Yes on AA

Measure AA is a Bay Area regional ballot measure, placed on the ballot by something called the “San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority”, to impose a $12 per parcel parcel tax on all prperties in the nine-county region.

The idea is that this money, being raised by a regional authority pursuant to a vote of the voters, would be untouchable by other agencies. The state could not take the money. The cities and counties could not take the money.The SFBRA would be guaranteed a revenue stream.

What would it use the revenue stream on?

The measure does not list specific projects. It instead lists some general, high-level conceptual *areas* that spending will be reserved for:

* “safe, clean water, and pollution prevention program”, which has got to be one of the worst named programs I’ve ever heard of.he idea is to “improve water quality by reducing in pollution”, “reduce pollution levels through shoreline cleanup and trash removal”, “restore wetlands that provide natural filters and remove pollution”, and “clean and enhance creek outlets”, so the idea is NOT to prrevent safe, clean water, and pollution, despite the fact that the poorly written title might cause you to think so.

* “vital fish, bird, and wildlife habitat program”

* “integrated flood protection program”

* “shoreline public access program”

in other words, this is a measure to impose a parcel tax to raise money to fund various San Francisco bay related cleanup and maintenance activities, as well as funding better public access to the bayshore.

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At the outset, I think I should note that I *do not* like parcel taxes. Parcel taxes are a regressive tax on landowners – because they pay per parcel, they ensure that the owner of the smallest, shabbiest falling apart eyesore dump of a house pays the same amount as the owner of the giant multistory apartment building. I *vastly* prefer ad valorem taxes, which tax as a percentage of the assessed value of property; such taxes distribute the pain of the tax more fairly.

But, at the same time, $12 a year is a pittance for the overwhelming majority of property owners in the Bay Area. A bunch of pittances aggregatedd otgether can become a burden, and the overall parcel ttax situation in the region hasn’t, as far as I can tell, reached that level.

I also want to note that this problem – bay cleanup and restoration – is fundamnetally a *regional* problem. None of the nine counties which a but the bay can really do a whole lot on their own, and it’s unfair to ask the *state* to bear the burden; we are a fantastically wealthy region, and ew should be willing to bear the cost of cleaning and restoring the bay ourselves.

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The argument against, in the ballot handbook, focuses on two issues:

* the fact that the SFBRA isn’t elected and doesn’t appear to be selected by the local governments means that this measure is fundamentally undemocratic, as it gives a huge amount of money to a body which is not accountbale to the people.

* the failure to list specific projects means that the money raised will be used as a slush fund to pay off the political allies of whoever is on the Board.

They have a thoretical point with their first objection. On the otehr hand, it’s important to note that measure AA does not *create* this Board; the Board was created by the legislature almost a decade ago. So the edmocratic deficit *already exists*.

I think there’s a fair argument that it would be better if this board were regionally elected, but that option isn’t on the table, and in my view a politically appointed regional board which has the ability to conduct region-wide projects is an *improvement* over a situation where the funding must come from the state or must be handled through the myriad of really small local governments.

Their second point is harder to grapple with. They have a fundamentally cynical view of politics – but even if I think that thye’re overly cynical, they’re right about the structural *potential* for abuse, and it would be vastly better to have a system which had lower potential for abuse, because fundamentally any system which can be abused eventually will be.

On the other hand, there are some safeguards. There’s a 5% cap on administrative expenses; the Board must prepare annual written reports showing the amount of funds collected and expended and the status of any projects or programs authorized to spend the money; that report shall be posted on the website; and there will be an independdent citizens oversight committee which will publish an annual audit.

That’s not a guarantee that the audits will be listened to, to be sure. But it’s hardly a sign that the measure is *intended* to create a corrupt slush fund, and it provides the benefit of a spotlight to help keep things out in the open.

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There are two things which give me pause.

First, the tax expires in twenty years. It’s really not clear that this makes any sense, unless the theory is that the Bay will be *clean* by then, w hich seems unlikely – and even if so, it seems likely that there will be ongoing maintenance costs which should still be funded. So I expect there to be a measure in 2twenty years to extend the tax.

Second, half of hte money is allocated among four different regions (north bay, east bay, west bay, and south bay) on a per-population basis (rather than a per-percentage-of-shoreline basis). This will create the odd effect that the dollars-to-shoreline ratio in Santa Clara county will be massively high. That’s *probably* a bribe to the voters of Santa Clara county to get them to vote for it, and so I can understand the political necessity, but it irks me; surely if the goal of the measure is to cleanup the bay and improve public access to it, the money should be distributed on the basis of where the environmental damage is and where there is shoreline whose access can be improved, rather than on where people happen to live. And yet: politics is the art of the possible compromise, and I can see where the voters of Santa Clara county, whose support is absolutely necessary to get the 2/3 majority needed to pass this. might be reluctant to vote yes otherwise.

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I am voting for measure AA. Cleaning up and maintaining the Bay is our resonsibility. We are the wealthiest region in one fo the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest countries in the world; we can afford this.

The proposition isn’t ideal. But it’s an acceptable compromise. And that’s all I feel it’s reasonable to ask for.

Yes on 50

Proposition 50 changes the state Constitution to explicitly allow each house of the Legislature to suspend a member (without pay) by a two-thirds vote of the house in question. Suspendded members cannot perform the duties of a Legislator (such as voting on bills) and cannot exercise the rights of a Legislator.

Under the terms of Proposition 50, in order to suspend a member, the house must pass a resolution doing so via a two-thirds majority vote. The suspension can be time-delimited, OR, alternatively, it can be indefinite, in which case it can be ended by another two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature.

Note that under the literal language of the text, the Legislature *cannot* end a time-delimited suspension early. It can provide a specified time limit, OR it can vote to reinstate, but the text does not allow a reinstatement vote if there is an explicit time limit.

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Currently, the state constitution explicitly allows *expulsion*. However, the *rules of each house of the legislature* allow suspension *by a majority vote*. Suspended members are not allowed to vote or take legislative actions, but they DO draw full pay.

So one part of the net effect of this ballot measure is to *make it harder for the Legislature to suspend members*, because it increases the (statutory) threshold of 50%+1 to a (constitutional) threshold of 2/3.

The other part of the net effect of this ballot measure is to deny suspended members their paycheck, thereby saving the state a small amount of money and removing the public relations problem of a Legislator getting paid while not being allowed to work.

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This proposition is on the ballot because it amends the constitutional rules governing Legislative procedure and, therefore, can only be amended by ballot measure.

The Legislature voted to put this measure on the ballot because, in 2014, three Senators were suspended after they were accused of felonies. The fact that this happened at all was politically embarassing, and the fact that the Legislators continued to get paid was even worse; and at the same time, Legislators were understandably unnerved by the discovery that a simple majority of each house could deny any legislator the ability to do their job – this hasn’t been abused in the past, but past results are not guarantees of future performance.

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As far as I can tell, there are two major issues that should influence how one votes on this measure.

[1] Should the legislature have the power to suspend, rather than expel, its members? What’s the argument for suspending rather than expelling?

I agree with the ballot pamphlet argument against that giving the legislature the power to *suspend* rather than *expel* gives the legislature the power to deny a district effective representation (because expulsion would require a new election but suspension would not). But the argument on the other side is that legislators are just as deserving of the rights of due process as anyone else, and so while it might make sense to *suspend* someone who is accused and under suspicion of grave crimes, it would be unfair to *expel* them prior to conviction.

For this, I think, it really depends on how you weigh the balance between the interests of the *people* in effective representation and the due process interest of the legislator. I’m inclined to value the people’s interest more highly, and that makes me think suspension is not a good procedure and that indicted legislators should simply be expelled; and at the same time, I recognize that this increases the risk of politically motivated spurious indictments, which could be used to deny the people effective representation almost as effectively as spurious suspensions.

[2] Is it a reasonable thing to increase the threshold for suspension from simple majority to two-thirds?

The legislature is *already* suspending memberrs, and that’s not going to stop absent a constitutional amendment banning the practice. If, like me and the arguments of the ballot handbook’s argument against, you think this is dangerous because of its potential for abuse, then you should be *in favor* of increasing the threshold – it makes suspending legislators *harder*. It’s way more difficult to abuse a power that requires a 2/3 majority threshold to invoke than it is to abuse a power that requires a simple majority to invoke.

If, on the other hand, you think the legislature is rife with corruption and that the legislature doesn’t do enough to punish its members already, then raising the threshold ought to strike you as a bad thing; it makes it harder for the Legislature to suspend members.

[3] Many people will focus on the issue of legislators getting paid while they are suspended. I agree that it’s optically bad for a legislator who can’t work to get paid; but there are other situations where osmething similar happens and, fundamentally, it’s a minor issue for the state budget. I basically think this is a red herring being used to gin up emotional support for the measure by getting people to focus on their emotions a round people getting paid for not working rather than focusing on the procedural and structural issues.

I *do* think there’s a valid *due process* question — essentially, I’m not convinced it’s fair to a Legislator to suspend their pay because they’ve been a ccused, but n ot convicted, of a grave crime. That’s not enough to get me to vote against, but it’s enough to give me pause.

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I will be voting *yes* on Proposition 50, because it makes it more difficult for the Legislature to suspend members and provides a constitutional procedure to replace the ad-hoc proceddure in the legislative rules.

US Senate Debate #1

The first of two televised debates in the CA US Senate “primary” was held on Apr. 26.

The five candidates (of the 30+ on the ballot) were:

Kamala Harris (D, AG)
Loretta Sanchez (D, Congresswoman)
Ron Unz
Duf Sundheim
Tom del Beccaro

It’s on Youtube at https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj7iK6-ntPMAhUK6GMKHd3wBbQQtwIIJDAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D_K8rm88sFDQ&usg=AFQjCNGmKvXF0iDKbgkJV0iYlAE-JkRBWg&sig2=QipUBLlXumCWPgf6Fmwczw&bvm=bv.121658157,d.cGc

Some thoughts.

(a) Rep. Sanchez has been changing Congress for twenty years, she says. But if that’s true (and not just self-serving fluff), given that Congress has been changing *for the worse* for many years, she’s clearly part of the problem and not part of the solution.

That said, she does have a point about how she knows where the swing votes are, and how that’s a benefit.

(b) “who are you most concerned about helping as a Senator?” is a terrible question.

(c) Ron Unz is a Republican who wants to focus on inequality. That’s … unusual.

(d) Duf Sundheim characterizes the rich:poor divide as being equivalent to the free:slave divide in 1860. What? (Also, wow is he a bad speaker)

(e) Tom del Beccaro thinks that government has gotten more involved with college education. Sure, it’s taken over student loans, but … in CA, at least, state funding of colleges has dropped precipitously over my lifetime.

(f) The death of a Californian in Paris makes Californians “acutely aware that we live in a dangerous world”? Really?

(g) AG Harris thinks there’s a general consensus that we’re making progress in Syria. I am not aware of that consensus.

(h) Duf Sundheim describes a border wall as 6th century BC technology, which is amusing.

(i) Ron Unz thinks we need to crack down on illegal immigration now even though he agrees that it’s not very high right now? Also, he thinks increasing the minimum wage for legal workers will *decrease* illegal immigration, which is … insane

(j) Loretta Sanchez’ “shoot from the hip style” offends people? Given who she replaced in the Congress, that’s hardly shocking. Orange County seems to like that.

(k) Ron Unz has said outright he isn’t in the race to win, but he’s in the race to publicize a ballot measure. WTF?

(l) both Democrats are in favor of rescheduling marijuana out of schedule I, yay. Three of the five *said* the war on drugs has failed. (Tom del Beccaro thinks that marijuana decriminalization is responsible for the Heroin epidemic, which seems … unlikely).

(m) Tom Del Beccaro wants a flat tax! Ugh.

(n) Ron Unz admits that it’s hard for a Republican to win, and he understands that Pete Wilson’s failed policies causedd it – and he has an interesting point: if a non-traditional Republican pushing things like a minimum wage increase actually *wins* in California, it will really boost his agenda, because Republicans will take notice of what it was that made a Republican win in California.

He’s an optimist, I guess. I’m not as optimistic.

(o) Loretta Sanchez’ closing statement story about meeting a constituent and then getting so outraged that she got the Pentagon to change its policies was a *great* story.

(p) Duf Sundheim wants to work every day and every night to end High Speed Rail, because why?

Yes on ‘A’

According to the description in the ballot pamphlet authored by the “Ballot Simplification Committee”, measure A is a bond measure which will authorize San Francisco to ell bonds to (a) fund improvements and upgrades to San Francisco General Hospital, which does not meet seismic safety standards for hospitals and is “not expected to remain functional in the event of a major earthquake”, (b) fund an expansion of, and seismic upgrades to, the city-owned ambulance facility, which does not meet seismic standards and is currently otherwise inadequate to ensure fast response; (c) renovate and expand the southeast health center for the purpose of “improv[ing] and expand[ing] access to mental health, urgent care, substance abuse, dental care, and social services; (d
) build, acquire, and improve homeless shelters and service sites.

All of these are good causes.

The first two of theas are *absolutely critical* and should be funded; if the ambulance d ispatcher and the general hospital and trauma center are not currently expected to survive a major earthquake, we needd to fix that, full stop.

It’s not clear to me why the other three, which are good causes but not absolutely critical in the same way, are bundledd with the first two.

I dislike logrolling of this sort. It smacks of using the critical nature of one problem to justify spending money on something else which the proponent is worried might not be able to obtain funding on its own. It inflates the cost of things by thing two disparate things together, and it makes it impossible to make granular decisions. I *do not believe* that a seismic-retrofit only bond meassure could not have passed the Board of Supervisors, and I am angry at the Board of Supervisors for bundling things together in this way.

And the argument against has a good point that it “would be … simpler and more honest if the city set up an improvement fund from which annual disbursemenetts for necessary maintenance and upgrades could be made.”

And yet I live in *this* world rather than an idealistic world in which all politicians behaved in the way I think most appropriate, and so I accept that the Board of Supervisors *has not* done that and that the problem of seismically unfit buildings is real and present. Refusing to pay for seismic upgrades in order to force the Board of Supervisors to do things the “right” way has a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face kind of fanaticism about it; it means, on some level, saying I’d rather the buildings fall down and the city pay the cost (both in money and in lives) of *that* disaster, rather than the city continue to fund things the wrong way.

I *would not* prefer that.

And so I am inclined to swallow my misgiving sand vote for the measure.

The one thing that gives me pause is: it’s really hard to tell hw much goes to seismic retrofits. $20 million goes to “construction, acquisition, improvement, retrofitting, and upgrading” of homeless shelters and homeless service sites. $58 million goes to “construction, acquisition, improvement, retrofitting, and upgrade of the San Francisco Fire Department Ambulance Deployment Facility, which includes the construction of a modern, seismically safe ambulance and parametic deployment facility and for urgently needded repairs and modernizations of neighborhood fire stations.” 272 million goes to “essential seismic retrofits and improvements at the [Geneal Hispiral] and neighborhood clinics, including but not limited to tthe modernization fo fire response systems and t he renovation and addition to the Southeast Health Center, and the improvement o f high-demand community health centers with the expansion of access to mental health, urgent carer, substance abuses, dental, and social services.”

So how much of this is funding essential seismic retrofits and how much is funding other things? It’s hard to say, and that gives the measure’s marketing an overall feeling of sleaziness, like it’s *Trying* to mislead me.

And yet … i’d probably vote for *all* of these if they were seperate bond measures; capital construction is one fo the things where it really makes economic sense to borrow money, and all of these are things the city needs to have.

So: the best course of action, it seems to me, is to vote ‘Yes’ … and add the sleazy marketing of this initiativet to the list of things to consider when asked to vote to re-elect these supervisors.