Tuesday, October 30, 2012

November 2012 Summary of Recommendations

Here's my summary of recommendations for the November 2012 election. I've tried my best to put these in the order they'll appear on your ballot, based on how they show up in mine. If there's a race missing that you want more info on, post a comment!!

Federal & State
  • President, Senator, Congress, State Senate & Assembly: I'm voting the Democratic ticket. I like some of them (Obama, Lee, Hancock, Skinner) more than others (Feinstein).They're all going to win California or their respective districts, so I won't spend any time here debating their relative merits.
Nonpartisan Offices
State Propositions
Most important to me are Yes on 30 (fix the budget!), No on 32 (don't silence our voices), and Yes on 34 (replace the death penalty with justice that works!). Here's the full summary:
  • Yes on 30: Temporary State Budget Fix
  • No on 31:  Poorly Worked-Out Budget Reform
  • No on 32: Don't Silence Our Voices
  • No on 33: Billionaire #1: Manipulating the Insurance Market
  • Yes on 34: Justice That Works
  • No on 35: Human Trafficking Penalties
  • Yes on 36: Reform Three Strikes Law
  • Yes on 37: Support our Right to Know What We Eat
  • No on 38: Billionaire #2 with inadequate education funding
  • Yes on 39: Close Out-of-State Corporate Tax Loophole
  • Yes on 40: Approve Redistricting by Citizens Commission
Alameda County Measures:
City Nonpartisan Offices:
City of Berkeley Measures (I put these all together in one long post)
  • Yes on M: Berkeley Streets & Watershed Bond
  • Yes on N & O: Berkeley Pools Bond & Parcel Tax
  • Yes on P: Raise Gann Limit
  • Yes on Q: Modernize language for Utility Users Tax
  • Yes on R: Rational Redistricting
  • No on S: Wrong solution to a real nuisance
  • Yes on T: Approve city's Rezoning for West Berkeley
  • No on U: the Berkeley political gridlock ordinance
  • No on V: More gridlock, financial reporting style

Oakland City Council District 1: Raya #1, Lemley #2, Kalb #3

This is an interesting race. North Oakland's District 1 has been Jane Brunner's seat for 16 years. She's stepping down to run for City Attorney, so it is an open seat. There are seven candidates, no obvious front-runner, and a lot of good ideas from good people. I don't get to vote in this race, but if I did, here's the three I would vote for, using the ranked-choice voting to the limit. I think any of these candidates would be a good councilmember and I'd look forward to working with them. See the bottom of this post for a summary of some links about the whole race.

#1 Richard Raya: Richard is a smart guy with a long track record in North Oakland and in pushing for effective change. He's got great background as a budget analyst, working both in local government and within public interest groups influencing local and state governments. He has a compelling personal story: parents were farmworkers, he got his life on track through California schools, and he's raised two sons (partially as a single dad). He is my kind of environmentalist: he wants to protect the environment and make sure that low-income families and people of color, who often are hurt the most by environmental problems, benefit from the solutions. He has good ideas and expertise on crime-prevention ("Operation Ceasefire" has been effective in other cities -- he wants to bring it to Oakland). He was a PTA President. And his spouse (Marisa Raya) is a smart urban planner. Full disclosure: Richard sits on the Board of TransForm, the organization where I've worked for 14 years. He brings a great combination of that green eyeshade budget-watching mentality as well as sound analysis and a great heart for the political decisions.

#2 Amy Lemley: Amy is another smart candidate, the only woman in the race (what's up with that!), and has a very strong background on youth and schools. She started First Place for Youth, a nonprofit that finds affordable housing for youth out of foster care. She brings a keen analytical eye to a wide variety of policy issues and she's got strong training in policy analysis. Like Richard, she's got a smart spouse (Justin Horner), Brunner's former chief of staff and a savvy environmental advocate. Full disclosure: I have lots of friends and colleagues who are backing Amy.

#3 Dan Kalb: yet another really smart candidate (3 for 3!). Dan is an experienced public interest and environmental advocate, a policy analyst, community service volunteer, and a progressive reformer. Most of his professional experience is on environmental issues (Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club), and a lot of that was at the state level. But he also has experience bringing those concerns down to the local level, and he wants to make Oakland a hub for clean tech. Full disclosure: I have served on the Board of the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay for the past few years (Dan stepped down when he began his run for this seat), and I've known him as a committed environmentalist through that.

If you want more info, here's a few other resources:

Yes on 39: Close Out-of-State Corporate Tax Loophole

This one is complicated but definitely worth support.

First, it does one thing that is absolutely positive: it closes a loophole that costs California $1 billion/year from out-of-state corporations. There's no question that loophole should be closed -- the loophole serves no public policy purpose, it just costs us money. The loophole got into the 2009 budget deal and it allows out-of-state corporations to choose between two different ways of calculating what taxes they owe the state. Crazily, they can game the system by switching back and forth each year. The LAO estimates that costs us $1 billion per year. So half of this measure is completely great. And it appears to be something that needs to go through the initiative process: there have been several attempts to fix this in the Legislature, but they haven't been able to get past the 2/3 requirement (arrgh!).

On the spending side, it is mostly good. For the first five years, Prop 39 would put about half the money towards the clean energy projects. The other half, and all the money beyond the first five years, goes towards the state's General Fund (which desperately needs the money -- see Prop 30). I like clean energy, but I'm not thrilled by ballot-box budgeting. That is why I greatly appreciate that Prop 39 only puts that clean energy spending in place for 5 years.

Close a stupid loophole, use half the money for probably-good stuff (clean energy) and the other half for definitely-good (General Fund), and don't tie our hands with permanent spending requirements in the future. Yes on 39.

If you want details, see the California Choices website on Prop 39, including their in-depth info.
If you want super-gory details, see the California Budget Project's brief on Prop 39.
And see the Yes on 39 website for campaign info.

Yes on 37: Support our Right to Know What We Eat

When I finally sat down to read the facts, this is a pretty easy one. Prop 37 simply requires that if food is made from plants or animals which have had their genetic material altered, they must be labelled as "Genetically Engineered." The measure would also prohibit marketing genetically engineered food as "natural". That seems pretty simple. It works in dozens of other countries around the world. It doesn't ban any sales of any foods. It doesn't increase costs (ok, ok, Kellogg's probably has to revise their cereal boxes, but I'm not too worried about that). Right to know is an American value.

This is one where I've really seen how much influence advertising can have. As I've watched the baseball playoffs over the past few weeks, I've seen hundreds of the ads engineered by Monsanto and the other agri-businesses who seem to be afraid to let the public know what's in their food. And the ads were effective -- they got me to question my support. But now that I actually read the measure and some of the analyses, I'm voting Yes on 37. I particularly appreciate that the initiative has a rational approach to how it should be implemented: it puts the CA Department of Public Health in charge of regulating the labeling requirements.

If you're wondering -- as I was -- about the no campaigns claims about exemptions, then you might find it useful to read this letter to the editor in the Napa Valley Register or a portion of this LA Times article about the impact of the opponents' advertising. Basically, the exemptions are there to keep Prop 37 focused on a single-subject and are in line with how other countries implement their labeling requirements.

For more info, check out the non-partisan California Choices website: pro/con, in-depth info.
You can also find info at the Yes on 37 campaign website.

Yes on 40: Approve Redistricting by Citizens Commission

This is an easy one. We approved Proposition 11 in 2008 to reform how California does redistricting. The independent Citizens Redistricting Commission did their difficult work and set new districts. Part of the Republican Party has been trying to challenge a few of the State Senate districts. They were trying to use this initiative to influence the CA Supreme Court's hearing of their case; they failed. They've since decided to stop their campaign to oppose the districts Prop 40, but we still have to vote for it because they qualified it for the ballot.

Vote YES on 40 to retain the new State Senate districts that were put in place by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.If you're still confused, here's the League of Women Voters' summary.

No on 38: Billionaire #2 with inadequate education funding

Billionaire iniative #2. This one is from Molly Munger, whose good intentions are trying to save funding for California's schools. Prop 38 would increase income taxes across the board (more on higher-income, less on lower-income, but still raises across the board) and use all the funding for K-12 education. Nothing for community colleges or universities, no help for the rest of the state budget. That's ballot-box budgeting (bad), but it is for schools (good). In another year, I might be voting for this.

But if Prop 38 passes and gets more votes than Prop 30, its provisions would go into effect and Prop 30's would not. That means that we'd still have the huge potential cuts to everything besides K-12 education. Sorry, but I think community colleges and mental health services and all the other functions of state government are also important.

Yes on 36: Reform Three Strikes Law

California's "three strikes" law sends people to prison for life even when their third offense is a petty theft or extremely minor drug possession. If you're concerned about safety, check out the profiles in injustice. Most of the inmates serving life sentences under the Three Strikes were sentenced for non-violent third-strike crimes; there are over 3500 people serving life sentences for non-serious, non-violent crimes. That is nutty. It is a tremendous waste of human potential. And it is tremendously unfair -- overwhelmingly it is young Black and Latino men who are pushed into California's overcrowded prisons. I would like much more dramatic reform, but at least Prop 36 will be a step in the right direction.    

No on 35: Human Trafficking Penalties

Human trafficking is bad. But Prop 35 is not a good solution. It increases penalties for trafficking, but that's not the problem. Deterrence happens when there's an effective combination of arrest, prosecution, and penalty. The weak links now are the arrests and prosecution. Often the victims of trafficking are afraid to come forward. And it looks Prop 35 would make that even worse, as it has provisions that would punish sex workers, some of the very people it purports to protect (and, notably, the people who are already easiest to arrest and prosecute).

Yes on 34: Justice that Works

We need justice that works. The death penalty in California does not work. Prop 34 is a rational reform written by very smart, progressive people who thought through the ramifications and figured out how to write a reform law that will work. Under Prop 34, we would replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole, as the maximum punishment for murder. This will save money ($130 million/year according to the LAO). Prop 34 would also put some of that freed-up money towards more effective justice: the investigation and unsolved rape and murder cases. That's a good thing.

Prop 34 will mean that California will stop running the risk of executing an innocent person. I'm sure you've heard of the hundreds of people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit. Texas has already executed at least two people who have since been demonstrated, by independent analyses, to have been innocent. California has had many people on death row who were later proved to be innocent. We cannot continue to take that risk.

Prop 34 will have California join with others states -- Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey -- that have replace the death penalty with life without parole.

If you want to know more, check out the campaign. See the widespread support: the former warden of San Quentin, innumerable law enforcement personnel, gobs of media outlets, League of Women Voters, Democratic Party, groups working with low-income and immigrant communities, and many more.

Support justice that works, vote Yes on 34.

No on 33: Bad Billionaire #1: Manipulating the Insurance Market

Oy! Enough with the billionaire insurance executive continually trying to manipulate the car insurance market. Prop 33 is a retread of Prop 17 that we voted down two years ago. I didn't like it then, I don't like it now. As in 2010, this is put on the ballot by the billionaire head of Mercury Insurance Company. It would undo a provision of Prop 103, something we all passed 24 years ago, that disallows insurance companies from charging higher premiums because of a lapse in coverage. People can have lapses in coverage for all sorts of reasons -- it doesn't mean they are less safe drivers. The coalition against Prop 33 is widespread: consumer watchdogs, seniors, Democrats, labor, lotsa newspapers. Check out the campaign if you want more info. 

No on 31: Poorly Worked-Out Budget Reform

Dang, here's another poorly written attempt to reform California's budget process -- another proof of the proverb that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Prop 31 has some good ideas that might make sense if California didn't have the 2/3 requirement for raising new revenues and if we didn't have such a wacky initiative process. There are some just-plain good ideas: two-year budget, publishing bills in print before voting on them. Then there's those 'road to hell' ideas: 'pay as you go' makes sense if the rest of the budget rules are balanced, but our system isn't. Raising revenues requires a 2/3 vote while cutting spending doesn't. Even worse, Prop 31 does nothing to reform the state's out-of-control initiative process (in fact, it encourages more and more ballot-box budgeting), which keeps tying the budget more and more in knots.

This is too bad; the state needs good budget reform. The people originally behind Prop 31 are good people, California Forward. But the law is written poorly, it ignores too much about what is already wrong with California, and it would make the budget battles come out even worse for education, the environment, and for low-income families. It is a constitutional amendment, so the only way to fix it would be another initiative. Let's send the policy folks back to the drawing board to write a better reform.

That's why it has widespread opposition from the League of Women Voters, Democratic Party, teachers, environmental groups, and many more. Check out the 'No on 31' campaign for more info.

No on 32: Don't Silence Our Voices

This is another round of conservative attempts to change the rules of democracy to (even more) favor power based on wealth instead of power based on people.We rejected the last two attempts, let's reject this one too. This would change the rules to dramatically reduce unions' ability to speak out for their members, while allowing wealthy individuals to continue to have their outsized influence through "SuperPACs." Vote no; tell your friends; support the campaign.

Yes on 30: Temporary State Budget Fix

Tax the rich (>$250k/yr) for seven years. Tax everyone (sales tax) for four. Send money to K-12 schools and community colleges. Guarantee funding for public safety as part of the mammoth budget fix (aka 'realignment') passed earlier this year. This is only a temporary budget fix, but it is a much better fix than Governor Schwarzenegger ever mustered. If it doesn't pass, there's $6 billion in cuts definitely planned, especially to schools, and probably more would come after that. If it does pass, we still have to do structural reform of our budget. But at least we have a little breathing room.

For more info or to help out, see website by my favorite 'Yes on 30' group (combination of teachers, public sector workers, faith-based groups, plus groups organizing in low-income and immigrant communities). 

Oakland City Council District 7: Sheryl Walton

I've known Sheryl Walton since 1997. I met her when she was a very effective organizer for the "Healthy Neighborhoods Project" run by the Contra Costa health department. She connects with people, she's a champion for low-income families, and she's raised her son in East Oakland. She's smart, she knows where to go for good advice.

She would be a significant improvement on the incumbent, Larry Reid. Mr. Reid has championed the $500 million Oakland Airport Connector boondoggle. In the forums where I have seen him represent Oakland, he sometimes simply does not show up, leaving Oakland without effective representation on county entities. 

Ms. Walton does have some good endorsements, such as the Sierra Club, Alameda County Central Labor Council, and Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club. Since Mr. Reid has been in office for 15 years, she has a steep uphill battle to unseat him. 

Oakland City Council At-Large: Rebecca Kaplan

I'm a big fan of Rebecca Kaplan. I've known her since I started being involved in politics in the East Bay, and I've appreciated working with her as a colleague and an ally ever since. I endorsed her in 2008 when she won this seat: "she is smart, politically savvy, and 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." She's also hilarious. I worked with her as a colleague for a year back in 2001, and she was a terrific organizer and policy advocate. She's got a great vision for the city: green, just, inclusive, vibrant, and safe. I was delighted when she won in 2008.

I hope she can survive the challenge from longtime Oakland political heavyweight Ignacio de la Fuente. This is a bit odd -- he's giving up his safe seat in the Fruitvale to run for this at-large seat. As my friend Nathan Landau says, "De La Fuente offers wheeling and dealing, support for ineffective and civil liberties busting gang injunctions, and hostility to city employee labor, even though he is a union official himself."

Monday, October 29, 2012

District 5 (Thousand Oaks): Laurie Capitelli

This is a rematch of the 2008 race, in which Laurie Capitelli beat challenger Sophie Hahn by about 5% of the vote. I endorsed Capitelli then and I was unimpressed by Hahn. In the past four years, I've become more confident that was the right choice. I had a chance to work with Mr. Capitelli very closely on Measure B1.  He proved himself to be a smart analyst, savvy political strategist, and a loyal ally. He fought hard for more funding for public transit and bicycle-pedestrian safety. In part due to his willingness to go to bat against suburban interests, we won changes that made it a better measure (I can't help but point out that this was in marked contrast to Berkeley's other rep, mayoral candidate Kriss Worthington, who counseled us and others to be happy with what we got and not rock the boat -- but I digress). I know I won't agree with Capitelli on everything (for example, he supports Measure S). But I trust him.

I have not had a similar opportunity to work with challenger Sophie Hahn. In 2008 I was disappointed by her (lack of) vision for Berkeley's downtown. Her website this time around gives no indication she's changed. As in 2008, she sounds like she has decent credentials and vision for the schools. But she's running for City Council. In response to a set of questions by the Northeast Berkeley Association, Hahn came across as very financially conservative, aligned with the "Berkeley SOS" and "Berkeley FACTS" groups trying to limit the city's ability to raise and spend money. She only reluctantly offered support of the street repair (Measure M) and pools (N & O) measures (both of which I support) and labeled herself a strong supporter of the misguided financial reporting measure (V). Since initially posting this, a friend put in a good word with me for Hahn, but I don't like what I've seen of her policy views.

Join me, the Sierra Club, Senator Loni Hancock, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, and many others in supporting Laurie Capitelli for District 5.

District 3 (South Berkeley): Max Anderson

A Berkeleyside article about this race said there aren't many policy differences between the two candidates for District 3: incumbent Councilmember Max Anderson and challenger Dmitri Belser. Anderson has been a good voice for affordable housing, transit, and community development, and he has shown himself to be an independent thinker -- not always siding with one particularly faction. For example, he has endorsements from both Bates and Worthington, as well as several other councilmembers. And he has apparently endorsed both Moore and DeLane for the District 2 race.

District 2 (Southwest): Moore (1st), DeLane (2nd)

I live in District 2 and I've voted for Darryl Moore twice before (2004+2008). This year he has credible opposition from Denisha DeLane. Adolfo Cabral, also running, appears to be less viable. As a decent Oakland Tribune article says, the crux of this race is differing views of development and the future of West Berkeley, as seen in their respective positions on Measure T, the rezoning of West Berkeley. Moore supports T; DeLane and Cabral both oppose it. See my Measure T writeup for more on what I think of it.

This is also about the changing factions in Berkeley politics: Moore looks more like the middle of Berkeley: . He has endorsements from both Mayor Bates and from Councilmember Max Anderson, normally associated with Berkeley progressives. DeLane is endorsed by Worthington and Arreguin, as well as several Planning Commissioners I have seen as opposing good development.

I have positive personal impressions of both of them. Moore has been a capable councilmember. He's not the strongest leader out there, but he has been making sure District 2 gets the resources it deserves (example: the much-needed revamp of San Pablo Park). DeLane has a little more fire in the belly; she's relatively young (33), grew up and went through schools here in Berkeley, and has done good work in the East Bay. I met her briefly (4 years ago, I think) through her community development work in East Oakland. I can imagine her being a competent councilmember too.I don't have the same positive impression of Cabral: he supports the ridiculous Measure U (see writeup) and draws support from too many people I disagree with (ex: Zelda Bronstein and Dean Metzger).

I plan to vote Moore 1st and DeLane 2nd, with no 3rd vote.

Berkeley Mayor: Tom Bates

While there are six candidates on the ballot, only two have a chance: incumbent Mayor Tom Bates and challenger, Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

I'm voting for Bates again, as I did in 2008, 2006, and 2002. Tom Bates has been a capable Mayor. He has successfully moved Berkeley from where it was when I arrived in the mid-90s (Shirley Dean 'moderates' vs. Don Jelinek 'progressives') to a situation where he and most of the council occupy the center of Berkeley's politics, taking critique from both 'conservative' (Gordon Wozniak, Susan Wengraf) and 'progressive' opponents (Worthington, Arreguin).

In my experience working with Mayor Bates in regional decision-making bodies (such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission), I have found him to be a very strong ally. His legislative experience gives him added gravitas in dealing with other regional leaders. He has consistently been willing to stand up for the needs of Berkeley and the rest of the urban core of the Bay Area. Within Berkeley, he has been supportive enough of the transit-oriented development and public transit improvements Berkeley needs. I don't agree with Mayor Bates on everything (example: Measure S), and I'm guessing this is his last term in office. But I trust him.

I can't say that anymore about challenger Kriss Worthington. I first met Mr. Worthington in 1996 when I helped briefly with his first campaign for city council. In 2000 I worked with him on the earlier Measure B. I have seen him change from a true progressive hero to someone who would take Berkeley in the wrong direction. Here are three examples from issues I'm most familiar with:

First, his positions keep getting worse on what kind of development should happen in the city. In the mid-2000s, he opposed good individual proposals for new homes along transit corridors in Berkeley. Then in the late 2000s he led opposition to the Downtown Berkeley Plan, which set clear guidelines for improvements to make downtown Berkeley a nicer, greener place to live, work, and shop. Fortunately, Berkeley voters supported the Downtown Plan (the 2010 "Measure R") by a 65-35 margin.

Second, Mr. Worthington has simultaneously derailed plans for Bus Rapid Transit in Berkeley while claiming to be a transit supporter. This one just drives me crazy. He did help get funding at the county level (good!), but he kept offering infeasible alternatives within Berkeley. He echoed the concerns of a few corridor merchants worried about losing their parking spaces and worried that more transit would bring more traffic. He and other BRT opponents put enough barriers in place that Berkeley will now be left out of the project.

In 2011-2012, Mr. Worthington failed to support pro-transit and environmental groups as we worked to improve Measure B1 before it went on the ballot. He counselled us to be satisfied with an earlier draft and asked us not to rock the boat. He was very reluctant to challenge the more suburban officials. We went ahead and pushed and won many of the changes anyway, and I'm satisfied with the plan on the ballot.

All these experiences lead me to conclude that, at least on transit and housing issues, Mr. Worthington now agrees with change-averse neighbors in his council district and does not recognize the social and environmental benefits that transit-oriented development and good rapid transit would bring. I'm disappointed in that change. But it makes it pretty easy for me to see that supporting Tom Bates over Mr. Worthington now is not so different from supporting Tom Bates over Shirley Dean in 2008.

Oh, and yes, there are the minor candidates. For them, I'm just going to quote my friend Nathan Landau:
"The minors: Jacquelyn McCormick, who previously lost badly running for City Council in the Claremont-Elmwood district, represents the anti-everything neighborhood association faction.  Bernt Wald is so bereft that he doesn’t name a single supporter of his candidacy. Kahlil Fantussi-Jacobs, who characterizes himself as “Da Mayor”, lists as a key qualification his service on the Political Prisoner and Indigeneous People Subcommittee of the Peace and Justice Commission (he does name 20 supporters). Zachary Runningwolf musters 5 supporters and lists his occupation as Native American Elder."

Berkeley School Board: Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and Judy Appel

Beatriz Leyva-Cutler is the incumbent running for re-election (I also endorsed her in 2008, and she was the highest vote-getter for the School Board in that election). She has a strong and good vision for how Berkeley schools should work. She is a crucial representative of Latino families in the Berkeley schools, running the stupendous Bahia non-profit that provides bilingual education & child care. She's got backing from teachers, lots of Berkeley elected officials. I don't see any reason not to re-elect her.
Judy Appel has a similarly strong vision for the schools, informed by years of experience both as a parent and as a consultant working with Berkeley and other school districts on how to create safe learning environments. I like that one of her top Priorities is to "Spend Wisely," and I believe she'll follow it well. She also has backing from teachers, most of the other School Board members, and an extremely impressive list of other endorsers. I also happen to know several folks in her circle of friends, and I trust their judgment too.

Tracy Hollander is the third candidate and clearly has a lot of experience in schools. But I don't see as much in in her presentation of her priorities for the School Board as I see in Judy Appel and Beatriz Leyva-Cutler. She has many endorsements as well, but they are also thinner than those of Appel or Leyva-Cutler.

I don't know why the fourth candidate, Norma Jean Harrison, keeps running. I feel like I've seen her on most of the ballots since I moved to Berkeley. She sounds like a caricature of herself. Her ballot statements remind me of the pieces George Orwell cited in his classic 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language", as the bad examples of stale writing that indicate stale thinking.

Berkeley Rent Board: Torn, probably voting the "progressive" slate

When I was a tenant, I appreciated that the Rent Board seemed to successfully implement what's left of Berkeley's rent control (I know, more than most other places, but I still wish it were stronger). I didn't get much help the couple times I tried to get services, but I figured that's 'cuz they were too busy with more pressing cases. As I've watched Berkeley politics, I've been saddened that all the politicking for the Rent Board seems to occur off camera: a tenants' convention comes together every couple of years to nominate what is this year called the Progressive Affordable Housing Slate. That seems more suited to machine politics than to a place with a strong participatory climate, such as Berkeley. So I've always read the other candidates' statements and occasionally voted for one of the non-slate candidates. But I think the slate always wins. This year the slate is Dodsworth, Shelton, Soto-Vigil, and Tregub.

Now there's a damning Grand Jury report about the Rent Board, charging improprieties, a not-very professional administration, and a hire-your-buddies mentality. Given the way the Rent Board has been elected for several years, that doesn't sound very surprising. Of course the Rent Board largely objects to the Grand Jury report. I know Grand Juries are not always the greatest, and I have no idea where the truth lies in that kerfuffle.

The difference is that this year there is an opposing slate, Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness (Drake, Hunt, James, and Shenoy). I read their ballot statements, and they all sound like reasonable people with reasonable ideas. They say they just want a more professionalized administration of the Rent Board. But all their campaign money is from landlords and property owners, and it looks like they may have acted improperly themselves with some of that landlord money. If they win, they'll be beholden to those interests. And I don't want that.

Read up:
I'm considering just sitting this one out and watching to see what happens. But I'll probably vote for progressive slate (Dodsworth, Shelton, Soto-Vigil, and Tregub). 

YES on Alameda County A1: Zoo Improvements

My 8 year-old son wins the day on this one. He loves tigers (enough so that he braved the taunts of his classmates and his brother to root for Detroit in the World Series -- I was proud of him.  But I digress). So he's been lobbying me to vote Yes to help the animals. I have personal experience of how the zoo is a good recreational and educational resource -- we had family memberships and went many times when our kids were little. The zoo looks like it could use some help. They say they need to renew the animal care facilities. The cost ($1/month for each residential parcel) is reasonable.

On the other side, concerned neighbors and some environmentalists (the California Native Plant Society, for example) believe that passing this parcel tax will help the zoo do an extensive expansion elsewhere in  Knowland Park. I don't know enough about that proposed expansion to know whether I'd think it is awful. I'm sure that passing this tax might make that more financially feasible for the zoo; it is true that the expenditure plan is broad and can apparently be changed easily.

But zoo expansion into Knowland Park is not what's on the ballot -- there's a different decision-making process for that, going through Oakland City Council. The ballot question is whether I'll pay $1/month to support zoo operations. I will: Yes on A1. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Berkeley Measures

If you vote in Berkeley, you know we get to vote on a lot. If you want an impartial breakdown of what is in each measure, check out the very useful "Pros & Cons" guide from the local League of Women Voters.

Yes on M: Berkeley Streets & Watershed Bond

This is an easy one. Berkeley streets are in bad shape. That hurts all of us -- whether we drive, take the bus, ride bikes, or just stumble on potholes and broken sidewalks. Measure M would authorize bonds, to be repaid by a modest increase in property taxes, and use the proceeds to construct street improvements and related flood control measures. There's also some language in there about 'green infrastructure.' Opponents seem to be very confused: they agree that street repair is important, say that Measure M would put too little money towards it and that they want an unspecified alternate approach, but then they also say there's too many tax increases on this ballot. I'm with the League of Women Voters, Senator Loni Hancock, Auditor Hogan, EBMUD Director Andy Katz, and Mayor Bates. Let's fix our streets: vote Yes on M. 

Yes on N & O: Berkeley Pools Bond & Parcel Tax

Talk about synchronized swimming -- here's a matched pair of measures to improve Berkeley pools. Measure N would authorize issuance of a bond to pay for construction of a new warm pool (to replace the one that had to be demolished with the renovation at Berkeley High), much beloved and needed by elderly and disabled swimmers, plus improvements to the King and Willard Pools. Measure O would authorize a parcel tax to pay for ongoing pool operations; O would only go into effect if N also passes. Measure N would cost about $10 per $100,000 of assessed value of a home; Measure O is assessed on a per square foot basis, about $10/year on a 1200 sq ft house. I'm voting yes on both --

Yes on P: Raise Gann Limit

It is really dumb that we have to vote on this every four years. If you want details, see what I wrote in 2008. This year no one signed a ballot argument against Measure P.

Yes on Q: Modernize language for Utility Users Tax

Another thing I wish we didn't have to vote on, but deserves a Yes vote anyway. This is a measure to update the language of the implementation of the Utility Users Tax to comply with changes in federal law and changing technologies. No one signed a ballot argument against it.

Yes on R: Rational Redistricting

When the city adopted district elections for the council (1986), the measure specified the exact boundaries of the districts and said that future redistricting was required to keep the districts as close as possible to the original boundaries. This means, for example, that students are mostly split between three different districts. And the districts are getting increasingly out of whack with changes in demographics. This isn't how other cities do it. Sometimes when Berkeley does things differently, it is a bad idea. Measure R would put in the place the same approach as in other cities. Join the local League of Women Voters, Berkeley Common Cause, and a bunch of rational elected officials: vote Yes on R.

No on S: Wrong solution to a real nuisance

Measure S would outlaw sitting on sidewalks in Berkeley's commercial areas. That is the wrong solution to a real nuisance. I looked carefully through the measure and the FAQs on the "No on S" and "Yes on S" websites. Proponents argue that this will help local businesses; but I don't see any real evidence of this claim. A ban on all sitting seems highly likely to have very uneven, probably discriminatory, enforcement. Much of the objectionable behavior people don't like is already against the law (off-leash dogs, blocking the sidewalk). Yes, people need more services, and yes, living on the street is unhealthy. But there are long waiting lists for those services and for the affordable housing that provides longer-term solutions. Measure S is all stick and no carrot. Evidence from other cities is mixed: some cities had good experiences, some bad. I particularly note that the "No on S" FAQ is stocked with lots of citations, while the "Yes on S" FAQ is just rhetoric. I'm voting No on S.

Yes on T: Approve city's Rezoning for West Berkeley

This is a toughie. I haven't decided my position. Writeup coming after I do more research and think some more. I welcome advice. I will revise this post when I get a more solid position. 
[Update 10/29/2012] Okay, I did a bunch of reading and thinking on this one and decided to vote Yes, but this is not a slam dunk.

First, what are we voting on? We are voting on whether to approve -- or not -- the changes to the West Berkeley Plan that emerged from a city planning process over the past several years. The city went through an orderly planning process, took input from all quarters, and came up with the revisions that are on the ballot. Opponents of course claim that the wrong people were involved, that there was inadequate notice given to neighbors. Was it a perfect process? I'm sure not. And I wasn't involved, so I don't speak from personal experience in this plan. But my experience of other Berkeley planning & political processes is that there's LOTS of involvement, and that people who don't like the outcome always complain about the process, even when it was good (example: Downtown Berkeley Plan). The council put the plan on the ballot because they knew if they didn't, the opponents would collect signatures to call for a referendum. So I'm positively inclined towards the plan on the process, before looking at the merits of it.

The second question, is the plan a good one for West Berkeley? There are lots of details about height and which size units and all that. Basically, it looks to me as it this revised plan would allow a small increase in the flexibility of development over the next 10 years. This will contribute a little bit to the changes underfoot in West Berkeley -- a slow reuse of underused industrial sites to provide some more homes and a few more places to work and shop. I don't think this is a BIG change in West Berkeley -- it seems like a very modest one. I also think this revised plan is more of a recognition of change that is already underfoot and allowing it to move forward. Opponents are raising fears that artists and light industry will be kicked out of West Berkeley. But these are many of the same people who worried that the West Berkeley Bowl would cause traffic disaster and rapid displacement in West Berkeley. I haven't seen that happen. And in any case, I don't think Measure T will drive  the deindustrialization -- there are much bigger forces at play in our world causing that.

Oh, and as for environmental concerns. This will not put any new development right next to Aquatic Park. If it creates more residents in West Berkeley, that may result in some more people walking around park, but that seems like that a good thing.

In the end, I think this is a modest change that will bring West Berkeley's zoning up to date with the trends occurring for neighborhoods like it around the Bay Area. I don't think it will spell disaster, and I am tired of having so many things on our ballot because we have over-active neighborhood activists who distrust almost everything our city government does. I'm voting Yes on T.

Oh, and if you want to read up for yourself:

No No No on U: the Berkeley political gridlock ordinance

Measure U starts from the false premise that Berkeley does not have enough opportunity for public input and oversight of city government. It would institute a bunch of requirements to create more input and oversight: a new city commission that would have the authority to sue the city, at taxpayer expense; several changes to how the city council and all the other boards and commissions operate. Measure U would gum up Berkeley's decision-making processes even more than they already are.

I like sunshine. But we already have 36 city boards and commissions. We have very active community members engaged in city government. Have you been to a council meeting? They're busy, noisy, and slightly chaotic. That's fine -- democracy is messy. But it shouldn't be gridlocked. Join the local League of Women Voters, Auditor Hogan, State Senator Loni Hancock, and numerous others: No on U.

No on V: More gridlock, financial reporting style

This one starts from what sounds like a good premise: decision-making should be based on good factual reporting. But then it takes it in a direction that is guaranteed to gum up the city's actions. Measure V would mandate that the city expand on a report the city already creates -- about future fiscal responsibilities for pensions, etc. -- and project the report 20 years into the future (vs. the current 5 years). The city would also have to 'certify' the report, a process which would invite endless legal challenges. If the 'certification' were delayed, the city could not do its normal debt restructuring between tax collection periods. Think And V wouldn't allow the city to respond to an earthquake or other emergencies. It seems like it is designed to cause city government shutdown.

There may be a problem with city employee compensation or retirement benefits, I don't know (sorry, city employee friends). But even if there is, this isn't a good way to get at it. Join the local League of Women Voters, Senator Loni Hancock, and numerous councilmembers: No on V.

YES on Alameda County B1: Crucial Transit Improvements

I'm supporting Measure B1 because it would fund several vital improvements: restore cut bus service, start a new youth bus pass program, repair potholes, and make unprecedented investments for pedestrian and bicycle safety and infrastructure and for transit-oriented development. Yes, there are some concerns (particularly some projects I don't support), but I think they pale in comparison to the good that can be achieved -- on balance, we'll all be better off with Measure B1 than without it. Yes, it is a sales tax, but the benefits will be used very progressively. For a long explanation of why B1 is a good idea AND links to the extensive debate that went into it in the first place, check out TransForm's blog post I wrote back in May.

California's crazy budget laws mean B1 needs a 2/3 vote. If passed, it would approve a new (30-year) expenditure plan, increase the tax, and extend it permanently. The expenditure plan is very detailed and there are many oversight bodies. The "Yes on B1" campaign is the source of all those "Keep Us Moving" signs you're seeing around town, and the measure has wide-ranging endorsements. How often do you see the Chronicle, Guardian, and East Bay Express all endorse the same thing? Plus lots of transportation and environmental groups (TransForm, East Bay Bicycle Coalition), faith-based groups (Genesis), organized labor, United Seniors, the list goes on. If you're thinking of voting no, please post a comment or contact me directly!!

Bartlett & Peeples for AC Transit Board

AC Transit Board Ward 1: Yelda Bartlett

AC Transit needs better leadership. As at many other transit agencies, costs continue to increase faster than ridership or other measures of 'productivity.' That is unsustainable -- we can't expect to just keep raising new revenues indefinitely. Yelda Bartlett is the challenger for the AC Transit Ward 1 seat. Ms. Bartlett is analytical and appears to understand that the agency needs BOTH to become more efficient AND to raise new revenues. While she may be a bit idealistic about how much impact she could really have (many of AC's problems are structural) and need some education (she's a bit more focused on clean fuel buses than I think is important), she's had some effective experience on commissions in Berkeley, she's a lawyer, and she'll bring good skills and energy to bear.

It took a bit for me to come to this conclusion: I've known the incumbent, Joe Wallace, for over a decade. He's a passionate voice for North Richmond and low-income riders in general. He did great work 10+ years ago to get a new line for his neighborhood. But he hasn't been a very effective leader on the Board and his only campaign is word-of-mouth.

So far as I can tell, many of the entities that endorsed Ms. Bartlett are the ones that actually interviewed both candidates. She has support of several relevant elected officials, one of the AC Transit unions (the planners & analysts), several Democratic clubs, plus the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay, on whose Board I sit. Some other groups appear to have endorsed Mr. Wallace as the incumbent without interviewing both candidates. See a recent East Bay Express article for a decent summary of the race.

If Ms. Bartlett wins, one of her important first tasks will be to strengthen her relationship with her western Contra Costa consituents, so their voice continues to be well represented.

AC Transit Board At-Large: H.E. Christian (Chris) Peeples

I've also known Chris Peeples for over a decade and endorsed him before. He's been one of the at-large directors since 1997. A friend calls his opponent, Dollene Ross, "a well-meaning former bus driver with no resources to run for a seat that covers almost 1.5 million people." Chris is also very well-meaning and works very hard for AC Transit -- attending numerous meetings and getting to all of them on transit, in addition to his law practice. I'd like to see more success from AC Transit -- see my writeup on the Ward 1 race -- but I think Chris will do a better job than this challenger. I hope his health holds up, and I imagine that this will probably be his last term. See a recent East Bay Express article for a decent summary of the race.

Saltzman & Alegria for BART Board

BART Director, District 3: Rebecca Saltzman

I am so excited to endorse Rebecca Saltzman for the open District 3 seat on the BART Board. I've known Rebecca for several years as she has been involved in transit issues. She understands BART's needs and the best solutions -- that BART needs to refocus attention on maintaining and improving service on the existing system (a focus of TransForm's "Save BART!" efforts). She understands that if we're going to expand BART's capacity (which would be great!), we need to focus on the most effective improvements, not necessarily the most expensive ones that have dominated BART's agenda in the past.

Rebecca is a sharp transit wonk (a term I use with love and admiration!) who is also a savvy political strategist. She will work well with others on the Board and I look forward to working with her. And she's got endorsements up the wazoo: Sierra Club, Alameda County Central Labor Council, Alameda & Contra Costa County Democratic parties, and gobs of elected officials. Full disclosure: Rebecca served with me recently on the Board of the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay (LCVEB), and LCVEB endorsed her too.

BART Director, District 7: Maria Alegria

For BART District 7, Maria Alegria is a strong challenger to the incumbent Lynette Sweet. I have known Ms. Alegria for a long time, through her leadership of Contra Costa FaithWorks and leadership as an elected official on transportation issues in Contra Costa County. She understands that BART needs to prioritize fixing the existing system, support sustainable transit-oriented development at stations, and focus on cost-effectiveness.

The big question in this race is whether any of the challengers will be able to unseat the incumbent Lynette Sweet. District 7 has crazy geography -- mostly Western Contra Costa County (60% of the district's voters) plus slivers of Alameda County along I-80 (23%), and a little bit of San Francisco (17%). All three challengers are from the East Bay. Challenger Margaret Gordon is a great activist from West Oakland, but she has little chance of winning. Ms. Sweet is a San Franciscan who has been on the Board since she was appointed to it in 2003 -- and oddly, the only campaign website I can find for her is her failed 2010 run for SF Supervisor. She also has a reputation for being difficult to contact, and I know she simply failed to answer several groups' endorsement questions. While I endorsed Sweet 4 years ago, this time there's a good challenger.

Ms. Alegria has a great collection of endorsements -- Sierra Club, labor councils in Alameda & Contra Costa Counties, the BART union, and even several Democratic clubs in San Francisco, plus a bunch of popular elected officials. And she's also endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay, on whose Board I sit. If she and Rebecca Saltzman both win, along with Robert Raburn's win in 2010, that will signal a major shift towards a BART Board that really understands what needs to happen to Save BART!

Kicking off the November 2012 Endorsements

Is it just me, or does the ballot get longer every year? And what's up with the ads in Berkeley with a nutshell and a pea beside it, calling for 'facts', and how does that measure compare with Berkeley's 'sunshine' ordinance? It is a complicated campaign season. I'm starting to write up my election recommendations.

First off, here are the a few local races I'm most enthusiastic about and invested in:
If you want to influence my thinking on other local races, use the comments field! I've got strong leanings on some, but I'm always open to input.

At the state level, I'm absolutely sure of Yes on 30 (fix the budget!), No on 32 (don't silence our voices), and Yes on 34 (replace the death penalty with justice that works!). I've got strong leans on most of the rest, plus there's LOTS of good informational resources out there. I'll probably write up the state propositions last. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Hey folks, everything above this is for the November 2012 election. Everything below it is from previous elections.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Jeff's June 2012 Recommendations

State Propositions: see writeup for details
28: Yes for more sensible Term Limits
29: YES YES YES to reduce smoking and fund research

Local Measures
Alameda County
B: Yes for community college improvements (see below the jump for details)

Elected Officials:
First, the contested races:
- County Committee, 15th Assembly District: Arreguin, Ball, Barnett, Cohen, Echols, Kelley, Wheatley, Neal (see after the jump for details)
- Superior Court Judge, Office #20: Flanagan (see after the jump for details)

And then I'm voting pretty much the straight Democratic Party ticket, in races where the outcome is pretty certain anyway:
President: Barack Obama
U.S. Senator: Dianne Feinstein
U.S. Congress, 13th Congressional District: Barbara Lee
California Senate, 9th District: Loni Hancock
California Assembly, 15th District: Nancy Skinner
County Supervisor, 5th District: Keith Carson 

Follow to the jump for writeups on the county committee, judge, and education parcel tax ...

Friday, June 1, 2012

June 2012 State: YES on 28 & 29

Summary of positions on State Measures:
28: Yes for more sensible Term Limits
29: YES YES YES to reduce smoking and fund research

Yes on 28: for more sensible Term Limits
Prop 28 would change how term limits are applied to State Senate and Assembly offices in California. The current rules allow someone to serve for up to 6 years in the Assembly and up to 8 years in the State Senate. Prop 28 would impose a limit of 12 total years in the state legislature.

This seems like a sensible reform to me. I'm not a big fan of term limits, although I'm kinda starting to get used to them, so I'm less upset by them than I used to be. But this would do two good things: it would reduce the amount of time elected officials spend figuring out how to run (and fundraise for) their next position by allowing them to stay in one position for 12 years. And it would allow people to settle into their positions for long enough to figure out how to get things done in Sacramento. And it is politically astute that it only applies to people who are newly voted into the Legislature, so no one can claim that it will extend anyone's term in office.

Supporters include the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, lots of newspapers. Main opposition seems to come from the Republican Party and a guy named "Howie Rich" who runs an organization called "Americans for Limited Government."

YES YES YES on 29 to reduce smoking and fund research
A couple weeks ago, I got a call from a pollster asking lots of questions about Prop 29. I realized in that phone call that I am every enthusiastic about this measure. Prop 29 would raise the tax on all kinds of tobacco (by 5 cents/cigarettes, and equivalent amounts for other types of tobacco). It would use the funds for research on prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cures for cancer and tobacco-related diseases.

This is good in every way. First off, raising the tobacco tax is proven to be the most effective way to prevent teens from starting to smoke in the first place. I know, it isn't supposed to say anything good about taxes, but let's be honest here. We should tax things when we want less of them to happen. It is good to tax tobacco.

Second, the money will be put to good use: research on prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cures; public health programs to help people quit or never start in the first place.

Third, passing Prop 29 would be a sharp stick in the eye to the tobacco companies, who are spending millions on misleading ad campaigns to oppose the measure.