Endorsements 2008: State ballot measures

Pub date October 7, 2008


Proposition 1A

High-speed rail bond


California hasn’t taken on a major improvement to its public infrastructure in several generations, the last significant one being the construction of the California State Water Project back in the 1950s. But with the state’s growing population and the travel penchant of its citizens, there will be dire consequences to ignoring the need for more and better transportation options.

The state has been studying and planning for the creation of a high-speed rail system for more than 10 years, and this is the moment for voters to make it a reality.

Proposition 1A is a $9.95 billion bond measure. Combined with contributions from the federal government and private sector, the measure would fund the first leg of a system that would eventually stretch from Sacramento to San Diego. The train would carry people from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in 2.5 hours for just $55.

The benefits are overwhelming. High-speed rail works well in Asia and Europe, on a fraction of the energy used by cars and planes and with almost no emissions. The system is projected to pay for itself within 20 years and then be a source of revenue for the state. And it would make trips directly from one city core to another, facilitating tourism and business trips without clogging our roads.

Unfortunately, the costs of not approving this measure are also huge: more congestion for road and air travelers, more freeway lanes, larger airports, dirtier air, and increased greenhouse-gas emissions. Building a high-speed rail system is something California can’t afford not to do. Vote yes.

Proposition 2

Farm animal protections


It’s hard to argue against a proposal that would allow farm-raised animals to stand up, lie down, and move around in their enclosures. This is a step in the direction of more humane treatment of animals; plenty of organic farms already comply, and the milk, meat, and eggs they produce are healthier for both humans and animals.

According to big agricultural companies and the operators of factory farms, a vote for Proposition 2 is a vote for an avian influenza outbreak, the spread of food-borne illnesses like salmonella, huge job losses, and even increased global warming. But we find it hard to believe that simply permitting creatures like veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens to stretch their limbs and turn around will cause these Chicken Little predictions to come true. Vote yes on Prop. 2.

Proposition 3

Children’s hospital bonds


This one sounds great unless you stop to think about it. Proposition 3 would provide more money for hospitals that care for sick children, which seems fine. But a lion’s share of almost $1 billion in public bond money would go to private children’s hospitals for capital improvements. While 20 percent of the cash would be tabbed for public institutions like the five University of California–run hospitals, the other 80 percent would go to places like Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. We don’t discount the valuable work these hospitals do. But many of them have sizable endowments and ample resources to fund improvements on their own — especially since voters approved $750 million in children’s hospital bond money just four years ago. Why is the state, which is broke, giving public money to private hospitals? Vote no on Prop. 3.

Proposition 4

Parental notification and wait period for abortion


This measure was horrible when it was on the ballot twice before, in 2005 and in 2006, and it’s still horrible now. If passed, it would require doctors to notify parents of minors seeking abortions, make teenagers wait 48 hours after the notification is made before undergoing the abortion, penalize doctors who don’t abide by the rule, and make kids go through a court process to get a waiver to the law. The doctors would have to hand-deliver the notice or send it by certified mail.

Proponents have spun this as a way to "stop child predators," a baseless claim, as teenage victims of predators seeking abortions are still victims of predators whether their parents know or not. Opponents say it’s a dangerous law that will drive more kids seeking abortions underground and do nothing to truly improve family relations. This proposal represents another erosion of abortion rights.

The last two attempts to require parental notification were narrowly defeated — but this time, with so much else on the ballot, it’s attracting less attention, and polls show it might pass.

Big funders backing the measure are San Diego Reader publisher James Holman and Sonoma-based winery owner Don Sebastiani, who have collectively spent more than $2 million supporting it. A broad coalition of medical, education, and civil rights organizations oppose it. Vote no.

Proposition 5

Treatment instead of jail


In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 36, which sent people convicted of certain drug-related offenses to treatment programs instead of to prison. Proposition 5 would revamp that earlier measure by giving more people a shot at addiction services instead of a jail cell and would provide treatment to youth offenders as well as adults. It would also make possession of less than 28.5 grams (1 ounce) of marijuana an infraction instead of a misdemeanor, something we wholeheartedly support.

Opponents of the plan say it would cost too much and would allow criminals a get-out-of-jail-free card. But punitive approaches to addiction clearly don’t work. And while the new programs Prop. 5 calls for will need an initial infusion of cash, taking nonviolent inmates out of jail and keeping them out of the system by helping them overcome their addictions should save the state considerable money in the long run.

Proposition 6

Prison spending


There are 171,000 people in California’s 33 prisons. All told, the state shells out $10 billion every year incarcerating people. This prison boom has enriched for-profit corrections companies and made the prison guards’ union one of the most powerful interest groups in the state — but it hasn’t made the streets any safer.

Nonetheless, backers of Proposition 6 say the state needs to spend $1 billion more per year on new prisons, increased prison time (even for youth offenders), and untested programs that few believe will have any positive impact — without identifying a way to pay for any of it.

Bottom line, Prop. 6 would divert funding from necessary areas like health care and education and waste it on a failed, throw-away-the-key approach to crime. Even the staunchly conservative Orange County Register‘s editorial board called the measure "criminally bad." Vote no on Prop. 6.

Proposition 7

Renewable-energy generation


We’re all for more renewable energy, but this measure and the politics around it smell worse than a coal-burning power plant.

Proposition 7 would require all investor-owned and municipal utilities to procure 50 percent clean energy by 2025. It would allow fast-tracked permitting for the new power plants and suggests they be placed in "solar and clean energy zones" in the desert while still meeting environmental reviews and protections. There’s a hazy provision that the solar industry groups argue would discredit any power sources under 30 megawatts from counting toward renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which the Yes on Prop. 7 people refute.

The measure is confusing. The California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission would play somewhat unclear roles in the state’s energy future. Overall, the CEC would site power plants and the CPUC would set rates. Penalties levied to utilities that don’t meet the new RPS would be controlled by the CEC and used to build transmission lines connecting the desert-sourced solar power with cities.

The coalition supporting Prop. 7 is an interesting mix of retired public officials, including former San Francisco supervisor Jim Gonzalez, former state senator John Burton, former mayor Art Agnos, and utility expert S. David Freeman. Interestingly, Gonzalez was a staunch ally of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. when he was a local politician, and Burton has done legal work for PG&E. The bankroll for the campaign comes from Arizona billionaire Peter Sperling, son of medical marijuana proponent John Sperling.

A number of solar and wind companies, which would presumably profit by its passing, are lined up against it, but the No on 7 money comes entirely from PG&E, SoCal Edison, and Sempra, which have dumped $28 million into the campaign. That, of course, makes us nervous.

But other opponents include all the major green groups — Environmental Defense, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists — none of which were consulted before it was put on the ballot.

We’re obviously uncomfortable coming down on the side of PG&E, but renewable energy is a major policy issue, and this measure was written with little input from the experts in the field. Gonzalez told us it’s mostly aimed at pushing giant solar arrays in the desert; that’s fine, but we’re also interested in small local projects that might be more efficient and environmentally sound.

Vote no.

Proposition 8

Ban on same-sex marriage


Same-sex couples have been able to marry legally in California since June. Their weddings — often between couples who have spent decades together, raised children, fought hard for civil rights, and been pillars of their communities — have been historic, joy-filled moments. San Francisco City Hall has witnessed thousands of these weddings — and to date, there has not been a single confirmed report that gay weddings have caused damage to straight marriages.

But now comes Proposition 8, a statewide measure that seeks to take this fundamental right away from same-sex couples.

Using the exact same argument that was used in 2000, Prop. 8 contends that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Back then, the measure passed. This time, the landscape has shifted radically and is full of same-sex brides and grooms who have already legally tied the knot. This time around, the stale "man and woman only" argument is being used to attempt to deny individuals their existing rights based on their sexual orientation. Polls suggest that a majority of Californians are unwilling to support this measure, but it would only take a simple majority to deny gays and lesbians their marriage rights. Vote no on Prop. 8 and protect hard-won marriage equality.

Proposition 9

Restrictions on parole


It’s tempting simply to repeat our reasons for voting no on Proposition 6 in our discussion of Proposition 9. While the details of the two measures are different — Prop. 6 would send more people to jail; Prop. 9 would keep them there longer — the two would have a similar unfortunate result: more people crowding our already overflowing and outrageously expensive prison system. Prop. 9 would accomplish this by making it much more difficult for prisoners to gain parole. But California already releases very few inmates serving long sentences for crimes like murder and manslaughter. Moreover, many of the other provisions of Prop. 9 have already been enacted, which would mean costly redundancies if the measure is approved.

One man is largely responsible for both the misguided "tough on crime" propositions on this year’s ballot: billionaire Broadcom Corp. cofounder Henry Nicholas, who has poured millions into the two campaigns. But a funny thing happened to Nicholas on the way to becoming California’s poster boy for law and order. In June, he was indicted on numerous counts of securities fraud and drug violations (including spiking the drinks of technology executives with ecstasy and operating a "sex cave" staffed with prostitutes under his house). He insists he’s innocent.

Vote no on Prop. 9.

Proposition 10

Alternative-fuel vehicles bond


This is another "green" measure that looks good and smells bad. It would allow the state to issue general obligation bonds worth $5 billion to fund incentives to help consumers purchase alternative-fuel vehicles and research alternative-fuel and renewable-energy technology.

Proponents argue this is a necessary jump start for the industry. Opponents say the industry doesn’t need it — Priuses are on back order as it is, and the measure was craftily written to exclude subsidies for purchasing any other plug-in or hybrid vehicle that gets less than 45 miles per gallon. Though the measure would have provisions for vehicles powered by hydrogen and electricity, critics point out that the subsidies would be first come, first served and would be gone by the time these technologies even reach the consumer market.

In reality, Proposition 10 is a giveaway designed to favor the natural gas industry and was put on the ballot by one of its biggest players, T. Boone Pickens, who owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas fueling and distribution company based in Seal Beach. He wrote the measure, paid more than $3 million to get it on the ballot, and spent a total of $8 million supporting it.

Beyond the blatant attempt to manipulate public money for private good, there are a number of other problems with the bill. It would mostly subsidize purchases of large trucks but wouldn’t require that those trucks stay in California, so companies could use the $50,000 rebates to improve their fleet, then drive the benefit out of state.

While natural-gas-burning vehicles emit far less exhaust and air pollution than gas and diesel cars, natural gas is still a fossil fuel with carbon emissions that are only 20 percent less than that of a typical car. It’s another dinosaur technology that only marginally improves the situation. The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters are against Prop. 10, as are consumer groups and taxpayer associations, who hate the $10-billion-over-30-years payback on this special-interest bond. Vote no.

Proposition 11

Redistricting commission


Almost everyone agrees that California’s process for drawing the boundaries of legislative districts is flawed. History has proven that allowing elected officials to redraw their own political map every 10 years is a recipe for shameless gerrymandering that benefits incumbents. It has also resulted in uncompetitive districts, voter disaffection, and a hopelessly polarized legislature. But Proposition 11 is not the answer.

The idea of placing redistricting in the hands of an independent citizen commission sounds good on the surface. But as Assemblymember Mark Leno points out, the makeup of this incredibly powerful commission would be dependent only on party affiliation — five Democrats, five Republicans, and four independents. That’s not an accurate reflection of California’s population; Democrats far outnumber Republicans in this state. To give Republicans an equal number of commissioners would ignore that fact. And there is no provision to ensure that the body would reflect the state’s racial diversity, or that it would be composed of people from different religious (or nonreligious) backgrounds. The same goes for things like gender and income levels. Also, people must apply to join the body — limiting the pool of potential commissioners even further. And state legislators would have the power to remove some applicants.

In other words, the same people the law seeks to take out of the process would still wield a great deal of influence over it. Vote no on Prop. 11.

Proposition 12

Veterans bond act


Proposition 12 would authorize the state to issue $900 million in bonds to help veterans buy farms and homes. It’s true that, as opponents say, the act doesn’t discriminate between rich veterans and poor veterans, and it probably should, but the vets most likely to use this — from the Gulf War and the Iraq war — have faced so many daunting problems and have received so little support from the government that sent them to war that it’s hard to oppose something like this. Vote yes.

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