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10.22.08

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Phaedra

MON DIEU! Contrary to popular belief, Barack Obama was not born in a manger.

Ballot Boxes

State Props: Fast trains, slim Pickens, Dickensian penal punishments and bonds abound

By Bohemian staff

Proposition 1A

The Bohemian recommends: Yes

It's time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it. The $9.95 billion bond on the November ballot will help build the first leg of the long-awaited California High Speed Rail, aiming to one day take some 117 million riders a year from San Francisco to Los Angeles in mere hours. We know it's not going to be the panacea of global warming and high gas prices, and we've heard the opponents argue it's a boondoggle that will break the state's bank. Arguing for the proposition, the Los Angeles Times notes that the rail promises an eventual billion-dollar profit from ticket sales alone. As with Measure Q, the SMART train initiative, it's time to prepare for the future by taking the initial fiscal hit that paves the way for tomorrow's transport.

Proposition 2 The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act

The Bohemian recommends: No

There is absolutely no question about it: Our modern industrial farm system is an outrage and needs to be fixed. Proponents of Proposition 2 would have us believe that this act would allow us to have happy animals and eat them, too. Unfortunately, that's not the reality. Fortunate as we are to be based in the state's egg basket, we will instead see area producers forced out of business. Prop. 2 is the right idea but the wrong bill.

Here's another vote we can all make, every day, with our checkbooks. Begin buying only cage-free, humanely raised organic poultry and pork, and do not buy any veal—ever—not even in your favorite restaurants, unless you know for a fact that it's been humanely raised. (The Sonoma County Meat Buying Club is an excellent outlet for humanely-raised meat.) That's the kind of daily vote that really makes a change. Unfortunately, Prop. 2 will result in a decimation of our area producers, many of whom distribute their locally raised products in less than a 100-mile radius, and will flood California's markets with eggs, pork and veal from inhumanely raised animals in Texas and even Mexico. We're eager to see the industry change, but this proposition is not the one to do it. Let's try this one again.

Proposition 3 Children's Hospital Bond Act

The Bohemian recommends: Yes

It's pathetic that the state of California must resort to this in order to provide care for dying children. The fact that we must take on this debt, with the state already deep in the red, is a genuine shame, and almost too much to bear. But it's the right thing to do. Proposition 3 would authorize the issuance of roughly $1 billion in bonds for hospitals that treat children with life-threatening illnesses. Money from Prop. 3 bonds would pay for buildings, equipment and similar capital expenses at five UC hospitals and eight nonprofit hospitals. All of the money is earmarked to improve and expand access to child healthcare.

The vote comes only four years after passage of a similar $750 million bond. Since that time, as you may have heard, the costs of doing any kind of business in this industry have skyrocketed. Supporters say these institutions can barely cover their operating expenses, much less pay for necessary capital improvements. California is already $120 billion in the hole from outstanding general-obligation bonds alone. We've sold bonds to pay for infrastructure like highways and water-treatment systems, and even to pay off older debt.

This is no way to run a state. This is no way to finance things like children's hospitals. Let this serve as more evidence that the state and the nation need comprehensive healthcare reform. But don't let sick kids pay for our leaders' failures.

Proposition 4 Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy

The Bohemian recommends: No

Don't be surprised if you're hit by a wave of déjà vu in the voting booth—the parental notification proposition is baaack. If passed, this would amend the state constitution to require notification of a minor girl's parents or legal guardian that she is planning to have an abortion, and a 48-hour waiting period following notification. The fresh coat of paint over this twice-rejected proposal recasts it as "Sarah's Law," "Sarah" being a 15-year-old Texan who died in 1994 following a botched abortion. (It's been widely reported that "Sarah" was actually in a common-law marriage, would not have been considered a minor and therefore would not have been helped by Prop. 4. No matter.)

Proponents say this year's model has more options, including the possibility that a judge waive notification if the girl demonstrates enough maturity or the abortion is in her best interest. To blow your own mind, try imagining an underage girl going through the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy, who can't turn to the adults in her life, but who will stand up in a courtroom of strangers to fight to have an abortion.

The spin on Sarah's story is that older men prey on underage girls and then cart them off to an abortion clinic to cover up their sexual crimes. It's all very Law & Order, but the simple truth is that this is just a cynical ploy working to erode Roe v. Wade in yet another nasty grab at women's bodies. Bury Prop. 4 alongside its similarly disingenuous predecessors.

Proposition 5 The Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act

The Bohemian recommends: Yes

Proposition 5 would provide much-needed reforms to the state's criminal justice and drug-rehabilitation systems. An expansion of Proposition 36, the 2000 initiative that established a drug-treatment diversion program for nonviolent drug offenders, Prop. 5 would funnel more money into that program. It would also refine sentencing and parole guidelines.

Instead of wasting taxpayers' money on incarceration and excessive parole sentencing, Prop. 5 establishes a three-track system that takes into account offenders' criminal, substance-abuse and treatment histories. The initiative also drops possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction (like a speeding ticket) and directs the $100 fine from the infraction to fund drug-treatment programs for juvenile substance abusers.

Additional reforms include expanded treatment for juvenile drug offenders and oversight committees to track the effectiveness of the programs. Due to savings from decreased incarceration and parole costs, plus the money saved from decreasing the need to build more prisons, the net cost of the $460 million-per-year-program would be neutral.

The cycles of substance abuse and criminal recidivism can only be broken through realistic, comprehensive drug-treatment programs that emphasize rehabilitation and make incarceration the very last resort. Prop. 5 is a vital piece of the vast reform needed in our state's broken criminal justice system.

Proposition 6 Police and Law Enforcement Funding

The Bohemian recommends: No

State Proposition 6—fundamentally a lock-'em-up initiative originated by married SoCal state representatives George and Sharon Runner—has won the endorsements of numerous police and sheriffs' organizations. Given spreading statewide gang problems, which it's designed to address, we can see why.  

But the proposed law, informally known as "the Safe Neighborhoods Act," has a serious economic—not to mention moral—downside. Prop. 6 will add up to 10 years to the prison sentences of previously convicted felons who are caught carrying weapons, as well as gang offenders picked up for violent crimes. It also adds five years' annual registration for gang members following prison discharge and increased sentences for meth makers and dealers and witness tamperers. Perhaps proving that its sponsors are hardcore law 'n' order zealots, Prop. 6's draconian language applies to repeat graffiti violators.

In addition to being old-fashioned in its approach to crime-prevention, the proposal is a budget buster. The state budget analyst's office calculates its immediate costs at $365 million per year ($465 million per year in 2013), and points out that it will require, over time, prison construction and upgrade costs of an additional $500 million.

Deeper questions exist about the very root of the program; namely, the practice of authorities' assigning "gang enhancements" to youth offences, thus increasing sentences. Mistakes have frequently been made, and once law enforcement personnel have labeled someone a gang member, it's virtually impossible for that person to get off the list. For these reasons, we join several state labor unions and taxpayers groups, and even firefighters groups, in opposing Prop. 6.

Proposition 7 Renewable Energy Generation

The Bohemian recommends: No

Proposition 7 tries to accomplish the noble and essential goal of securing more renewable energy for California, but its approach and unclear wording could ultimately undermine growth of clean energy sources. Currently, the state obtains about 11 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal and biomass, with the goal of increasing that to 20 percent by 2017. Prop. 7 would accelerate the schedule and raise the bar by requiring all utilities to generate 20 percent of power from renewable by 2010, and 50 percent by 2025.

Despite this apparently pro-green mission, Prop. 7 is opposed by most major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, for three key reasons. First, the measure seeks to fast-track the government approval process of new clean energy plants, which could lessen oversight and weaken environmental protections. Second, increases on consumers' bills from renewable energy would be capped at 3 percent annually, while the bill fails to require a similar price cap for energy obtained from fossil fuels. Finally, small-scale renewable utility companies that produce less than 30 megawatts could have more difficulty operating if this bill passes. That would lessen or eliminate community control over energy policies.

While the measure may be well-intentioned, its potential unintended consequences outweigh its possible benefits. Although renewable energy policies need to be enacted on state and local levels, a flawed ballot measure is not the way to accomplish those goals. But cheer up: California is already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. You can vote no on Prop. 7 and still drive your Prius with pride.

Proposition 8 Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry

The Bohemian recommends: No

On March 11, 2004, San Francisco's City Hall rang with laughter and tears in the surge of emotion uncorked when Mayor Gavin Newsom made same-sex marriage a legal reality. Later that day, the state Supreme Court ordered the city to cease and desist its display of tolerance and love. But two months later, on May 15, that same Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on gay marriage, and California became one of two states in the nation to reject the bigotry that has denied gay couples this fundamental human right. (The other is Massachusetts.)

On paper, Prop. 8 is an issue of semantics. When it was first submitted, it came titled as the "California Marriage Protection Act," implying that the very institution of marriage would be hurt should same-sex couples be allowed to wed. Prop. 8's title was sensibly changed by Attorney General Jerry Brown to "Limit on Marriage," and then, after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May of this year, changed again, to "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry."

Prop. 8's conservative supporters, including the Mormon Church, which has called on its members to funnel millions into the campaign from around the globe, are at issue with the very simple language in the new title. These supporters try to argue that same-sex couples already have the same domestic partnership rights of married couples in California. Hence, the only thing they're concerned about, they say, is whether same-sex couples get to say they're "married."

It's important to remember that definitions of words change constantly. Remember when "gay" meant happy? For "marriage," those societal changes have already taken effect, and it's time to allow the definition to change accordingly. By seeking to amend the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California, proponents of Prop. 8 are not "protecting" marriage; they aren't "defending" marriage. There is nothing to be lost in the institution of marriage by expanding its definition to include same-sex couples.

Proposition 9 Criminal Justice System; Victims' Rights; Parole

The Bohemian recommends: No

Proposition 9 does not define which victims' rights it professes to protect, except perhaps proponents' right to see convicts locked up forever. In fact Prop. 9 has nothing whatsoever to do with victims' rights. It deals only with convicts' rights—by decimating them. The main purpose of this at best misguided scheme is to deny convicts the right to petition for parole every five years; parole hearings would come only after 15 years. This is allegedly being done to save victims the cost of attending a slew of parole hearings.

This draconian measure is being driven by a cadre of supporters, including the powerful prison guards union, who have been working for years to make California law the most punitive on earth. Because of their past successes, our prisons are already overcrowded to crisis proportions, mostly with nonviolent offenders. California runs the third-largest prison system in the world. The United States, home to 5 percent of the world's population, is home to 25 percent of the world's prison population. Besides being immoral, this is impractical. We have plenty of evidence to prove that incarceration, a crude anti-crime tool, does not work.

The international organization Human Rights Watch has been deeply critical of U.S. prison policies, stating that "the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States wreaks havoc on individuals, families and communities, and saps the strength of the nation as a whole." In addition to being an assault on fairness and due process, this measure would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Proposition 10 Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy Bonds

The Bohemian Recommends: No

These depressionary days of personal debt, job loss, home foreclosures, education cuts and unaffordable healthcare may be blowing taps for the middle class as we know it. But hey—corporate execs suffer, too! They suffer bailouts, massages, manicures and parachutes downgraded from gold to silver. So we've got to chuckle when one oily Texas billionaire puts a smidgen of his firm's dough where his mushmouth is, expecting Californians to vote him a windfall. T. Boone Pickens, the infamous corporate raider and lifelong carbon-mogul, has gifted Californians with a comedic gut buster otherwise known as Proposition 10, his "Alternative Fuels Initiative."

Prop. 10 would cost state taxpayers $9.8 billion over a 30-year stretch. The initiative doesn't have dedicated revenue sources, so it comes at the expense of education and healthcare. Pickens wants California taxpayers to pony up as much as $50,000 per vehicle for firms and individuals to buy or lease carbon-emitting, natural-gas-burning vehicles (hybrids need not apply!), thus enormously expanding the market for guess who's natural gas company. Buyers are then free to relocate their vehicles out-of-state, while California's cuckolded taxpayers pick up the tab. With tens of thousands of newly built vehicles thus requiring his natural gas, Pickens can plump his pillow with every pump payment. In a curious nod to the truly green, Pickens also includes cash payments in his plan for hydrogen and electric cars—trouble is, they don't exist.

California needs a dynamic, comprehensive and fully funded clean green renewable energy and fuels program aimed at eliminating carbon emissions. Pickens sunk close to $4 million into Prop. 10 through his own Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, which is not, as you can imagine, an altruistic nonprofit. But Pickens isn't the only one behind Prop 10. No sirree. He has at least two, or is it three, additional backers, most notable for their utter obscurity.

And who opposes Prop. 10? Why, that would be every state newspaper editorial board weighing in thus far, the Consumer Federation of California, the California Tax Reform Association, the Utility Reform Network, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Nurses Association, Consumer Watchdog, the Sierra Club, the California State Association of Counties, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California League of Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters and even the California Chamber of Commerce.

A corporate raider's slick trick to pick California's green clean? You betcha. Our comeback to T. Boone Pickens' fuel-initiative joke should, and assuredly will be, a resounding "No!"

Proposition 11 Redistricting

The Bohemian recommends: Yes

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger championed redistricting reform back in 2003, it was easy to see it is a cynical ploy to wrest control of the state Legislature from the Democratic Party. Back then, Schwarzenegger was a polarizing, partisan figure. He's changed a bit since then, and yet he is still dead set on seeing this done.

The governor put up nearly $2.5 million of his own money to get this measure on the ballot, arguing, as he always has, that it is a root cause of the very real polarization that often paralyzes Sacramento. This time, we believe him.

So does former state treasurer Steve Westly, who ran against Schwarzenegger in 2006 and co-chairs the "Yes on 11" effort. Former governor Gray Davis, former assembly speaker Robert Hertzberg, former Santa Cruz assemblyman Fred Keeley and Berkeley mayor Tom Bates (all Democrats) have endorsed the measure, along with AARP, the League of Women Voters and California Common Cause. In the short term, it may in fact hurt Democratic lawmakers. In the long term, it's good for California.

Proposition 12 Veterans Bond Act

The Bohemian recommends: Yes

Since 1922, in 26 elections, California voters have approved $8.4 billion in bonds for low-cost loans to veterans through the Cal-Vet fund. All of that money has been repaid. Here's how it works: The state authorizes the sale of bonds to raise the money—in this case, $900 million. That money is made available for veterans to apply for low-interest home loans. As they pay off their houses, the debt is retired. This bond will allow 3,600 California veterans to buy houses.

Attorney Gary Wesley, the only opponent of Prop. 12 to sign the voter-election guide, is all hopping mad that service men and women who don't suffer combat might get some help buying a home after their tour is done. Waiting out the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in some comfy German base shouldn't be a mortgage ticket, Wesley grumps, surely envisioning extended Oktoberfest celebrations he's not been invited to. He's a jerk. Our service men and women put their own lives on hold to serve the country and are currently about the only Americans doing anything that smacks of self-directed sacrifice. They should be able to relax in a room or two they can call their own once that service is done. 

BOXES

Sonoma County: Measure Q

The Bohemian recommends: Yes

In 2006, Proposition R received 65.3 percent of the vote. Missing a "supermajority" necessary by a mere 1.4 percent, Prop. R would have started the North Bay on to the alternative transportation track that is necessary for our future.

A lot has changed in two years. Pieces of ice the size of Rhode Island no longer merit the front page when they break off the polar cap and begin their swift melt. Wal-Mart sells organic. The environmental movement doesn't seem like a quaint '70s relic, but rather an intensely necessary political force. Transportation issues have never been hotter.

Enter Measure Q, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District (SMART) measure. A new incarnation of Prop. R, Measure Q would impose a quarter-cent sales tax on Sonoma and Marin counties to pay for the establishment of rail service stretching the 70-mile track from Cloverdale to Larkspur. Currently estimated to be complete by 2014 and to serve 5,300 commuters a day with up to an additional 10,000 pedestrians and bicyclists using its ancillary pathway, SMART would make a dent, albeit an initially small one, in the North Bay's daily commute.

Opponents argue that SMART costs too much and serves too few. They warn that it will open up gravel mining in the Eel River and prompt noisy freight train traffic (all of which is much politer discourse than Prop. R prompted, angry Marinites then warning of unwashed Sonomans pouring onto their golden streets by the thousands). Proponents say that the time is way overdue to establish new arms of mass transit, and that the expense is a pill worth swallowing now for the benefits it will offer us later. That's where we sit. As with Prop. 1A, the high-speed rail bond measure we recommend below, Measure Q is the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it.

  h3>Napa County: Measure P

The Bohemian recommends: Yes

In 1990, Napa voters passed Measure J, the Agricultural Lands Preservation Act in order to preserve Napa County's open space and agricultural heritage. Measure P, Measure J's "child," seeks to extend the rights established 18 years ago for another 50 years. (Open-ended preservation legislation is thought to be imprudent, open-ended as it is to lawsuit opportunities.) Carefully worded, Measure P offers an out should Napa County be legally compelled to free up some agricultural holdings for affordable housing. This is a no-brainer. Help Napa County retain its largely rural lands, support family farming and keep thousands of acres available to the public.

   

 

Marin County: Measure B

The Bohemian recommends: Yes

Measure B seeks to consolidate two separate financial offices into one, folding the auditor-controller post and the treasurer-tax collector office into one streamlined county government position. Prompted by the retirement of auditor-controller Richard Arrow, the measure was quickly hustled on to the ballot to save an initial $100,000 in budgetary outlay and take two elected positions and reform them as one appointed seat. Those who oppose Measure B worry that voters are losing their say in who helms the county's coffers. Those who support the measure, like the League of Women Voters, argue that voters are rarely well informed on the candidates for these offices, incumbents are virtually guaranteed reelection and that unless there is some scandal, their duties are little discussed. Taxes come in, bills get paid, the government runs. If the fiscal offices are consolidated and a professional appointed, Marin saves money now and, ostensibly, into the future. That's hard to say no to.


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