighborhood services she wants to emulate. Scott Wiener, a deputy city attorney, has done a lot of work in the district. But he might be the most conservative candidate running for Supervisor in any district this November. He and I disagree on almost every local issue.

I support Rafael Mandelman – he is the only progressive on this ballot, he promises to fight for immigrants and tenants, and for economic and social justice. As a former member of the Building Inspection Commission and Board of Appeals, and as a lawyer who advises local government agencies on land use issues, Rafael has good judgment and he has the know-how to be a great Supervisor. Vote for Rafi.

SUPERVISOR, DISTRICT 10 (Potrero, Visitation Valley, Bayview, Dogpatch) – MALIA COHEN
A fellow graduate of the Emerge Program, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, Cohen is my choice for D10 Supervisor. Malia has a long family history in this district, and knows it really well, having served as the D10 neighborhood liaison to the Mayor’s office many years ago.  Her priorities are keeping D10 “working, healthy and safe” – she wants to clean up the Hunters Point shipyard, create jobs, and focus on combating crime in the district. Elect Malia.

SAN FRANCISCO BOARD OF EDUCATION – MARGARET BRODKIN, EMILY MURASE (and Hoehn, Maufas or Mendoza)
Three spots are open on the School Board, and I have only endorsed two candidates, Emily Murase and Margaret Brodkin. As for my third vote, I’m torn among Kim-Shree Maufas, Natasha Hoehn and Hydra Mendoza. Emily Murase was in my class of the Emerge Program (which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office), and she is Executive Director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. She is a public school parent activist, and her emphasis is on performance incentives for teachers and encouraging parental involvement. She’s a coalition builder, as evidenced by her variety of endorsements from all sides of the San Francisco political world. I am supporting Margaret Brodkin because she is creative, independent and smart, and because she might have more experience advocating for children and their families than all of the other candidates combined.  She has had some personality clashes with certain City Hall folks, but I don’t think that should keep her from serving the school district well.  As the former director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, and as the former director of the SF Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, she is by far one of the most qualified people to run for School Board in a long time.

As for my third choice, I’m torn among Hoehn, Maufas and Mendoza. Natasha Hoehn is an up-and-comer, an 8th grade teacher with a broad range of endorsements. I think her teaching experience would be valuable to the board. But she doesn’t have much local political experience, and so I don’t know if she has what it takes to survive the blood sport that is San Francisco politics. Kim-Shree Maufas (also an Emerge alum) has a strong progressive voting record on the board, and I’m inclined to support her, but I have some reservations. Last year, she was reported to have used a school district credit card for personal expenses, and while she paid the district back, it was an error in judgment. But – she has been a tireless advocate for low-income kids and teachers, and she has always voted the right way on the issues that matter to me.  Hydra Mendoza is dynamic, experienced, and shrewd. While serving on the School Board, she has worked for Mayor Newsom as an education advisor – which I think is a conflict of interest – but she’s been a good School Board member, and she cares deeply about public education. You really can’t go wrong with any one of these three.

SAN FRANCISCO COMMUNITY COLLEGE BOARD – JOHN RIZZO
Here’s the thing: Only three people are running for College Board – for three spots – and all three are incumbents. They are all going to be re-elected, but that doesn’t mean they all should be. The Community College District is a mess. I’m deep into local politics, and even I have had a hard time keeping track of all the scandals and indictments and misused funds that have made the news in the many years while I’ve lived here.  And I place some of the blame on Lawrence Wong and Anita Grier, the two longtime incumbents running for re-election this November. Even if they weren’t responsible for the College Board mess, they certainly haven’t been a part of the solution. John Rizzo, on the other hand, has only served one term, and he is a leader in the movement to reform the Community College District. He is former chair of the Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club, he is thoughtful and well regarded, and has worked hard to get the district’s finances and foundation under control.  Vote for Rizzo.

BART BOARD OF DIRECTORS, DISTRICT 8 – BERT HILL
I like Bert Hill – he’s earnest, smart, and knows a whole lot about transportation policy. And he’s a Democrat, running against the only elected Republican in San Francisco (James Fang). He wants to bring more transparency to the BART Board and more accountability to the BART police department. Bert for BART!

ASSESSOR-RECORDER – PHIL TING
The Assessor-Recorder evaluates real estate for tax purposes. Boring, right? Wrong! Ting has been an aggressive assessor who has gone after big corporations (and the Catholic church) for trying to duck taxes. He has also been pushing for a statewide tax reform that, if approved, would lead to billions more dollars a year in annual revenues for the state. In this era of dwindling municipal resources, this is exactly the kind of Assessor we need. Phil is great, please vote for him!

PUBLIC DEFENDER – JEFF ADACHI
Most people will agree that Adachi has been doing a solid job as Public Defender, with limited staff and shrinking resources. He did a strange thing this year by sponsoring Prop B – a heinous measure that will cut health care benefits for City employees, and which will hurt the low-wage workers the most. That said, he’s definitely worth re-electing, assuming this Prop B thing was an anomaly.

SAN FRANCISCO SUPERIOR COURT – SEAT 15 – RICHARD ULMER
To me, this election has little to do with the candidates – Incumbent Richard Ulmer and challenger Michael Nava – and everything to do with the interference of politics in judicial decision-making.  I apply a different standard to my judicial endorsements than to political endorsements. In my view (and the view of most attorneys I know), sitting judges who are widely considered to be competent and ethical should be allowed to do their jobs without a political challenge. If a sitting judge is challenged, it requires that judge to raise money from the very attorneys and law firms who appear before him or her, which is icky.  And if judges regularly face electoral challenges they will start factoring endorsements and other political considerations into the decisions they render, with an eye toward their next campaign.  This is how the bench becomes politicized.

In this race, incumbent Judge Ulmer is an interesting candidate – he’s been a judge for less than a year, he’s a former Republican with a long history of pro bono work fighting for reforms in the juvenile detention system. He has a long list of endorsements from people whom I respect. By all accounts, he is doing a fine job. Michael Nava is a gay Latino who has been working as a research attorney for a California Supreme Court Justice, and whose campaign is based on adding diversity to the bench.  Nava has every right to run, of course, but if he wins, it could set a dangerous precedent whereby every judgeship is fair game, and the local judiciary is permanently compromised by electoral politics. I look forwardto supporting Nava when he runs for an open seat in the future. Vote for Ulmer.

PROP. AA – VEHICLE REGISTRATION FEE – YES
Proposition AA would add $10 to the existing annual fee for vehicles registered in San Francisco, and generate an estimated $5 million a year in revenues that would go toward street repairs, public transit, new bike infrastructure, pedestrian crosswalks, and transit reliability projects. These projects need money badly. I think $10/year is a fair price to pay for improving our streets and MUNI. Vote yes.

PROP. A – EARTHQUAKE RETROFIT BOND – YES
Prop A is a $46.15 million bond to support seismic upgrades for affordable housing. Hundreds of buildings will be affected – and this bond is essential to protect vulnerable San Franciscans who live in affordable housing units.  The measure would fund seismic upgrades with grants and deferred loans, which would accrue interest but would only need to be paid back if the building owner converts the building from affordable housing to some other use. Vote yes on Prop. A.

PROP. B – CITY RETIREMENT AND HEALTH PLANS – OH HELL NO
Public Defender Jeff Adachi placed this measure on the ballot to combat rising health insurance costs for the City. Prop. B requires public employees to bear the brunt of these ballooning costs, and in some cases it will cost the employee thousands of dollars.  And it’s regressive – the measure hurts the lowest-wage workers the most, because the additional payment is the same whether the employee earns $40,000 or six figures. I agree that something must be done to limit the City’s expanding health care costs, but this measure is not the answer.  Adachi placed Prop B on the ballot without consulting public employee unions, who deserve a seat at the table when major decisions like this are made.  Let’s defeat Prop B, and then bring everyone to the table to arrive at a more reasonable solution.

PROP. C – MAYOR APPEARANCES AT BOARD – YES?
This measure requires the mayor to appear monthly, in person, at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors to formally discuss policy matters. I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I’d like to see Mayor Newsom engage in a serious and public discussion of the issues that face the City. This mayor doesn’t value transparency; he has been particularly secretive about his budget decisions and appointments. On the other hand, this measure seems petty. It is clearly aimed at one particularly petulant mayor, whose term is up in a year (or less, if he is elected to statewide office). But can we set aside personal vendettas for a minute, and ask whether we really want to require all future mayors to engage in debate with the Board once a month? I have a feeling that whoever the next mayor is, he or she will be far more personally engaging and transparent than the incumbent. But heck, why not? It will make for good political theater.  Vote yes?

PROP. D – NONCITIZEN VOTING IN SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS – YES
This charter amendment would establish a 4-year pilot program to allow San Francisco residents who are parents, guardians, and caregivers of children who attend school in San Francisco, to vote in local school board elections, regardless of whether these residents are U.S. citizens.  The idea is that voting in school board elections will encourage parental involvement, and educational studies show that when parents are involved in the school system, the entire school system improves. Vote yes.

PROP. E – ELECTION DAY VOTER REGISTRATION – YES
California requires voters to register at least 15 days before an election. Prop. E would allow any SF resident to simply show up at a polling place on Election Day, register to vote, and participate in a municipal election. It will increase turnout (by at least 3%-6%), expand the number of people who are eligible to vote, thereby including more citizens in the democratic process! This is a good thing! This change would primarily benefit low-turnout populations such as the young, renters and transients, those who have mobility issues, and the poor. (Note that these people also tend to vote more progressive, ahem). The Department of Elections is confident that if Prop E passes, their existing procedures can ensure against fraud.  I agree with the Bay Guardian here: “In an era of growing political apathy and cynicism, anything that draws more people into the electoral process is a good thing.” Vote yes.

PROP. F – HEALTH SERVICE BOARD ELECTIONS – NO?
I’m not sure why this one is on the ballot. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd sponsored this measure to save the City $30,000 per year (that’s nothing, really), by consolidating elections for the board that oversees the city employee health care fund. Unions are against it because they say the measure will turn board elections into more expensive and complex political contests. So I say no.

PROP. G – TRANSIT OPERATOR WAGES – YES
Muni drivers are the only City employees who don’t have to engage in collective bargaining for wages and work rules, and the City Charter guarantees them the second-highest salary level of all comparable transit systems in the nation. The Muni drivers union squandered all their good will during this year’s budget negotiations. Many of Muni’s work rules need to be changed, and if Prop G passes, it would give the City the leverage it needs to make those changes. Don’t get me wrong, I am a proud union member, and I usually oppose measures that detract from union power – see Props B & F. But here, as a government employee whose pay and benefits have been slashed in the last few years, I think it’s only fair that all City employees – including Muni drivers  – share the pain. Vote yes.

PROP. H – LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS ON POLITICAL PARTY COMMITTEES – NO
If I were an average voter, I’d be pretty annoyed at Mayor Newsom for wasting my time with this one. Here’s the back-story: Newsom supported a bunch of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) this past June, and almost all of them lost. The progressive slate (of which I was a member) had several current and past members of the Board of Supervisors on it, with more name recognition, good will among the voters, and funding than Newsom’s candidates. And we won. Which really chapped Newsom’s hide.  So he placed Prop H on the ballot in order to bar elected officials in San Francisco from serving on the Democratic or Republican committees. Bitter much?  Even if it passes, it’s almost certainly unenforceable  — the parties get to decide their own membership rules — and it just doesn’t pass the smell test. Vote no.

PROP. I – SATURDAY VOTING – YES
As a former chair of the San Francisco Elections Commission, I get excited about measures that make it easier for people to vote (see Props D & E). Prop I proposes an experiment in opening the polls the Saturday before the next mayoral election (November 2011). Saturday voting makes way more sense than Tuesday. Congress established Tuesday voting in 1845, in order to accommodate horse-and-carriage travel times. Obviously, this is not important in modern day San Francisco. I’d like to see Election Day held at a time when most people aren’t working, allowing the voting process to be more of a community and family activity. Vote yes.

PROP. J – HOTEL TAX CLARIFICATION AND TEMPORARY INCREASE – YES
PROP. K – HOTEL TAX CLARIFICATION – NO
Props J and K are two competing measures that correct a loophole in San Francisco’s existing hotel tax. The loophole is this: If a visitor books her hotel herself, she’d pay the full tax. But if she booked it through Travelocity or some other online booking service, she avoids paying a tax on a chunk of the cost.  Also, airlines that book rooms for flight crews avoid paying hotel taxes. Both Props J & K correct these loopholes. Those changes are expected to generate at least $12 million a year. Prop. J asks visitors to pay a slightly higher tax — about $3 a night — for the next three years. The $3 increase in the hotel tax will generate about $26 million per year.  If both measures pass, whichever gets the most votes will take effect. The Chamber of Commerce and the tourism board say the $3 tax could hurt tourism — but I find this hard to believe. San Francisco desperately needs this revenue to prevent additional layoffs of city workers, and to protect vital services. Vote YES on J and NO on K.

PROP. L – SITTING OR LYING ON SIDEWALKS  – OH HELL NO
Prop L prohibits sitting and lying on the sidewalk. Have you participated in a street fair or Bay to Breakers? Then you know there is nothing inherently wrong about sitting on the sidewalk. We lawyers call measures like Prop L both “overinclusive and underinclusive.” On the one hand, it goes too far – it would prohibit certain behavior that can and should be legal – like sitting on the curb while watching a parade or waiting for a bus. On the other hand, it doesn’t go far enough – it doesn’t actually prohibit the kind of behavior that it is supposedly aimed at, which is the harassment of pedestrians by menacing kids. Moreover, the police already have all the laws they need to stop the harassment of pedestrians.  This measure is unnecessary and it delegates too much authority to the police to cite behavior that should remain legal. Vote no.

PROP. M – COMMUNITY POLICING AND FOOT PATROLS – YES
Prop. M is a great idea. It would require the chief of police to establish a citywide program to get cops out of their cars – and on foot – to deal with safety and civility issues – like, say, the harassment of pedestrians by menacing teenagers (see above).  It would also get the Police Commission involved in developing a community policing policy and encouraging citizen involvement in combating crime.  Prop. M also includes a poison pill: if the voters adopt both M and L, but M gets more votes, then the Sit/Lie Law (Prop L) will not take effect. I’m voting for Prop M because I think it’s a good idea, and also because I don’t like Prop L. Vote yes.

PROP. N – REAL PROPERTY TRANSFER TAX – YES
This measure slightly increases the tax charged by the City on the sale of property worth more than $5 million, and promises to bring in additional revenue of $36 million. Given the City’s budget woes, that’s all I need to hear. Vote yes.