November 2018 General Election – Part IV – Local/Regional Ballot Measures

October 29, 2018

OK, so you’ve gone through all the statewide candidates and measures, and the regional/local candidates. Now, all that’s left are the local/regional ballot measures. You’re almost there! Bear with me while we go through them. I promise it won’t take too long.

Regional Measures

Measure FF – East Bay Regional Park District Parcel Tax Extension.

This measure would extend for 20 years an existing parcel tax to fund the East Bay Regional Park Districts ongoing maintenance expenses, as well as improvement expenses. It would NOT pay for new capital expenditures (e.g., new land acquisition). The parcel tax is $12 per year (for a single family dwelling, $8.28 per year for multifamily [i.e., condo or apartment] units), and is put on your annual property tax bill.

This time around there is vocal and well-funded opposition by the folks who don’t want to see any eucalyptus cut down. In reality, the Regional Park District program is aimed at thinning, not removing eucalyptus groves. If the measure fails, eucalyptus seedling will continue to germinate and grow, making the groves thicker and larger – and also a far greater fire hazard. the Park District has tried to stake out a middle-ground in the eucalyptus debate, pointing out that while eucalyptus may be beautiful, smell nice, and provide some wildlife habitat benefits, overgrown groves accumulate highly combustible shedded leaves and bark. Further, while older trees drop their lower branches, isolating their flammable crowns from the ground, if there are smaller trees between them, the combination gives a wildfire a “fuel ladder” to climb up into the towering crowns of older trees, where the burning leaves and branches will generate embers that the wind can carry for literally miles. As a result, the embers can ignite new fire areas, making the fire far more difficult to get under control.

You’d think that, having lived through the 1991 Tunnel Fire that burned over 2,000 homes in the East Bay Hills, East Bay residents would have learned that beauty and safety sometimes need to be balanced. Apparently not. So go ahead, listen to the “euc lovers” and vote this measure down, but don’t come crying when the next big fire – and there WILL be a next big fire – is even more dangerous and damaging that the last. YES!!!

Peralta Community College Funding Measures.

Measure E – Peralta Community College Parcel Tax Extension.

This measure would extend an existing $48 per parcel tax for an additional eight years. The tax proceeds would be used to provide support for academic programs and student support such as tutoring. The Peralta District provided the lowest cost higher education option for East Bay students, and serves as a gateway to the Cal. State and U.C. system for those who might not otherwise be able to make the transition. I know several kids on my street alone who’ve used Peralta courses to pave their way to entering a four-year degree program. $48 a year is a small cost to keep this important part of our public higher education system running. YES.

Measure G – Peralta Community College District Facilities Improvement Bond.

Unlike Measure E, which funds ongoing school expenses, Measure G is a bond measure to fund capital improvements. While some of Peralta’s campuses are relatively new, they’re still aging, and with technology moving forward rapidly, even newer classrooms and facilities need updating to be able to have the kind of electronic resources students and teachers need. The bond, which would be for $800 Million (a small amount compared, for example to the $9.95 BILLION bond measure voters approved for high-speed rail in 2008), would be paid off through property tax assessments of $24.50 per $100,000 of valuation over 40 years. YES.

City of Oakland Measures

Measure V – Oakland Cannabis Business Tax Modification Measure (Council Initiated)

This measure, which must be approved by the voters under Prop. 13, makes changes in how the City collects business tax from cannabis sales businesses to make it easier for those businesses to manage, and to give the City Council flexibility in making further changes, so long as those changes don’t increase the tax rate.

Cannabis businesses are now a fact of life for California and for Oakland. From the City’s standpoint, if cannabis businesses are going to operate, it’s to the City’s benefit that they do so successfully. The alternative is that cannabis sales go back to being an underground criminal activity – profiting gangs instead of the City treasury. YES

Measure W – 20 Year Sunset Vacant Property Tax. (Council Initiated)

This proposed tax has two purposes. One purpose is to provide funds for homeless services, affordable housing, code enforcement against blight and illegal dumping, and administration of the tax. The other, perhaps equally important, purpose is to provide a disincentive to property owners leaving their property vacant and unused. We all know of properties – either buildings, apartments, storefronts, houses, or vacant lots, that have sat idle for years – fulfilling no useful function and often contributing to an atmosphere of blight in the community. There can be various reasons for this, but one of the ones that’s become more common lately is speculators who don’t want the property occupied because they’re waiting to sell it at an increased price. It’s not clear how big a problem this is in Oakland, but in San Francisco it’s been estimated that there are as many as 60,000 vacant apartment and condos being kept off the market by speculating investors. While the proposed tax is not exorbitant ($6,000/year for vacant property, $3,000 per year for a condor ground floor commercial space)– especially given how much Oakland property is sometimes selling and renting for – it would give property owners a prod to DO SOMETHING with their property. YES

Measure X – Graduated Real Estate Transfer Tax (Council Initiated)

Oakland, like most cities, has a real estate transfer tax – essentially a tax on the purchase of real property in the city. This measure would amend Oakland transfer tax so that the tax rate would be graduated, so the rate would be higher on property selling for higher values. The current rate is 1.5% for all properties. For properties valued at less than $300,000, the rate would drop to 1% . For properties from $300,000 to $2, million, it would remain at the current 1.5%; for properties valued from $2 million to $5 million, it would rise modestly to 1.75%; and for properties over $5 million, it would rise to 2.5%. Further, for first-time low or moderate income homebuyers, the rate would be decreased by ½% from the otherwise-applicable rate, but only for property valued at $2 million or less. The measure would also rebate up to 1/3 of the transfer tax to low/moderate income homebuyers for the value of improvements to their newly-bought home to install solar power generation or to make earthquake retrofits within six months of purchase. However, these rebates would also only apply to homes valued at less than $2 million.

Overall, I think this is a good idea. Those buying higher priced homes can presumably afford to pay a bit more for city services.   (The tax proceeds would go into the City’s general fund.) The tax may also, incidentally, get sellers to price their properties below the various breakpoints for the tax.] The tax gives a break to first-time low & moderate income home buyers, which makes sense, because home ownership usually brings with it a more stable and more active relationship with the City. Likewise, the rebates for adding solar power & earthquake retrofits are incentives to do things that help the community as well as the homeowner. YES.

Measure Y – Extending Just Cause Eviction provisions to landlord-occupied duplexes and triplexes. (Council Initiated)

Up until now, Oakland’s Just Cause Eviction ordinance has had an exemption for landlord-occupied duplexes and triplexes, on the theory that these are small landlords who’ll generally do well by their tenants. Well, it turns out that landlords have learned how to “play” this exemption. The landlord [temporarily] moves into one unit of the building and then promptly evicts the tenants in the other unit(s). That’s not fair. Further, the just cause eviction provisions aren’t all that burdensome. It just means that the landlord needs to have a good reason for evicting a tenant – like non-payment or rent or violation of lease provisions. There’s no good reason why those reasons shouldn’t be needed for duplex or triplex owners, especially when there’s far too strong incentives to boot out current tenants and then raise the rent.

Opponents argue that landlords will take the units off the market. Sure, and then do what with them? Leave them vacant? If landlords think they have a better idea, let them bring it forward and have it put on the ballot. YES.

Measure Z – Minimum Wage for hotel workers, plus establishing employee rights and a new city department to enforce those rights. (Council Initiated)

This measure starts off with a good idea – raising the minimum wage in Oakland’s (larger) hotels [50 room minimum]. The large hotels play to the tourist and convention clientele, and consequently charge fairly hefty room rates. Yet they pocket most of that money. However, it’s possible that raising the wages uniformly may force poorer-performing hotels out of business. Seems like there ought to be a way for a hotel to claim hardship and temporarily pay lower wages – if they can substantiate their hardship. Also, why focus on just the hotel business? What about restaurants and conference centers? What about large employers, like UPS and Fed-Ex?

Another concern is establishing an entirely new City department to enforce this ordinance. One can easily see that department proposing more ordinances so it’ll have justification for hiring more employees. To me, this looks like it could easily turn into trying to expand Oakland’s bureaucracy and then figuring out ways to justify the expansion. NO.

Measure AA – Establishes $198 per year parcel tax for early childhood education and programs to promote college entry and completion and workplace readiness. (Initiative Measure)

I get worried about the various taxes and bond measures that get put onto the ballot without an adequate explanation of why they’re needed. This is a case in point. While the measure claims there will be accountability, it doesn’t identify how it’s going to measure the adequacy of progress towards reaching its lofty goals, and what will happen if it doesn’t. This looks far too much like a “throw money at a problem and see if it does anything” approach. I’d like to see something with more back-up, like being able to point to similar projects that have had demonstrable success in improving outcomes. NO


November 2018 Election Ballot comments – Part III – Local/Regional Candidates

October 28, 2018

As election day closes in, if you haven’t already filled in your mail-in ballot, or if you’re a traditionalist who likes to actually got to your polling place on election day, here’s part 3 of my election comments, local/regional candidates. Part 4, local/regional ballot measures, will hopefully follow shortly. I might add that unless you live in the Bay Area, you can pretty much ignore these last two parts unless you’re curious about what’s on the ballot here. Also, some candidates and measures get pretty darned local, so unless you actually live in Oakland, Not all my comments will apply to your ballot. If you’re wondering about someone or something I didn’t discuss, feel free to leave a comments and I’ll get back to you shortly with a response, although in some cases, that response may be less than fully informed – in which case I won’t be ashamed to say so. It’s hard enough to try to be fully informed about what’s on your own personal ballot!

Local/Regional candidates.

California State Assembly District Fifteen.

If you’ve read my comments on statewide candidates, you already know I have a dim view of California’s “top two” primary election rules. Those comments apply equally to local candidates.

In the case of the state Legislature, again there may have been more than two candidates in the primary (there were six in this district), but now it’s down to the two top vote-getters in June. Further, because only a few local jurisdictions use “ranked-choice” voting, in the legislative contests you only got to vote for one candidate in the June primary.

While narrowing things down to two candidates in the final election makes the final choices simpler, it doesn’t necessarily make them better. Further, with lots of candidates in the June primary, and, more often than not, a less engaged electorate, those primary choices may have been less informed than they could have been with a better system.

I’d again prefer it if we had two rounds of voting; both using ranked-choice. For the Legislature, I’d also like to see proportional representation provided for, so that minor parties aren’t automatically shut out. In California, the system practically guarantees (exept in very rare cases) that there will be no minor party representation in the Legislature. I think that’s a shame. Minor parties are often how new ideas bubble to the surface. With no representation in the Legislature, that creativity gets stifled. Further, because neither major party rewards creativity and diversity in opinions – quite the opposite – the effect of the lack of minor party representation is even more damaging. Because the two major parties totally control the Legislature, the only way we’re going to make change happen is by a statewide initiative. Unless some well-financed reform group (like maybe Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, a reform-minded billionaire, or perhaps a coalition of minor parties – or some combination of these) jumps into the fray, I’m afraid it ain’t going to change any time soon. (sigh.)

On the specifics of this race, at least the top-two process has given us two viable candidates, rather than the older format where, in much of the Bay Area, a Republican candidate was often automatically an also-ran. [Not to mention that the ideology of the California Republican party being what it is, Republicans are generally also almost automatically an also-rans in the Bay Area.] Given that the 15th A.D. is one of the most liberal in the state – including as it does the major left-oriented cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond – the two candidates that emerged from the primary both represent the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

Actually, in many respects, this election is, at the local level, almost a replay of the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary. One candidate, Buffy Wicks, represents the traditional or establishment liberal Democratic Party ideology, while the other, Jovanka Beckles, represents the more radical and insurgent Bernie Sanders (dare I say it, Social Democrat or Democratic Socialist] ideology.

In some other respects, the two candidates don’t precisely hew to the 2016 primary candidates.   Unlike the 2016 presidential candidates, only one – Beckles – has previously held elected office. She’s now in her second term on the Richmond City Council, where she’s part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, a group that arose in opposition to Chevron’s long-standing domination of that city’s politics. It’s not surprising, therefore, that she’s a pretty strident opponent of corporate dominance of politics. Also, while both candidates have spent a lot of time in California, Buffy has bounced around between different parts of the state, as well as spending a considerable time in Washington DC as an operative in the Obama administration. She’s consequently far more tied in to the state and national Democratic Party leadership and establishment.

These differences show in how the look at issues. They also help predict how they’d likely behave in the Legislature. Buffy reflects a cautious incrementalist approach. While both candidates claim to espouse a single-payer government run medical system – perhaps similar to Canada’s – Buffy was highly involve in the Obama Affordable Care Act’s formulation, and can be expected to focus, like the state Democratic Party leadership, on protecting Obamacare in California and trying to strengthen and expand its provisions, while Jovanka supports having California try to move forward towards its own single-payer system regardless of Washington’s current opposition.

Perhaps similarly, they differ significantly on housing policy. Buffy can be expected to support Democratic Party efforts, currently spearheaded by Senators Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner, to promote more and denser private sector housing construction regardless of the income level being served. In practice, this approach has led to huge amounts of market-rate housing being built, but little progress in addressing the continuing disappearance of affordable low & moderate income housing. Jovanka, by contrast, supports the state (and perhaps local entities) making a big push for publicly financed and publicly owned affordable housing. She wants to see the addition of over 100,000 public housing units statewide in the next couple of years.

Given the Legislature’s current dominance by what might be called corporate liberal Democrats – who pay at least as much attention to the lobbying of groups like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Council as they do to grassroots Democratic Party constituents, The chances of any of Jovanka’s “Berniecrat” ideas being enacted as proposed in the next two years is virtually nil. However, she would become part of an emerging populist progressive caucus within the Legislature’s Democrats, and could influence the long-term direction of the party and the Legislature. Buffy would fit right into the current Democratic legislative leadership (which helps explain her endorsement by most of that leadership). Don’t expect her to be a primary author of almost any enacted legislation in the next two years. Instead, expect her to be a dependable co-author of legislation introduced by Senators Wiener and Skinner, as well as pitching in with the rest of the Democratic leadership’s legislative agenda.

My personal opinion (if you haven’t already guessed) is to prefer Bernie Sanders’ progressive populist approach. For that reason, I’m supporting Beckles.

Alameda County Assessor

This is a nonpartisan and really nonpolitical office. What’s needed is someone who’s very honest, hard-working, and has accounting, managerial, and these days probably computer skills. Both candidates, Jim Johnson and Phong La, appear well-qualified. Because the office should be apolitical, I think I tend to favor the person with the most experience in the office, which would be Jim Johnson.

AC Transit Director – At-Large

AC Transit fulfills an important and probably underappreciatd role in our regional transportation system. It fills in the gaps between what BART covers in the East Bay, as well as supplementing BART’s transbay service and providing affordable transportation for those who don’t have cars. Over the years, financial cutbacks (probably due as much to Prop. 13 as anything else) have starved AC Transit and forced it to cut its service to the bone and beyond. As a result, AC Transit’s service is much less comprehensive than it was 30 years ago, and getting where you want to go can take two or even three transfers, if you can get there at all.

Of course it hasn’t helped that much of the development since World War II has been auto-oriented and consequently not well-suited to public transit service – what with winding streets, many non-through streets, and low density (typically 4 units per acre) single family housing. The development in the East Bay Hills, as well as suburban-type developments in Southern Alameda County, are all not well-suited to good and financially sustainable bus service. That’s the background the current AC Transit board has to cope with. From all I can tell, Joel Young, the incumbent, has been doing a decent job as an at-large member. I especially like that Mr. Young want to try to integrate AC Transit with newer services like Uber and Lyft to attempt to re-establish comprehensive transit services. His opponent didn’t even bother to put a candidate statement in the voter handbook. Young.

Mayor of Oakland.

There are ten candidates for Oakland mayor this election!! That’s too many to give every candidate serious consideration in a final election. While ranked choice voting helps, with this many candidates more than one round of voting is really needed. Oakland’s voting system needs to be revised to make the filing deadline much earlier earlier, so there’s time for a primary election. If more than five candidates seek an office, the City should run a primary election to winnow the pool down to five, as I outlined in my discussion of the gubernatorial election.

That having been said, and with awareness that I have not been able to give each candidate the kind of scrutiny I’d like, here are my thoughts.

Obviously, with an incumbent running for re-elections, other candidates need to be measured against the incumbent’s performance. Our present mayor, Libby Schaaf, has, in my humble opinion, not done a great job as mayor. For one thing, she set up a new department of transportation. That, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, but really transportation planning and transportation maintenance need very different skills. The former really ought to be closely coordinated with land use planning, and the latter is probably best left in the public works department where it was. Libby’s department pulled in people from a variety of other places and has not gelled well. It’s administration appears heavy-handed and not very open to public input. Indeed, there is no body occupying a position parallel to the planning commission to receive public input and provide a counterpoint to the staff bureaucracy. As a result, we have a technocratically-focused department that has been ham-fisted in dealing with politically sensitive topics. Nor has the department improved functions that badly need improvement – like the residential permit parking program and integrating pedestrian, bicyclist, and driver concerns.

I haven’t seen any better changes in other departments. The planning department was leaderless for quite a while, and doesn’t seem to be able to recruit and keep good quality staff planners. The Planning Commission has become more and more pro-development in its orientation, and the Mayor’s program to promote providing more affordable housing consists of one person (a good person, to be sure, but what can one person accomplish in a bureaucracy the size of Oakland’s?

Nor has she proved able to work effectively with the City Council which appears to be as divided and unwieldy as ever. In short, if I was to grade her performance, it would be a C- or D.

Against that, there are a raft of candidates, but nobody coming forth from the City Council, which is where one might hope for a better alternative. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps because Oakland’s politics are so divisive and toxic that current council members feel it’s not something they’d wish to do. At any rate, we’re left with a range of outsiders wanting to take the wheel. In fact, not a single one has ever held public office before. Few of them give me much confidence that they’d do better than the incumbent.

Perhaps the candidate that gives me the most hope is Cat Brooks. She’s apparently had a fair amount of experience running organizations, and has some specific ideas of what to do about some of Oakland’s festering problems, like its difficult to control police department and doing a more effective job of addressing homelessness and promoting affordable housing [Yes, Mayor Schaaf can claim credit for a building boom in housing, but very little of what’s being built is affordable, and she’s shown no perceptible leadership there]. I also note that she’s supported by an impressive list of Oaklanders who have, for years, pressed the city to do more in the progressive side. I’d place her as #1 on ranked choice.  Cat Brooks

Of the remaining candidates, Pamela Price and Saied Karamooz both propose comprehensive programs to address many of Oakland’s major problems. However, neither suggests how they’re going to pay for all the big-ticket programs they propose. Oakland already has some major financial liabilities hanging over it, notably unfunded pension liabilities for current city employees. While there are some ways to pull together some additional resources, such as requiring large new employers to pay a housing impact fee to help maintain and build the city’s supply of affordable housing and passing a property transfer tax that is time-dependent, so that “flipping” properties is strongly discouraged, none of the candidates’ says much about where the money’s going to come from for all their new programs. I can’t in good conscience wholeheartedly recommend either of these two candidates, but if you want to pick as second and third choices someone besides Ms. Schaaf, I’d suggest one or both of these two candidates.  Pamela Price/Saied Karamooz

City Auditor. This race pits the current city auditor against her predecessor.   Each of the candidates says they’ve done a good job as auditor. I must confess, however, that I saw a lot more meaningful and incisive audits coming out when Courtney Ruby was auditor than I have since Brenda Roberts took office. Do I really believe Oakland government had cleaned up its act well enough that there are no problems needing daylighting? I think not. Rather, I suspect that while Roberts may be more “efficient” in putting out audit reports, those reports may not be digging as deeply. I would go for Ruby.




November 2016 Ballot Measures – Part 2, Local Ballot Measures

October 20, 2016

This is Part 2 of my blog’s coverage of the November 8 2016 general election. If you are looking for my comments on the statewide ballot measures, you should look here.  My candidate comments will be posted in Part 3.

A cautionary note – these comments will be most applicable if you live in Oakland, California, although parts will also apply if you live in larger parts of the S.F. Bay area.  I’m going to start with the broader measures and then drill down to the more local one.

I’d previously put up a link to a site that gave various “progressive” groups’ recommendations on statewide measures.  There aren’t as many groups endorsing on local measures, but both the League of Women Voters (Oakland and more general) and KQED have website devoted to giving the pros and cons of local measures, as well as information on all election candidates.  If you’re not interested in reading through the 200 page voter information guide (plus sample ballot, for local contests) these sites are good places to start in figuring out what to do with you ballot choices.  Just a caution that if the give you your ballot choices by some zip code, some zip codes overlap several jurisdictions, so you may see candidates and measures that won’t be on your ballot.  If in doubt, consult your sample ballot.  There are a few sites that have made local ballot recommendations.  One of the more comprehensive is the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, a left-leaning Oakland/Berkeley Democratic Club.  It’s recommendations can be found here.  I’m not going to give local newspaper recommendations, because IMHO in these days of corporate control of the news media, their best use is for wrapping dead fish – and you can’t even do that with the electronic versions.

So, ready or not, off we go!

Measure RR – $3.5 billion of bonds for acquisition and improvement of property.  I’m really conflicted on this.  As I’ve stated earlier on the statewide measures, bond measures have become a particularly manipulative way for public agencies to get taxpayer money to finance whatever they want to do.  In theory, they can only use the bonds as they’ve promised the voters, but agencies (and perhaps particularly BART) have gotten very adept at writing bond measures so the money can be used for practically anything they want.  [caveat – Bonds cannot be used to pay ongoing expenses or salaries – with certain exceptions.  Those types of expenses have to be paid for by taxes or assessments – typically either special assessments or parcel taxes.]

There’s no question BART has big problems.  I get e-mail notifications whenever BART has service problems, and these days I typically get four or five a day.  Often, it’s an announcement of a delay due to an equipment problem; either on a train, on the track, or with switching equipment.  This reflects the fact that BART has failed woefully in keeping its system updated.  as they acknowledge in their argument for this bond, a lot of their electrical equipment hasn’t been updated since the system was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  In addition, the system is, frankly, poorly designed.  Unlike the New York, Chicago, or Boston subways, there’s no redundancy.  One central trunk line carries most trains and a problem in a key station (e.g., West Oakland or Oakland 12th St. City Center) can foul up most of the system.)  That’s a failure of foresight from back when the system was designed.  You can blame it on the Bay Area Council, which pushed the system through as a way to shuttle commuters between the suburbs and Downtown San Francisco – then the hub for Bay Area businesses.

Meanwhile, over the years, BART has put through multiple expansion problems, most of which have continued that same suburbs to SF logic and have sucked up many billions of dollars on lines that come nowhere near paying for themselves while filling up the central trunk line’s capacity for trains.  The system still continues this same now-ridiculous logic, proposing further expansions to Brentwood and Livermore, plus a duplicative expansion from Fremont to San Jose.  The $3.5 billion in this bond contains NO restrictions on how it can be used.  Yes, it COULD update BART’s outdated equipment and trackage, but it could also purchase property for future expansion right-of-way.

We’re stuck with a Hobson’s choice.  Approve the bond and risk pouring more money down the drain for expansions to satisfy suburban voters, or turn it down and suffer with a system where breakdowns have already become a daily occurrence.  A very reluctant Yes.

Measure C1 – Extends $8 per month ($96 per year) parcel tax for 20 years, raising about $30 million per year, or a total of $6 billion.  Like BART, AC Transit is a victim of lack of imagination, as well as the Bay Area’s overall backwards thinking.  AC Transit arose from the corpse of failed private transit providers (chiefly the Key System).  These systems were begun by real estate developers to serve their suburban projects.  They weren’t intended to make money, and in the long run, they didn’t.  Further, the Bay Area’s transit system resembles 19th century Italy or Germany – a hodgepodge of tiny fiefdoms without an overall plan.  In theory, MTC ought to unify them, but it doesn’t, because its members are appointed by local fiefdoms as well, and reflect the dominance of automotive travel in California.  You’d think we’d learn from looking abroad (or even at NYC or Boston) that a seamless, unified transit system works better and more efficiently.  It hasn’t happened, and it wont as long as transit is the stepchild of local government.

Nevertheless, AC Transit does serve an essential function, especially for those who by choice or necessity don’t have a car.  The Bay Area is badly in need of an overhaul of its transit system, but I sure don’t see that happening any time soon.  This measure is a stopgap measure, but necessary to keep the wolves at bay.  Another reluctant Yes.

Measure A1 – County Affordable Housing Bond – $580 million for acquisition/improvement of real property.  Again, bonds are often problematic, and with the problems this county, and the Bay Area, face with housing price escalation, this – and much more – is needed.

Ultimately, our housing crisis won’t be solved until we acknowledge the linkage between jobs and housing.  The Bay Area Council and other business groups (especially the Silicon Valley Leadership Group – AKA Silicon Valley Manufacturers Group) continue to push job growth as the savior of the Bay Area economy.  What they really mean is the savior of their multi-billion dollar companies their multi-billion dollar fortunes.  Meanwhile they bring in thousands of new employees who then use their inflated salaries to displace existing residents.  To be blunt, we can’t build ourselves out of this mess unless we demand linkage between job growth and housing growth, and insist that those creating jobs (and their cities) take some responsibility for providing the housing those new workers will need.

As it is, this measure is just a drop in the bucket, but it’s better than nothing.  Yet another reluctant Yes.


Measure HH – 1 cent per ounce “soda tax”.  This would levy a tax on sugar-added drinks (but not for pure fruit juice drinks or diet beverages).  Yes, you can call it a “sin tax,” or more accurately, perhaps, a health tax.  At this point, it’s almost as hard to ignore the connection between sugary drinks, obesity, and diabetes as it is between cigarettes, lung cancer, and emphysema.  We tax the latter, why not the former?  Why not, because the manufacturers and distributors of those drinks, like those of tobacco products, don’t want us to.  That’s who’s behind the opposition to this measure, who deceptively call it a “grocery tax.”  Vote Yes.

Measure II – extends maximum lease term for public property from 60 to 99 years.  What’s this about?  The rationale is that the City can get better deals from private leasees if it offers a longer lease, and will be better able to insist on higher-cost improvements because the leasee gets a longer payback time on their investment.  On the other hand, this means a bad deal will last longer.  (Think the Colosseum Raiders deal.)  There are arguments both ways, and if my trust level in Oakland’s government were higher I might support it.   No.

Measure JJ – Extends renter protections from properties built before 1980 to those built before 1995 (the year state law changed prohibiting renter protections on housing built after that date).  With Oakland’s current housing crisis, this is a necessary, but not sufficient, response.  (See my comments on Measure A1.)  Anyone opposing this is either ignorant, obtuse, or a landlord.  Yes.

Measure KK – Public Works $600 million bond measure – We know that Oakland’s infrastructure is failing, and we need affordable housing, and this promises both.  Again, I have strong reservations about open-ended bond measures such as this one, which will ultimately have to be paid back by us taxpayers.  I’d feel better about it if I had more trust in how Oakland spends its money.  Still, there are quite a few good project happening around Oakland, and if we want a better city, we need to be willing to pay for it.  Yet another reluctant Yes.

Measure LL – Oakland Civilian Police Commission.  This measure could be stronger.  I’d have liked it better if the Mayor didn’t have a strong (but not totally controlling) hand in its appointment, but to my mind, it’s absolutely essential.  The support for this measure given by Council Members Kalb and Gallo explains the Police Officers Association’s hit pieces attacking them.  Frankly, OPD’s internal discipline system has been so sabotaged by contract provisions inserted by the POA.  This reform is long overdue and necessary if we citizens are ever going to develop trust in out city’s police department.  YES, YES, YES!

Measure G1 – Oakland Unified School District $120 per year parcel tax.  OUSD put this measure on the ballot to provide additional funds for school teacher salaries and to enhance various school programs.  There are disputes about how the money gets distributed, but teachers deserve better pay and our public schools need more resources generally.  It’d be better if this could come from property taxes, which are less regressive, but you can thank Prop. 13 for eliminating that option.  Yes.

Recommendations for November 2014 General Election

October 19, 2014

To begin with, my apologies for having been so long in posting anything to my blog.  I have, to say the least, been very busy the past few months, and it’s only the prodding of friends (thank you for the prods) and the immanence of November that have prompted me to get back on-line here and put down my thoughts.

Let me start with some general comments.  With this election, we’re seeing the effect of California’s new open primary (AKA “top two”) electoral system, and I must admit I don’t like them at all.  Yes, it does mean that there’s almost always a contest in the November election, unless a seat is totally uncontested or one candidate’s such an overwhelming favorite that they get over 50% in the primary.  However, narrowing the choices to two often means you get a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee — two candidates who aren’t saying significantly different things.  Sometimes, it devolves into the choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber – two candidates who seem to be trying to outdo each other to mouth mindless platitudes and pretend there are no real issues.

My other preliminary comment comes in the context of the current Ebola panic.  Republicans are saying that the whole situation is Obama’s fault, while Democrats either chime in with blaming Obama (if they’re up for re-election in a red-tinged state) or assert he’s done everything right and it’s all the Republicans’ fault.  It seems to me that there’s more than enough blame to go around.

As was pointed out by an recent article in New York Times, after 9-11 George W. altered the mindset of the CDC to focus on the risk of a bioterrorism attack.  (Such an attack hasn’t come close to happening after thirteen years.)  Many at the CDC got disgusted with what they considered a silly distraction and left.  Further, there followed a series of budget cuts which, although they didn’t specifically target the CDC (as opposed, for example, to food stamps), nevertheless left it less able to address all possible risks and led to a triage mentality where only the most likely risks at any time got attention.    Since Ebola was half a world away, it didn’t get much priority.  While Democrats tended to object to the cuts, some of them were accepted, and others even proposed as a way to make the Republicans look bad.

It has also been pointed out that the budget cuts affected grant funding by NIH.  There are, and have been, people out there working on trying to develop a vaccine and other weapons against Ebola.  Unfortunately, there’s not a large political constituency in the U.S. to push for Ebola funding (unlike heart disease or breast cancer).  When cuts had to be made, guess which kind of research ended up on the chopping block.  (By the way, the people in charge at NIH have said that if it weren’t for the budget cuts, they’d have developed an Ebola vaccine by now.)  The U.S. has also not pushed to make sure that WHO has adequate funding, and Africa has not been a priority for foreign aid funding, especially not public health infrastructure.  It’s not “sexy.”  Again, Republicans were in the forefront in attacking U.N. funding, but many Democrats were not unwilling to let it go in favor of domestic priorities.  Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

So, with that diatribe out of the way, let’s move on to the ballot, starting at the top.

At the federal level, California’s contests are only the house seats.  In my district (13th), it’s pretty easy.  Regardless of what kind of job you think Barbara Lee is doing (and while she’s hardly a firebrand, she votes the right [or should I say left?] way on most issues, her Republican opponent is little more than a joke.  If there were third parties on the ballot, it might be more interesting, but as it is, I’d recommend LEE.

At the top of the statewide offices is, of course, the governor.  Here’s where the top two has really taken its toll.  We’ve got only two choices – Jerry Brown or Neel Kashkari.  Kashkari is somewhat moderate for a Republican, but that’s damning with faint praise.  On the other hand, while Jerry Brown has shown some competence in holding the Legislature’s spending sprees in check, his stance on water issues (the “twin tunnels”) and high-speed rail show his desire to want to outdo his dad in leaving a monument to himself.  Unfortunately, neither monument makes sense.  Better he should have proposed a 30 foot high solid gold statue of himself on a horse.  It’d cost much, much, less and be about as useful.  as you can tell, I don’t have a lot of use for Governor Brown.  You can make your own choice, but I’m leaving my ballot blank in protest.

Lieutenant Governor – Here you’ve got two not very competent (IMHO) politicians vying for a totally useless job.  We probably ought to abolish the post, although the Lieutenant Governor does sit on a few bodies, like the State Lands Commission, and the Board of Regents of UC and Board of Trustees of the California State University system.  Unfortunately, the Lieutenant Governor has no obvious credentials for sitting on any of these boards.  It would be far better if these boards had more knowledgeable, if less politically visible, members.  At any rate, I can’t get excited about either, but Newsom is probably the lesser of the two evils.

Secretary of State – This office has important, if mundane, responsibilities, including tracking various business entities and running California’s statewide elections.  Alex Padilla, the Democrat, is an undistinguished state senator.  Pete Peterson, the Republican, is part of the administration of Pepperdine University, a righ-wing oriented school in the LA area.  While much of what Peterson says has some logic to it (improving the business-friendly attitude of the Secretary of State’s business entity section, improving the technology of California elections, I frankly don’t trust someone with an ideological stance superintending California’s electoral process.  That’s not to say that I trust a Democratic politician like Padilla more.  This is another example where to “top two” process has left two choices, neither of which I like.Maybe you should flip a coin?  (Like deciding whether to issue $8.5 billion in bonds?)

Controller – This is the office that superintends California’s public funds, including supervising the disbursement of legislative appropriation and auditing the financial records of state agencies.  It’s potentially a very important office in keeping California government honest.  It probably should not be a partisan office, but it is.  If I trusted the Republican, I might actually want a Republican here t counterbalance Jerry Brown’s power.  Unfortunately, I have not trust in Ms. Swearengin, the current Mayor of Fresno.  I’ve had one person from Fresno ask me to vote for her so she’s no longer be running that city!  Not a ringing endorsement.  The Democrat, Betty Yee, has a more professional background in auditing and currently serves on the State Board of Equalization.  She may be the better choice, although I doubt she has the guts to oppose Jerry Brown’s administration of state agencies.

Treasurer – This is the person who handles California’s finances and investments.  Again, an important office that probably should be nonpartisan.  John Chiang has had eight years as State Controller, and his term of office has been very quiet.  Perhaps there should have been audits of things like the Bay Bridge construction, but there weren’t.  I’d expect him to do whatever Jerry Brown tells him to.  Greg Conlon, the Republican, is a CPA and businessman.  On this one office, I might end up voting for the Republican.

Attorney General – This is another office where the “top two” leave me cold.  I can’t see voting for a Republican, given how the last Republican who held it, George Deukmejian, pushed a “law and order” strategy that, to my mind, was a total failure.  Still, the incumbent, Kamala Harris, has underwhelmed me with her performance.  I was shocked when her office advocated preempting CEQA under federal law for California’s high-speed rail project, a huge project with enormous potential to do environmental damage.  I’m afraid I’m going to leave this blank on my ballot in protest.

Insurance Commissioner – This is about the only statewide office that I feel reasonably good about making a recommendation.  Former State Senator Dave Jones, the incumbent, has been consistently pro-consumer.  He deserves another term.

Superintendent of Public Instruction – This is one statewide office that IS (at least nominally) nonpartisan.  The incumbent, Tom Torlakson, has stong backing form the teachers’ unions.  I worry that his support for those unions may be getting in the way of making the best decisions, especially when it comes to the controversial issue of charter schools.  I am not an avid supporter of charter schools, which can draw off resources a top students from the conventional public school system, but I do think charter schools have their place as a laboratory of innovation and experimentation, and frankly many of our conventional public school systems are failing, so something other than the status quo is needed.  For that reason, I’m choosing the challenger, Marshall Tuck.

Board of Equalization – Another somewhat technical financial position.  The Board of Equalization administers the state tax system and is the board of appeal for state income tax and franchise tax disputes.  It’s the only elected board of its kind in the country.  Again, this shouldn’t be a partisan position, but it is.  I have no trust in either candidate.  Fiona Ma, the Democratic candidate is, in my opinion, nothing but a political hack, and I would trust her about as far as I could throw her (actually, not even that far).  I don’t trust her Republican opponent any more than her.  Pull the coin out again, or leave it blank?  That’s my quandary.

State Assembly (15th Assembly District) – Another “victory” for the top two approach.  There were some very good candidates in the primary, but they didn’t have as much money and political connections as these two.  I’m not enthusiastic about either.  Tony Thurmond served on the West Contra Costa School District Board.  You might remember that district went bankrupt a few years back.  I’m not sure if he was on the board when it did, but it’s a district that has not done itself proud.  His opponent, Elizabeth Echols, has even less to recommend her.  She has never held elective office, and was a federal bureaucrat before being drawn into this race by her friends in the local Democratic party machine.  Neither seems to have a lot to say other than the usual Democratic platitudes.  I’m going with Thurmond just because I’m so sick of the local Democratic Party machine.


If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you know I think the idea of electing judges is stupid, and an invitation for mischief.  (Recall the Mississippi Supreme Court Justice who was thrown out of office for putting a sculpture of the ten commandments in the State Supreme Court’s courthouse, and then was promptly re-elected by Mississippi voters, who thought it was great fun to thumb their nose at the First Amendment’s establishment clause.)

Supreme Court – I suppose you might look at this vote as a referendum on how the Supreme Court is doing.  By that token, I might be tempted to vote no on all of them based on their refusal to take up the high-speed rail case.  However, I think that would be unfair and probably unwise.  I will, in this case, abstain.

Court of Appeal justices – A lot of the same principles apply here, but I follow the First District Court of Appeal’s decisions pretty closely, and I’d have to say I’ve been increasingly disappointed in them over the past few years.  This used to be one of the best districts, but IMHO it isn’t any more.  The one exception I’d make is Justice Ignazio Ruvolo, who I think is doing a good job.  However, I make no recommendations on any of these votes.


Proposition 1 (Water Bond) – There’s a common theme among most of this year’s ballot measures (both state and local) – the compromise.  The idea is that whichever side of an issue you’re on, the ballot measure gives you “enough” to vote for it.  Perhaps the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, but what about the “not too bad?”  In this case, the “not too bad” isn’t good enough for me.  Yes, we need to address California water deficiencies and the environmental and economic consequences.  Something must be done.  But throwing a wad of money at big surface storage project (i.e., dams) isn’t a good way to go.  It may be good, in the short run, for some farmers, but it’s bad for the fish and not good for the delta.  We could have done far better, but if this bond passes, nothing else will happen for a while.  Vote no and send the message – do better next time.


 An add-on for Prop. 1.  I just heard that NRDC (who supports the measure) says that if the measure’s promises of environmental benefits aren’t carried through on , they’re ready to go to court to enforce those promises.  To which I say, “Good luck with that!”  As some of you know, I’ve been heavily involved in litigating on the failure of the state government to carry out the promises it made in the 2008 high-speed rail bond.  Just last month, the Court of Appeal said that at least some of the promises made in that measure weren’t enforceable.  Thus was overturned nearly 100 years of precedent, and the Supreme Court refused to grant review.  Bottom line, for any bond or tax measure placed on the ballot, you can no longer count on those ballot promises being carried through.  If they’re ignored, the courts could leave you high and dry.  [an appropriate analogy for a water bond measure]


Proposition 2 – Budget Stabilization Account – “Rainy Day Fund” – This is an enforced savings plan for the state, but it lacks the needed flexibility to avoid damaging the state during recessions.  NO

Proposition 45 [I don’t know why there’s a gap] – Health Insurance Rate Changes – This would place health insurance rates under the jurisdiction of the insurance commissioner, as many other kinds of insurance already are.  If you trust Blue Cross implicitly, by all means vote no.  If you think there needs to be someone who asks them to justify their rate increases, vote yes.  I’m voting yes.  [add-on:  my wife, a physician, is voting no.  She’s worried the insurance commissioner could cut rates to the point where insurance companies start nickel-and-diming physician reimbursement rates, to the detriment of hospitals and community clinics.   Obviously, I disagree.]

Proposition 46 – Another one of the “compromises.”  The trial lawyers want to be able to increase damage awards in malpractice lawsuits (they’re currently capped by state law).    They figured they could make it more popular by putting the screws to doctors and their alleged tendency towards drug addiction.  If we’re going to start random drug testing folks, maybe politicians should be first in line, followed by trial lawyers.  NO

Proposition 47 – Reduces some drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.  We’ve already tried throwing everyone who commits crimes in prison for a long time.  It was called three strikes, and it didn’t work.  Now we’ve got overcrowded prisons gobbling up our tax dollars.  Let’s spend that money of getting people out of the criminal pathway instead.  YES

Proposition 48 -Indian Gaming Compacts referendum – We’ve had lots of Indian gaming compacts, allowing tribes to set up casinos on tribal lands.  This compact was for casinos NOT on tribal land.  Personally, I think expanding casinos was a bad idea, and this compact makes it worse.  NO


These are all nominally nonpartisan races, but in Alameda or most of Contra Costa County, if you’re not a Democrat, it’s probably not worth trying to run.  That may be changing, however, as more and more voters switch to decline to state.  You’d think the Democratic and Republican parties might take a hint that maybe voters were getting dissatisfied.  Apparently not.

Alameda County Superintendent of Schools – I have to confess I’m at a loss to decipher which of these two candidates is the better choice.  Karen Monroe is clearly the establishment choice.  She’s now associate superintendent and is heir apparent to step in and replace Sheila Jordan, the retiring superintendent.  If you think the County’s currently doing a good job on its educational responsibilities (which i don’t particularly), she’s obviously your choice.  Helen Foster’s platform sounds very similar to that of Ms. Monroe, but includes more detail, and focuses on those students currently being left behind.  She lacks establishment endorsements, but is endorsed by the Alameda Newspaper Group.  However, I’m not sure I consider that a plus.  It’s definitely a  puzzle, and this is one race where I honestly don’t feel I can make a recommendation, but my leaning would be in Dr. Foster’s direction.

East Bay MUD Director – Ward 3 – This race, however, is one where I feel very confident in making an endorsement.  East Bay MUD, our water and sewer district, has a reputation of being at the forefront of progressive and pro-environment water policy.  That reputation is, at this point, largely undeserved.  EBMUD has focused, over the past 20 years, in trying to get more water, primarily by a cooperative project with Sacramento County to use its federal Bureau of Reclamation contract (yes, the folks who run the Central Valley Project for all the ag users) for water from the Sacramento River.  This year, with the drought, EBMUD is drawing on that water, at a cost of over $500 per acre-foot.  Not as costly as some water, but a lot more than its Mokelumne supply, and much more than the more environmentally benign groundwater storage conjunctive use option would be.  However, EBMUD would rather join the farmers at the straw than try to move forward into groundwater storage, which ag users have been slow to adopt.  EBMUD’s also been asleep at the switch on adopting a rate structure to addresses yearly fluctuations in water supply to send a price signal to customers about how important conservation is.  The incumbent, Katy Foulkes, has been on the board for twenty years, but somehow is just now thinking about a drought rate structure.  Her opponent, Marguerite Young, comes out of a progressive water policy background and is pushing for more emphasis on conservation, and on speeding up replacing EBMUD’s aged water pipe system.   Ms. Young is a clear choice.

AC Transit At Large Director – There are three candidates, and almost no information about them.  Joel B. Young, the incumbent, has been on the AC Transit board since 2009 and  ran unsuccessfully for State Assembly in 2012.  That suggests his heart isn’t in his current position.   I’ve also heard not very good things about him as a board member.  His endorsements come entirely from labor unions, which suggests he’s a pro-labor vote an the board.  That may or may not be a good thing.  Of the three, Dollene Jones’ twenty years experience as an AC Transit driver givers her a perspective not found on the current board.  On that basis, she’d be my choice.

Oakland Mayor – OK, this one’s a biggie.  With fifteen candidates on the ballot, it’s not easy making a choice.  The ranked choice election makes it a little easier, because you can pick up to three candidates.  My strategy in using ranked choice is two-fold.  First, pick out the candidate you like best, regardless of their chance of success.  make them your number one choice.  It they win, you’ve helped make it happen, and hopefully you’ll be very happy.  If not, you’ve still got your second and third choices.  For the second and third choices, pick candidates that have a realistic possibility of winning, and then, again, choose you most favored as second and next most favored as third.  If you’ve got major reservations about a candidate, DON’T PICK THEM!!!  Better to leave choice blank than help elect a candidate and end up kicking yourself later because you knew better.
So, who are my top choices?  Let me start by saying who I’ve eliminated:  1)  I eliminate those who’ve never held an elective office.  You don’t start your political career as mayor of a large and difficult-to-manage city.  That kind of on-the-job training we definitely don’t need.  2)  I eliminate those who seem overly ambitious.  We need a mayor who’s going to focus on being mayor, not running for their next political office.  We had enough of that with Jerry Brown.  Between those to, it knocks out most of the candidates.  Here are my choices among those left:
1.   Dan Siegel – I frankly don’t think he has much chance of getting elected, but he’s got a lot of experience and is still idealistic enough not to get dragged down by the political deal making that’s all too common in Oakland.  Like Jean Quan, he’s got a lot of experience with Oakland schools, and that’s something that is one of Oakland’s weakest links.  He’s also got a focus on restorative justice, which is, to my mind, an approach that could work well for Oakland.
2.  Jean Quan – Jean Quan has certainly got more experience than any other candidate, and has had four years of handling the City.  She’s certainly made her share of mistakes, but I think she’s learned from them.  As with Dan Siegel, she’s got a strong focus on education and a generally progressive attitude.  I also think she’s realistic in what she can hope to accomplish, unlike some of the candidates’ pie-in-the-sky approach to police staffing.  Sure, we need more police than we have now, but how are you going to pay for 900 sworn officers???  Better, perhaps to spend more money one putting people on non-criminal tracks than running around trying to arrest and jail them all.
3.  Rebecca Kaplan – I make this third choice with some trepidation.  Ms. Kaplan strikes me as someone who’s aspiring for higher office, which is not my ideal choice for mayor.  She also strikes me as somewhat too prone to posturing, and I fear she’s too doctrinaire on some issues (like Bus Rapid Transit) which makes her not open to listening to things she doesn’t want to hear [but needs to].  Nevertheless, her generally progressive approach would, IMHO, be better than that of her equally ambitious but more conservative sister council member, Ms. Schaaf, or the even more conservative Mr. Tuman.  Call this pick a defensive move to avoid electing someone I’d like even less.

City Auditor – This is potentially an important office.  My sense of Oakland’s administration is that it’s rather inefficient and could use a strong critical eye.  However, the auditor should NOT be a political office.  It’s not the place to sharpen knives.  The two candidates are both CPAs, and hence at least qualified to conduct audits, but Len Raphael is a strong political slant.  He ran unsuccessfully for City Council (District 1) in 2012 on what was basically a “law and order” platform.  as i said, i don’t think we need a politician as auditor.  His opponent, Brenda Roberts, is an experience corporate auditor.  I worry that she may bring too narrow a financial focus to the auditor position, as opposed to looking a functional as well as financial audits, but I think a strong financial auditor would be helpful.  I pick Roberts.


Finally, we have the local ballot measures.  There’s one county measure, one Oakland Unified School District Measnure, and five Oakland city measures.  Here are my takes on them:

Measure BB – 30 year 1/2 cent sales tax INCREASE, bringing the county transportation sales tax to 1%.  The last attempt to pass this tax, with NO time limitation, just barely failed.  Now they’ve gotten slightly less ambitious and are ONLY asking for a 30 year tax.  I will probably expire before it does.  I think thirty years is too long.  We don’t even know what the transportation of 30 years from now will look like.  We shouldn’t already be giving it funding, sight unseen.
Further, this is a classic “something for everyone” measure with enough boondoggles to satisfy any advocate of government waste.  We’re already funding the ridiculous BART to Warm Springs, and now this adds BART to Livermore – a give-away to construction contractors and unions that will be an even bigger boondoggle that the Oakland Airport Connector (which is now expected to cost $7 one-way for a ten minute ride!)  There’s also lost of money for highway expansion, to further feed our appetite for gasoline, along with an uncritical subsidy for any and all transit.  We could, and ought to, be doing much better.  NO

Measure N – this money would help pay for services to make graduation rates higher and make Oakland’s graduates more successful.  The OUSD isn’t one of the best run school districts around, but it’s got an enormous job to do, and needs all the help it can get.  YES

Measure Z – This continues Oakland’s Measure Y – a public safety funding measure – that provides both money for police services and money to provide help getting people (particularly youth) off the criminal track.  YES!!

Measure CC -an attempt to give the Oakland Public Ethics Commission at least a few teeth (which it badly needs).  YES

Measure DD – Establishes an independent redistricting commission for the City Council and OUSD trustee seats.  Badly needed to get the politics out of the redistricting process.  YES

Measure EE – Would replace one of Oakland’s retirement systems with a fixed annuity to be paid for with existing funds.  Would get the City out of the business of administering this system.  YES

Measure FF – sets a $12.25 per hour minimum wage within Oakland.  This was a compromise between the current grossly inadequate minimum wage and the $15 per hour wage advocated by labor groups but opposed by businesses.  It will help considerable, and isn’t that high that it will drive business out of the city.  (We really need to have at least a countywide, or better a Bay Area uniform minimum wage, gut at least this is a step in the right direction.)  YES

Recommendation for June 2014 California Primary Election

May 28, 2014

I finally have enough time to put down my thoughts on the June primary election ballot.  To start with, I have to say that this is not an impressive crop of candidates.  My personal feeling is that we’re seeing the effects of Citizens United and its progeny.  As special interests continue to pour money into election campaigns, the cost of running for office continues to escalate, and those special interest dollars come at a steep price.  The interests want assurance that their money will be a good investment.  Whatever the interest, be it the Chamber of Commerce or a labor organization, they want to know that the candidate’s vote is “in the bag.”  If a candidate doesn’t feel comfortable pledging themselves to that special interest’s agenda, they’ll get no money, and no money, in most cases, means no campaign.  Hence elections are more and more becoming a battle between special interests, and the public interest gets left in the dust.

So, on to this June’s crop of candidates and ballot measures.

Let’s start with the ballot measures.  I always find a good place to start is the ballot arguments pro and con – not the subject matter, but who’s signing them.  That tells you what special interests have lined up on one side or another, and likely who paid to get the measure put on the ballot, one way or another.  So let’s get started.

Proposition 42Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act – This would authorize the state to issue $600 Million in General Obligation state bonds to fund “affordable multifamily supportive housing” specifically for veterans.  The bonds would presumably be used to build or rehabilitate multifamily rental housing for vets.  Why vets?  Well, lots of vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) as a result of being screwed up by the military. Often, they’re mentally ill and prone to substance abuse.  That usually means they either can’t or are unwilling to hold down a job.  How, then, are they going to pay the rent??  The bond gives preference to “supportive” housing, but that term is left pretty undefined.  Bear in mind that the cost of this program, like that of any general obligation bond, is borne by us, the taxpayers.

The measure is supported basically by veterans’ groups, who obviously have a vested interest is supporting their members.  My feeling about the measure is: 1)  Good try – screwed up people, whether veterans or not, need lots more help than they’re getting; 2) This proposal impresses me as being pretty ineffective at helping those needing help most; 3)  Who it will really help is the building trades unions, which are who probably pushed to get it on the ballot; 4)  Do we really need another poorly thought out bond measure to add to the state’s debt burden?  (I confess I am thinking about the $10 billion we voted in 2008 for high-speed rail, another poorly planned and even more poorly implemented bond measure.  At this point, I trust neither the Legislature not the courts to assure that the bonds we vote for do what they’re proposed to do.)  NO

Proposition 42Public Records. Open Meetings. State Reimbursement to Local Agencies. Legislative Constitutional Amendment.  This measure would amend the state constitution [WARNING – another constitutional amendment!] to protect the public’s right to have local agencies follow the California Public Records act and the Brown Act, BUT, it would also eliminate the requirement that the state reimburse local government for the cost of compliance.

This measure arose out of a fight in last year’s budget, when Governor Brown proposed to allow local government to not enforce the Public Records act or Brown Act.  The reason was because under the constitution, when the state forces local government to comply with a mandate costing money, it generally has to pick up the tab for that compliance.  Brown, wanting to reduce the budget, proposed to drop the mandate for Brown Act & Public Record Act compliance, and reduce the state budget accordingly.  Of course it didn’t hurt (for Brown) that he’s not a big fan of open government anyhow, so if local government dropped compliance, who cares?  Well, a lot of Californians did, and the measure was hastily dropped.

Now, the governor and legislature still want the state not to pay, so this measure shifts the cost to local government.  How will they pay it??  Good question.  With Prop 13, there are fewer and fewer local government funding sources.  What it mainly means is that it will get much more costly to get documents from local government.  Some local courts are already starting to charge $1 a page to copy, or even just download, court documents available on-line.Expect the costs to see agendas, minutes, etc. to skyrocket.

In my humble opinion, this is a bad “solution” to the problem.  It will further guarantee that government will only provide services for the 1%.  NO

Alameda County Measure AA – This would reauthorize a 1/2 cent county sales tax for local healthcare facilities, especially the county hospital system (Highland Hospital etc.)   Highland and the county healthcare system are crucial, especially given the large number of low-income uninsured and Medical patients in the county.  If this measure fails, we’re in serious trouble!  YES


Statewide Offices:

Governor – To my mind, this office, and almost all the statewide offices, highlight the problem we face in getting good, thoughtful, candidates to run for office.  While I like some things Jerry Brown has done as governor, I think he’s autocratic, insensitive to the public, and has got many of his priorities totally screwed up as he seeks to leave a “legacy” in his last term – notably in his high-speed rail and water tunnel projects, both of which will spend huge amounts of public money to not solve the real problems (inadequate state transportation policy and inadequate state water policy.  Both of these projects are largely driven by construction contractors and unions who see huge profits and large number of short-term union construction jobs.  This is a hell of a way to set government policy.

Unfortunately, the alternatives aren’t very attractive.  The Republican candidates all follow the mantra of saying let’s reduce taxes and eliminate all government regulation (and, by the way, make sure everybody can have all the guns they want) and everything will magically get better.  Can you say fantasyland?  The other candidates don’t seem to have realistic programs either.  My recommendation would be to vote for the Green Party candidate – Luis Rodriguez – as a protest.  (It doesn’t really matter who you vote for any more.  With the “top two” primary, Brown and the choice of reactionary Republican – probably Donnelly – will end up facing off in a “choose who is less disgusting to you” November run-off.)

Lieutenant Governor – This office currently makes very little sense.It would probably make sense to have this be an office appointed by the governor for the sole purpose of temporarily acting as interim governor when the governor is unavailable (e.g., out of state).  Again, it doesn’t really matter who you vote for, because in November it’ll be Newson vs. Nehring.  My protest vote choices?  Either Goodman (Green Party) or Korevaar (Independent Democrat)

Secretary of State – This race got a little more interesting when Leland Yee, the favored Democrat, got indicted.  I’m impressed by Cressman’s credentials as having worked on campaign finance issues with Common Cause and his open support to trying to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling (although as Secretary of State, he can’t do what he claims and keep corporations from meddling in California politics, at least not without a federal constitutional amendment).  Cressman.

Controller – An obscure office.  One of its main characteristics is the controller is the state’s accountant and, theoretically, conducts audits (although there’s also a state auditor and a joint legislative audit committee.  Mostly, it’s who you sue when you want to sue the Legislature.  Betty Yee, one of two mainstream Democratic candidate, appears well-qualified, but I worry about her heavy set of labor union endorsements. Still, she’d be a far better choice that John Perez, a career Democratic politician. We might do better to have an outsider in this office.  Wells (Green Party)

Treasurer – This is the guy who signs the state’s checks.  He also makes the go-no go decision on issuing bonds and other major day-to-day state financial decisions.  The current controller, John Chiang, wants to move into this office.  If he does, expect status quo and no change.  I can’t recommend the Republican, however (who didn’t even put in a ballot statement).  Brown (Green Party)

Attorney General – The state’s top legal officer.  The AG prosecutes lawsuits (both civil and criminal) on behalf of the state, and conversely defends the state against lawsuits.  The AG also prepares legal opinions that provide guidance on interpreting state laws and writes ballot measure summaries for state ballot measures.  A very important office, but one that, in my humble opinion, has gotten way too political in recent years.  The current AG, Kamala Harris, epitomizes the problem.  She’s basically Jerry Brown’s mouthpiece (as the term was used in old gangster movies to refer to the mob boss’s attorney). I really can’t recommend any of the choices.  WRITE SOMEONE IN AS A PROTEST?

Insurance Commissioner – This is actually quite an important office.  The IC regulates insurance carriers in the state and enforces the requirements of Proposition 103, which dramatically changed California’s insurance laws and made the insurance commissioner an elected office.  The incumbent Dave Jones, appears to have been pretty effective in holding insurance companies to account.  Jones.

Board of Equalization, 2nd District – An obscure but important office.  The Board of Equalization oversees most tax collection (except income tax) and is the appellate board for disputes over income tax.  Sadly, there are only two candidates –  James Theis, a Republican who has no chance in this heavily-Democratic District, and Fiona Ma – a Democratic party hack whose performance in the legislature has been notably lackluster.  NO RECOMMENDATION.

U.S. Representative – The incumbent for the 13th District, Barbara Lee, has been a stalwart liberal, inheriting that mantle from Ron Dellums, on whose staff she served.  She’s been a strong voice against the Democratic Party’s status quo, for example, consistently voting against U.S. military intervention abroad and for reducing the military’s budget.  Lee.

State Assembly – Lots of candidates here.  My personal feeling is that the two “leading” candidates, Thurmond & Echols, are both in the pocket of public employee unions and would be rubber stamps for the Democratic legislative leadership.  (I do not consider either of those to be a positive attribute.)  The two candidates who’ve impressed me are Pamela Price and Sam Kang.  I slightly prefer Kang because he has courageously spoken out about the need to change Prop. 13 to make it fairer.  Kang

Alameda County Schools Superintendent – This office sounds more important than it is.  Most local school districts run their own affairs, but the county superintendent sometimes steps in on occasional issues, like authorizing charter schools, and is responsible for education in the county jails, a potentially important function for rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.  Given what the office is about, the two best qualified and most impressive candidates seem to be Jeff Bowser and Naomi Easton.  Of the two, Ms. Easton appears better qualified.  Easton

County Assessor, County Auditor/Clerk-Controller, District Attorney, Sheriff, and Treasurer/Tax Collector – Five important offices; all effectively uncontested.  (For Auditor/Clerk, Ms Kathleen Knox ran, but it turns out she doesn’t even live in the county, and has been indicted for violation of state election law.)  Thomsen, Manning, NO VOTE [D.A.], Ahern, White

November 2012 Election Comments

October 4, 2012

OK.  I got my sample ballot & voter information booklet in the mail, and I’m sure the absentee ballots are going out shortly, so it looks like it’s time to give my usual rundown of candidates and issues.  as usual, I give my standard disclosures and disclaimers.  [Hey, what do you expect, I’m a lawyer!]  These are obviously just my own personal opinions, and while I have read through candidate statements and ballot arguments (and in some cases, the text of the measure as well), and have talked to some of the candidates personally, I don’t claim to be an expert on evaluating candidates or ballot measures.  Well, I guess I can claim some expertise on the latter, having helped to write a few local measures.  That having been said, HERE WE GO!


Obviously, the two major choices are Romney and Obama.  Between those two, for me Obama is the obvious choice.  I’m not anywhere close to entirely happy with Obama and how he’s run the country the past four years.  Our foreign policy is still far too militaristic (although lightyears ahead of where it was under George W), Obamacare is a sorry substitute for the single-payer healthcare we ought to have, and, as Paul Krugman has said innumerable times, Obama’s economic policy is anemic compared to what’s needed to pull us out of our current doldrums.  [However, he does have the excuse that with the Republican majority in the house, nothing can be done in the legislative arena.]  BTW, see my separate post critiquing Obama’s performance in the first debate.

All that having been said,  I think that, DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU LIVE, you should take a serious look at some of the third party candidates.  With that, I will once again recite  Ivins’ Rule, named for Molly Ivins, the late Texas [don’t hold that against her] political commentator.  The basic rule is, regardless of what your state or locality allows, don’t vote early unless you absolutely have to.  Wait until, at the earliest, a week before election day, and then look at what the polling results are FOR YOUR STATE.  Because we have the electoral college system, each state is its own election [exception — in Maine, each congressional district is its own election].  Regardless of what’s happening in the national polls, what really matters is who wins a plurality of the vote in each individual state.  Except for Maine, that candidate get ALL that state’s electoral votes for president.

So, now let’s get back to Ivins’ Rule.  When you look at your state’s polling result, the crucial question is whether the difference between Romney’s and Obama’s polling results in greater than five percent.  If either of the two is ahead by more than five percent, then barring a nuclear war or something equally calamitous, the election in your state is essentially over.  That means you can vote for whomever you want, because it won’t make any difference.  If, however the difference is less than 5%, you better choose between Obama and Romney, or you may be kicking yourself for the next  for years.  Luckily, here in California Obama’s lead is unassailable.  (I think it’s  currently over 20% statewide.)

So, if you’re lucky enough to have the luxury of voting for a minor party candidate, my suggestion would be to look seriously at Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.  I say that not just because I’m registered as green.  From what I’ve seen of her, she’s just as smart as either of the major party candidates (she’s a Massachusetts physician), and her platform makes enormous sense — cut the defense budget, enact single-payer healthcare, promote a justice system that, as Jesse Jackson famously said, puts our money at the front end, rather than the back end – i.e., promotes restorative justice, puts the U.S. squarely at the forefront in trying to reverse climate change and promote sustainable care for our ailing planet, etc.  Of coure there’s no way she’ll get elected, but just think.  If she got 5% of the vote nationwide, even if she didn’t win a single electoral vote, wouldn’t that make a statement that there’s a significant number of people who think as she does?  Who knows, maybe a few Democrats might even start paying attention in a real way.

U.S. Senator

Again here, the choice is pretty simple, even simpler because there are no minor party candidates on the ballot.  😦  I don’t particularly like Feinstein.  She’s incredibly wishy-washy on lots of issues, and just plain bad on some, but as with Obama, she’s in a whole different league (or century) from her Republican opponent.  Unless you’re a “tea partier” [and if you are, why are you reading this blog??], you gotta vote for Feinstein.

Note – if you’re not in California, see my discussion of Ivins’ Rule above and act accordingly.

U.S. Representative

Again, given my location in the East Bay, the choice is pretty simple.  Barbara Lee has been on the right side (or perhaps I should say the left side) of just about every issue before Congress.  Her opponent waves her hands around to try to look more reasonable, but we all know that the last reasonable Republicans here in California have already left that disaster of a party.  Unless you want to go back to the gilded age where workers could, if they were lucky, get 10 cents a day for pay, vote for Lee.

If you’re in another district, re-read Ivins’ Rule again.

State Senate

Here’s another place I get to apply Ivins’ Rule.  Loni Hancock has been one of the better senators in the state senate, based on her voting record.  That’s as it should  be, she represents one of the most liberal districts in the state.  She’s going  to win this race overwhelmingly.  Since that’s the case, it’s a place you could show that you’d like some more space on the left of the ballot by voting for the Peace & Freedom Party candidate, Mary McIlroy.

State Assembly

I could just invoke Ivins’ Rule again in urging a vote for the Peace & Freedom Party candidate (Eugene Ruyle), but there’s something more at stake.  I have followed Nancy Skinner since she first ran for the assembly (when I supported her), and have been very disappointed in her performance.  Again, she represents one of the most liberal districts in the state, but she has followed in lockstep whatever the Democratic legislative leadership has told her.  Overall, she’s voted against the party leadership only 0.7% of the time.  By comparison, Hancock, while no eccentric, bucked the party leadership on 1.2% of votes, Leland Yee, from San Francisco (perhaps the only place more liberal than the East Bay), opposed Democratic leaders 2.6% of the time, and Jared Huffman, a liberal stalwart in Marin, voted differently 1.8% of the time.  Maybe Skinner just likes whatever the leadership says.  If so, that’s a disappointment in itself, because the leadership has been, in a number of cases, like its support for the high-speed rail project, just stupid.  Maybe she votes that way to “go along to get along.”  If so, that says nothing any better about her.  We deserve better.

State Ballot Measures

Let me start with a general statement.  California’s initiative and referendum processes are in serious need of reform.  I say that as an attorney who regularly advises local groups on their initiative and referendum battles, and knows the turf pretty well.  Between picayune requirements that make it harder and harder for grassroots campaigns to succeed, and the overwhelming force of a tidal wave of  special interest money that at this point almost totally dominates the statewide ballot measure scene, we’ve got a real mess in California.  Not only that, but because of the nature of California ballot measure law (in the state constitution, no less), if a mistake gets made with a ballot measure, it’s very likely to be permanent, or at least very long-lasting.  I’ve already made it clear in past postings that I think passing Prop. 13 was unwise.  Yes, it did some good and necessary things that the legislature was unwilling to tackle. but its left state and local government in a long-term fiscal disaster.  Likewise for the “Victims Bill of Rights”, “Three Strikes”, and term limits.  The state’s voters aren’t always smart enough to get it right on the first try, but it’s incredibly hard to revise anything the voters have done.  Maybe things enacted by the voters should automatically go back on the ballot in five years, so people get to think about it again, and competing or correcting measures can be put on at that time?

So. Rant finished.  Now on to the specifics:

30 – Jerry Brown’s tax measure – a reluctant yes.  I’m not 100% happy with it, but if it fails, the draconian school cuts are unacceptable.

31- NO!  This initiative, put on the ballot by California Forward, at first glance seems appealing, and it would indeed do some things that would improve how the legislature handles budget issues, like going to a two-year budget cycle.  HOWEVER, it makes radical changes in the relations between state and local government, including allowing local government to exempt itself from various “inconvenient” state laws and regulations, including CEQA, and potentially state labor laws.  This is a really bad idea!  Not only that, but it locks all of its changes into the state constitution, making them extremely hard to change in the future.  [See my rant above.]  A number of members of the initial taskforce pointed out the problems, but California Forward refused to budge.  They subsequently resigned.  (See ballot arguments against.)  Shame on California Forward!!

32 – NO!  A fraudulent attempt to disable labor union political activity while leaving corporate political power basically unchecked.

33- NO.  One insurance company (Mercury) makes a second attempt to tilt the playing field in its direction.

34- YES – the death penalty makes little sense as a deterrent, as public policy, or financially.

35 – No –  Human trafficking is without question a bad thing.  Whether we’re talking about actual enslavement or just the “normal” pimping and prostitution stuff.  There need to be serious consequences for those who screw over their fellow human beings.  However, this measure seems to play into the general punitive bent of three strikes and other efforts to just, “lock ’em all up and throw away the key.”  Our prison system is clear evidence that  this approach hasn’t worked and isn’t working.  Again, once something gets passed by the voters, it’s very hard to change.  This is an issue for the legislature to tackle, not the voters.

36 – YES – again, as with the death penalty, three strikes is a punitive, ineffective, and financially damaging measure.  This reform will help.

37 – YES – truth in labeling for genetically-engineered foods.  People should have a knowing choice about supporting Monsanto’s fiddling with the agricultural gene pool.  BTW, the no argument points to the measure’s enforcement against local retailers.  Unfortunately, California has no direct leverage against national food producers, only against businesses operating in California.  Enforcement against retailers is the only leverage we have against national big business.  It’s a big one, though.  If, for example, California retailers wouldn’t carry General Mills foods because they don’t own up to using genetically engineered ingredients, General Mills could lose A LOT of business.  We need to use our market share power to change the market.

38 – NO – The major alternative tax measure.  Too narrowly focused on education funding, and will impact the poor more than the rich.

39 – YES – levels the playing field for internet businesses who siphon off $$ from California without paying taxes.  Time to end the free ride.

40 – YES – For once, here was a ballot measure (redistricting reform) that was needed, and that worked. The redistricting effort was a resounding success.  Say no to Republican sour grapes!

A1 – NO – public funding for the Oakland Zoo – while zoos are a nice family amenity, I am bothered by the Oakland Zoo’s expansionistic policies, and I don’t think they should be feeding at the public trough [so to speak] when the zoo’s governing board has no public accountability for its actions.

B1 – NO!! – INDEFINITE  extension AND increase in county transportation sales tax.  Sales taxes are regressive.  This would give an unaccountable county agency permanent funding with no requirement to come back to the voters – EVER.  Their predecessor (ACTA) had to be sued to block it from spending money on a project the voters hadn’t authorized.  Would eliminate the ONLY real voter accountability this agency now has.

J – Yes – Another bond fund infusion for Oakland schools.  I’m somewhat bothered by adding more bond debt to a school district that just emerged from a major financial crisis.  On the other hand, many Oakland schools are seriously physically deficient.  We really need to change Prop 13 to allow adequate funding for local schools, cities, and counties.  Until then, band-aid measures like this are the best we can do.

Local Candidates

If you live outside of Oakland/Alameda County, you can stop here if you want.  The rest is just for “local yokels”

AC Transit — Chris Peeples is knowledgeable and listens to the community.  I don’t agree with him 100%, but he’s a good choice.

BART Board – Rebecca Saltzman would seem the obvious pro-environment choice, but I’ve been disturbed by some of her statements in support of high-speed rail and BART extensions, which seem to indicate a knee-jerk support for extending transit even where it may not make economic sense and actually be sprawl-inducing.  I like Anthony Pegram’s candidate statement and plan to vote for him.

Oakland District One Council member:

Top three [ranked choice]  — for more detailed information, look at the write-ups in the recently-initiated Rockridge Patch, or view some youtube clips from a candidate forum:

1) Dan Kalb (knowledgeable, intelligent, pro-environment & pro-neighborhood. Lives in Rockridge.)

2) Donald Macleay (local green party member, pro-environment & pro-neighborhood.  Lives in Temescal) – Update (11/3/12) –

3)  No choice.  See below for why I can’t endorse any of the others:

I DON’T like: Len Raphael – confrontational and pro-development (although he does oppose Safeway’s College Ave. project);

Amy Lemley – knee-jerk smart growth (married to smart-growth fanatic who works at NRDC & pushed for BRT on Telegraph).  Her background is not in the broad public policy areas North Oakland needs.  I fear she’s a stalking horse for her husband, and would be too obeisant to Kernighan and Schaaf, both of whom endorse her and both of whom are aggressively pro-development.  She’s refused to take a firm position on the College Ave. Safeway project, just saying that she’d encourage negotiations.

The other candidates:

Don Link’s a nice guy and supportive on Safeway, but I worry he’d be out of his depth.  Focus is mainly on public safety

Richard Reya – his candidate statement reads very well.  He seems to be saying a lot of the right things.  BUT, it turns out that he’s the policy director for California Forward.  If that doesn’t ring a bell, go back and re-read my discussion of Prop. 31.  Sorry, but as policy director, his allowing Prop. 31 to move forward and go on the ballot shows, in my estimation, very bad judgment.  He’s also non-commital on the College Ave. Safeway project.  Not who I want representing me on the City Council!

Craig Brandt is also pushing for more police, but where’s the money going to come from???  As of late, he seems to have dropped out of the race.

At Large Council Member – Sorry, I’m afraid you’re on your own here. I can’t honestly and wholeheartedly recommend any of the choices.  Neither Kaplan nor De la Fuente have been supportive on Safeway.  De la Fuente is a dealmaker in the Perata mold.  He hopes to use the at-large seat as a stepping stone to another mayoral run.  Kaplan is, in many ways, pretty good, but she’s so focused on smart growth that she loses sight of neighborhood values.  She was the only council member to enthusiastically push Bus Rapid Transit on Telegraph despite strong community opposition.  I fear she’d favor major densification around the Rockridge BART in spite of its damaging traffic impacts.  As for the other candidates, none of them is qualified by background or experience, and Carol Tolbert has a gruesome history on North Oakland redevelopment around the Old Merritt College site — can you say corruption??

City attorney – I’m not real keen on Jane Brunner, but I’m also not excited by Barbara Parker.  I worry that she’s got the typical black Oakland establishment (e.g., Geoffrey Pete, Mary King, Bill Patterson) supporting her.  Yet Jane Brunner’s often been too much of a dealmaker.  No recommendation.  (As with judges, I think this really shouldn’t be an elected position.)

School Board – Jody London has, in my opinion, been doing OK.  The schools are in a tough place, and her opponent fought to keep Santa Fe School (in the Golden Gate area of Northwest Oakland)  open when it was an absolute disaster – probably worse than no school at all. Yes, we need to do more to help children in the poorer parts of the city, but that requires money that the district doesn’t have.  (Can you say Prop. 13?)  It also bothers me that Ms. Pecot was endorsed by the teachers union.  One wonders about the quid pro quo that may have been involved.  Teachers need fair pay, but I’ve also seen the teachers union defend poorly performing teachers just because they were active in the union.  Not how I think a school district should be run.

IRV and the Oakland Mayor’s Race

November 5, 2010

Instant Run-off Voting (IRV for short) has made a big difference in this year’s Oakland mayoral election, and it’s not over yet.  Under Oakland’s traditional primary -> run-off system, there would have been a primary election in June, with lots of money spent.  The two top candidates (in this case, Don Perata and Jean Quan) would then have faced off in a November run-off, with a lot more money being spent in that election.  Essentially, the election could well have boiled down to who was better at raising the huge amounts of money needed to fight two back-to-back electoral battles.  In the past, that’s usually meant that the candidate with better connections to big-money special interests wins.

(Parenthetically, in very old-style elections, there was no run-off.  The candidate with the plurality of votes cast won outright.  This led to people putting up phony candidates whose main purpose was to draw votes away from the prime opponent.  Having a run-off at least allowed a clean match-up of the top candidates.)

With IRV, only one election is held, but the voters get to pick more than one candidate.  (IRV is also called ranked choice voting.)  If there first choice gets knocked out of the running, their vote  transfers to their second choice, etc.  Thus, unless all the voter’s choices are eliminated, the voter’s voice still makes a difference.   Here’s how it played out in the Oakland mayoral election this year (the first time IRV was used in Oakland).

There were ten – yes, ten, count them – candidates in the elections.  Some of them were pretty minor and ran only token campaigns; others tried to run low-budget grassroots campaign — a very hard thing to do in a city of over 400,000 people.  Most observers acknowledged there were four “major” candidates with sufficient funds and supporters to run credible citywide campaigns — former state legislator Don Perata, city council members Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan, and professor and media pundit Joe Tuman.  Shown below are the preliminary results of the IRV calculus.  (The results are preliminary because several thousand absentee and provisional ballots remain to be tallied.)

IRV mayoral election results

How IRV chose Oakland's mayor

As you can see, the IRV procedure shifted votes from lower ranking to higher ranked candidates.  Significantly, however, the shift was nonrandom.  About two-thirds of Rebecca Kaplan’s votes shifted to Jean Quan when Kaplan was eliminated, while only about one-third went to Perata.  Even more striking (although smaller) was the shift from Green Party candidate Macleay.  Quan got almost half of his 1500 or so votes, while Perata only got a little more than fifty.  The unequal distribution of second and third choice votes allowed Quan to close the gap against Perata and eventually surpass his total.  One potentially important factor in the election was candidates’ recommendations about whom to vote for other than themselves.  Several candidates, notably Quan and Kaplan, urged their supporters to choose any other candidate except Perata as a second or third choice.  It appears many voters followed that advice.

Back when ranked choice voting was being debated, Perata, and several city council members who supported him, came out in opposition to IRV.  At this point, it’s pretty clear it was in his self-interest to do so.  If not for IRV elections, it’d almost certainly now be Mayor Perata, rather than Mayor Quan.

Election Day!!!

November 2, 2010

If you’re looking at this on November 2nd, you’re probably looking for advice on how to deal with your ballot.  I’ve put up several posts with my recommendations and comments.  (However, they won’t help you very much unless you vote in California.)  Please go down through my posts until you find those of interest to you.  They start below continue from there.  Here are links (in chronological order) if you want to get there fast.  The titles are mostly self-explanatory: — statewide ballot measures — candidate recommendations

“Oakland Jobs PAC” — Who ARE those guys?

October 19, 2010

Yet another election flier came in today’s mail.  This one, yet another extolling the virtues of mayoral candidate Don Perata, came from a shadowy committee called, “Oakland Jobs PAC.”  It apparently cost $30,155.  Remembering deep throat’s advice of “follow the money,” I set out to try to figure out where that $30,155 came from.  It’s not easy.  The Secretary of State’s website lists it as a “Recipient Committee,” but shows no recent donation or expenditures.

Since it’s spending money on the Oakland mayoral race, Oakland Jobs PAC presumably has to file with the Oakland City Clerk’s office.  Unfortunately, none of those filings are available on-line.  [Note to city officials — if you’re going to go to the trouble of passing campaign finance legislation, it only makes sense to require that the filings be posted on-line.  There aren’t too many people with the time, energy and knowledge to go down to the city clerk’s office and sift through the hundreds of filings that have been made to find out, for example, who gave the $30 K that Oakland Jobs spent on Perata’s behalf.]

There is a little more information available about Oakland Jobs PAC.  They’re the same people who spent a wad of money supporting Kerry Hamill two years ago in her run for the at-large seat on the city council.   If you’ll remember, part of that was for posters that tried to tie Hammill to “safe neighborhoods”.  Both Hamill and Oakland Jobs PAC supported the Safe Streets Initiative, which would have required Oakland to beef up its police force to over a thousand officers.  (It didn’t however, provide any explanation about where the city was going to find the funds to pay for all those extra officers.)  Seems like there’s a theme here, with both Hamill’s  and Perata’s campaigns hitting heavily on public safety and the need to hire more police officers.  (It should also be noted that Hamill was Perata’s chief of staff in the legislature from 1996 to 2000.)

But, that still doesn’t say where the money’s coming from.  Another hint — a campaign filing listed their address as Nielsen Merksamer, a Marin County law firm that specializes in election law and was hired by Signature Properties to help keep a referendum on the Oak to Ninth Project off the ballot.  Also  perhaps significant is that the executive director of Oakland Jobs PAC, Greg McConnell, is a lobbyist who lists Signature Properties (along with another big Oakland developer, Forest Cities) as among his chief clients.  McConnell was also apparently instrumental in forming another group, the Better Housing Coalition, that organized Oakland’s large developers to oppose an inclusionary housing ordinance that was being considered by the city council.  Based on this, my guess is that a Perata administration would not be very interested in pursuing inclusionary housing.

Not having pored through the city clerk’s files, I can’t yet tell you where the “independent” money supporting Perata’s campaign is coming from, but if the past is any indication, there appears to be a strong likelihood that the dots will eventually connect to the major developers doing business in Oakland.  As for why they would do that, well, again, if the past is any indication, it’s because they expect there to be a large pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with Don Perata’s name on it.

I must say that all this is not very surprising to me.  It’s exactly how I’d expect Perata to run his campaign.  It certainly doesn’t give me any cause to revise my voting recommendations for Oakland mayor.

Thoughts on Local Ballot Measures

October 15, 2010

The last piece of the election puzzle (for me) is the local ballot measures.  Here in Oakland, there are six — one county, one school district, and four city measures.  I’ll go through them in alphabetical order.

Measure F — County transportation supplemental registration fee.  The legislature in its infinite wisdom has decided (and the governor approved) that while the state will continue to short-change counties on transportation funding, it will allow each county to enact, with voter approval, a supplemental vehicle registration fee to be used for local transportation projects.  The Alameda County Congestion Management Agency — the state-mandated local agency with responsibility for general transportation and its funding, has decided to propose a $10 per vehicle fee to fund local transportation improvements.  The funds would be allocated 60% for roadway improvement and repair, 25% for a congestion relief program, 10% for transportation technology (e.g., “smart roadways”, electric vehicle charging stations, improved traffic signal technology — e.g., signal timing, transit override, etc), and 5% for pedestrian and bicycle related improvements.  The County’s other transportation agency, formerly called ACTA and now ACTIA, had to be sued over its misuse of country transportation sales tax funds.  (BTW, ACTIA and the county CMA have now been merged into an Alameda County Transportation Commission with control of all the county transportation funding.)  The ACTC does have a number of advisory citizen committees, but I’m not sure if there’s explicitly a “watchdog” committee over how the ACTC uses its funds.  There was no ballot argument submitted against the measure.  With the decreased state transportation funding, local funding is getting to be the wave of the future.  I would recommend a YES vote, but I’d also recommend keeping your eye on how this money gets spent.

Measure L — This measure was put on by the Oakland school board to provide supplemental funding for salaries of teachers and other instructional (i.e., non-administrative) positions.  This would be an additional $195/year parcel tax on top of the already-approved school parcel tax for facilities.  Like transportation (and everything else), the state has been starving schools because we’ve run out of money.  Us local taxpayers end up having to make up the difference.  I don’t like parcel taxes as a way of doing that, because they’re regressive.  You pay the same $195 whether you’re in a two-room hovel or a $5 Million mansion.  (And most leases allow the landlord to pass along parcel taxes to the tenants, even though the tenant doesn’t get to deduct it off his/her taxes!)  I’m also somewhat concerned that the school board is doing this at the behest of the teachers’ union.  This is the same kind of shenanigans that led to Oakland’s budget problems when the city council gave the police and firefighters unions everything they wanted.  I will leave you to make up your own minds, but I’m giving strong consideration to voting no.

Measure V — The medical marijuana tax increase.  The city put this on the ballot to squeeze a little extra revenue out of the lucrative medical marijuana industry that has sprung up since the passage of Prop. 115.  I see little reason to oppose it.  While some of the tax may get passed on to the consumers of medical marijuana, the small additional fee isn’t going to make medical marijuana unaffordable to those who really need it.  YES

Measure W — telephone tax increase.  The city already has a utility tax on “land line” phones.  This would add a flat $1.99 per month charge on both land lines and mobile phones, as well as a somewhat higher tax on trunk lines that serve multiple subscribers.  This not going to make or break the city budget.  My suspicion is that it will probably fail, because many people are tired of getting nickeled and dimed with little taxes.  we really ought to be getting to the root of things and re-addressing the inequities of Prop. 13.  We also need to reassess our public employee pensions systems, and move to a single-payer health insurance system.  If all those things happened, we would not need all these extra little taxes.  In fact, I’d suggest a measure that revises Prop. 13 and simultaneously sunsets all of these small taxes.  YES.

Measure X — Police parcel tax.  This is undoubtedly the most controversial measure on the Oakland ballot.  It represents a deal between the City Council and the OPOA.  The OPOA agreed to accept an increase in police contributions to their pension funds in return for the city putting this on the ballot, restoring the laid-off police, and promising no lay-offs for the remainder of the current OPOA contract.  Since it was placed on the ballot, virtually all of the council members have had “buyers remorse”.  I’m not sure there’s a single city council member who’s still supporting and campaigning for this measure.  It seems destined to go down in flames.  That may be appropriate.  Unfortunately, Oakland citizens will pay, with reduced police coverage, for the OPOA’s pig-headedness during the budget crisis.  I’m torn.  I don’t like the reduced police, but I also don’t want to reward the OPOA’s obnoxious behavior.  On balance, I’m afraid I must recommend NO.

Measure BB — modify Measure Y — This measure is a stopgap to prevent further hemorrhaging of the Oakland police dept.  It would temporarily suspend the minimum staffing levels established by Measure Y for the police force.  If this doesn’t pass, Measure Y funding gets cut off and Oakland would be forced to lay off another 150 police.  This would serve the OPOA right, but it would be a situation of cutting off your nose to spite your face.  We really do need to go after the OPOA and let them know that they can no longer play the games they’ve played.  That’s one reason why I’m so strongly opposed to Perata, the OPOA’s darling.  However, we can’t afford to lose another 150 police.  YES.

%d bloggers like this: