Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jeff's picks for June 2008 Election

As usual, I focus on the ballot measures and the down-ticket elected official races. And I don't give recommendations in uncontested races.

Full details are in individual posts. Please post comments with your opinions. They'll be particularly influential where I don't have a settled opinion.

And if you'd like opinions on other races, comment on that too.

NO NO NO on Prop 98: Stop the Hidden Agendas!
Yes on Prop 99 to put "eminent domain reform" to rest - but I'm open to opinions - see my writeup

Yes on Alameda Cty Msr F: Utility Users Tax Renewal

State Senate, District 9: torn between Hancock & Chan; see writeup
State Assembly, District 14: Nancy Skinner; see writeup

14th AD, Ala Cty Democratic Ctrl Comm: Weinstein, Rosales, Moses, Irons, Flint, maybe Dooley
16th AD, Ala Cty Democratic Ctrl Comm: Paranjape, Briggs, Nishioka

Alameda Cty Sup Court Judge, Ofc 9: Dennis Hayashi

Oakland City Council, At-Large District: Rebecca Kaplan!

If you'd like to hear my opinions on another race, post a comment on this page.

Torn: Hancock or Chan for Senate District 9?

Don Perata is termed out of his State Senate seat. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will win in November, so this is the real election. But I can't decide - I need advice.

Wilma Chan and Loni Hancock are both excellent candidates to replace Don Perata. They're both progressive, effective legislators. They were both 6-year Assemblymembers (Chan in District 16, Hancock in District 14). Lots of groups and key individuals are issuing dual endorsements. A few have started endorsing only Hancock, but that seems to be only because she appears to be ahead in the polls; that's not a good reason to endorse.

Newspapers are split: SF Chronicle for Hancock, Contra Costa Times for Chan. And even their editorials say there's little difference between the two.

My political junkie friends are split too. Everyone gives slightly different reasons, but it looks like they all plan to vote for the woman they've previously voted for in the Assembly. Berkeley, Richmond and North Oakland folks say Hancock. Oakland and Alameda people say Chan. On philosophy, they appear to be nearly the same.

On issues, Hancock has been a leader on environmental issues (particularly global warming), education (where she focused on reversing the state's dropout rate), on campaign finance reform (the "clean money" bill), and challenging the proliferation of gambling in the state. Chan has led on environmental toxics, stopping hospitals from gouging lower-income patients, and by co-authoring a bill that expanded health care to 800,000 children.

On effectiveness, Chan has already held a leadership position in the California Legislature: she was elected Assembly Majority Leader in 2002, the first Asian American and first woman to hold that position. And everyone describes her as "tenacious." For Hancock, the Chronicle says "California needs legislators who approach the big issues with vision, tough-mindedness and practical solutions. Hancock gets our endorsement..."

So I'm torn. Both would be excellent legislators, but I can only vote for one. What do you think? Please post comments (include which city you live in). Or just vote in the poll to the left.

Nancy Skinner for Assembly District 14

Loni Hancock is termed out, so four candidates are vying for this open seat. Whoever becomes the Democratic nominee on June 3 will win in November; there isn't even a candidate in the Republican primary.

I have nothing but good things to say about Nancy Skinner. She's an East Bay Regional Parks Boardmember, where she represents a swath of the East Bay (including both Berkeley and Richmond). She was on the Berkeley City Council for 8 years (84-92), and then she founded ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, an international non-profit that helps cities become environmental leaders. ICLEI has been a prescient and crucial resource for cities around the world. Nancy is one of the reasons that cities are some of the most progressive forces combating global warming. She would be an excellent idea generator in the Assembly, particularly on how to address climate change. And she's good on budget, health care, and education issues too (as are Worthington and Thurmond, for that matter).

I'm voting for Nancy because she has more experience at a broader range of levels than any other candidate, because I am so impressed by her environmental work, and because her experience working with local governments around the world have given her an understanding of how to make political change happen.

Tony Thurmond is a Richmond City Councilmember whose star appears to be rising. He was appointed to his seat in 2005, then elected in 2006. He runs a non-profit group that helps former foster youth transition into living independently. And he won endorsements from the San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, and East Bay Express. Interestingly, each of those endorsements mention that the seat has usually been represented by somone from Berkeley, and they think it is Richmond's turn. I'm not sure how valid that is, but then - I live in Berkeley too :-). More importantly to me, however, 2005 appears to have been Thurmond's first year in politics. And given how little time (no more than 6 years) people have in the Assembly, I want someone who knows his or her way around a little better.

Kriss Worthington has been a Berkeley City Councilmember for 11 years. I volunteered a little with his first campaign. He's been very progressive, he's willing to take strong and sometimes lonely stances, he's very ethical, and he understands how politics works. He's also truly interested in the details; on the county-level boards I've seen him operate in, he actually reads the agenda packets and thinks about how to get incremental improvements on every item. He used to be a Green (as was I), but is now a Democrat to have a chance at higher office. He has been mostly good on transportation issues, where I've worked with him on issues. Oh, and he rides a bicycle - how cool is that?

But I have developed two criticisms of Kriss from my work: First, he has opposed some good proposals for new homes along transit corridors in Berkeley. The second is on the Bus Rapid Transit project in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro. While he has supported funding for it at the county level (good!), he has put roadblocks in front of the project in Berkeley that threaten to kill it. In both cases, my concern is that he is giving too much weight to opposition by change-averse neighbors and not enough weight to the social and environmental benefits these changes would bring. He's letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I don't want to just vote my issue, but it is very hard for me to vote for someone, even someone I respect as much as I've respected Kriss, when he's getting a key issue so wrong.

Being a doctor appears to be Dr. Phil Polakoff's main claim to this seat. That doesn't cut it with me.

Rebecca Kaplan for Oakland City Council: At Large District

I am delighted to get to strongly recommend someone I know so well. Rebecca Kaplan has been a smart and enthusiastic member of the AC Transit Board of Directors for several years. She has succeeded there because she is smart, politically savvy, and because she knows how to get things done with people she doesn't agree with. She has strong ethics, she is smart and insightful, and she is really good at connecting with people. These are also the same reasons my organization, the Transportation and Land Use Coalition, hired her as a policy advocate for a campaign back in 2001. She was incredibly effective for us.

She also has background as a civil-rights attorney, legislative aide, and an outreach consultant protecting Oakland residents from predatory loans and foreclosures. She will be a great policy-maker, and she has the potential to become a bridge-builder on the Oakland City Council.

For the rest of the field, I'll quote a friend (Nathan Landau) who knows Oakland politics better than I:
Clint Killian was also an AC Transit Boardmember, but I hear no fondness for him. Kerry Hamill's qualifications are good--she's on the Oakland School Board and works for BART community affairs. Charles Pine is a nasty piece of work who can't talk about anything but more police. Frank Rose is a surprisingly forceful and lucid senior citizen and community activist--unlikely to be elected but an asset to Oakland's civic life.
For more info on Rebecca's campaign, see her website.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NO NO NO on Evil 98

Prop 98 is evil. That's right, evil. Not "unwise" or "misguided." Evil.

It is put forward by extreme property rights zealots. The killer piece is a provision that would prohibit any law or regulation that would "transfer economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the private owner."

This goes way beyond eminent domain or rent control, the ostensible purposes of the measure. Since the courts have ruled that virtually all land-use regulations are likely to impose costs on a property owner and transfer economic benefits to someone else, this prohibition would essentially make it impossible for any government to have any regulation on how anyone uses land in any way.

For example: Cities couldn't restrict the locations or hours of liquor stores in an area, because it would transfer an economic benefit from the property owner (lower profits) to the neighbors (higher property values).

Prop 98 would gut environmental protections, threaten our water supply, make it harder to build new schools or maintain existing ones, eliminate any protections for renters (or neighbors), ... the list could go on and on.

If you need any convincing, check out the extremely long list of opponents: civic groups, seniors, consumer groups, police/fire, farmers, teachers, environmentalists, politicians of every stripe, business groups, even lots of property owner groups. Oh, and just about every newspaper in the state.

No on 98 is the most important thing about this election. Vote No, tell all your friends, and help out by making phone calls, writing letters, donating, or "friending" the campaign on Facebook or MySpace.

Yes on 99 to put "eminent domain reform" to rest

While Prop 98 is the most important, and evil, thing on this ballot, Prop 99 is the most nuanced. I think I'm voting Yes, but I'm torn.

Background: In 2005, the US Supreme Court's Kelo decision said that governments could use eminent domain to take property from one private owner and give it to another to do economic development. When we imagine that as taking grandma's house to build a new WalMart, just about everyone thinks that's a bad idea. Of course, there's more nuance than that (see below), but stick with that for now.

The response has been a national effort to reform the use of eminent domain. Here in California, we approach reform with constitutional amendments, or initiatives. The property rights zealots have taken the lead; they narrowly failed with Prop 90 in 2006, and now they're back with evil Prop 98. So several groups put forward Prop 99 as a more limited reform.

What would 99 do? Prop 99 is a limited reform of how eminent domain can be used. It would prohibit state and local governments from using eminent domain to acquire an owner-occupied residence and convey any part of it to a private person or business. Much more narrowly written than 98, Prop 99 would continue to allow eminent domain to be used for public uses: schools, roads, government buildings, parks, public utilities, etc. Prop 99 also has a "poison pill" clause: if both initiatives pass but 99 gets more votes, it kills 98.

Who supports 99? LOTS of people and groups I trust. My own organization, for one, as well as lots of environmental and renter protection groups. For examples of reasons, see Greenbelt Alliance or Just Cause Oakland. For the groups I support, the main motivations are to make sure 98 does not go into effect and to take eminent domain reform off the political agenda in California by passing 99's modest reform.

Who opposes 99? Opposition to 99 is split: there's the extreme property rights folks who think 99 doesn't go far enough, and they'd rather have 98 pass. And then there's some good analysts, notably the Sacramento Bee and SPUR, who both argue that eminent domain reform is unnecessary. SPUR also argues that we may want to use eminent domain on homes in the future, and uses the example of building a transit station that also happens to have some shops, child care, or jobs on top of it.

Jeff's position:
There's a lot of truth in the opposition analysis: during 2000-2005, only three single-family homes were taken by eminent domain in all California [source]. There's hardly a crying need for reform, and legislation by initiative is usually a bad idea.

In the end, I bow to the reality of California politics. When I argued against Prop 90 in 2006 , I said that would give the Legislature a chance to pass a reasonable reform. But the Legislature didn't and the issue is still on the agenda. If I thought defeating 98 and 99 both would drive a stake in the heart of eminent domain reform, I'd say vote no on 99 too. But I don't think vampires die that easily.

So I think I'm voting Yes. But I'm open: let me know what you think. If I change my mind, it'll show up in the comments.

Maybe instead, we should just focus on defeating Prop 98 and showing its proponents for what they are: greedy selfish jerks who value private profit over the public good.

Friday, May 23, 2008

14th AD Alameda Cty Democratic Central Committeee

The 14th Assembly District is Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, and NE Oakland. You get to vote for 6 people. The county Democratic Central Committees are the places where people fight over the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. I bless these people for their passion, because Lord knows we need a stronger better more progressive party.

I'm definitely voting for: Karen Weinstein, Cecilia Rosales, Eleanor Moses, Edie Irons, and Janet Flint. They're all endorsed by the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, who I trust to do good research and with whose values I firmly agree. They're also part of a Grassroots Progressives slate that pledges to:
  • Revitalize the Alameda County Democratic Party;
  • Register new voters;
  • Increase voter turnout by organizing neighborhood leaders in all parts of Alameda County; and
  • Recruit, train, support and endorse progressive Democratic candidates.
That sounds like what I want to happen! And if you can't stand to leave a blank spot on your ballot, you could also vote for Andrea Laiacona Dooley, the 6th member of that progressive slate. I probably will vote for her too, unless someone gives me a good reason why WDRC left her off their endorsement list.

16th AD Alameda Cty Democratic Central Committee

16th Assembly District is Alameda, Oakland, and Piedmont. You get to vote for 6 people. I don't live in the district, so I'll just pass on others' endorsements:
For more info about both those groups, see my post on the 14th AD.

Hayashi for Alameda Cty Sup. Court Judge, Ofc #9

Dennis Hayashi has the right combination of experience and values to earn my vote. He has 30+ years of professional experience, emphasizing themes of civil rights, social justice, and environmental protection, and he strongly supports an independent judiciary. He has also been endorsed by several groups whose opinions I trust, plus lots more: Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Sierra Club, Green Party, lots of labor unions, the Democratic Party, the Deputy Sherriffs Association, three bar associations, and many more.

I would not support Phil Daly, who appears to be more of a law and order type. He has many endorsements too, so I'm guessing he is Hayashi's toughest competition. I like Victoria Kolakowski's stances on issues too, but she has less experience and many fewer endorsements than Hayashi. I like Hayashi and Kolakowski for different reasons, but Hayashi gets the edge for the wider range of issues and the fact that he is much more likely to beat Daly.

More info:

YES on Alameda Cty Msr F: Utility Users Tax

Yes on F would extend an existing utility users tax for unincorporated areas of Alameda County for another 12 years, raising the tax rate slightly. Revenues have been used for important county services such as libraries, drug abuse education, school violence programs, and even land use planning. This is a necessary tax to find vital government services.