I read recently that the average American spends more time evaluating the purchase of a vacuum cleaner than in casting their ballot. That struck home. By way of amends, I sat down and read the sample ballot pamphlet, reviewed the League of Women Voters website, and looked at websites on both sides of most of the propositions. I didn’t look at candidate websites because my mind on those was already made up from other information, including party affiliation and personal acquaintances.
Here’s what I came up with, for what it may be worth. I’ll start locally and work my way up, just the opposite of the Sample Ballot, sorry.
City Council: I’m in District 5 (Capitelli) where there is no race this year. I haven’t paid enough attention to races in other districts to comment.
I support the incumbents, Josh Daniels, Karen Hemphill, Julie Sinai.
Rent Stabilization Board
I support the tenant slate: Chang, Harr, Laverde-Levine, Selawsky, Townley
Measure D, the Soda Tax.
This is almost a no-brainer. Soda is loaded with sugar. Overdosing on sugar is very bad for the body. If soda costs more, people will drink less of it. If they drink less of it, they will be healthier. And the City will have a modest increase in revenues. Although the measure may not be 100 per cent effective, it is strong enough to bring out the marketing heavies of Big Soda. They’ve spent more than $12 per man, woman and child in Berkeley so far to try to defeat it. This is Berkeley v. Big Dirty Greedy Corporations. As they say in Chicago, vote Yes early and often.
Measure F, Parks Tax.
There’s no question that Berkeley’s parks are one of its major assets, and are worth paying for. What’s confusing is why the parks tax needs to be increased by almost 17 per cent when the size and number of parks has not increased and the number of park employees has been cut by 25 per cent. I just don’t get the math here. Opponents don’t have a clear analysis either, but rest their case on a general gripe about the City budget as a whole. I don’t see how screwing the parks is going to improve the City’s budgetary process, so I’m voting “Yes” and making a note to demand a clear and transparent accounting from the Parks Department. My vote is swayed by the fact that I’m a daily user of beautiful Cesar Chavez Park on the waterfront and I’d like to see some money spent to upgrade and improve it.
Measure O, Recall process
This would bring local rules about recalling elected officials in line with state law. There doesn’t appear to be any opposition. Yes.
Measure P, Corporate Personhood.
This would call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would expressly abolish the doctrine that corporations are persons with constitutional rights and that spending money constitutes speech. This is one of those declarative measures that by itself has no effect on anything, but puts the city on record and maintains its reputation as a champion of rational thinking on public issues. That’s an important record and a precious reputation. I will vote Yes, of course.
Measure Q, Flex Time.
This is an advisory to the city council requesting it to enact an ordinance making it easier to work part time and flex time. No opposition has been filed. Yes.
Measure R, Downtown Plan
Lots of heat on this one, with the city fathers and mothers drawing wagons in a circle and urging defeat. Proponents argue that the downtown plan approved by 64% of the votes two years ago (the original R) hasn’t lived up to its promises. It let developers benefit on condition they built green and did local hiring, but that didn’t happen. Loopholes in the current setup let developers pocket the quid without producing the quo pro. Opponents of R haven’t met that factual argument head on; it seems to me that by their evasions they’ve conceded it. Opponents argue that if you hold developers to high green standards and insist that they provide community benefits like low-income and family-sized housing, as R does, they won’t play. Sounds to me like the opponents are catering to a type of developer that doesn’t deserve to leave their mark in this fair city. We should aim higher.* Even without the protection it provides for the city’s historic district, which I support, I think R should be given a chance. If in fact after two years under the 2014 R there’s really no movement forward, we can always reconsider. I will vote Yes.
Measure S, Redistricting.
Redistricting is required every ten years, but district maps are political game boards. The nub of the problem with the map that Measure S would enshrine is that the important student vote, whose majority is generally on the liberal side, gets fragmented. The frats, which tend to vote right wing, would get their own district, while the majority of the student vote would be submerged in general residential districts. Opponents of S, including the major student organizations, are crying foul. It’s interesting how the city council majority stands tall and fair on symbolic issues like the soda tax, corporate personhood, and the like, but then descends to crass right-wing gerrymandering which will have the consequence of squelching whatever reputation Berkeley still has as a progressive city. I think the students have a point. I’ll vote No.
Karen Monroe for County Superintendent of Schools. Monroe’s mother was a principal in Berkeley, and her whole family is a testimonial to the importance of education as a pathway to progress. Monroe herself has worked at all levels of K-12 education and is currently the No. 2 person in the Alameda County Office of Education. She is thoroughly familiar with its operation and is the perfect person for a smooth transition following the 16 year term of the current superintendent, Sheila Jordan, who will retire at the end of this year. (Disclosure: Jordan and I are married). Monroe has Jordan’s endorsement and full support. She also has the endorsement of practically every other public official in education and outside, as well as business and labor groups. She’s a consensus candidate and deserves a strong show of support.
Measure BB: County Transportation
BB is a minor boost for public transportation, paid for in the worst possible way. There is no doubt that the county – like most of the country generally – needs major upgrades in public transportation. Roads, highways, buses, BART, bicycles, the environment all need major boosts in funding. Unfortunately, this measure will raise only an estimated $8 billion over 30 years. This sum may be enough for maintenance, repairs, and minor improvements, but it falls well short of what is needed to create a public transit system good enough to make large numbers of people leave their cars at home. We should be spending about $8 billion a year for a decade. Measure BB is not only too small to have a big impact, it’s financed by regressive taxation. Sales taxes categorically hit hardest on lower-income people. Projects of this kind should not have to rely on local financing. The state should raise excise taxes on liquor and tobacco, institute a severance tax on natural resources that corporations extract from California lands, and slap higher taxes on gasoline and higher bridge tolls for solo drivers. And the federal government should step in with major subsidies. Public transit fares should be radically reduced. Measure BB is not even half a loaf, it’s just a slice or two, and it’s taking bread out of the mouths of those who most need it. Nevertheless, holding my nose, and with a shudder at the state of transportation if nothing is done, I will vote “Yes.”
I’ll vote the straight Democratic ticket wherever its Dem v Rep.
In the 15th Assembly District, my vote goes to Tony Thurmond. Thanks to his tough upbringing and sharp intelligence, he’s got a fire in his belly to get things done that I don’t sense in his opponent. He’s strong on education, environment, and labor issues, and has a creatively pragmatic spirit that promises great results. I also think it’s important, other things being equal, to have an African-American in the Assembly representing our area.
In the nonpartisan state schools race, Tom Torlakson is the better candidate.
Prop 1. Water Bond.
If it rains, most of this measure won’t be needed. If it doesn’t rain, this measure won’t help much. At an expense approaching $15 billion, including the interest, this measure will not add one drop of water to the existing supply, and it will do little if anything to stop the tremendous waste of water that has become routine during the flush years. What it will do, insofar as its vague language allows any conclusions, is to add more dams – when good policy is fewer dams – and bigger pumps, tunnels, and canals to divert even more of the existing supply to inefficient agribusiness applications where most of it is wasted. The measure might fund some badly needed efforts, such as reinforcing earthen levies in the Delta, and cleaning up polluted groundwater, but no such virtuous commitments are hardwired into the proposition. Basically, Prop 1 creates a big pool of money. Any interests with water projects fitting into the measure’s fluid categories can apply to drain it. Notably missing from the measure is a ban on fracking, which is a huge consumer of clean water and a huge polluter of groundwater. I sympathize with the stated aims of the measure but can’t in good conscience vote for what looks and smells like a boondoggle. No.
Prop 2. Budget Tweaks.
This sounds good – who could oppose a rainy day fund – but it’s extremely complicated and the brunt of it falls on local school budgets. When times are very very good, school budgets will get more money. When times are just average good, they’ll stay even. When times are poor, they’ll feel a severe pinch. Yes, the state debt should be paid a bit more quickly, but not at the expense of schoolchildren. This is a mean-spirited measure. No.
Prop. 45. Health Care Insurance Rates.
This would bring health insurance company rates for small group and individual plans under the same umbrella as large group rates, which are reviewed by the elected Insurance Commissioner. At present, we have an excellent Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, who is not in the pocket of the insurance companies. Therefore, I’m in favor. But if Jones were succeeded by an insurance company poodle, I would reverse my stance. Clearly, review by a single elected official is not the ideal system, but that’s not the question on the ballot. I vote Yes.
Prop 46: Doctors.
Wow! Who put this freak together? It would do three things: (1) require drug tests of physicians, (2) require physicians to check a statewide database of narcotic prescription drugs, and (3) raise the cap on medical malpractice awards from $250k to $1.1 million. As to (1), it’s insulting to physicians and unnecessary. Drug-impaired physicians exist but are an extreme rarity. As to (2), it sounds sort of OK but patients could easily evade it, and it could turn into another witch hunt against doctors who prescribe much needed pain medications. As to (3), raising the cap is long overdue and deserves support, because under the current system egregious medical malpractice cases can’t be prosecuted because the cap on damages is too low to cover the expense of bringing them to trial. I’d vote for this measure if it only had point 3, but the addition of the other two prongs sticks in my craw. I’ll flip a coin at the last minute.
Prop 47: Sentencing
Enough already. We sentence more people to dead-end human warehouses than I can wrap my mind around. Charles Dickens, where are you, to light up the human dimension of this mindless institutional brutality? Prop 47 falls far short of the necessary reform of the penal system, but it’s a start. Shame on Kamala Harris for not endorsing it. I will vote Yes.
Prop 48: Indian Casinos.
Native Americans have been screwed over in countless ways, not least by being driven onto reservation lands in the remotest, most inhospitable badlands. With so many other Indian tribes getting casinos on their reservation lands, it seems unfair to deny casino rights to the North Fork and Wiyot Tribes. The proposition would allow them to share in a new casino and hotel off res and on a highway. I hate casinos and think they’re a blight on economic development but I can’t blame the tribes for grabbing at whatever boons the Great White Father allows them, be they ever so rotten. I’ll vote Yes.
That’s it. What remains to be seen is whether the effort I put into this will have greater benefits than selecting a good vacuum cleaner.
* Footnote on R. In a post on nextdoor.com, an opponent of R asked the following questions of detail. I consulted with a proponent of R, and here are answers:
Q: How does removal of 1300 units make housing more affordable?
A: R does not remove housing units. R will add an additional 20 per cent of affordable units in the tallest new buildings.
Q: How is reducing building height “green”?
A: Measure R does not cap building heights except in the buffer zones directly adjacent to R-2 (residential) neighborhoods, and then only to require step design and set-backs from the street.
Q: How is reducing housing density “green”?
A: This is a misconception. R does not reduce housing density.
Q: How is it “green” to require more parking spots downtown?
A: Measure R requires additional parking for electric car charging, car shares, and ADA parking. Developers are required to add a small amount of regular parking if they take advantage of provisions allowing more penthouse density.
Q: How is the existing LEED Gold standard not “green”?
A: The “Gold” standard requires nothing more than locating a conventional building near transit. Measure R calls for the Platinum standard, which adds recycling, composting, and solar.
Q: Why does R claim to save the Post Office when this and other historic buildings are already protected?
A: The existing protection for the historic district is subject to abolition by simple City Council majority. Measure R would require approval by the voters.
Q: How is it “progressive” to support Measure R?
A: True progressivism prioritizes liveable and equitable cities. Bowing to developer profits as a decision driver does not reflect progressive values.