Monday, October 25, 2010

November 2010 Endorsements

Email sent with endorsements for the November 2, 2010 state of California and city of San Francisco elections

Dear Friends,

For the past few years, a few of us have gotten together before an upcoming election to go through all the various items on the ballot, research them, discuss them, make jokes about them in hopes of being better informed on election day. Then we email our results to you in case you don't have the time or inclination to go through the same process on your own (it took us over 2 hours).

This time we had 6 participants: Gabrielle, Jenny, Jon Tracy, Eric (OE), Jeff (Evil) and Brendan (Big Guy, Mr. B).

Results (non-unanimous decisions marked with *):

California State:

Prop 19: Yes
Prop 20: Yes
Prop 21: No*
Prop 22: No
Prop 23: No
Prop 24: Yes*
Prop 25: Yes
Prop 26: No
Prop 27: No

San Francisco:

Prop AA: Yes
Prop A: No
Prop B: Yes
Prop C: Yes
Prop D: Yes
Prop E: Yes
Prop F: Abstain*
Prop G: Yes
Prop H: No
Prop I: Yes
Prop J: No
Prop K: Yes
Prop L: Yes*
Prop M: Yes*
Prop N: No*

Prop 19 - Legalize Marijuana - Yes

It probably comes as no surprise that a bunch of San Francisco residents between 25 and 35 years old are in favor of legalizing marijuana (not that we've ever smoked it before because that would be illegal (except when Jeff was in Amsterdam)).

We were interested in hearing some arguments against it, but have yet to find a single one that holds up. Here's an example: in the voter guide Dianne Feinstein claims, "If Proposition 19 passes, the worker with marijuana in his or her system may not be removed from the job until after an accident occurs." But the actual text of Prop 19 (Sec. 11304(c)) says "the existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually impairs job performance shall not be effected." Nice try, Senator.

I'm not sure if the opponents of Prop 19 have actually read it, but we have. And we find any ambiguous claims of it being "poorly written" to be without merit. Search and replace pot with booze, and you land right at the our current, accepted, functioning alcohol law.

We, like many people, think marijuana and alcohol should be treated identically. Likewise, the similarities between alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and marijuana prohibition today are striking. We don't know what will happen as Prop 19 is in direct contention with federal law, but think it's time to take it to court.

Prop 20 - Redistricting - Yes

We were big fans of Prop 11 back in 2008, which tries to kill the practice of gerrymandering by creating a commission to draw district lines, consisting of one third Democrat, one third Republican, and one third independent. We think that sounds incredibly fair, and would like to apply it to Congressional elections with Prop 20.

The only arguments against are from incumbent Democrats and their supporters who enjoy their majority in the state legislature and the power to gerrymander that comes with it. We haven't heard any principled arguments against it, so easy for us to vote yes.

Prop 21 - Vehicle license fee to fund State Parks - No*

We were pretty evenly split on this one: 2 for, 3 against, 1 abstain. And nobody was very strongly for, strongly against, not voting.

One one hand, $18 per year is pretty modest, and it funds state parks which were in danger of closing down this year as the budget tightened. We love state parks (especially Mt. Tam).

On the other hand, part of the reason California is in such a mess is that we have all these stupid Propositions that bind the hands of our elected officials. We don't want to add another.

What killed it for some of us was that Prop 21 would take away the ability for state parks to charge entry fees to people who had paid the surcharges, but entry fees seem to be to most fair way to collect money.

Prop 22 - Protect local funds from legislators - No

Another proposition to prevent state legislators from directing money where it's needed, tying their hands. It's already bad enough.

Also, this seems to simply be a battle between various public sector unions, voting based on whether they will be the beneficiaries of the protected money. Leave us out of it.

Prop 23 - Suspension greenhouse gas law AB 32 - No

We were proud when California fought the Bush administration for the right to have higher environmental standards. No way do we want to undo them, even temporarily.

Prop 24 - Close business loopholes - Yes*

4 of 6 of this in favor of this one, but could have gone either way. Prop 24 takes away some accounting tricks that businesses can use to pay less taxes. They didn't seem to be anything totally outlandish though, and California already has a reputation of being unfriendly to business.

OE didn't like it because once again it represents the electorate meddling with policies that are generally set by the legislature.

Prop 25 - 50% to pass a budget - Yes

The current two-thirds requirement is one of the biggest hurdles to us having a functional legislature. We are stoked to get rid of it.

Prop 26 - 2/3 majority to increase fees - No

Didn't you read what we just said for Prop 25? Two-thirds means fees will never be raised, even when it's necessary. Let the legislature do its job.

Prop 27 - Un-Redistricting - No

As we said before in Prop 20, we're anti-gerrymandering, so we're anti-this.

Prop AA - Vehicle registration fee to pay for roads - Yes

This fee is just $10 a year, and it goes to pay for roads and transit, which sounds good to us.

What really tipped the scales is that the opponent in the voter guy is none other than Terence Faulkner, a crazy guy from the last election pamphlet. If he's the only one against it, then it sounds pretty good.

Prop A - Earthquake Bond - No

We primarily don't like Prop A because we don't like bonds. This one is looking for $46 million, but the SF budget is $6.5 billion and is running an annual deficit of $450 million. If they want to set aside $46 million, they should be able to do it with the money they've got.

Also, this bond is to help the owners of private buildings. Can't they go to the bank?

We vote no. The one thing that kills us is that we're actually voting with Terence Faulkner on this one. Arrrgh!

Prop B - Pension reform - Yes

A very controversial issue here in SF, but we're all for it. The few level heads around City Hall can see that our current pension deal is just not sustainable and has to be changed. It's not about politics so much as accounting.

And we couldn't help notice that some of the city workers are ridiculously over-paid. This basically amounts to a pay cut, and we think it's well-deserved. A lot of people are out of work right now, so the city workers might want to count their blessings.

Prop C - Mayoral Question Time - Yes

Why wouldn't the mayor want to talk to the board of supervisors once a month? Maybe because it distracts him from campaigning for Lieutenant Governor.

It's really too bad it's come to this, but if we really have to force our Mayor to act civilly every once in a while, so be it.

Prop D - Non-citizens vote for school board - Yes

There are many non-citizens that are here legally and pay taxes and have kids in our schools, so they deserve some representation to go along with that taxation. Such voting policy was apparently common in the US (and other countries) until some anti-immigrant hysteria in the 1920s had us circle the wagons.

Oh, and Terence Faulkner is his ALL-CAPS glory is against it. Put us down for yes.

Prop E - Same-day voter registration - Yes

Initially some of us were against this one until we talked it out. For one thing, we actually had someone in our midst (Jon Tracy) who would benefit from same-day voter registration.

Registering to vote seems so fundamental to democracy, it's hard to believe it could be politicized. But it is. Most of us register when a someone is paid by one of the two big parties to register people at a targeted location. But if it happens to be a non-presidential year (like this one) and you just moved here (like Jon Tracy) you could easily miss the chance.

Registering at the polls is the most un-partisan way to do it, and the way they're proposing to do it makes sense. Too bad it will only count at the city level.

Prop F - Health Service Board - Abstain*

This makes a small change to the way the Health Service Board (who???) gets elected. Total savings could be a whopping $30k.

Most of us (4 out of 6) were annoyed at even being bothered with such a lame administrative detail, so we will be abstaining to show our contempt.

Prop G - Transit operator wages - Yes

We don't know how transit operators got their insanely generous wage provision into the city charter (by law they have the 2nd highest pay of any American city), but we want it out. How can the city negotiate with a union that has their salary guaranteed?

Prop H - Elected officials on political party committees - No

Gavin Newsom thinks that people involved in other areas of politics could be influenced in their city jobs. Well, what would you know about that, Mr. Mayor-Campaigning-For-State-Office? I just laughed out loud: in his arguments, Newsom writes, "Serving as an elected official is a serious commitment." This from the guy is hoping to quit his job Sarah Palin style.

Why wouldn't elected officials be involved with their parties? Especially third parties where there aren't that many officials to go around. Apparently this is aimed at some specific people Newsom doesn't like.

Prop I - Saturday voting - Yes

This is a one-time experiment, and we like experiments (typical science nerds). Here's a fictional conversation we had with the people involved:

Alex Tourk: "Why do we vote on Tuesday at all? It's a relic from the farming days."
US: "Good point!"
Terence Faulkner: "I'M AGIN IT!"
US: "Sweet, then we're definitely for it."
Alex Tourk: "Gavin Newsom was my pal, then he slept with my wife."
US: "Mother F#@$%^ Newsom!"

Prop J - Increase hotel taxes, close resident loophole - No
Prop K - Close loophole only - Yes

We like the idea of closing this tax loophole, but think hotels already have enough taxes associated with them. No need to bleed our visitors further.

Prop L - Sit/Lie ordinance - Yes*
Prop M - Police beat patrol - Yes*

We were somewhat split, but the majority of us chose to vote in an unconventional way for these. The sponsors of the measures want you to vote for just their Prop and against the other one, but they're not the boss of us.

Sit/Lie lets the police charge someone for sitting or lying on any San Francisco sidewalk from 7am to 11pm. Its aim is to give the police an extra tool to make life unpleasant for the various panhandlers and troublemakers on Haight street. Sounds good to those of us that live there.

On the other hand, the simple act of sitting on a sidewalk (if you're not blocking the foot traffic) really isn't the problem. Non-panhandlers could sit on most of the streets in the city and not even be noticed, and the street thugs can be just annoying while they stand. There are already laws on the books that prohibit the behavior we're really bothered by - aggressive panhandling, threats, etc.

So to be OK with Prop L, we really have to trust that the police will enforce it the way we want it, not arrest us if we ever touched butt to pavement. Well, the SF police have earned our trust over the years, so we're willing to give them this tool. For whatever reason the current law isn't working and we're ready to give this a try.

Most of us also like Prop M, which would mandate more cops walking the streets instead of driving around in cars. OE prefers to let the police (which we trust) figure out the best way to organize themselves and not meddle in it, but those of us living in the Haight see very few cops on foot and plenty in cars, despite the fact that there is a station just a couple blocks away. We would like to see more cops on foot, which seems like a great way to deal with the problem, in many ways better than Prop L. If Prop M gets more votes than L, it will kill L.

So the majority of us are actually voting for both, hoping that at least one will pass.

Prop N - Higher property transfer tax - No*

This would raise a tax paid when very expensive properties were sold, mostly be commercial buildings, plus a very small number of SF houses that exceed the $5 million dollar limit.

We weren't strongly for or against this. The amount it hopes to raise is small compared to the city's deficit. As the tax is only applied when a property is sold, we don't think it will have any impact on rents or office leases.

In the end 5 of our 6 decided against it, based on the fact that we have doubled this tax just recently, exceeding most major American cities. Also, why are they making us vote on it?

[Wow, I can't believe you read all the way down here. One more thing:]

Nancy Pelosi - You Decide

Three of the six of us wanted to say something about Nancy Pelosi, even though we usually don't comment about candidates.

What we wanted to say is that we don't think Pelosi really represents us, and has no connection to her constituents. She takes her re-election for granted, even though her policies aren't quite in sync with ultra-liberal San Francisco voters. Even if you are a fan of hers, you will not be getting any opportunity to hear her speak, or listen to her debate the moderate Republican that's challenging her, John Dennis. Even though she is facing re-election, she has no campaign website up and no campaign materials printed. She actually has a smaller jurisdiction than our absentee Mayor, but even he has been spotted at San Francisco events from time to time.

Given that the polls indicate she is indeed a shoo-in, three of us wanted to encourage people to make a statement by voting for someone other than Pelosi, sending the message that she needs to stop taking her constituents for granted.

Matt Gonzalez says it better than us:

Monday, June 7, 2010

June 2010 Endorsements

Email with endorsements for the June 8, 2010 California and San Francisco primary elections

In what is becoming a tradition, a few of us went through the various San Francisco and California ballot initiatives last night so that the rest of you don't have to. The participants were Jeff Hamilton (aka Evil), Brendan Bolles (Big Guy, Mr. B), Eric Anderson (OE), David Hornung (SM), and Katie Hornung (Katie). This time we found the issues to be pretty straight forward and there was very little dissent (Measure D had a little). Read below for commentary.


13: Yes
14: No
15: Yes
16: NO!
17: No

San Francisco
Yes on everything A-G

13: Seismic retrofits will not increase property taxes: Yes

If you have a house and add that home theater and slip-n-slide bowling alley you've always wanted, the house will be reassessed and your property taxes will increase. But this will also happen if you make it more earthquake safe, so some people are hesitant to go forward with such work. This measure takes away this disincentive and has our extremely competent (ahem) legislature determining exactly what falls within the bounds of a seismic retrofit. Sounds good.

14: Opener Open Primary: No

This one is actually a little tricky - it lets everyone in California vote for every candidate in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, and then the top two vote getters will be on the final ballot in November. Sounds pretty good so far. In theory you could have a November election between two popular Democrats or maybe two popular Republicans if the other side didn't bring it. Or maybe there could be some sort of hybrid cyborg candidate with a lot of support on each side who otherwise would get lost in the (Tea) party. So this election reform might allow for those theoretical possibilities, which sounds good.

But on the downside, one thing it would surely do is further marginalize third parties, which would basically cease to appear on the November ballot. We didn't like that (particularly Big Guy who is registered Green).

Another theoretical scenario: you could also end up in a situation where the Democrats had five strong candidates and the Republicans had only two, but under this system the two Republicans might be the ones that wound up the top two vote getters, punishing the Dems for having a strong field. This system would really strengthen the ability of the two parties to choose their candidate for you by scaring you about throwing the election if you didn't obey.

There are plenty of good ways to reform elections so that the people's views are better reflected (ranked-choice voting, for one). We don't think this is a good one.

15: California Fair Elections Act: Yes

At the federal level, a candidate with enough support can choose to not take any more private campaign money and instead get a set amount from the government. This measure would make the option available for California state elections. We don't like all the money in politics, and public financing could possibly help a lesser known candidate that deserves to be heard. So yeah, we like it.

16: PG&E wants to eat your children: NO!

Oh, PG&E, you rapscallions. They call this measure the "Taxpayers Right to Vote", because it gives us the right to need a 66% majority to pass any future public power legislation. Well, why not make it 99% - imagine the glorious freedom!

Sort of reminds you of Bush's "Healthy Forest Initiative" that would protect forests from cutting them down.

PG&E has been successful before with such tomfoolery, like last time San Francisco talked about getting public power and they ran an expensive campaign convincing the populace it would give government a "Blank Check." Using our utility bill money, no less. And it worked! Pretty please, California, don't fall for this.

17: Auto Insurance rule change: No

This bill would let an auto insurer look at your insurance history to see if there had been any gaps (like, say, if you didn't own a car for a while) and jack up the price if you did. No thanks. FYI, this devilish scheme is being hatched by Mercury Insurance - hope you aren't using them.

A: School Earthquake and Fire retrofit: Yes

This proposes increasing property takes by a whopping $32.20 per year to pay to upgrade some schools. That sounds pretty cheap and we're all renters anyway so guess what, we like it.

As an aside, there's a great argument against from Dr. Terence Faulkner, JD who says SF students can't find India on the map so they shouldn't get earthquake retrofits. Ummm...

B: New emergency response center: Yes

Apparently our current emergency command center is in the bottom of a building not considered earthquake safe (the Hall of Justice). It's going to be expensive though: $412 million. The only argument against it that we were presented comes from Chris Daly (we're not a fan) who'd rather the whole building get fixed, not just move this one thing out. Prop B also retrofits other emergency infrastructure and it seems everyone's for it. But given how expensive it will be, we're surprised that only Chris Daly is against.

C: Film Commission change: Yes

The Film Commission works to bring movies to our city, which brings in some money, as well as publicity that brings in tourists and their precious, precious money. Currently, all 11 members are appointed by the mayor. With this measure, 5 of them would be appointed by the board of supervisors. We like power to be distributed, so sign us up.

First interesting tidbit: apparently the SF Chronicle has a crush on Gavin Newsom, because they side with the mayor's office on every issue, including this one.

Second interesting tidbit: crazy lawyer Terence Faulkner makes his second appearance here, arguing, "Should the influence of the Board of Supervisors increase on the Film Commission, it is likely that the business interests of the City and County will be neglected in favor of more lunches, dinners and cocktail parties. Free meals and cocktail parties are major City Hall perks."  Oh, Terence.

D: City Pension changes: Yes (mostly)

The first thing this Proposition changes is a little controversial - it forces city employees to pay their own money into their pension instead of the city. So basically it's a pay cut. But most of us think SF city employees are overpaid, so giving them a pay cut is fine by us. David wasn't so sure he liked pensions being monkeyed with, himself being a government employee.

The other thing this changes is how pension payouts are calculated, closing a widely-known loophole used by city employees right before retirement.  Cool beans.

Surprisingly, even though this seems to effect a lot of unionized city employees, none of them could be bothered to submit an argument against it in the voter guide.

E: Security budget transparency: Yes

Gavin Newsom feels very insecure. So he demands a security force be around him at all times. He even had them travel to his wedding in Montana (they drove his hi-tech city-supplied SUV while he rode with another officer in a private jet) and then they followed them to his Honeymoon in Hawaii. Mayoral security sounds like a great job, right? They also followed him all during his campaign for governor, and San Francisco paid the bill.

Well all that sounds pretty expensive, but the neither the mayor nor the cops will tell us how much. Prop E will force them to tell us, that's it.

We're not sure the Mayor of this town needs too much security anyway. We noted that the one Mayor who had an incident (Moscone) was actually shot by a member of the board of supervisors and Newsom's entourage wouldn't have mattered. And BTW, the Secret Service discloses its presidential protection budget.

F: Renter's hardship: Yes

This Prop would give a way for a tenant to prevent their rent from going up temporarily when they lost their job or got a 20% pay cut. On one hand, renters in this town hardly need more protection, but then again the tenant will have to apply for this exemption and a judge will evaluate if they are really suffering based on their assets, bank account, etc., so we think it will only be helping people who actually need it.

G: Transbay Terminal: Yes

California already voted to build a high-speed train between SF and LA, to be completed approximately 3 lifetimes from now. The plans were originally to have it end at the existing Transbay Terminal, but some people want to build another station for it. This Prop re-affirms that the Transbay Terminal will be used, which makes the most sense to us.

It sort of kills us that the guy writing the voter guide opinion in favor is Chris Daly, but we agree with this measure anyway.

Another entertaining argument against accompanied this Prop. Eve Del Castello is against it because the decrepit Transbay Terminal is a "landmark", high speed rail is "unsafe", and I-5 is "fun". Haha, good one, Eve.