29
Wed, May

A Clear Eye Focus On: State Measures 1-8 and 10-12

LOS ANGELES

PROPOSITION REVIEW-Before I start this article, I thought it useful for me to lay out some of my personal beliefs about Ballot Measures and Propositions at every level.

I generally do not think that legislating by popular vote or taxation for specific government functions by popular vote is a good idea. A measure or proposition provides too much room for mischief. The outcomes often have nothing to do with the text of the actual proposal and are dictated more by those with the most advertising dollars to spend and the most willingness to mislead the public into voting for or against it as the dollars may dictate. 

Large corporations, real estate developers and all kinds of special interests have grown particularly adept at styling legislation that most of the population would never vote for if they really understood what was being done, as opposed to voting based on what we "learn" from political advertising and how something is being characterized. 

Ground Zero for me was Measure JJJ. It was long, it was complicated, the summaries all said it was about addressing homelessness and helping labor, and the first few pages of the long ordinance also were all about that. So, I didn't read it, I voted for it, and I woke up in a dystopian version of Los Angeles, where we, as voters, inadvertently upzoned nearly our entire city (not the hills or the coast of course, just the neighborhoods that currently provide the backbone of our middle and working class housing) by providing "incentives" consisting of trillions of dollars in entitlements to developers, under the rubric of "transit oriented housing". 

So general principles: I reflexively vote AGAINST bonds, special assessments, special taxes, anything that raises money outside the budget, absent a clear and full understanding of what I am voting for. I reflexively vote AGAINST long complex statutes and ordinances by ballot unless I have had the time to fully review and understand it. I am generally skeptical about Constitutional amendments – they should be rarely on the ballot, much less successfully passed. Of the eleven state level propositions on the ballot (Proposition 9 was withdrawn so there are only eleven), Propositions 1-4, 10 and 12 are submitted to the voters under the existing Constitution; 5 and 6 actually amend the Constitution; while propositions 7, 8 and 11 are bizarre propositions for voter action in my opinion. Prop 7 is a ministerial and policy decision about whether our time zones should be consistent with or differ from other states, Prop 8 is a target specific piece of attempted healthcare regulation of dialysis, but no other clinics and Prop 11 really is a labor negotiation point for some of our most beloved and respected public servants, but out of context. 

So, summary of the article's recommendations is NO on every proposition other than Proposition 10, which is a YES for the reasons laid out below. 

  1. PROPOSITION 10: IT IS JUST ABOUT LOCAL VS STATE LEVEL LAND USE AUTHORITY – YES ([i]) 

Proposition 10 seems to be this season's Measure JJJ for most misleading advertising and summaries, and therefore most in need of clarification, so I will start there. First, contrary to all the advertising this has nothing to do with rent control in that it neither imposes nor prohibits it. Second, this proposition is all about land use and who gets to decide whether and what form of rent control should exist in a community. Proposition 10 repeals the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act – it says rent control should not be legislated centrally on a "one size fits all" basis from Sacramento. 

The Costa-Hawkins bill prohibited certain forms of rent control on a statewide basis.[ii]  It was a bad compromise insisted upon by special interests at the time of its passage. Essentially, California on a statewide basis inserted itself into the local politics of rent control by prohibiting rent control for: 

(a) "new" (defined as post-October 1978 construction in Los Angeles. Three decades later, the then market rate units have been fully depreciated and scarcely need additional incentives;

(b) single family residences and condominiums; and

(c) any unit upon vacancy. 

The advertising against Proposition 10 keeps saying what it doesn't do – it doesn't protect seniors, renters or anyone else. Of course, that is not its purpose and a statewide imposition of rent control is a terrible idea. What Proposition 10 does do is remove a state-imposed barrier to rent control measures that could be useful tools in a local initiative to manage affordable housing concerns, including protecting seniors, renters and others. The text of Proposition 10 is clear and easy to understand. It consists primarily of strikethroughs getting rid of the developer and landlord protection imposed statewide by Costa Hawkins. Proposition 10 does not cost taxpayers any dollars. (ii) 

Proposition 10's passage will not impose rent control anywhere. Nor does it not mean that Los Angeles will enact an ordinance to bring rent control everywhere in the City or the County. What it does do is put the power to decide back in local hands where it belongs. It protects the principle that one size-fits-all mandates from Sacramento, like SB 827 earlier this year, have no place in well planned, livable, sustainable communities that care for all their citizens, including the most vulnerable among us. Supporting Proposition 10 is consistent with that view. 

Land use and planning are inherently local issues. The best evidence of that is that a number of the cities that have been considering sensible rent control legislation in the hope that that Proposition 10 passes have (a) exempted single family residences; (b) put a moratorium on rent control for 20 years following new construction so as not to hamper new housing supply; or (c) preserved vacancy decontrol so that a unit can be raised to market when a tenant vacates. 

Proposition 10 makes good sense to me, but that does not mean I would support rent control even on a local level. All I am saying is that this is a local issue that should be returned to the local authorities.  When our cities are left with no tools to address displacement and homelessness, other than overbuilding at the high end of the market, it is time to give our planners and local legislatures more tools and rent stabilization and rent control are among the possibilities that might help.  

  1. PROPOSITIONS 1, 2, 3, AND 4 – WHY ON EARTH ARE WE BORROWING MORE? NO, NO, NO, and NO. 

Every state election has bond issuances up for approval, always for worthy causes (after all, who is going to vote for billions of dollars of general obligation bonds to fund a slush fund for the state treasury – that would never pass). I vote no across the board absent a compelling reason to vote yes.  Why? First, the state is touting that it has a surplus. If that is true, then good ideas have a place to go for funding. And after Measure JJJ (and Measure M for the Metro), I am done with voting to fund abstract ideas that legislators get to twist into results that we the voters never anticipated. These four propositions authorize $16,377,000,000 in General Obligation Bonds for a total estimate of principal and interest payments of $28.15 billion. 

Proposition 1 itself is a mix of ideas (Veterans, Affordable Housing, farm aid, infrastructure, transportation and infill to name just a few), adds an entirely new, complex Part 16 to Division 31 of the Health and Safety Code, adds Article 5z to Chapter 6 of Division 4 of the Military and Veterans Code, and contains many cross-references to other statutes and laws that are not explained or discussed anywhere. So, I tried to read through it all and the cross-referenced provisions and what I saw on the first page of the text was enough to make me a solid no. 

Prop 1 is $4 billion that we the taxpayers have to pay back, at an estimated $170 million in annual interest over 35 years for a total expenditure of $5.95 billion. Prop 1 supposedly is for existing "affordable housing" but . . . also for "transit-oriented housing." Monies will be used "to assist in new construction" and to provide "local assistance to cities and counties, transit agencies and developers for the purpose of developing or facilitating the development of high density uses within close proximity to transit stations." That was enough for me. I am not voting for $5.95 billion of public debt if any part of it can be used to fund private, for-profit developers.  

Proposition 2 appears to be an effort to get out of a lawsuit that the State of California overstepped its bounds in enacting certain statewide legislation, so I am a no on this Proposition 2 for that lack of transparency alone (there are other reasons). Mental health services are historically a county level service, and in 2004, California voted in a statewide surplus millionaire’s tax for mental health services that funds loans to counties for mental health services. This Proposition amends the Welfare and Institutions Code and appears to appropriate some or all the mental health services tax funds for a state-wide measure referred to as the "No Place Like Home" program and also authorizes a new $2 billion bond issuance for that program.    

There is nothing in the Proposition that addresses why this particular program is a good program or better than the traditionally county administered health mental services, but I do know that there is a court case pending. The legislative analysis references the case, but does not provide a summary, description or link to the case. The text of the proposition also is opaque and complex.  Ignoring the small, unexplained changes, Prop 2 invades an existing trust fund Subaccount in the Mental Health Fund and permits the allocation of at least some of those monies to the general funds of the State Department of Health Care Services (why and why is this good?). Proposition 2 also sets up a "No Place Like Home Fund" within the State Treasury thereby creating yet another state level pocket of money (for which up to 5 % of the amounts on deposit are made available for more bureaucratic "administrative" costs). Perhaps most gallingly, Proposition 2 has the voters "ratify" a whole slew of provisions as "consistent with" a 2004 Proposition 63 and the California Constitution without explanation or analysis or even saying what these are. I am a strong no on Prop 2. ([iii])  

Proposition 3 authorizes $8.877 billion of state general obligation bonds for infrastructure projects at a cost of $430 million per year over 40 years, for a grand total of $17.3 billion dollars in principal and interest. That is unbelievably expensive. As the legislative analysis for Prop 3 states, between 2000 and 2018, California voters approved a total of $31 billion in general obligation bonds to pay for water and environmental projects, and there is still about one-third of that left unspent and available (including $4 billion approved just this past June 2018). 

This is an incredibly complicated measure; it did not go through the normal legislative process and therefore is likely to be rife with special interest provisions (some of it looks to be an agricultural lobby bill). It seems to have a number of things in common with local Measure W, which I have reviewed a bit more thoroughly and which I am a strong no on. So with $10 billion still on tap, without specific projects, without an independent budget or projections or legislative analysis of what exactly can be done with the money, with more than a dozen different state level departments that can use the funds and more than 100 categories that the money can be spent on, this seems to be an unnecessary slush fund for our state legislature and executive to play with. I say no. 

Proposition 4 authorizes the issuance of $1.5 billion in bonds with an annual $80 million repayment expense at a total cost of $2.9 billion, for the construction and expansion of hospitals that treat children. Administrative costs are limited to actual costs or 1%, whichever is less, the administration is clearly delineated, the recipients defined and the means of expenditure by grant specified. The proponents and the analysis explain that the prior funds raised in 2004 and 2008 have been almost exhausted and that is why they are returning to the voters. The proponents specify the recipients of the funds; the use made of prior funding and describe some of the benefits received. This one seems to provide the type of information our voters need in order to intelligently grant or deny voter approval of this kind of funding as required by our state Constitution. This seems like a tested and successful program, it clearly states the purposes, the recipients and the administration of the program through grants to non-profits not to exceed project cost. 

On balance I would be a yes except for just one thing – this proposition raises public money for private hospitals and private purposes. Even if they are not-for-profit hospitals, the State of California ought not to be making the charitable donation for us as taxpayers. So public money for a private purpose and private use, no matter how worthy or responsible, is still on balance a "no" to me.  

III.  THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS: PROPOSITIONS 5 AND 6:  NO AND NO 

Proposition 5 is a proposition that amends the California Constitution (not something that should in my opinion ever be undertaken lightly or without thorough understanding and review). Although styled as a "protect" Prop 13 property tax measure, Prop 13 was originally aimed at allowing people to remain in their long-time homes without being forced out by escalating property values and property taxes.  Prop 5, in contrast, is a complicated and artificial construct to permit certain homeowners to move to even more expensive houses but prohibits the counties from collecting property taxes from some but not all buyers. So if a new house is on the market for $2.8 million and there is a bidding war, the family in their thirties or forties has to budget for and pay property taxes on the purchase price in full (assume $2.9 million) while a couple in which one of the partners is at least 55, who is selling or has sold a prior home for $2 million, will budget for and pay property taxes on $900,000 because they get to "transfer" the value of their old home, even if they only paid $250,000 for it 30 years ago. That is just nuts to me. 

At a time when our counties are struggling to keep up and find the revenue for the services they provide, and as we all know property taxes are their primary source of income, I say no, heck no, absolutely not and why would you say anything else? California as a state can provide a break on the California Franchise Tax otherwise due on the income generated by the sale of a primary residence that is replaced but no statewide ballot should further deplete the county coffers in this manner. 

Proposition 6 also amends the California Constitution, so proceed with caution. Prop 6 does have the benefits of simplicity and conciseness. However, it makes every tax on gas or fuel and every tax "on the privilege of a resident of California to operate on the public highways a vehicle or trailer coach" an issue that has to be submitted to and approved by a proposition submitted to the voters. It is retroactive to January 1, 2017, so without expressly saying so, it repeals the gas and fuel taxes imposed by the Legislature last year. What I do not know for sure but fear under the laws of unintended consequences is that California's admittedly higher smog emission standards and taxes on manufacturers of vehicles could be affected. I am a definite no. 

Making private vehicle operation expensive is I believe a tool that our legislature should have in its toolbox. Whether by incentivizing hybrid or electric car purchases, encouraging ridesharing and carpools, providing greater financial incentives for public transport and alternative transport like bicycles, I think that the state and local legislatures should retain this one in their toolbox as a possible piece of the puzzle to deal with issues of congestion, traffic, climate change, fossil fuel shortages and others although I continue to feel strongly that it should be in a mobility and transportation context and under no circumstances should it affect land use or housing which present a host of different policy considerations. 

  1. THE TARGETED PROPOSITIONS: 7, 8, 11 AND 12: 

Proposition 7 appears to have been proposed by the legislature and submitted to a proposition vote although it was not required to be. Therefore, I would vote NO. I prefer to stay on the same time zone as Oregon and Washington, I do not understand why this would be on the ballot rather than decided by the legislature. Short version: his one just doesn't matter to me, so I am a no because there should be a disincentive to putting stuff on the ballot for voters that doesn't belong there. 

Proposition 8 is the dialysis proposition. I do not pretend to understand its ins and outs, but here is what I think. Healthcare and for-profit healthcare clinics are a nuanced and complex issue.  Dialysis clinics are not the only private clinics or centers that are controversial (try googling private surgical centers, especially cosmetic or plastic surgery centers). This Proposition 8 is long, complex, beyond my ken and yes, I understand that the opposition comes primarily from dialysis center operators and a few patients, but my question is why single out dialysis clinics? If we are imposing efficiencies and cost controls on healthcare, we should do so on a comprehensive basis through medical or on some principled basis. I just don't get why dialysis overcharging, even if a reality which I do not know, is so very different than other healthcare overcharging. Strongest argument in favor is who supports this but despite that, I am a no as I think this is a piecemeal attempt to address a much broader issue. 

Proposition 11 is just not appropriate for a ballot measure. Do we support paramedics, emergency responders, etc.? Absolutely. Is this measure appropriate when it gets into specific conditions for work and labor contract negotiations? In my opinion, absolutely NOT. I am a strong no, not because I oppose higher wages for our responders, but because I just do not have the data or expertise necessary to make this call and it should not under any circumstances be a voter call. I do not know what safety and other considerations dictate breaks and whether individuals should be "on call" during their breaks. Vote No on 11. The last thing we need is to bring every union or labor issue to the voters. 

Proposition 12 is almost not quite as misleading as Proposition 10. So today, animal protection laws are based on animal comfort and freedom. They require that the amount of living space provided each farm animal must be enough to “turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs” (language from Prop 2, which was approved in 2008). Prop 12 is deceptive in that it purports to expand the living space for farm animals, but in fact limits it to specific square footage, in some cases as small as one square foot of floor space per egg laying hen. Just compare that to the current flexible standard, which would require a minimum of 3 square feet (the average wingspan of a hen) and likely more than 5 square feet per egg laying hen. VOTE NO ON 12 – it is as deceptive as 10 in that it does the opposite of what it says and gives the agricultural industry a free pass at fixed minimum square feet per farm animal even if that is demonstrably too small for the animal.

[i] For anyone who wants to read the actual texts and arguments of any proposition, I recommend http://www.voterguide.sos.ca.gov/propositions/.  The left margin allows you to click through to the text of any proposition for yourself.

[ii] https://la.curbed.com/2018/1/12/16883276/rent-control-california-costa-hawkins-explained; http://www.latimes.com/opinion/livable-city/la-oe-rosenthal-costa-hawkins-20180508-story.html; http://www.sfweekly.com/topstories/costa-hawkins-overturned/

[iii] Specifically, Proposition 2 says:  "The voters ratify all of the following provisions as being consistent with and in furtherance of Proposition 63, enacted by the voters at the November 2, 2004, statewide general election, and approve all of the following provisions for purposes of Section 1 of Article XVI of the California Constitution:

(a) Chapter 43 of the Statutes of 2016, which amended Sections 5830, 5845, 5847, 5848, 5897, and 5899 and added this part.

(b) Chapter 322 of the Statutes of 2016, which added Section 15463 to the Government Code, and amended Sections 5849.1, 5849.2, 5849.3, 5849.4, 5849.5, 5849.7, 5849.8, 5849.9, 5849.11, 5849.14, 5890, and 5891 of, added Section 5849.35 to, and repealed and added Section 5849.13 of, this code.

(c) Those provisions of Chapter 561 of the Statutes of 2017 that amended any of the provisions referenced in subdivisions (a) and (b).

(d) The amendments to Section 5849.35, 5849.4, and 5890 made by the act adding this section.

(e) The issuance by the California Health Facilities Financing Authority of bonds in an amount not to exceed two billion dollars ($2,000,000,000) for the purposes of financing permanent supportive housing pursuant to the No Place Like Home Program and related purposes as set forth in subdivision (b) of Section 15463 of the Government Code, the issuance of bonds for the purpose of redeeming, refunding, or retiring bonds as set forth in subdivision (c) of Section 15463 of the Government Code, and the process by which those bonds are issued, secured, and repaid, as set forth in the provisions referenced in subdivisions (a) to (d), inclusive.

 

(Leora Lopez is a retired legislative analyst, who welcomes inquiries at [email protected]. She hopes this review was helpful and invites CityWatch readers to stay tuned for her analysis of City and County ballot measures.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.