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June 14-20, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Taxlash

Looking at how voters shot down both propositions on the June 6 ballot, you've got to say voters seem to be burning out on the initiative process. Sure, Rob Reiner's Proposition 82 was looking like a loser going in, but Proposition 81, the library bond, was the kind of initiative you could take home to mother. It didn't get any love, either. Or maybe the electorate is just burned on bonds and taxes? It certainly looked that way locally when Measure A, Santa Clara County's proposed sales-tax add-on, crashed and burned. Mark it as a huge upset, as supporters had been cautious early on, then gradually more confident as the measure drew endorsements from all over and polled pretty well. But as Measure B (which wasn't a new tax but a question of resource allotment for county parks) sailed to victory, Silicon Valley voters sent Measure A to definitive defeat. ... The question now is whether or not the county's supervisors have buyer's regret—county polling, after all, predicted that a quarter-cent sales tax for county services would have passed on its own. But the supervisors voted to combine their tax measure with the transportation tax after being briefed on separate poll results by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Those results were never made public, but were said by the Leadership Group to indicate two crucial factors: (a) that if separate quarter-cent tax measures for county services and transportation appeared on the ballot as competing measures, the likelihood was high that they would both fail; and (b) that if the two taxes were combined in a half-cent tax, "the chances of winning [were] very strong." Despite not being able to see the poll's methodology, the supervisors took a gamble—with Blanca Alvarado being the lone dissenting vote. Is it time for I-told-you-sos? "She's very concerned," says Alvarado's chief of staff Kristina Cunningham of her boss. "She believes that putting the two together was a mistake. Supervisor Alvarado likes things to be clear and upfront, and she just felt there were too many questions with this." Pete McHugh, meanwhile, who voted to combine the two taxes, had no regrets, saying that by combining the taxes the county gained "the financial support of the Leadership Group" to advocate for the tax. McHugh says the county services portion of the measure was more important and said the supervisors are already considering cutting departments and selling the County Fairgrounds site as a way of recouping the lost revenue. Phil Trounstine, who conducted a poll for the Merc that showed Measure A had a 51 percent approval rating about three weeks before the election, told Fly that the methodology of any poll is crucial—meaning of course that the supervisors maybe should have asked to see the fine print. "The language of polls could affect responses," he said. ... By the way, despite capturing a majority of favorable responses in that Merc poll, things weren't looking as good for Measure A as it might have seemed. Turns out 51 percent isn't really a safe margin for a tax, according to Trounstine. Most voters haven't really made a decision, and then tend to go more conservative on tax issues when election day rolls around. "When a ballot measure only has 51 percent a month before, that's really bad," he says.

Now This Is Politics!

For the most part local politics can be pretty routine, and generally pretty boring. It's not everyday you see things like Hunter Thompson's 1970 Freak Power campaign for sheriff of Aspen, or Jello Biafra's 1979 run for mayor of San Francisco. But this November in Mountain View might come close, with resident Jim Lohse trying to kick-start his bid for a spot on the City Council. The race should prove pretty interesting since Lohse—a refugee from the corporate world who spends the bulk of his time either hanging around City Hall or taking care of his sick mother—first started making political hay as an outspoken medical marijuana grower and the main proponent of opening a medical marijuana dispensary in Mountain View. The fact that Lohse dedicated a good part of the last decade to living and working in growers' cooperatives has led some in Mountain View to see him as a single-issue candidate, but the man has a lot on his mind. Lohse is currently homeless, a situation he's been in and out of since 1997, when he quit his last corporate job after they refused him three weeks of unpaid leave to take care of family issues when his father died. "I just never went back," he said. "I was tired of the corporate world, tired of the rat race. One day you wake up and you're just not gonna go back and do it anymore." And with a longtime outsider who insists his main political position is "freedom" suddenly vying for a spot in local government, Mountain View's election season should get a sudden jolt of watchability—especially with Lohse talking about holding a street theater-based campaign, hanging out at City Hall answering questions and even saying at one point, "I'm gonna get a shopping cart and start going barefoot down Castro Street." He knows he's going to take heat for those kinds of stunts, but he doesn't care. "I have thick skin," he says. "I can take it. I used to be in IT."


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