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05.14.08

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Capitol Fellow: Carmel lawyer Bill Monning wins our endorsement for the 27th District Assembly seat.

Endorsements

Metro Santa Cruz weighs in on the most overlooked election of all: the June 3 primary.

By Staff


Surprised to hear there even is an election in June? You're probably not alone. California's new February primary made us feel all warm and relevant inside, but it also drained voter enthusiasm away from the June 3 primary election, which will effectively decide who will serve us in Sacramento. It will also determine the makeup of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. With absentee ballots becoming increasingly popular (about half of all ballots are now cast by mail), we offer up our endorsements of the most critical races earlier than ever. And we remind readers that the last day to register to vote is May 19.

STATE
27th District Assembly (Democratic Primary)
Metro Santa Cruz Recommends: Bill Monning

In this left-leaning district, the question of who will go to Sacramento is basically settled in the Democratic primary. The field of candidates vying to replace termed-out Assemblyman John Laird this year includes three strong contenders: Monterey College of Law professor Bill Monning, former Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly and Felton businesswoman Barbara Sprenger (the fourth, chiropractor Stephen Barkalow, lacks sufficient experience). Of the group, we think Monning is the best qualified to serve this district in the Assembly.

We hope Sprenger remains in public service. Her willingness to state unpopular opinions (like widening Highway 1) is laudable, and her passion for single-payer health care and education show that her heart's in the right place. Her idea for low-interest loans to fund conversion to solar panels and home-scale wind generation is smart and pragmatic. But she's up against much more experienced rivals.

Former Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly's record of public service is admirable; locally she's led on environmental issues, and she's worked on a number of local and regional committees, so she understands the processes and how to work with others. She's mustered some impressive supporters, including Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and former state Controller Steve Westly (few of them, though, back up her campaign's assertion that she's the progressives' candidate). Reilly would no doubt serve the district ably, but we question whether she has the vision to lead creatively or the stuffing to stand up to pressure, given her waffling on the conference center. And the fact that predecessors Laird and Fred Keeley have declined to endorse one who is ostensibly treading in their footsteps gives us pause.

Monning, by contrast, has a wildly diverse base of supporters, including the Monterey Bay and South Bay labor councils, the Sierra Club, People Power, a number of powerful Latino leaders and the pivotal Democratic Women's Club of Santa Cruz County. There are many more. Chalk that up to the breadth and compelling nature of his vision and his skill at communicating it. An accomplished negotiator who has led delegations to the Middle East, Monning has made a living out of reconciling entrenched and opposing points of view--certain to come in handy in Sacramento. On the issues, Monning has the usual (in this race) goals of striving for single-payer health care, protecting education from budget cuts and safeguarding the environment. But he has something else: a background in farmworker activism that not only resulted in a state law to his credit but also establishes his commitment to human rights. Monning is the true progressive of this race, and we believe his considerable skills as a negotiator more than make up for any lack of experience in public office. Vote for Monning on June 3.

Proposition 98
Metro Santa Cruz Recommends: No

The relationship most people have to their local and state governments is a lot like the relationship they have to lawyers. On one day vitriolic hate is spewed on the overbearing institution; on the next, the cry goes up that it should be doing more to solve a particular problem. The proponents of Proposition 98 are hoping to seize voters who happen to be in the "vitriolic hate" stage of their relationship to government and do away with much of local government's eminent domain powers, all affordable housing requirements, all rent control, many eviction rules and even some future publicly owned water systems. This Hydra is all wrapped up in the guise of preventing powerful and corrupt politicians from seizing private homes, businesses, farmlands and churches and handing them over to "well-connected" private developers. In this story, told by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Mobilehome Park Owners Alliance, the politicians and private developers conspire to destroy entire neighborhoods for the profit of an elite few. This must be stopped, hence Prop. 98.

The reality is that the elite few attacking the common good are actually the proponents of Prop. 98. If reforming the practice described above was all Prop. 98. did, it might have some merits. Maybe. Unfortunately, Prop. 98 goes much further. It would prohibit "limiting the price a private owner may charge to occupy or use his or her property"--in other words, rent control ordinances, such as those used to keep mobile home parks affordable to tenants, would be illegal. Inclusionary housing requirements, like the Santa Cruz County rule stipulating that 15 percent of new developments be affordable, could also be caught up in this dragnet.

Prop. 98 would also prohibit "transfer of ownership ... to a public agency for the consumption of natural resources." In other words, communities like Felton that are attempting to reclaim their water from foreign private firms, such as Cal-Am, could not use eminent domain powers to do so, even if it were for the public good. Please vote No on 98 and put this malodorous measure in the garbage where it belongs.

Proposition 99
Metro Santa Cruz Recommends: Yes

Proposition 99 was introduced in direct response to Prop. 98; as written, it would override its rival measure as long as it gets more votes. That alone makes it worthwhile.

But it has another crucial merit. In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that a Connecticut town was acting legally when it transferred an owner-occupied home to a private developer by eminent domain (the argument was that the new development would add to the tax base and thus serve the "public good"). The case effectively extended the reach of eminent domain beyond public works (freeways, libraries) to economic development (stadiums, strip malls).

Many states have since passed laws assuring their citizens that they're not going to start engaging in this sketchy practice. With this fairly straightforward measure, California would join them. Vote yes on Prop. 99.

Santa Cruz County
County Supervisor, District 1
Metro Santa Cruz Recommends: John Leopold

The First District covers a large swath of unincorporated land not represented by anyone but the supervisor, making this an extremely important position for residents and businesses in the area of the county spanning from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Live Oak.

The three main issues that define this race are crime, housing development and traffic congestion. On two out of three, Cabrillo College Trustee John Leopold takes the cake.

On the issue of crime, Betty Danner is an expert, having served three years as director of the Criminal Justice Council, and has some great ideas. Her approach is much more comprehensive than Leopold's. Let's hope that if Leopold wins, he will take and run with Danner's ideas on establishing a juvenile drug court, expanding the teen court program and working directly with gang leaders to transfer young gangbangers to positive, sports-based activities.

However, on the hotly controversial issue of high-density housing, Danner has staked out a reactionary position, while Leopold has real vision. Danner has completely ruled out the possibility of high density housing ever being put in the First District under her watch "unless all the neighbors support it." This is not only unfeasible, it hints at a close-minded attitude that shuts down a whole class of development proposals before any of the specifics have been hashed out. This stance rules out a zero-carbon, mixed-use, mixed-income development paying mitigation fees to improve the roads and sewers at the same time it rules out a multi-story, view-blocking luxury condominium development.

Leopold has a more realistic approach to the matter. Instead of writing off a whole group of developments indiscriminately, he would work with the neighbors to develop standards. This would be done, Leopold promises, by increasing communication both within the neighborhoods and between the neighborhoods and the developers. First, neighbors would come together and form plans for the future of their neighborhoods, much like the "neighborhood compatibility" guidelines drawn up in the Pleasure Point neighborhood. Then, when a developer has its eye on a plot of land in the neighborhood, a packet would be presented explaining to the potential developer what the neighbors will or will not oppose. This will rationalize a situation that now too often results in both developer and neighbor feeling frustrated and angry with the other side.

Then, there's transportation. Leopold would pluck the "low-hanging fruit" of establishing metering ramps on Highway 1, creating bus rapid transit routes through midcounty and working on purchasing and improving the rail line. This is a much better strategy than continuing to butt heads on Highway 1 widening, an effort that has failed to garner even majority support from the county populace.

The other candidates--Carolyn Busenhart, Michael Pisenti and William Hay--all rely way too much on ideology to be considered seriously.Leopold and Danner both have strong credentials and good ideas, but ultimately, Leopold has a more diverse background, a stronger vision and more feasible plans for going forward in housing and transit as Santa Cruz County continues moving through a period of rapid change.

County Supervisor, District 2
Metro Santa Cruz Recommends: Ellen Pirie

The Second District is a gorgeous diverse stretch of coastland spanning from the seaside paradise of Capitola to the productive farmlands of north Watsonville. With the diversity of the landscape comes a diversity of issues, and therefore, this portion of the county needs someone who can keep their fingers on many buttons all at once. For the past eight years, Ellen Pirie has proven to be the jack-of-all-trades this area needs. She has balanced an increase in affordable housing options with efforts to preserve open space and farmland, all while working to get some much-needed repairs to the roads. Her experience in preserving affordable housing options, especially in mobile home parks, will be increasingly important over the next few years.

Her main competitor, Doug Deitch, raises some excellent points on the increasingly difficult water problems facing the Pajaro Valley and the county in general. These problems are serious, and Pirie would do well to consider Deitch's analysis of the situation. Ultimately, though, the county needs someone at the helm who isn't going to obsess over one issue.

Pirie is thoughtful, reasonable and has shown an understanding of the big picture as it applies to a multitude of challenges facing this stretch of the county.

County Supervisor, District 5
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: Mark Stone

This is a classic case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." That is not meant to be damning by faint praise. Since his appointment to the board of supervisors in November of 2003 and subsequent election in 2004, Mark Stone has served District 5 well. A Santa Cruz native and Scotts Valley resident, Stone is passionately committed to education, an outgrowth of his service as president of the Scotts Valley Unified School District and, no doubt, his old job as professor of law at Monterey's Naval Postgraduate School. He also moved to establish an Environment Commission at the county level following the Climate Compact with the city and university last year. Stone also exhibits a detailed and nuanced understanding of budget processes--bound to be a major concern in the next few years. Fellow candidates David Smith and Gordon Stewart are principally interested in property rights; Smith is also categorically opposed to high-density building of any kind at the Felton Faire site. Stone, on the other hand, has adopted a judicious wait-and-see stance. Stone is knowledgeable, compassionate and committed. We can't think what more the residents of District 5 could ask for.

Measure R
Metro Santa Cruz Recommends: Yes

Long gone are the days of the shushing librarian urging awed silence before the presence of sacred tomes. In today's public libraries, you're far more likely to hear "Checkmate? How did you do that?" from the room hosting teens playing chess--or "I knew it!" from an Internet user researching Exxon's history of sin.

Today's libraries are afternoon safety zones for latchkey kids, homework-help centers for struggling learners, English-instruction rooms for dedicated immigrants and connections to the world for the webless. Libraries also provide that all-important "third place": the place other than work and home for people to gather, increasingly important in this solo TV and Internet age.

Keeping these functions going, though, requires that communities provide a good chunk of the funding themselves, so as to escape the roller-coaster budget swings of states and the federal government.

Providing steady local funding is precisely the aim of Measure R, a countywide ballot measure needing two-thirds of voter approval, as all California special-tax measures do. It extends the 1/4-cent sales tax voters first approved in 1996 to stabilize the city/county library system from a temporary measure (it was to expire in 2013) to a permanent one.

If the current funding lasts until 2013, though, why extend it now?

The reason is that county residents are using the libraries so heavily--40,000 children alone attend classes in them each year, and visitors average 1.5 million annually--that construction and expansion budgets need to be planned nearly a decade in advance.

In the bigger picture, sales taxes aren't generally good public policy. They're the most regressive of all taxes, they change value when consumer spending goes up and down, and they often function as an easy way out of funding crunches when leaders don't have the nerve to hit up the people who demand the most services; namely, property owners.

But Measure R is different. The tax collected goes right back in services to the very people who pay most of it. Its multiplying effect through community education lifts the opportunity level of those who use its benefits, and it can be used only to provide those services and benefits, and nothing else.

Virtually every city and county leader has endorsed the measure, and we do too. Please vote yes on Measure R.


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