Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nov 2008 Summary of Local Recommendations

Here are my final recommendations on local candidates and measures. These cover everything I vote on in Berkeley (including Special Districts), plus some races in Oakland, El Cerrito, and Marin/Sonoma where I've got good background knowledge.

If you're looking for my recommendations on State Propositions, click here.

Comments are welcome.

Federal & State Races
Barbara Lee for US Congress District 9
Loni Hancock for State Senate 9th District
Nancy Skinner for State Assembly 14th District
Dennis Hayashi for Superior Court Judge #9

East Bay Special Districts
H.E. Christian (Chris) Peeples for AC Transit Director, At-Large
Lynette Sweet for BART Board District 7
Tom Radulovich for BART Board District 9
Whitney Dotson for EBRPD Director, Ward 1
Doug Linney for EBMUD Director, Ward 5

YES YES YES on V V: Keep AC Transit affordable for seniors & youth
YES on WW for East Bay parks

Berkeley Candidates
Tom Bates for Mayor
Darryl Moore for City Council District 2
Terry Doran for City Council District 4
Laurie Capitelli for City Council District 5
- no endorsement for City Council District 6
Rent Board: Drake, Townley, Shelton, Tregub, and Harrison
School Board: Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and probably Priscilla Myrick

Berkeley Measures
YES on FF to Upgrade Berkeley's Branch Libraries
YES on GG for Berkeley's Fire Departments
YES on HH to Raise Berkeley's spending limit
YES on II: Administrative Change
(Tentative) NO on JJ: We need reasonable regulation on Medical Marijuana
NO NO NO on KK: Anti-Transit, Anti-Environment, Anti-Government
YES on LL: A more sensible historic landmarks process

Oakland Candidates + Measures
Rebecca Kaplan for Oakland City Council At-Large
NO on N: Poorly conceived Schools Parcel Tax
NO on OO: No ballot-box budget, even for kids

San Francisco
No on P: Don't mess up the transportation authority

El Cerrito Candidate
Ann Cheng for City Council

YES YES YES on Q for the SMART train

Tom Radulovich

I've known Tom Radulovich for several years in his capacity on the BART Board of Directors. As head of the nonprofit Livable City, he was also on my organization's Board of Directors for a few years.

I almost always agree with Tom's stances on the BART Board. And when I don't, I believe that he's got good reasons. He's smart, strategic, and curious.

His opponent's proposals (BART to Stockton? give me a break) reveal a distressing lack of understanding of basic transit finance.

Please vote for Tom Radulovich for BART Board, District 9.

No on P: Don't mess up the transportation authority

San Francisco currently has two major transportation agencies. The San Francisco Transportation Authority (SFTA) collects and distributes most transportation money, via the city's transportation sales tax and regional/state/federal funds. The Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) was created in 1999 by Prop E to have oversight over Muni and the city's transportation departments.

There's some overlap, but there's also some checks and balances.

I agree with SPUR, whose well-written analysis says this is a bad idea. It could get rid of SFTA staff, who are mostly terrific. It would combine too much into one agency, which has proven to be a problem in both other California counties that have done it (LA and Santa Clara). And MTA is still getting started - give it some time to get itself worked out before monkeying with it.

Others are also concerned that this would concentrate too much power in the Mayor's office. The Mayor currently has most control over MTA, while the Board of Supervisors controls SFTA.

Other Measure P opponents include Sierra Club, SF Bicycle Coalition, SF League of Conservation Voters, SF Bay Guardian, and at least 8 members of the Board of Supervisors. Supporter is Mayor Gavin Newsom.

NO on OO: No ballot-box budget, even for kids

Kids are good. Ballot-box budgeting is bad. This measure says it will help youth in Oakland by setting aside a specific portion of the city's general fund for children's services. It is strongly supported by an organization I work with and respect, Kids First!

But there are two humongous things wrong with Measure OO:
  • One, the city already has the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, a good program that supports public and private youth programs. The City Council recently renewed it through 2020.
  • Two, ballot-box budgeting like this will hurt all the other parts of the city's budget, including many that serve kids, such as libraries and parks. This would be a permanent set-aside for one particular program, regardless of future needs.
Especially in a year when Oakland's trying to figure out how to handle a $42 million budget shortfall, this ballot-box budgeting is a bad idea. It feels good, but it'll have terrible unintended consequences.

I don't live in Oakland, so take this recommendation with that caveat. But I've heard confirmation from enough Oakland residents to strongly recommend that you vote No on OO.

NO on N: Poorly Conceived Parcel Tax for Oakland Schools

You know there's something behind the story when the teacher's union opposes a tax that would provide more funding for schools. There definitely is.

Oakland schools need help, no question about it. But not this kind of help. This is an initiative put on the ballot by the state folks who are currently running Oakland schools, with little consultation with school officials in Oakland. Apparently it was rushed on the ballot, which is why there's no opposing argument.

Measure N would raise the parcel tax by $120/year (a lot to ask for!) and use the money to raise teacher salaries and support charter schools. But the measure is not clear about how they'd choose how much money to which charter schools. And the teacher's union says they don't want the raise (first time I've ever heard that). Here are some articles for more info:
I don't vote in Oakland, so take this recommendation with that grain of salt. But I'd recommend you vote No on N.

Ann Cheng for El Cerrito City Council

My friend and colleague Ann Cheng is running for El Cerrito City Council. She's smart, knows city planning as well as most city staff, and has unimpeachable ethics. She's endorsed by 4 of the 5 current councilmembers, the Sierra Club and organized labor, and a bunch of other elected officials. She grew up in El Cerrito and is now on the Planning Commission.

(Tentative) No on JJ: We need reasonable regulation on Medical Marijuana

Nobody submitted an argument against Measure JJ, so at first I assumed that it is not a big deal. Then I looked for news articles, and found one that reminded me why this is on the ballot. This is a re-submission of Measure R from 2004. That measure was declared defeated by less than 200 votes, but a recount was impossible with the old Dieblod electronic voting machines. So a judge put it back on this ballot.

So I went back and looked at my 2004 analysis. It sounded reasonable, so here's an updated version:

This far-reaching reform would make medical marijuana clubs exempt from city permits, with no limits on how much pot they can have. Measure JJ is a comprehensive reform of the city's approach to medical marijuana. I don't like the "war on drugs" and I understand the need for medical marijuana. It looks like some of Measure JJ's elements make sense (for example, the "Peer Review Committee" sounds sensible). But this is a case of the initiative process allowing the extreme version of reform to go on the ballot, when the best solution would be for the
the City Council to come up with a useful compromise. Measure JJ has two provisions that cause me concern:

First, Measure JJ would say that the city must give a permit without a public hearing to any medical marijuana club that wanted to set up shop in any area zoned commercial. Now I'm not a big fan of public hearings every time a business changes hands or changes use, but this goes farther than I'd like. The city should be able to review and approve the location of a new cannabis club. Measure JJ would take that authority away. Read the City Attorney's analysis, #6.

Second, Measure JJ would eliminate all numeric limits on how much marijuana anyone could posses or grow (except you couldn't have more than 10 plants that were visible from a neighboring property). Read the City Attorney's analysis, #1 & #2. This seems as if it would make it pretty easy to become a major dealer: get yourself licensed as a primary caregiver. Grow unlimited pot. Use a little for medical use, and sell a lot on the open market. This isn't theoretical: I know someone who was trying to do just that a few years ago. If you're a fan of legalization, you might say that sounds fine. But this isn't legalization. The high danger/high profit characteristics of the current drug trade, the aspects that cause the violence and are the best arguments for legalization, remain. Cannabis clubs with unlimited supply would be a great target for armed robberies, as has already happened multiple times at one of the city's existing clubs. We don't need that to be a bigger problem.

So I'm inclined to vote No on JJ, feeling that we need reasonable regulation, not complete exemption from city control. My only hesitation is that there's no ballot argument opposing it.

Counter-arguments welcome. But please, don't accuse me of not feeling the pain of suffering people. I get that. This is about unintended consequences.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Berkeley School Board: Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and probably Priscilla Myrick

You get to vote for up to two of the four candidates for School Board.

I am definitely voting for Beatriz Leyva-Cutler. She sounds competent, has good politics, and has support from a wide range of people. She has been active with, and is supported by, Latinos Unidos de Berkeley, a group helping make sure the voices of Latino parents are raised and heard in Berkeley's schools. She's got a lot of inside knowledge on that as head of BAHIA, a bilingual providing childcare, parent/teacher education, and other services for 2-10 year-old kids serving preschool and school-age kids in and around Berkeley. As a parent of a kid in the English-Spanish immersion program, I see the need for those voices.

I'm less certain of my second vote.

Priscilla Myrick sounds competent. I like that she wants to improve fiscal transparency, served as a Treasurer on the BOSS Board of Directors, and has professional experience as a CFO and Controller. Her endorsements mostly don't speak to me, in some cases because they're not people I would vote for (Dean, Olds) but mostly just because I don't know who they are. Exception: boona cheema of BOSS, whom I respect. Her focus seems to be on academics.

John Selawsky
has been on the board since 2000. He helped pull the board out of its turn-of-the-century fiscal crisis, and he's done a lot, particularly on environmental issues. He's concerned about reducing traffic danger to kids around schools and supported the Safe Routes to Schools program my organization runs. But a friend and trusted informant, who has a kid at Berkeley High, disapproves of Selawsky's support for Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp.

Toya Groves sounds passionate, but her statement sounds too generic and lacking in a clear-eyed analysis of problems. She has shallow support, and I can't find a website or SmartVoter page for her.

I'm torn between Myrick and Selawsky. I'll probably go for Myrick. Comments welcome!

Berkeley Rent Board: Drake, Townley, Shelton, Tregub, and Harrison

You get to vote for up to 5 candidates for Rent Board. The 5 candidates running on a "progressive slate" all have candidate statements that explain their agendas and refer to each other. I particularly like Drake's and Townley's. Shelton's and Tregub's are fine. Harrison needs a copy editor.

The other two candidates are Rogers and Kelly, neither of whom put together a compelling statement. Rogers statement just gives her background, which sounds perfectly fine, but it doesn't say what she believes. Kelly's statement doesn't sound well-enough thought out for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lynette Sweet for BART Board District 7

This is a weird BART district: it includes parts of all three BART counties (SF, Alameda, and Contra Costa). Marshall Walker, a retired urban planner with the Richmond Redevelopment Agency, is challenging Lynette Sweet, the incumbent from San Francisco.

It is hard to find out much else about this race. Neither candidate has a website, neither has any information on the League of Women Voters' smartvoter website, and I can only find one news article. I can't even find candidate statements.

But all you have to do is read each candidates' top priority in that one San Jose Mercury News news article:
  • Sweet says her "top priority is to get more offices, stores, businesses and housing built around train stations so more people can take BART instead of driving."
  • Walker says he "wants to expand BART around the Bay and all the way to Sacramento."
Slam dunk for Sweet. Building homes and shops and places to work around BART will get a lot more riders, and provide a lot more other benefits, than Walker's fantasy. Sorry, but ringing the bay with BART and sending it up to Sacramento is a pipe dream that would cost billions (maybe tens of billions) we don't have. It makes a lot more sense to use what we have. Walker's response makes it clear he doesn't understand BART's finances.

Laurie Capitelli for City Council, District 5, Berkeley

Hahn's vision for downtown is for little change; "low-density, scaled back" is how a Chronicle article puts it. That's not what we need. We need more opportunities for people to live and work in downtown Berkeley. Hahn's got great credentials and vision for the schools - maybe she should run for school board.

Capitelli's vision comes closer to mine, although I'm not sure how strong his commitment is to affordable rental housing (he praises affordable ownership, but we need both). But he seems sensible, paying attention to the nitty-gritty details that make a city work. For example, he's put a priority on safer streets for pedestrians and done good things. And I hear from a trusted source that "he's an intelligent, thoughtful Councilmember who tries to fashion reasonable solutions -- even if I don't always agree with those solutions." I'll take that for District 5.

On endorsements, can anyone explain why both candidates sought endorsements from former State School Superintendent Delaine Eastin? Or why Hahn seems to think she's the most important, listing her first? Capitelli's endorsements include the Sierra Club, Mayor Bates, and five councilmembers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Terry Doran for City Council, District 4, Berkeley

This is the most interesting city council race in Berkeley. This is a completely open seat, as incumbent Dona Spring died earlier this year.

Five people are running, but only two have a real shot: school board member Terry Doran and rent board commissioner Jesse Arreguin. I don't get to vote in this race, but I live across the street from the district.

Arreguin is an aide to councilmember Kriss Worthington, so he obviously understands how the council works. His endorsements include the Sierra Club, two councilmembers, and several individuals I know and respect.

But as I read through his issues page, I had some concerns. The city is making real progress on environmental issues: look at the solar financing program. Supply and demand does operate in the housing market: if there are more homes in places where many people want to live, they will be more affordable. Why do you think homes are so expensive in the Bay Area? He calls Berkeley's recent approach to affordable housing a "horrible mistake." But that approach has created many more homes that people of all incomes can afford. And he opposes Measure LL, which sealed the deal for me.

Doran has been a good school board member for several years, where he was a good voice for equity. After leaving the School Board in 2006, he's been on the zoning board and the committee developing the downtown area plan. Like Arreguin, he knows the players and how to get things done. He's also got lots of endorsements: Mayor Bates plus 6 of 8 councilmembers and again, a bunch of people I know and respect.

On development issues, I like his stances better than Arreguin's. Doran gets that Berkeley's recipe for affordable housing needs to be a combination of tenant protections for existing renters plus enough new homes that our children can find places to live (maybe that has something to do with the fact that 4 generations of his family live in the same neighborhood!). On the zoning board, he voted to support the Trader Joe's at MLK and University and new homes along transit corridors, including many in his district.

I encourage you to vote for Terry Doran for City Council in District 4.

Darryl Moore for City Council, District 2, Berkeley

I voted for Darryl Moore in 2004 and I'm voting for him again. He's done a fine job and his opponent (Jon Crowder) is no threat.

Tom Bates for Mayor, Berkeley

Tom Bates has done a good job. Bates has gotten the City Council to work together, at least a lot better than it used to (evidence: 6 of 8 Councilmembers have endorsed him). And despite incessant carping by some, the city is getting things done: downtown's better off and has plans to get even better, we're building more homes that people of all incomes can afford, a financing plan to help people go solar, and more.

Shirley Dean brings no new ideas. She has no new support - in fact much less than when she lost to Bates in 2002. She seems out of touch with a city she led for 8 years.

If you want to learn more, check out their entries on the LWV website.

YES on LL for a more rational historic landmarks process

This is another thing that should not be on the ballot, but is because a few disgruntled people are unhappy with the result of a long public process (kind of like Measure KK). Since they couldn't win in that process, they collected signatures to force this onto the ballot.

If you want a nonpartisan history, read the Pros & Cons information by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters (scroll to end of file). Short story is that if we vote Yes, we approve the results of a 6-year public process. If we vote No, we go back to an ordinance passed in 1974 that now conflicts with state law.

I'm voting Yes. The new ordinance creates reasonable timelines and criteria for decisions by the Landmarks Commission. It will cut down on unhappy neighbors suddenly deciding that the shack next door deserves to be protected as a historic "structure of merit," just because they don't like the owner's plans to change the property.

Berkeley has lots of wonderful historic buildings, and we protect them. This new ordinance will not threaten them. It will simply restore some reason and balance to the process.

Oh, and don't be taken in by the opponents claim to being "green." They don't seem to understand (or maybe not care) that there isn't enough land for us all to live in the same buildings Berkeley had in 1920. We need some new ones so that more people can live close to their jobs or school or transit lines. Sometimes that means knocking down an old building. The new building can be a lot greener than the old one, particularly when you consider how many people live in it and how they get around.

Please vote Yes on LL.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

YES on WW for East Bay Parks

Measure WW is a 20 year extension of the existing Measure AA, which was approved by voters in 1988. Measure AA is a fee on property of less than $10 per $100K of assessed value. Over its 20 year life, the existing measure has funded the acquisition of 34,000 acres of land (creating 17 new regional parks and recreation facilities), added over 100 miles of trails, and provided $60 million for 235 neighborhood recreation projects. If approved by the voters, Measure WW will will generate an additional $500 million for additional acquisitions and infrastructure projects in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties -- without raising anyone's taxes. With Alameda and Contra Costa Counties' populations continuing to grow, land preservation must keep pace with development. Open spaces for wildlife and other natural resources as well as lands for the active and passive recreational pursuits are necessary in order to maintain the quality of life for future generations.

My organization has endorsed Measure WW. Check out the campaign website for a complete list of endorsements and a list of what projects the measure will fund.

Doug Linney for EBMUD Director Ward 5

I've known Doug Linney for 9 or 10 yearsin his capacity as a campaign consultant who often helps environmental and other public interest groups to win ballot measures or legislation. He's been effective at that for 30 years and he's been effective on the EBMUD Board for the past 8 years. He deserves re-election and should win easily.

His opponent is Susi Ostlund. Her website gives no indication that she's up for the job (although she's got a cool yellow bike).

YES on Marin/Sonoma Measure Q for SMART train

Measure Q, on the November 2008 ballot in both Sonoma and Marin counties, would enact a 20-year ¼-cent sales tax to help fund the proposed SMART rail and trail project. The SMART project would build a 70-mile commuter train on existing rail right-of-way between Cloverdale in Sonoma County to the Larkspur ferry in Marin County. The project also includes a 70-mile bicycling and walking trail within/adjacent to the rail corridor.

SMART is a great opportunity to combat global warming and reinforce the vitality of the great downtowns along the Hwy 101 corridor.

To pass, Measure Q must be approved by 2/3 of the voters in the SMART district, which encompasses Marin and Sonoma counties. SMART barely missed passing in 2006 (it got 65.3%, just shy of the 66.7% required), with not enough support in Marin. If you know people in Marin (or Sonoma), please pass this on!!

More information is at

Dennis Hayashi for Superior Court Judge #9

This is a runoff of a June primary.

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. Here's a sampling of his endorsements (some of whom groups whose opinions I trust): Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Sierra Club, lots of labor unions, the Democratic Party, the Deputy Sherriffs Association, three bar associations, and many more.

I oppose Phil Daly, who is much more of a straight law-and-order type (endorsements from police associations but not bar associations, for example).

Rebecca Kaplan for Oakland At Large Councilmember

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 six 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 connects with people. These are also the same reasons my organization, the Transportation and Land Use Coalition, hired her as a policy advocate for a one-year campaign in 2001. She was incredibly effective.

She also has experience 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.

I don't know as much about Kerry Hamill - nor do many voters, because she hasn't done too many speaking engagements. She used to work for Perata, now is a PR person for BART (two transit people in the same race!) and is currently an Oakland School Board member. But from what I can find, Kaplan is by far the better candidate.

For some examples of others who have looked at this race, see:

YES on V V: Keep AC Transit Affordable for Seniors & Youth

More people are riding buses. But fuel costs and health costs are up, and Governor Schwarzenegger has consistently cut state funding for public transit. AC Transit needs to balance its budget.

When AC Transit's board started thinking about raising fares this spring, our organization and allies appealed to them to try to raise new money instead. To their credit, the AC Transit Board (including Chris Peeples, also on the ballot) agreed to take the risk.

V V would take an existing parcel tax that already helps pay for AC Transit's services and renew, extend, and raise it. The new tax would be $4/month ($48/year) higher than the current one.

Passing V V will keep AC Transit affordable, especially for seniors and youth who depend on buses the most. It's a public good in all sorts of ways: helps people in need, reduces energy use, and combats global warming.

NO NO NO on KK: Anti-Transit, Anti-Environment, Anti-Government

Berkeley sometimes puts one-of-a-kind measures on the ballot. Some are innovative and great. Some are truly terrible ideas. This is one of the terrible ones.

If passed, Measure KK would require a citywide vote for any proposal for transit-only or HOV lanes. It is anti-transit, anti-environment, and anti-government.

Anti-Transit: KK's primary goal is to stop the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project proposed to connect Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro. Opponents have not been able to win what they want in the dozens (hundreds?) of public meetings so far, so they're trying this ballot measure.

BRT is a great idea for Berkeley and the East Bay. I want to ride a bus that doesn't have to slog through traffic from downtown Berkeley to downtown Oakland. Students will flock to quicker service that helps them get to UC and Berkeley City College. It will give more people a better alternative to driving. That's why my organization has been supporting some version of this idea for nearly all of the 10 years I've been working as a transit advocate.

Anti-Environment: Half of the greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area come from transportation. We need to improve local mass transit. It is stupid that a bus carrying 40, or even 10 or 15, people has to sit in traffic hemmed in by cars with one or two people each. And let's confront reality: some of the changes that make it easier to get around on transit will also make it harder for people to get around in a car. If we want to combat global warming, business as usual is not going to work.

Anti-Democratic: Measure KK would add an expensive and unnecessary hurdle to an already complex process that has LOTS of public involvement. Berkeley and the whole BRT process has already had dozens - maybe hundreds - of public meetings, and there will be many more. That involvement has already changed the project a lot, and it will change more before it is (hopefully) approved.

Because it would add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of developing a proposal like this, Measure KK would reduce the amount of time and attention a city, or a transit district, could put to this type of process. So we'd lose negotiation and compromise and get a single up-down vote. If you want to cripple our government, this seems like a good idea. If you want government to work, it is a terrible idea.

Please join me in voting NO on KK. If you want more info:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Yes on II: Administrative Change

This is a small administrative change, allowing the city to take extra time to finish redistricting after a census. Nobody argued against it.

YES on HH to Raise Berkeley's spending limit

It is really dumb that we have to vote on this. If a city spends more money than in 1986-87 (adjusted for inflation), then every four years we have to vote to allow the city to keep spending money, even if that increase is because we voted for tax increases in the meantime. You can thank the #%$$%# Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association for this stupid waste of time and resources.

BTW - look at the names of the people who signed the argument opposing HH. Now look at the arguments against FF and GG and for KK - many of the same folks. It seems like they're big fans of Howard Jarvis and Prop 13, the forces who have helped cripple our state budgeting process and thus our cities' and schools' budgets.

YES on GG for Berkeley's Fire Department

Fire and paramedic services are a public good. I benefit when they put out other people's fires and prevent the flames from spreading.

Opponents of GG are the same crew opposing other taxes and supportive projects the city is trying to do. Their argument asserts that the city is going in completely the wrong direction. I disagree, so I don't trust that their ballot arguments have accurate information.

As with Measure FF, it comes down to priorities. Are you willing to spend about $78 per year (average for a 1900 s.f. home) to get better fire and paramedic services? I am.

YES on FF to Upgrade Berkeley's Branch Libraries

My family uses Berkeley libraries a lot. And even if we didn't, libraries are a public good: my life is better when lots of people of all incomes have free access to books. I'm most familiar with the West and South branch libraries (including the Tool Lending library, such a cool thing!). They are not decrepit, but they could definitely use an upgrade.

So I was ready to vote yes, but I figured I should consider the opposing arguments.

The opponents claim that many people from outside Berkeley use the library may be true, but so what? Do these opponents want to charge people to use the library if they can't prove Berkeley residency? I've used libraries in a dozen cities while I've lived in Berkeley. Kim's aunt (from San Mateo) often take our kids to the library when she babysits. That's what it means to be a public good.

I might have been more receptive to the opponents' concerns about ongoing growth in library spending. But I don't trust anything they say: see my writeup of measure HH for an explanation.

Since this bond carries a property tax increase with it, it is financially responsible from a budgeting perspective and presents you with a clear choice:

If you think improving the branch libraries is worth about $27/year (more if your house is worth more), join me and Vote YES on FF. If not, vote no with a clear conscience. But don't use the ballot arguments as justification.

Dotson for EBRPD Director Ward 1

I'm familiar with both Norm LaForce and Whitney Dotson through my work.

I met Dotson when we both worked for Contra Costa Health Services, where he gained respect for helping develop the North Richmond Center for Health. Our paths have crossed a few times since then. He would bring a strong interest in connecting the parks district to low-income neighborhoods, such as the ones where he has been so involved in Richmond. He would bring connections to public health and to getting youth involved. He would be the only African-American on the parks district board. And from my experience, he works well with other people.

LaForce has been very active and had leadership roles in the Sierra Club. I know him mostly by reputation, but we've crossed paths some. He is more of a classic environmentalist, focused on protecting open space. His legal skills, experience developing the fire management program, and previous experience as an elected official (in El Cerrito) would be helpful. But I would worry a bit that his style - a bit brusque and abrasive for my taste - could hamper his effectiveness on the board.

I like Dotson more on issues and style, LaForce more for administrative and technical experience. I plan to vote for Dotson, but I could be convinced otherwise.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No on 6: No ballot-box budgeting for new criminal justice programs

This is wrong on so many counts.

Prop 6 is way too costly: Ballot-box budgeting is the reason California's budget is such a mess. This initiative would lock in specific funding amounts for specific programs (almost $1 billion a year and rising!), and then require that the funding levels go up every year. But there's no revenues identified. That will further cripple the state's ability to fund education, health care, and other vital services. See the LA Times editorial.

Prop 6 funds ineffective and unproven programs. For example, Prop 6 would give $100 million a year to a program the Legislative Analyst's Office recommended cutting because it has "no definable goals or performance objectives" (according to the San Jose Mercury News).

Prop 6 will waste people's lives (and taxpayer money) on failed criminal justice strategies. Mandatory sentences have filled California's prisons beyond the bursting point, despite the fact that we've built prisons like crazy. Prop 6 would fill them further. A federal court has already taken over the overburdened prison medical system.

Prop 6 is dangerous. It would change existing law so more children - as young as 14 years old - would be tried as adults and relegated to the criminal justice system. That's bad, since the NY Times tells us that "federally backed studies that show that making it easier to try juveniles as adults causes more crime, not less."

Lots of neighborhoods need help with crime. Prop 6 will not help.

Please vote No on 6. Learn more from the League of Women Voters or find out how you can help the No on 6 campaign.

NO on 9: A Bad Constitutional Amendment

The first red flag is that Prop 9 is a constitutional amendment. If it has any unintended consequences, changing it later would require a 3/4 vote of the legislature (more than passing the state budget!). No matter how bad the problem, it would probably never get fixed. So you should only vote for this if you're confident it is perfect.

Prop 9 doesn't need to be passed by initiative. Crime victims get very respectful hearing in the state legislature. So they don't need to pass this as a constitutional amendment, by initiative. They could get what they want through the legislature, unless it is really crazy.

Prop 9 repeats a lot of laws already on the books in California. That's not a huge harm, but it usually indicates an initiative writer who doesn't know what they're doing or is trying to hide something by combining it with a bunch of provisions people will agree with. Notably, most of the "victims' rights" cited by proponents already exist in state law. So why pass a constitutional amendment for them? No good reason.

Prop 9 "fixes" problems that don't exist. California's parole system is already very strict.
Prop 9 will further overload our prison system. California prisons are already so overcrowded, we have federal judges taking over the prison medical system. We've already got mandatory sentences and lots of other limits on any discretion in the criminal justice system. Let's not make it worse.

If there are any merits to this measure, they should go through the legislature, because we won't be able to clean up all the mistakes in this one.

Check out what others think:
Vote NO on 9 to stop a bad constitutional amendment.

Chris Peeples for AC Transit Director, At-Large

I've worked with both candidates (Chris Peeples and Joyce Roy) for all of the 10 years I've worked as an advocate for better mass transit. Joyce was on my organization's Steering Committee and she has represented a couple of organizations as members of our coalition. Chris has been a frequent ally in campaigns, some of which have supported AC Transit and some of which have tried to influence the transit agency. I know and respect them both.

I am definitely voting for Chris Peeples. He has been consistently effective. He understands how to work with people - elected officials, agencies, businesses, and advocates - to get good bus service on the street for a reasonable fare. He's consistently voted for the interests of people who depend on the bus for everyday transportation, and he is also out in front on several green initiatives.

Joyce Roy is passionate and is a good person, but I don't think she would do as good a job. I think Peeples is at least as good, if not better, on the issues, and definitely better on competence.

There's a reason that Peeples is endorsed by 21 dozen groups and hundreds of individuals, while Roy is endorsed by 3 groups and 9 individuals (as of Oct 12th for both - for Joyce's, you have to click on the "Endorsements" button on the left of her website).

If you want more details, feel free to email me separately.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NO on 7: Don't Set Energy Policy by Initiative

Could we please stop trying to legislate complex policy with a poorly-crafted ballot initiative?

Prop 7 has a noble goal, getting California to have more renewable energy. But it completely fails on execution.

A little background: Before I got into the transportation world, I spent six years working and studying energy efficiency and renewables. At UC Berkeley's Energy & Resources Group (ERG), I knew lots of people deeply involved in debates on California energy policy. They often disagreed. But all the ERGies I know, and all the groups who advocate for good energy policy, say Prop 7 is terribly written and would make matters worse, not better.

Prop 7 will:
  • force small renewable energy companies out of the market;
  • allow power providers to always charge a 10% premium above the market price, stifling competition; and
  • fundamentally mess up the emerging market for renewable energy.
Check out the list of opponents to Prop 10: every major statewide environmental group, consumer advocates, renewable energy producers, taxpayer groups, League of Women Voters, more chambers of commerce than I can count.

Vote NO on 7: don't set energy policy by initiative.

NO on 10: Oilman's giveaway pretending to be "green" measure

Prop 10 masquerades as a "green" measure, but it is really self-serving giveaway sponsored by a billionaire Texas oilman. Don't believe the hype.

Prop 10 subsidizes the wrong things. We need more renewable energy and we need to fuel our vehicles differently. But the biggest piece here is a state giveaway to Prop 10's sponsor, Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens (his real name, not a parody of the Dukes of Hazzard), to allow his company to build lots of natural gas fueling stations. The measure picks a technology (natural gas), rather than picking an outcome (lower energy use or reduced greenhouse gas emissions).

Prop 10 is a bad use of bonds. Has anyone noticed that California's budget is a bit of a mess? Prop 10 would make it worse. It would float $5 billion in bonds and use the majority of the money to give incentives to buy certain kinds of cars and trucks. But most of those vehicles will wear out long before the 30-year bonds are paid off! That's really stupid budgeting.

If it didn't have these two fatal flaws, it could be interesting to consider whether and how much we should invest in natural gas alternative fuels as a bridge to future renewables. And to debate whether we should promote better vehicles through rebates or taxes. But these two humongous flaws are good enough reason for Prop 10 to be opposed by a wide variety of groups.

Vote NO on 10.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No on 8: Don't take away my sister's rights

I love Kim. We're married. My sister Emily loves Felicia. They're married.

Prop 8 would take away the rights of same-sex couples, such as my sister and new sister-in-law, to get married. But it would leave me, and other opposite-sex couples, with my rights. That is just plain not fair.

Prop 8's proponents have recently been filling the airwaves with false ads. Don't be fooled. The spring court decision recognizing the right to marriage has no affect on teaching children in our schools and will not affect our religions or religious institutions in any way.

California law specifically says that no child can be forced to be taught anything about health and family issues at school. And the spring court decision specifically said that “no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples." For details, see a Sacramento Bee piece or rebuttals from the No on 8 campaign.

But Prop 8 would hurt families. Both of my sons have playmates who have two moms or two dads. Those families deserve the same rights my family has.

No one can tell you which church to attend, or what you can and cannot say. And no one should be able to tell you whom you can marry.

My wife and I got married to make a lifetime commitment to each other. And marriage gives us the right and responsibility for crucial medical decisions in an emergency. Please do not deny my sister that same security, dignity and respect.

Please join me in voting No on Prop 8 -- it's about fairness.

Please help defeat Prop 8. You can:

NO on 4: No means No. No to Legislating Family Communication

We voted No in 2005 and 2006. Now we have to vote No again. This is another attack by a millionaire anti-abortion zealot who has done little to prevent teen pregnancy or help pregnant teens. California has made great progress reducing teen pregnancy. Most girls do talk to their parents. A law for the rest simply won't work. There really are teenagers who have families who may disown or harm their daughter for getting pregnant in the first place.

This time around, the initiative's authors added a clause that allows civil lawsuits against doctors who perform unauthorized abortions. That's just what we need: to put more lawsuits in our health care system.

Please join the California Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, League of Women Voters, the Council of Churches, me, and hundreds of others. For a very detailed description, see the LWV pro/con writeup.

Vote No on 4, and stop a millionaire from trying (again and again) to legislate how families communicate. I also encourage you to donate or volunteer to help the campaign - the latest polls show it has a real chance of passing this time around.

Monday, October 13, 2008

YES on 1A: High Speed Trains to Connect California and Combat Global Warming

This is almost a no-brainer. This $9.95 billion bond would partially fund a high-speed train between LA and San Francisco, with extensions to Sacramento and San Diego, at a total cost of about $45 billion (including the extensions).

The organization I work for has been working on California's high-speed train for several years, and this summer we finally won enough changes in the plan to endorse Prop 1A.

California desperately needs a better transportation system, especially to connect southern and northern California. Our current options are widening I-5/Hwy 99 and building LOTS more airports and runways. That would be a greenhouse gas catastrophe.

The high-speed train will finally be a green and convenient connection, using much less energy and actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions than the alternatives. To toot our own horn, that's in part because we won a commitment, written into Prop 1A, that the trains will run on 100% renewable power.

And for you planning wonks, the train stations in the central valley are ALL in their downtown areas, not the edge of town, which will help those fast-growing cities focus on revitalizing their downtown areas instead of paving over ALL our prime farmland.

Why "almost" a no-brainer?

It's a bond that does not raise taxes. I'm generally not a fan of bonds (pun intended) because of their impact on the state budget. But this is one of the few cases where bonds make sense: huge capital project that will take years to complete and needs a big down payment of a public investment.

Fortunately, as the League of Women Voters says, "This revised proposition addresses concerns about cost and financial uncertainties by requiring a new business plan, peer review, and other accountability provisions, and it allows bond funds to be used for the other segments if there is no negative impact on the first phase." Bond money can only be used after private and federal dollars that provide a more than two to one match for state dollars.

If you're still not sure, check out the humongous list of supporters.

Vote Yes on 1A to build a high-speed train that will connect California, ease congestion, and combat global warming.