L.A. City Measures:
PROPOSITION H: The campaign for Proposition H is about housing — as in, $1 billion worth of affordable-housing initiatives planned for the next 10 years. The home-building industry signed onto the housing bond last year as a way to keep the City Council from approving a plan for “inclusionary zoning” — a proposal that would have required at least 10 percent of every new housing development to serve low- or moderate-income tenants.
The deal immediately allowed city officials to shift the burden from home builders, a group that scored big in the last real estate boom, to home owners, who are being asked to pay at least $50 per year in higher property taxes to fund subsidized housing programs.
Having escaped the prospect of inclusionary zoning, developers have been giving big time to Prop. H, whose proceeds will likely go into the affordable-housing trust fund, which allocates $100 million annually for housing programs. Councilman Eric Garcetti said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa relied heavily on one-time sources of funds to build up the fund this year. “If this doesn’t pass, nobody has any clue where we would get that money right now,” Garcetti said.
Larry Gross, one of the city’s foremost affordable-housing advocates, has given his support to the measure, saying the city needs to do everything possible for low-income families who are being forced from their apartments. But Gross fears that Proposition H will be used to take the council off the hook for other initiatives, such as a temporary ban on conversion of apartments into condominiums.
“We’ve lost 12,000 or so [housing] units in the last five years. This will build 10,000 over 10 years. So at the end of 10 years, if the trends continue, we’ll only be out 10,000 units,” Gross said. “Without a [housing] preservation piece, we’re doomed to failure. We’re not going to build our way out of this crisis.” (David Zahniser)
PROPOSITION J: This one is a no-brainer: Voters six years ago passed Proposition F, which promised to build new fire stations, each of them on two-acre sites. Trouble is, it’s hard to amass that much land in places like Hollywood, where developers are rapidly acquiring land for condominiums, offices and luxury hotels. Prop. J allows the city to build its Prop. F–funded fire station in Hollywood on a site that measures less than two acres, saving money and avoiding especially unpleasant eminent-domain actions. (DZ)
PROPOSITION R: Six members of the Los Angeles City Council will be forced out by term limits in 2009, plus another five in 2011. That could all change with the passage of Proposition R, which would give council members — the ones brought in by term limits in the first place — a shot at a third term. The campaign behind Prop. R dramatically plays down that angle and, in fact, uses veteran pols like former Mayor Richard Riordan, the man who brought term limits to City Hall in the first place, to imply the measure will impose, instead of weaken, term limits. The campaign also packages Prop. R as a clean-government initiative, one that cracks down on lobbyists. What it doesn’t mention is that the council could have approved such measures — not exactly barnburners in the clean-government arena — any time it wanted. (For more, see The Z Files, page 30.) (DZ)
PROPOSITION 1A: TRANSPORTATION FUNDING PROTECTION
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a package of five measures, and this is the only one that does not ask the voters for more money. Instead, Proposition 1A was crafted to keep the state legislature, and future governors, from taking the $2 billion in sales tax derived from gasoline sales each year and using it to balance the state budget.
The measure alarms critics like departing Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, who argued that voters are being given yet another opportunity to tie the hands of the people who try to balance the state budget in Sacramento. If the legislature cannot tap gasoline taxes in hard times, lawmakers could be forced to cut the budget for public schools instead, she said.
Because nothing is ever airtight in Sacramento, Proposition 1A does, in fact, allow lawmakers to raid gasoline-sales taxes — funds provided by a 2002 ballot measure, Proposition 42 — twice in each decade. But lawmakers can only take the money a second time if they have already paid back the gas-tax funds that they borrowed on the first go ’round. Go figure. (DZ)
PROPOSITION 1B: HIGHWAY SAFETY, TRAFFIC REDUCTION, AIR QUALITY AND PORT SECURITY BOND ACT OF 2006
The big kahuna of bond measures, Proposition 1B asks voters to approve $19.9 billion to pay for transportation projects — roads, rail, port infrastructure and other public works that are at the heart of the Schwarzenegger investment strategy. Roughly one-fourth of the money would flow to L.A. County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would divvy it up according to its own priorities. In other words, get ready for some hissy-ass catfights over Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s subway to the sea, Supervisor Yvonne Burke’s Expo Line extension, and U.S. Rep. David Dreier’s eastern extension of the Metro Gold Line into the San Gabriel Valley. And so on.
Love freeways? You’ll see more of them in California if Proposition 1B passes. In L.A. County, the MTA will be required to earmark at least $1 billion of the bond proceeds for rail. After that, all bets are off.
The measure would also dedicate around $3.2 billion in so-called “goods movement” — think 20-foot containers — at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Not coincidentally, Schwarzenegger recently vetoed a bill that would have required shipping lines — the ones getting rich off global trade — to pony up a $30 fee for every container that moves through the harbors. In other words, the governor shifted the cost of global trade from the shipping lines making a profit to the residents who are already suffering with the diesel congestion at the port — the largest single source of air pollution in the county.
Mysteriously, State Route 99 comes in for a special mention: $1 billion for that fabled roadway. So if you love Bakersfield — or, as we like to call it, the gateway to Fresno — then Proposition 1B is the measure for you. (DZ)
PROPOSITION 1C: HOUSING AND EMERGENCY SHELTER TRUST FUND ACT OF
This $2.85 billion bond measure would provide shelters for battered women and their kids, along with housing for farm workers and low-income senior citizens, plus homeowner assistance for vets, the disabled and needy working families; it also funds apartment repairs and accessibility for families and the handicapped. Prop. 1C is a vulnerable measure because, compared to some other ballot initiatives, it benefits the fewest — and least influential — Californians. It also will only help a fraction of the state’s estimated 360,000 people who are homeless on any given night. It’s still an important first step, however, to repairing the state’s human infrastructure and ending our shrugging acceptance of the sight of people sleeping on sidewalks, and of mothers and children living in cars. There is no more urgent time to do this than now, when rising rents are making decent apartments unaffordable to many, and while homeownership has simply become an ether dream for the majority in some counties. The official arguments against Prop. 1C are surprisingly vague and ideologically coded harangues against “new government,” “politicians” and “illegal immigrants.” The opposition’s answer to California’s housing crisis is a disingenuous plea to reduce taxes, environmental safeguards and consumer regulations. (Steven Mikulan)
PROPOSITION 1D: PUBLIC EDUCATION FACILITIES BOND ACT OF 2006
Weird. Another school-bond measure. Don’t these come up all the time? Two years ago we voted for Measure R, a $3.87 billion bond measure for L.A. Unified. On the same ballot, voters considered (and narrowly passed) a statewide bond, Proposition 55, that set California debt back $12.3 billion.
This time, it’s a $10.5 billion bond, Proposition 1D, that will fund construction and modernization projects statewide. A good chunk of the money would go to California’s community colleges, a critical and sorely underfunded component of the state’s education infrastructure. About 2.5 million Californians attend one of the state’s 109 two-year colleges. Prop. 1D backers say the new measure is needed because Prop. 55 funds are months away from running out. 1D would also provide matching funds for bond measures passed in local districts.
“Schools, schools,” they tell us, “we need to fund schools.” So year after year, education advocates, unions, and politicians tell us to pass another huge bond measure, while consistently avoiding the topic that could truly help ensure parity and adequate funding for public education — reforming Proposition 13. Tragically, as long as people remain greedy and self-serving, that’s unlikely to ever happen. So, more bonds, more debt, and continued disparity in the education system between poor districts and rich districts. (Daniel Hernandez)
PROPOSITION 1E: DISASTER PREPAREDNESS AND FLOOD PREVENTION BOND ACT OF 2006
It would have been nice if the state legislature had had the cojones to pay up front for this project to create flood-control systems and rebuild levees in the Sacramento and Central valleys — that way the $4.09 billion bond measure wouldn’t top out at $8 billion 30 years from now. Still, the renovation of the state’s flood-prone riverbanks and deltas can’t wait. Not unlike pre-Katrina Louisiana, some of California’s principal levees are a century old and show signs of dangerous erosion. This isn’t a Northern California problem because in the event of an earthquake or major storm surge, and the resulting levee breach, Southern California would suddenly find itself without the drinking and irrigation water that flows down through the San Joaquin Valley. Prop. 1E enjoys a rare love nest of support from both the state Chamber of Commerce and organized labor, since this massive project will protect business infrastructure and increase property values, while creating many construction jobs. For the rest of us, passage means clean water — we’ll raise a glass to that. (SM)
PROPOSITION 83: SEX OFFENDERS
Punishment, Residence Restrictions and Monitoring. Initiative Statute.
Sexual predators on TV cop shows are neatly dispatched by gunfire or rooftop falls. In real life they do time and are released into anxious communities. This ballot initiative would expand both the definition of sexual misconduct and the penalties for it. More important, it would forbid registered sex offenders to live within 2,000 feet of any school or park, and require them to wear Global Positioning System bracelets for the rest of their lives. The initiative betrays both a blind faith in the use of technology and pre-emptive punishment to control aberrant behavior, and in the NIMBY impulse to wish away undesirables into a phantom gulag of nomadic Americans. A similar program in Iowa has resulted in many registered sex offenders going underground, making their tracking by law enforcement more difficult than before. One predictable result of Prop. 83’s passage is that it will push offenders outside of congested cities and to less affluent rural communities. In California, the initiative would actually require the offenders (only a fraction of whom are now classified as predators) to pay for their own monitoring, increasing the likelihood that offenders will simply go off the grid. (SM)
PROPOSITION 84: WATER QUALITY
It has no organized opposition. The Speaker of the California Assembly, Fabian Núñez, has traveled the state stumping for it. And twice, in previous election years, bond measures just like it — written to fund clean water and coastal-protection projects — have floated to success with little to buoy them but voter-feel-good buzzwords like beaches and parks.
Proposition 84, however, may not have it so easy. Written by Sacramento lobbyists Joe Caves and Leslie Friedman Johnson, the $5.4 billion water-quality, parks and flood-control bond measure has aroused the suspicion of tax opponents, who see it as a ploy to fund the groups Caves and Friedman Johnson represent, such as the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy. And while it’s possible to think of less worthy beneficiaries than the nonprofits that fight to preserve open space and habitat, 84’s antitax foes may not be alone: The measure has been polling below expectations for the past two months, when a Public Policy Institute survey revealed that only 40 percent of likely voters considered it a good idea.
You could blame voter fatigue and infrastructure-bond-measure overload for that low number: Prop. 84 is just one of 12 bond measures on the ballot this year, and the second to promise funds for the shoring up of those aging levees in the California Delta, whose vulnerabilities state residents discovered with a shock after Katrina. “There are a lot of things on the ballot,” warned an effusive Núñez at a recent workshop on the bond measure where the mood was energetically cautious. “There is some type of collective expression by voters that could result in fatigue at the polls [and] lower voter turnout.”
But another reason for Prop. 84’s relative unpopularity this year may be that after so many bills like it — the $2.1 billion parks bond in 2000, Prop. 12, and clean-water and beaches bonds 40 and 50 in 2002 — bacteria loads still close our beaches, and visibly impaired water still creaks out of too many taps. Voters may be starting to suspect that clean-water money simply trickles down the drain.
Local proponents of the measure argue that, in Los Angeles alone, funds from 12, 40 and 50 have helped pay for storm-water-detention basins at Taylor Yard, the swimming hole on the Rio Hondo and open space on the San Gabriel River; they have helped leverage money from both nonprofits and corporations to undertake large-scale water-cleaning projects. And they have begun to go to work on pollutants in drinking water, whether you see it or not. “People are going to the polls and saying, ‘Clean water? Didn’t we just vote for something like that a few years ago?’ said Stefan Cajina of the California Department of Health Services. “They turn on their taps and still see rusty water. But we’re spending millions of dollars to target health impacts, and the health issues are invisible.” One of the projects bond money has funded, he says, has reduced byproducts of disinfection in drinking water, such as residual chlorine.
Other Prop. 84 advocates argue that the bond could be a boon for a city that might soon start paying millions of dollars in federal fines for its persistently polluted storm water, and where urban park space is, in some areas, one-twentieth of the standard of 10 acres per 1,000 residents set by the National Park Foundation. The measure includes $90 million for projects that scour bacteria from ocean-bound storm water and another $90 million for urban parks.
Still, Prop. 84 will run the state $10 billion over the 30-year period it will take to repay the bonds, and it’s reasonable to wonder whether, with the multiple-choice quiz of Proposition 1’s on the ballot, how many more clean-water bonds the state can afford. It’s also worth asking whether the words “coastal protection” in Prop. 84’s title just mean more money to spend on places for Westsiders to walk with their birding binoculars at the expense of greening Eastern Los Angeles. (Judith Lewis)
PROPOSITION 85: ABORTION WAITING PERIOD AND PARENTAL NOTIFICATION
What’s the point? Proposition 85’s twin, last year’s Proposition 73, lost by a decisive six points; still, the pushers of parental consent for abortion, San Diego Reader publisher James Holman and his swill-selling buddy Don Sebastiani, still have unhappily pregnant teenagers in their gunsights. But with every year of opposition, they nick away at their own measure, adding provisions for the health and safety of girls with abusive parents and stripping out last year’s “death of an unborn child” language that would have cagily classified a fetus as a person in the state’s constitution. (This year’s measure defines abortion as “the use of any means to terminate a pregnancy.”) The problem with parental-consent law, however, endures: It will always force some girls to have babies they don’t want, others to seek out dangerous street abortions in secret and still more to weather the rage of mean parents. The girls who can tell their parents don’t need a law to force them. Can we just forget this one now? (JL)
PROPOSITION 86: CIGARETTE TAX
Proposition 86, also known as the Tobacco Tax Act of 2006, would impose a $2.60-per-pack tax on cigarettes sold in California, bringing up the cost for a pack of smokes from around $4 to around $7 a pack, as of January 1.
According to proponents, including the Coalition for a Healthy California, this boost will help dissuade hundreds of thousands of adults and especially teenagers from lighting up. That’s a good thing, especially since smoking-related deaths and illnesses cost the local Los Angeles economy $4.3 billion a year. According to California’s Department of Health, the statewide initiative would stop around 700,000 kids from becoming smokers; prevent 300,000 smoking-related deaths; and save more than $16 billion in health-care costs. In Los Angeles County alone, there are about one million adult smokers and 74,000 teenage smokers.
It is estimated that the new cigarette tax, which has not been raised since 1998, would also pull in around $2.1 billion a year and pay for myriad health services including emergency medical care, nursing-education programs, clinics, programs to dissuade adults and teens from smoking, and, most importantly, health-care insurance for a significant chunk of the state’s 800,000 uninsured children.
But opponents, among them law enforcement, taxpayer groups, business organizations, labor unions, teachers, doctors and small-business owners, don’t like the measure, believing it is just another attempt by huge hospital corporations — many of which are funding the initiative — to profit from hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
“The health-care industry says the purpose of the initiative is to curtail smoking and fund efforts within the hospitals to deal with the impacts of smoking, yet 10 percent goes to antitobacco efforts,” said Shaun Lumachi, director of government affairs for the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce. “Where does it end? The ability of the health-care industry to go after the tobacco industry sets bad precedence.”
The measure has also raised the ire of physicians’ associations, including the Los Angeles County Medical Association, which opposes Prop. 86 because it contains exemption language that they argue could be used to violate federal and state antitrust laws. However, proponents of the measure say that safeguards are available that should help counties stop hospitals from taking advantage of the initiative. (Christine Pelisek)
PROPOSITION 87: OIL TAX
The problem: the United States consumes 22 million barrels of oil per day, 60 percent of which is imported, often from dangerous places. The habit is expensive, dirty and politically destabilizing, and may soon make the planet uninhabitable. Everyone from from the greenest Friends of the Earth hippie to the neo-neocons like James Woolsey who rightly see fuel efficiency as a national-security imperative want to change this. Everyone, that is, except the oil companies.
That’s why they’ve raised $90 million to defeat Proposition 87, by far the most money ever spent against a ballot measure. If you haven’t heard yet, Prop. 87 hopes to make a dent in California’s energy woes by directing money to energy-efficient technology research.
Such a sensible idea could only be improved upon by asking the oil companies to raise the research funds themselves. California, the measure’s backers figured out, is the only oil-producing state that charges no fee for extracting the black gold that makes the oil companies so rich. (Ever more so: Exxon Mobil, the largest corporation in the world since it reunited the antitrusted components of Standard Oil, recently posted $100 billion in earnings and more than $10 billion in profit in a single quarter.) Alaska charges 15 percent on every barrel. The federal government charges 12 percent for offshore drilling. Even Texas charges all of Bush and Cheney’s pals 4.6 percent. For once, it makes sense to follow in Texas’ footsteps. Pat Brown tried to get the oil companies to pony up in 1959. Villaraigosa tried again as assembly speaker in the 1990s. The two-thirds majority needed in the legislature made it impossible. So Prop. 87 wants to revive the idea, bring it directly to the voters, and spend the money on finding new ways to use less oil.
Sometimes legislating by plebiscite is a disaster — Proposition 13, Proposition 187, etc. — but this is a no-brainer, right? Develop new industry and save the world, all without borrowing money?
Chevron estimates Prop. 87 would cost them $200 million annually. Great! Maybe that extraction fee will even out the $5 million daily that Chevron extracted from California consumers by overcharging us 50 cents per gallon this summer, when our $3.50 gas was the priciest in the nation and Chevron was ka-chinging its way to its own record $5 billion quarterly profit.
Clean tech is a Californian idea, which is why developer cum hybrid owner Angelides and Hummer pioneer Schwarzenegger have both tried to plant their flag on it. But $90 million in negative TV ads buys a lot of misplaced skepticism. Prop. 87 is now only slightly ahead, within statistical margins, so turnout will be the difference. Arnold’s cakewalk may mean that Democrats stay home. But we need to get to the polls for the ballot measures. Don’t just vote for Prop. 87. Call everyone you know and tell them to vote on it. If we can’t wait for Washington, let’s do it ourselves. (JL)
PROPOSITION 88: EDUCATION FUNDING
This would establish a $50 tax on parcels of property for K-12 public schools. The tax would raise $450 million annually for specific educational purposes like reducing class size, textbook purchases and school safety. (Elderly and disabled homeowners are exempted from the tax.) Supporters say Prop. 88 will give the state a new revenue source, while opponents argue it will open the door to unlimited parcel-tax increases without assuring that the funds would go to local schools. (CP)
PROPOSITION 89: CAMPAIGN FINANCE
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Proposition 89 would bring to California the same sort of system already present in Arizona, Maine and a few other states in which candidates who forgo private funding receive full public financing. It’s absolutely the right way to open up and reform the political process. And while Clean Money programs are not perfect, they go a very long way toward enhancing democracy and curbing institutionalized bribery. The California version of the initiative was qualified for the ballot by the feisty California Nurses Association (which led last fall’s ground war against the governor) and has since been endorsed by good-government groups like the League of Women Voters, California Common Cause, Public Campaign and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. (Marc Cooper)
PROPOSITION 90: EMINENT DOMAIN
Backed by a New York businessman and property-rights activists, this measure would put stricter limits on eminent domain by preventing governments from grabbing your land unless it is put to a government use. Prop. 90 is essentially a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling last year that granted local governments the right to take your home or business and give it to a private developer.
Might sound good on the surface, but opponents say the measure would require state and local government to compensate property owners after the passage of any law — including run-of-the-mill zoning ordinances — that results in a substantial economic loss for property owners. In other words, Prop. 90 is a lawsuit bonanza, with virtually anyone suing over any new law. (CP)