Props and Measures — A Nice and Easy Voter's GuideEXPAND
Lisa Horowitz

Props and Measures — A Nice and Easy Voter's Guide

In recent weeks, L.A. Weekly has profiled Democratic candidates Kevin de León, Alex Villanueva, Katie Hill and Christy Smith, plus chair of the L.A. County Democratic Party Mark Gonzalez, with a view to offering some vital information about candidates we admire as you prepare to submit your ballots. We don't usually have problems selecting individual candidates to support. Rather, it's the ballots and measures that are worded so confusingly, seeming to deliberately employ the most convoluted language imaginable, that can confuse and confound. We've put together this handy guide that untangles the web before allowing you to make up your own mind. Hope it helps.

Proposition 1: The Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018 is an important component of multifaceted efforts to sustain and expand affordable housing infrastructure and help disadvantaged Californians. The measure has broad support and already passed the Legislature and the governor's desk but requires voter approval to authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds. About a quarter of the money is aimed at helping veterans; the bulk is funding for low-income and transit-oriented, high-density housing — basically some sugar for developers to keep things sane. Without affordable housing provisions, SoCal's steroidal development boom is pushing toward New York and San Francisco levels of unaffordability. Other allocations include loan assistance for home buyers, farmworker housing and grants for pilot programs. The $1 billion earmarked for veteran home loans would be repaid directly by participants. With interest, repayment of the remainder would cost taxpayers about $170 million annually for the next 35 years.

Proposition 2: Uses an existing "millionaire's tax" to finance permanent supportive housing for homeless, mentally ill Californians. In 2016 lawmakers approved the No Place Like Home program to raise $2 billion for permanent supportive housing for mentally ill people who are homeless or at risk of becoming chronically homeless. A small but important portion of the funding would come from Prop. 63, the Mental Health Services Act (2004), which enacted a 1 percent surcharge on incomes over $1 million to fund programming. But a lawsuit challenging whether Prop. 63 can be used to pay for homelessness prevention housing has held the 2016 legislation in limbo. Integrated services like supportive housing are a fundamental part of any realistic plan to tackle L.A.'s entwined homelessness and mental illness crises. Prop. 63 has disbursed billions to counties over the years, resulting in large reserves — and sharp criticism over how ineffectively the money is spent. Prop. 2 asks voters to address the formality and authorize earmarked mental health money to flow where it's needed, without increasing taxes.

Proposition 3: This massive, $9 billion statewide water bond (the third in four years) has a long list of supporters — including dozens of environmental, civic and agriculture as well as water districts — and addresses crucial issues such as infrastructure, storage and habitat restoration. It also allocates $500 million to safe drinking water initiatives for disadvantaged communities. Critics call it a pay-to-play negotiated in private and put on the ballot by organizations that stand to receive a direct share of the pot. That in itself is common enough, but it's a stark difference from the $4 billion water bond that voters approved in June, which went through the legislative process. Critics including environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club contend this is a back-room maneuver to get all Californians to fund fixes that private or regional interests — or in some cases, the feds — should be responsible for. As usual, California water politics is a tangled and contentious knot, the matter of who benefits complicated by the fact that north and south, rural and urban are intertwined when it comes to capture, storage and distribution. But there is enough here to be circumspect — including the fact that, once approved, there will be little oversight or public input as to how funds are disbursed. With an estimated $8.4 billion in interest over 40 years, it would cost taxpayers $17.3 billion.

Proposition 4: California's public and nonprofit children's hospitals are respected, regional hubs for specialized, vital pediatric care; they happen to serve a disproportionate share of our most vulnerable, low-income children while receiving relatively low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. Their ongoing need to fund capital improvements is compounded by new seismic retrofitting standards, requiring upgrades and increased capacity by 2030. The Children's Hospital Bonds Initiative allocates $1.5 billion for improvements, with the bulk ($1.08 billion) going to eight nonprofits and lesser amounts to the state's five university children's hospitals. Proponents note these hospitals perform 97 percent of the state's pediatric organ transplants, 96 percent of pediatric heart surgeries and 76 percent of its pediatric cancer treatments. Two previous bond measures ('04, '08) were considered well managed. While the state budget ideally should pick up the slack, voters likely won't turn down crucial upgrades for hospitals that serve more than 2 million children each year. Nor should they. Children's Hospital Los Angeles would be eligible for $135 million; UCLA, $54 million.

Proposition 5: The Property Tax Transfer Initiative is billed as a means of increasing housing by incentivizing elderly and severely disabled homeowners to downsize, thereby freeing up stock for new homeowners. In fact, it is the California Association of Realtors' grab at increased transaction commissions — by providing special treatment for long-term homeowners who already pay significantly lower taxes. The measure expands on Prop. 13 (1978), which capped most property taxes for homeowners 55 and older at 1 percent of sale price and curtailed annual value increases to 2 percent, with limitations. Prop. 5 would allow transfer of assessed value to a new one — no matter the market value, location or number of moves — even if the new home is more expensive. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, resulting revenue losses would outweigh gains, eventually resulting in annual losses of $1 billion for schools and local governments.

Proposition 6: A lump of coal wrapped in cellophane, this GOP-funded chicanery would halt critical transportation infrastructure projects in communities across the state. Lawmakers last year reached a deal to increase gas taxes (the first time in 23 years), and Republicans immediately began maneuvering to repeal it. National GOP leaders saw an opportunity to use the skewed narrative — a false promise of lower gas prices — to bolster turnout in threatened congressional districts. (House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise both contributed.) Prop. 6 would repeal SB1 and require any future gas tax increases to be approved directly by voters. The state depends on driver user fees and gas taxes to fund critical improvements for roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure. Yes, registration fees suck, but so do terrible roads and unsafe bridges, the $130 billion backlog of transportation maintenance jobs, and losing about $5 billion in existing funds to begin tackling it. According to the LAO, SB1 allocates about two-thirds to highway and road repairs, with the remainder going to mass transit and other programs. While the repeal is a sharply partisan measure, there's a notable exception: Four Democratic challengers in GOP-held battleground congressional districts — including Irvine's Katie Porter — endorsed it.

Proposition 7: The least pressing issue to appear before voters this November, the Permanent Daylight Saving Time Measure would lay the groundwork for California's future transition to permanent daylight saving time, eliminating the twice-yearly ritual of switching our clocks — a practice introduced to conserve energy during WWII that critics argue is outdated, inconvenient and disruptive to human health. Prop. 7 would allow California to change the dates and times of DST and establish a permanent DST by a two-thirds vote — but only if approved by the federal government. As a national (and global) conversation gradually moves toward permanent DST, proponents want California poised to act, or at least consider its options. Critics counter the sun will rise an hour later, shrouding fall and winter mornings in darkness — and that permanent DST risks a piecemeal effect that could put California out of sync with much of the country, introducing far more confusion than that to which we've already grown accustomed. A yes vote allows room to consider future transition but doesn't change anything.

Proposition 8: This proposed cap on dialysis clinic revenues (to incentivize spending on direct patient care services and health care improvements) is by far the most expensive measure on the ballot, with a combined $130.29 million in spending on it as of Oct. 26. The vast majority comes from California's major dialysis clinics, which are worried enough to have pumped $111 million into efforts to kill it (according to an AP analysis, the most spent on one side of a ballot measure anywhere in the country since the 2002 election). Dialysis clinics provide lifesaving treatment to people with kidney failure by removing, cleansing and restoring their blood. Companies average $3 billion in profits annually from California operations, with margins that dwarf those of an average hospital. Prop. 8 supporters point to a concurrence of inflated profits, overcharging and subpar sanitary conditions that warrant action; clinics maintain this is an attempt by special interests (labor) to muscle leverage in a unionization battle, which will force clinics to cut services or close. Democratic state lawmakers have acknowledged a pattern of retaliation by dialysis companies against employee attempts to unionize, and support is drawn sharply along party lines, with Republicans opposing. Impacts, including how required refunds for revenue exceeding the 115 percent cap will pan out, are uncertain. But in our fraught health care climate, attempts at pressuring corporations making billions off sick Californians to improve standards are worthy of consideration. Including if they come from labor unions — which advocate for basic rights, decent living wages and conditions for working people, through the most adversarial of political climates.

Proposition 9 was removed from the ballot July 18 by order of California Supreme Court.

Proposition 10: A yes vote on Proposition 10 would allow city and county governments to regulate rents for any housing. They also can limit how much a landlord may increase rents when a new renter moves in. The measure itself does not make any changes to local rent-control laws. It would allow landlords a "fair rate of return," meaning they would be allowed to raise rents enough to make a profit — codifying what the U.S. Supreme Court has already decided. Opponents say Prop. 10 does not solve the problem of having sufficient affordable housing or will cause landlords to sell their properties because they can't make a profit. Known as the rent-control proposition, it comes at a time when rising rents have led to rent strikes around L.A. as a way for tenants to push for more reasonable rent increases. Renters in California typically pay 50 percent more for housing than renters in other states, and in some parts of the state, rent costs are more than double the national average. A state law, known as the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, limits local rent-control laws. Costa-Hawkins creates three main limitations: Rent control cannot apply to any single-family homes; rent control can never apply to housing completed on or after Feb. 1, 1995; and rent-control laws cannot tell landlords what they can charge a new renter when first moving in. Under Costa-Hawkins, rent control in L.A. does not apply to buildings built after 1978, when the city's rent-stabilization ordinance was adopted.

Proposition 11: A "yes" vote means private-sector ambulance employees will be "on call" during breaks and regulates the timing of meal breaks for these employees. It eliminates employers' liability — in actions pending on or after Oct. 25, 2017 — for violations of existing law regarding work breaks. It requires employers to provide training regarding certain emergency incidents, violence prevention and mental health and wellness. The proposition is backed by American Medical Response, which has about 29,000 clinician/drivers and about 6,600 ambulances, and provides medical transportation services to about 4,000 cities and towns in the United States, according to the Mercury News. There are labor lawsuits pending against the company in California. In practice, EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and paramedics are "on call" for their entire work shift in case they receive an emergency call. This means their breaks sometimes are interrupted by 911 calls. They also can be interrupted by a request to reposition to a new posting location. As a result, EMTs and paramedics often are unable to plan their meal and rest breaks. From the employer's point of view, most ambulance shifts include downtime between emergency calls. They might say that crews often have enough downtime in their shift to take uninterrupted meal and rest breaks even though they are technically on call. But, understandably, the employees don't see it that way.

Proposition 12: A "yes" vote means animal-welfare laws will be improved. Opponents cite rising costs to farmers to improve how animals are housed, which would be passed along to consumers. There would be new minimum requirements on farmers to provide more space for egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and calves raised for veal. The measure also makes it illegal for businesses in California to knowingly sell eggs (including liquid eggs) or uncooked pork or veal that came from animals housed in ways that do not meet the measure's requirements. This ban applies to products from animals raised in California or out of state. Prop. 12 calls for cage-free housing for egg-laying hens starting in 2022; breeding pigs would be required to have 24 square feet of floor space. Starting in 2020, calf raised for veal must have 43 square feet of floor space. A decade ago, voters approved Prop. 2, which said these animals must have sufficient room to turn around in, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. It took effect three years ago. A Purdue University study of egg prices in California from December 2014 to September 2016 said the average price of a dozen eggs rose 22 percent, according to the Los Angeles Times. But by the fall of 2016, prices were only 9 percent higher than they were right before the law took effect in 2015. On a $3 carton of a dozen eggs, that would have been an increase of a little more than a quarter.

Charter Amendment B — Municipal Financial Institution: Shall the City Charter be amended to allow the City to establish a municipal financial institution or bank?

Supported by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council, officials say they want to look into whether a public bank would be best for the city.

The City Clerk’s Voter Guide states that Charter Amendment B is the first step toward exploring the creation of a socially, economically and environmentally responsible city-owned bank. The measure is cost-free. It simply removes one barrier to establishing a bank. A sound business plan would follow, to be approved by voters and officials. Last year the city of Los Angeles paid $170 million in banking fees and $1.1 billion in interest to big banks and investors.

In July 2017, City Council president Herb Wesson and Councilmember Paul Krekorian introduced a motion asking the city administrative officer and the chief legislative analyst, with the assistance of the Office of Finance and the city attorney, to report on the feasibility, requirements, legislative barriers and any other relevant aspects of creating a state-chartered public bank, or similar such financial institution, according to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. The bank would provide banking services to reinvest in the communities, neighborhoods and rehabilitation of affordable housing and workforce housing, using deposits and providing financial services and products to local businesses, including the cannabis industry.

The city’s charter currently does not allow for the formation of a municipal bank. The only existing government-owned financial institution in the United States is the Bank of North Dakota.

Other cities and states have looked into public banks, although none has been established yet. A study for the proposed Massachusetts state bank estimated it would take $3.6 billion just to provide the bank enough capital to get started, the L.A. Times reports. It also would take changes to state and federal law, along with changes to the City Charter, just to get permission to start a public bank.

Additionally, the current federal administration has rescinded the Cole Memorandum that provided cover to banks to do business with cannabis businesses, which would mean no protection for the municipal bank.

Opponents say the legal authority does not currently exist to create a municipal bank, that the wording of the measure is too vague, and that more research is needed on how the bank will operate before voters decide.

Charter Amendment E — Realign City and State Election Dates: Shall the City Charter be amended to realign the City’s primary election date with the State’s primary election held in March of even-numbered years, and make other related and technical changes to City election procedures?

A yes vote means you want to change the city’s primary election date to again align with the state’s primary election and approve other related and technical changes to city election procedures, according to the City Clerk Voter Guide.

A no vote means you do not want to change the city’s primary election date to again align with the state’s primary election and do not want to approve other related and technical changes to city election procedures, according to the City Clerk Voter Guide.

Charter Amendment EE — Realign Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and State Election Dates: Shall the City Charter be amended to realign the LAUSD Board of Education’s primary election date with the State’s primary election held in March of even-numbered years, and make other related and technical changes to LAUSD election procedures?

A yes vote means you want to change the LAUSD’s primary election date to again align with the state’s primary election and approve other related and technical changes to LAUSD election procedures, according to the City Clerk Voter Guide.

A no vote means you do not want to change the LAUSD’s primary election date to again align with the state’s primary election and do not want to approve other related and technical changes to LAUSD election procedures, according to the City Clerk Voter Guide.

Opponents of Charter Amendment E and EE argue that March 2020 is too early for a local primary. A candidate who secures more than 50 percent of the vote in March would win outright but not take office until December. That could leave lame-duck officials in office for nine months, unaccountable to the voters.

Neither ballot measure would stop city officials from pursuing other election options in the future.

Measure W — Los Angeles Region’s Public Health and Safe, Clean Water Program: Shall an ordinance improving/protecting water quality; capturing rain/stormwater to increase safe drinking water supplies and prepare for future drought; protecting public health and marine life by reducing pollution, trash, toxins/plastics entering Los Angeles County waterways/bays/beaches; establishing a parcel tax of 2.5 cents per square foot of impermeable area, exempting low-income seniors, raising approximately $300 million annually until ended by voters, requiring independent audits, oversight and local control be adopted?

The tax would add about $83 to the annual property tax bill for owners of a typical parcel of about 6,000 square feet, KPCC reports. The actual tax would be calculated for every single parcel based on an aerial survey that estimates the square footage of roofs, driveways, patios and other paved surfaces that create water runoff. Businesses would pay the same 2.5 cents per square foot rate as residential parcels.

County officials said the tax, which would raise nearly $300 million a year, is needed to comply with state water quality laws requiring cities and counties to capture, treat and reuse stormwater runoff.

Los Angeles County already captures about one-fifth of the rain that falls in the Los Angeles Basin watershed. Spending the estimated tax revenue, the county could build projects capable of doubling that amount of water. Cleaning stormwater and injecting it underground also could reduce the need to import water from the Eastern Sierra in Northern California and the Colorado River.

BizFed, the Los Angeles Business Federation that represents thousands of businesses, opposes the tax. The group wants to lower or end the tax after 30 years.

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