Tuesday, October 25, 2016

November 2016 Endorsements

After a year off, we're back with some more endorsements. Nine of us had some pretty thorough, sometimes contentious discussions. Fortunately there was Golden Boy Pizza to smooth everything out before all was said and done.

Prop 51 - School bond - No

Our group has always been more skeptical of bonds than your average voter. It seems most people forget that you actually have to pay bonds back…with interest (which in this case will be an additional $8.6 billion for a $9 billion bond).

Our usual test for a bond is: does it borrow money to pay for a large one-time expenditure that will have long-term benefits? So building a bridge would be a good case for issuing a bond, road maintenance would not.

Of Prop 51's $9 billion, $3 billion goes to new school construction, $3 billion for K-12 public school modernization, $1 billion to charter schools, and $2 billion to community colleges. At first glance it would appear that at least some of this money would pass our test.

After some discussion, the majority of us (7 of 9) decided it does not. While new school construction of any particular school is a one-time expenditure, in a state as large as California new schools need to be built every year, and schools need to be modernized every year.

The 2014-15 K-12 budget was $76.6 billion, an increase of $6.6 billion from the previous year, very close to the $7 billion this bond hopes to raise for K-12. We think the state can find money for this in the general fund. Or if they can't we suggest they raise taxes. They could at least send the $500 million annual debt service this bond would create directly to the schools.

Prop 52 - Medi-Cal Hospital Fees - Yes

This hospital "fee" is hilarious! The federal government matches whatever money the state sends to hospitals for Medi-Cal. So we charge those hospitals a fee and then give it right back to them along with matching Obamacare funds. Genius!

We're all for it. And we don't even feel bad because Californians will still send way more money to the federal government than we get back.

Prop 53 - Statewide vote for revenue bonds - No

Revenue bonds are different from regular bonds (i.e. general obligation bonds) because revenue bonds don't affect the state budget. The debt service is paid for using a toll or other charge. Maybe the people who put this on the ballot don't know the difference, because they find $2 billion of non-debt to be such a problem that entire state should have to grant approval through more of these cursed initiatives.

Had this been the law already the entire state would have had to vote for the Bay Bridge retrofit. Seems silly to us, so we're all against. One member of our group even pledged eternal scorn to anyone who signed a petition to put this on the ballot, just FYI.

Prop 54 - Legislative transparency - Yes

The main provision in this initiative doesn't allow the legislature to pass a bill until the final version of that bill has been posted on the interned for at least 72 hours. The legislature often sneaks in bills at the end of their session or sneaks amendments in, so this would make that much more difficult.

The majority of us (6 of 9) are in favor, because what's not to like about transparency?

The dissenters prefer the current system. For one thing, the legislature is mostly Democrat, so supposedly any tricks they pull are in our interests as fellow Democrats. Some were concerned that the extra transparency would really help out lobbyists, who the legislature is perhaps really trying to outwit (indeed, the Chamber of Commerce supports Prop 54).

And then as always there's the whole thing about why are we voting on something like this? It could be established by the legislature themselves through a rule, although it seems unlikely they would pass a rule forcing more transparency upon themselves.

Prop 55 - Education and health care tax - Yes

This extends 2012's Prop 30 which created a new tax when California was in a pinch. The tax was only on earnings over $250k per year and used the money for education and health care, so we were all for it. It was temporary though, so now it is up for renewal.

Well, we're still for it. Remember how we don't like most bonds because we should be raising taxes instead? Well, here we are!

One member of our group wants Prop 30 to expire as it promised it would. His parents told him something about keeping your promises, blah blah blah. But if this were worded as an identical new tax he'd be all for it. Hrumph.

Prop 56 - Cigarette tax - Yes

California currently taxes cigarettes at 87¢ a pack, and Prop 56 would add an additional $2 on top of that. The money would mostly go to Medi-Cal and programs to keep people from smoking.

The majority (7 of 9) of us were in favor of this. I mean, have you heard that cigarettes are bad for you? The dissenters do not think the state should be interfering with personal decisions, tyranny of the majority and all that. Someone pointed out that this is a regressive tax, mostly paid by poorer people. Other comments made include a favoring of complete smoking prohibition, and someone finding smoking sexually unattractive (what has the supreme court said about a tax on un-sexiness?).

One interesting revelation from the discussion: cigarette smokers do not cost the government more in medical expenses! Turns out we've all got to go sometime, and providing health care for other terminal ailments is at least as expensive as treating a smoker with lung cancer. The coldly calculating among you could see smoking as a great way to prevent people from dying from heart disease, other cancers, Alzheimer's, etc. Food for thought…which we may also start taxing.

Prop 57 - Parole for non-violent offenders - Yes

This allows parole to be an option for non-violent offenders sentenced without the opportunity for parole. Given how crowded California prisons are and considering many of them are in there for drug offenses (some of which may soon be legal), we all are in favor.

We note that this does not instantly free prisoners, as they still have to go through the standard parole process. Some organizations claimed that violent offenders could be granted parole under Prop 57, but the supreme court disagreed.

By the way, we were also a fan of the way Prop 57 shifts the determination for trying minors as adults from prosecutors to judges.

Prop 58 - Bilingual education - Yes

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 227 mandating that all classes be taught in English. If an ESL student does not understand English well enough to take math classes in English, they are put into an intensive English program.

You may know this approach as "immersion," and some native English speakers have been known to enroll in Spanish or French immersion programs, but most opt for the standard "bilingual" approach. They speak Spanish in Spanish class, but everything else in their native language.

Prop 58 would open the bilingual option back up to to ESL students. Just as we would not want to force all native English speakers into immersion programs, we will stop forcing it upon EspaƱol estudiantes. Many students learn better this way, and it seems like the 1996 proposition comes from a mean-spirited time where illegal immigrants were blamed for a whole host of problems by then-governor Pete Wilson. Thank goodness we'll never hear talk like that ever again.

Prop 59 - Citizens United hooey - Yes

This is some non-binding whatchamadingle saying we want California law makers to do everything they can the overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. We mostly all agreed to vote for this, but we unanimously rolled our eyes over the stupidity of putting such a thing on the ballot.

Prop 60 - Condoms in porn - No (bare-ly)

This would force adult film performers to wear condoms during the, uh, climax of their productions. Have you heard that it's good to practice safe sex? This was our most split decision, 3 in favor, 5 against, and 1 undecided, with some reversals in the process.

We were fortunate enough to have an OSHA employee in our ranks to represent this issue as an occupational safety problem. We require that workers in food service and health care use barriers in any situation where a pathogen might be transmitted to or from them, so why would this be any different? In fact, OSHA already has a condom rule in place, and in a way this initiative only pushes them to better enforce the existing policy.

On the other hand, for those other jobs that require barriers, the barriers don't theoretically prevent the job from being done satisfactorily. We hear from a guy who knows a guy whose cousin read a book about porn that those dirty, dirty porn watchers do not like to watch (or buy) porn when people are using condoms. If this rule were enforced, the most likely outcome is that condomless production will simply be shifted to another state. Goodbye tax dollars and baby oil sales.

The industry already polices itself very well, with performers getting tested constantly and shutting itself down when an actor tests positive for HIV. But on the other hand, HIV does not appear in a test right away, meanwhile other performers could be infected. On the other other hand, adult video organizations claim there hasn't been an HIV infection during production in nearly a decade. There's also this new PrEP drug that limits the transmission rate of HIV.

Another argument against Prop 60 is that by setting rules like this through initiative and not the legislature, they can only be repealed in the same manor. Or we didn't really like how Prop 60 would actually allow any California resident to sue the producer of any non-condom film if OSHA doesn't respond to a complaint, which could result in a flood of lawsuits. Oh, and there's also the whole thing about consenting adults who know the risks and are acting of their own free will, I think someone was hung up on that.

An unusual, maybe unprecedented, aspect of Prop 60 is that it carves out a special place in government for a single individual, the proponent of the act, a Mr. Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. If Prop 60 passes but faces constitutional or statutory challenges (some think it will) and the Attorney General decides not to defend it, Prop 60 would empower him to take over the job of doing so, with state funding.

If all these idea-based arguments have you in a tizzy, it might interest you to know that Prop 60 is opposed by both the Democratic and Republican parties, plus just about every Democratic group you could name. Nearly every major newspaper in California opposes it as well. Then again, we were never really into the whole conformity thing.

Prop 61 - Restrict drug prices - Yes

This would force drug buyers in the California government to never pay more than the Department of Veterans Affairs for drugs.

Well, who doesn't like paying less for drugs? Drug companies, that's who. And honestly, their opposition to this initiative was a big reason no one in our group was against it (although there were two abstentions).

One concern is that, by linking California with the VA, drug companies may drive a harder bargain with the VA, potentially hurting veterans. But then the California government is also buying these drugs for the disenfranchised, so we do not necessarily value the veterans' problems over theirs. And the percentage of drugs bought by the state is a small fraction of the overall drug sales in California; we think the drug companies will be fine.

Prop 62 - Repeal the death penalty - Yes

We wanted to get rid of the death penalty in 2012, and still do. It's not a deterrent, kills some innocent people, costs more money than life in prison, etc. All the information you could ever want is at deathpenaltyinfo.org.

Wow, even the Democratic Party has finally come around on this one.

Prop 63 - Ammo control - Yes

This would apply the same California standards for gun control (background checks, licensed dealers, no guns for felons) to ammunition. Sounds reasonable to us, so we were generally for it (one person abstained). Prop 63 also bans large-capacity magazines, so that's cool.

One thing that gave us pause was that the opposition argument was written by representatives of law enforcement. They claim Prop 63 would divert law enforcement resources and was impossible to implement, but our unscientific conclusion was that cops like guns.

Prop 64 - Marijuana legalization - Yes

We wanted to legalize marijuana in 2010, and still do (8 in favor, 1 against). Back then we would have been the first state to do so, now we're following in the footsteps of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Wow, the California Democrats are in favor and even the national party is open to legalization in a concession to Bernie Sanders supporters.

We had some concern that in the enthusiasm to legalize marijuana there is no effort to discourage consumption like you see with Prop 56 and cigarettes. Some claim that Prop 64 is good for big business and bad for small business, but we think those small businesses are really just people enjoying their ability to make money by skirting the current law under its lax enforcement.

Prop 65 - Direct money from bag sales - No

Prop 65 will dictate where money from carryout bag sales must go, if a charge on carryout bags exists (see Prop 67). Under Prop 65, the bag charge would go to a newly created environmental fund instead of to the stores to cover the cost of the bags themselves and to promote reusable bags.

Well, we think it's fine if the 10¢ goes to the store. Some claim that a bag actually costs more like 12¢, but it's a pretty insignificant charge regardless.

One suspicious thing about Prop 65 is that it's funded by the plastic bag companies, which did not make it any more attractive to us. Perhaps they're just trying to confuse people, perhaps they think the mandatory charge on bags is some sort of money grab by grocers instead of a disincentive to consumers.

Or another theory is that Prop 65 will actually prevent a bag ban if it gets more votes than Prop 67. To at least one member of our group, this does not seem very likely. Yes, there is a little aside on page 111 of the voter guide that has got everyone worked up:

But after reading the actual text of the propositions and the state's analysis, this member thinks it is more likely a court will simply say Prop 65 overrules the bag charge use and leaves the rest of Prop 67 intact.

Not that it matters because none of us had a problem with the 10¢ charge going to the store, so we all voted No.

Prop 66 - Death penalty reforms - No

This would make changes to California's existing death penalty process to make it more efficient. Well, as opponents of the death penalty, we don't have much interest in that, so we all voted no.

And good thing we did, because it turns out Prop 66 is a poison pill! If it gets more votes than Prop 62 it will keep the death penalty in place. A member of our group found the key part of the initiative text:
This measure is intended to be comprehensive. It is the intent of the people that in the event this measure or measures relating to the subject of capital punishment shall appear on the same statewide election ballot, the provisions of the other measure or measures shall be deemed to be in conflict with this measure. In the event that this measure receives a greater number of affirmative votes, the provisions of this measure shall prevail in their entirety, and all provisions of the other measure or measures shall be null and void.

Prop 67 - Plastic bag ban - Yes

Earlier this year the legislature passed SB 270, a statewide plastic bag ban, but the California constitution allows for a veto referendum, sending any legislative bill to the public for final approval or rejection if enough signatures are gathered, and that's what Prop 67 is.

Most of the members of our group have lived in San Francisco where there has already been a plastic bag ban since 2007, the first in the country. Plastic single-use bags are a particular environmental nuisance and we are happy to get rid of them. Paper is better but reusable is best, which is why there is a mandatory 10¢ charge on the paper bags, to ensure that consumers are given the option to not use any disposable bag and to encourage the use of reusable bags. One of our members commented that he originally thought the SF bag ban was going to be a hassle, but found out it really wasn't. We are unanimously in favor.


51 - Yes
52 - Yes
53 - No
54 - Yes
55 - Yes
56 - Yes
57 - Yes
58 - Yes
59 - Yes
60 - No
61 - No
62 - No
63 - Yes
64 - Yes
65 - No
66 - Yes
67 - Yes

Monday, October 24, 2016

November 2016 San Francisco Endorsements

Holy Moly, there's a lot of things to vote on this time! Twenty four, to be exact. We were in danger of running out of letters there. Well, we discussed, and here are our conclusions.

Prop A - School bond - Yes

This is a $744 million bond to do various school maintenance and upgrading activities. The debt service will be paid by a new property tax.

Historically, this group has voted no on bonds of this kind, because you pay almost as much in interest as the money you get for the actual thing you're trying get money for. And maintenance is the kind of thing should be done every year; it's not a one-time expense. Indeed, that is why one member voted against, saying they would be much more in favor of a new tax going directly to schools, not half to schools and half to bond investors.

But everyone else voted to take out a loan to do work on schools, so we voted Yes.

Prop B - City College Parcel Tax - Yes

This levies a $79 per parcel tax and send the money to City College, extending the Prop A from 2012. Well, that still doesn't sound like a lot of money, so we're still for it. Our one dissenter from this year's Prop A likes this approach to funding schools much more than a bond.

Prop C - Affordable housing spending - Yes

Waaay back in 1992(!), voters authorized $350 million in bonds for affordable and market-rate housing upgrades. Of that, only $95 million has been spent…over 24 years!

Prop C expands the eligible uses for the rest of the money to include at-risk housing. Sure, why not? See you in another 24 years when there's still a lot of money left.

Prop D - Vacancy appointments - Yes

This would put limits on the appointees named by the mayor to elected offices. Often these appointees have gone on to wield a lot of power *cough Gavin Newsom* and stick around for longer than originally anticipated *cough Ed Lee*. San Francisco voters seem to have great fondness for incumbents, so we want to shake that up.

Prop D is one of a series of measures intended to take power away from the mayor and place it in the hands of either the electorate or the board of supervisors. (See Props H, L, M.) Since we have not been big fans of the last few mayors (yeah, we're progressives), and think the City will continue to vote this way, we are for this.

Prop E - Sidewalk responsibility - Yes

Did you know that property owners in SF are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks in front of their properties? Not totally sure how this became the modus operandi.

Prop E puts the responsibility back in the hands of the City. Apparently the cost will be $19 million…out of the City's $9 billion budget. Sounds doable. Nobody seems to be against this one.

Prop F - Local voting for 16 year olds - No

This would let 16 year olds vote in local elections. Well, why is there a voting age anyway? Because we think that people below a certain age do not have the experience to make these decisions. Hey we were 16 once too, you know? In fact, we're not sure that 18 year olds have great judgement either, but if you can go die for your country, what the heck?

Anyway, back to the 16 year olds, we think they can wait. We also think those who put this on the ballot mainly just thought a vote by a 16 year old would be a vote for their policies.

Prop G - Police oversight - Yes

This would *gasp* rename a police oversight group and insist that they take more interest in use-of-force and police misconduct issues. Well, they could do that stuff right now if they want (except maybe the renaming thing). This is stupid, but fine, we'll vote Yes.

Prop H - Public Advocate - Yes

This would create an elected position of Public Advocate to work on behalf of voters on various issues. This type of stuff would usually be handled by a mayoral appointee, but we're looking to take power from the mayor, so we vote Yes.

Prop I - Funding for Seniors and Adults with Disabilities - No

This is an earmark to divert money to certain people, people we are interested in helping out. But our group has historically been against earmarks (this one continues to the year 2037), and we still are. This money could be found in the regular budget through the regular political process, and we want it happen that way.

Prop J - Funding for Homeless and Transportation - No

Another earmark, this time for two completely unrelated things: homelessness and transportation. We still don't like earmarks.

Prop K - Increase sales tax - No

This would simply increase the SF sales tax. Well, sales taxes are regressive (they affect the poor more than the rich), so we're opposed. We prefer property taxes, payroll taxes, stuff like that.

Prop L - MTA appointments - Yes

This would allow the board of supervisors to appoint some MTA seats instead of the mayor doing all the appointing. We want to take power from the mayor, so Yes.

Prop M - Housing and development appointments - Yes

Take more appointments away from the mayor? Sounds good to us!

Prop N - Non-citizen voting in School Board elections - No

Non-citizens voting? That's preposterous! Well, except many of these people pay taxes and non-citizen voting has been common in the past; there's even a movement to re-instate it.

Like Prop F, we think this is just a ploy by certain people to get voting rights for people they think will be like-minded. Two thirds of us were against.

Prop O - Remove limits for Hunters Point development - No

Way back in 1986 San Francisco passed a limit on the about of new office space that could be built in a year. Prop O would make an exception for a new development, which might not be a bad idea as this thing is way out where Candlestick Park used to be.

But then if you remember the traffic getting out of Candlestick, the area wasn't well-prepared to handle that many people 90 times a year, much less every workday. We think building slowly is smarter.

Prop P - Affordable housing bidding - No

This would require at least three bids before one could be selected for an affordable housing project. But I guess there is often less than three bids available, so this is really a ploy to prevent more affordable housing from being built. Apparently over 3,000 current units would not exist if this rule had been in place. Nope!

Prop Q - Prohibit tents on sidewalks - No

This would make it against the law for a tent to be set up on a sidewalk. In simple terms, this makes life harder for the homeless, so two thirds of us voted against.

Let's get a little more complex. Someone blocking a sidewalk with a tent or anything else is a nuisance. Actually, you already can't sit or lie on a sidewalk between 7am and 11pm thanks to a 2010 ballot measure. But if people are allowed to sleep on the streets at night, what's the harm in them having a tent at that time? Well yeah, they usually keep them up all day too, but how many of you have actually been impeded by such a tent? If this law said no tents during the day only, that would have swayed at least one of us to yes.

As it is, we were two thirds against. The dissenter pulled out his curmudgeon card, which our non-existant bylaws do not prohibit.

Prop R - Neighborhood crime unit - No

This would require the police to dedicate a certain number of police to enforcing certain quality of life laws, particular those perpetrated by the homeless. Well, we're not really interested in micromanaging the police, so No.

Prop S - Hotel tax allocation - No

This earmarks hotel tax funds for arts programs and homeless services. We like those things, but not earmarks, so No.

Prop T - Lobbyist restrictions - Yes

This puts certain restrictions on lobbyists. Sounds good, and even the lobbyists couldn't be bothered to lobby against this one in the election materials.

Prop U - Affordable housing redefinition - No

This would drastically redefine affordable housing in SF. What is currently reserved for a person making $41,450 a year would be accessible to people making double that, i.e. $82,950. So of course we're against this, right?

Well, there was a dissenter, and at this point in the night he accounted for half of the vote (why weren't you there, reader?). His rationale is that SF's affordable housing situation has created a Tale of Two Cities, where the low-income half lives in the vicinity of all San Francisco has to offer, but doesn't actually get to participate. Meanwhile, many middle-income people (teachers for example) who would be able to participate in the culture are forced out. While our dissenter appreciates the sentiment, he doesn't think low-income housing is really doing anyone any favors. But then again, Prop U goes too far. Someone making over $80k can get qualify for affordable housing? That's more than starting salary at Google.

Prop V - Soda tax - No

This is a soda tax. It's not a grocery tax (except for the soda part of your groceries). It's designed to change people's behavior for the better by charging them more for something that's bad for their health.

Well, believe it or not, us liberal nanny-staters are all against it. Shoot us, we think the government shouldn't be penalizing people for their personal choices that don't affect other people. Yes, soda is bad for you, and yes a tax could reduce consumption, but we simply don't believe this is a role the government should have. Oh, but someone says obesity costs the health system more? Actually, it doesn't. And it seems a little inconsistent to tax soda, but not ice cream or fried food or our sedentary lifestyles, which are at least as big contributors.

Prop W - Property transfer tax - Yes

This will tax the sale of properties over $5 million. Well, we think people dealing in valuable property like that will be just fine, and we don't think the rental market will be affected. Tax the rich!

Prop X - Mission art space preservation - Yes

Just as new housing in SF has to leave space for low-income people, this would require Mission and SoMa developments to leave space for art and small business spaces. Just trying to hold on to some semblance of the City's character, you know. Sorry if you were hoping to put your next app startup in one of those spots.

Measure RR - BART bond - No

This is a $3.5 billion bond to repair and upgrade BART. As a bond it will eventually accrue as much interest as principal, but it will be paid for by a property tax.

We are fans of the BART system, but don't like this measure. Our biggest beef was the part about 1/3 of the money being spent on prior debts acquired by paying workers overtime, which is often very excessive. In one of our member's words, this is a management issue being presented as a fiscal issue.

Dear, BART, come back to us next year with a better bond deal and we'll vote for it.

Nancy Pelosi

Well, she does have a campaign website this time, although no issues or anything, just a form to send money. She also has an opponent, Preston Picus, who shares many liberal beliefs. Naturally, Pelosi won't debate him. Let's look back at this Matt Gonzalez gem.


A - Yes
B - Yes
C - Yes
D - No
E - Yes
F - No
G - Yes
H - No
I - Yes
J - Yes
K - No
L - No
M - No
N - Yes
O - Yes
P - No
Q - Yes
R - No
S - Yes
T - Yes
U - No
V - Yes
W - Yes
X - Yes
RR - Yes

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What is this?

We're a group of friends with somewhat nerdy tendencies such as sitting down before elections to hash through all the various California state and San Francisco city ballot propositions. We spend several hours researching and debating, and then write up our results, which people hopefully find useful, informative, or entertaining.

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