Thursday, October 28, 2010

November election: San Francisco ballot propositions

Vote or DieOkay, last time I dispatched the state propositions. San Francisco loves propositions, as the voters have an alarming habit of passing things they don't understand, typically saddling the city with yet more debt. Here's my take on the latest bundle, on which I'll vote when I ride my bike to my local polling station (note how cleverly I slipped in the mandatory cycling content):
  • Proposition AA (vehicle registration fee increase): The money could be for the Floyd Fairness Fund, for all I care. I support all vehicle registration fees. Yes on AA.
  • Proposition A (Earthquake safety retrofit loan bond): Every single election there's another bond with either "schools", "water quality", "fire department", or "earthquake" in the title. These almost always pass. Who can be against Earthquake safety, after all? But we are sufficating under our debt, and bonds are no small part of that. I absolutely refuse to rubber-stamp arbitrary dollar amounts because earthquake is in the title. The way to address earthquake safety is to do what Japan does: have strict safety code. Then you let property owners comply or sell to someone who will. It's simply too easy to claim improvements are "earthquake related". No on A.
  • Proposition B (increase employee contributions to the pension system): the pension system for state and local employees is a massive boondoggle which is contributing in substantial part to the bankruptcy of our fine government. The reality is public employees have better benefits and much more favorable pensions than most of us in the private sector. This helps close the gap, just a little, for city employees. Hardship? Sure. I hate to be rude, but welcome to reality.
  • Proposition C (require mayor to appear at meetings): This is silly. Sometimes, maybe rarely, maybe only once a term, there are other priorities than a BOS meeting. No on C.
  • Jan Heine
    How would Jan vote?
  • Proposition D (allow non-citizens to vote for BOE if they have children in the schools): Maybe I'm violating my social liberalism here, but no. Do you think you can vote for BOE members in Mexico, whether you have children there or not? If you tried to vote there, they'd toss you out of the country as an illegal resident. Voting is a profound responsibility and it stands to reason we place at least minimal standards on those doing so. The standards of citizenship are a good start. No on D.
  • Proposition E (Election Day voter registration): if you haven't decided to vote by the registration deadline, you don't have enough time to become educated. Just look at these list of city and state propositions. And if you haven't educated yourself on the issues, I don't want you deciding them. No on E.
  • Proposition F (reduce frequency of Health Services Board elections); Seems suspicious. I vote no.
  • Proposition G (eliminate MUNI guaranteed highest average salary): The repeals Proposition A from a few year back whose proponants argued that by guaranteeing that MUNI employees were paid at least as much as the average of the two-highest comparable transit agencies in the country, this would provide more barganaining power to the city. Huh? I was against it then and I've seen nothing which convinces me that position was wrong. I'm for G.
  • cat
  • Proposition H (ban city elected officials from serving on party central committees): The point of this measure is to prevent office-holders subject to campaign contribution limits from running for party central committee positions without them. The idea is that candidates can raise as much as they want from the PCC race, using that campaign to raise awareness for an upcoming BOS election. Donations to BOS members who are running for their PCC may come with the expectation of pay-back as part of the candidate's power within the BOS. the downside of this proposition is I may well want my friendly supervisor on the PCC to help drive the priorities of the party. I maintain a bias against propositions which fail to demonstrate a compelling need, but I think I'll vote for this one: the "follow the money" principle is too strong.
  • Proposition I (polling places open on Saturday for November election): I'm for Saturday voting. Some people, especially those with substantial commutes such as yours truly, have difficulty voting on Tuesday. But San Francisco has quite liberal absentee voting, for example allowing early balloting at city hall. My concern about this measure is the Saturday voting will be funded by private donations. Who's going to donate money to Saturday elections? Let's see, do Low-Key Hillclimb funds go this year to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the Open Space Trust, World Wildlife, or Saturday Elections? I don't like it. Elections should be publicly funded. When government is stripped down to the last thread, it could be argued that last thread should fund elections, as elections are the foundation of a well-functioning republic. So I vote no on this one.
  • Proposition J (hotel tax increase): Increasing the hotel tax from 14% to 16% is incredibly stupid. Voters like hotel taxes because the voters get the services provided by the funds while somone else pays the bill. But what you learn in high school economics is that when you raise the price, demand drops. We want people to come into the city, for a variety of reasons, and unless they're pitching tent in the Golden Gate Park campgrounds, they're probably staying in a hotel. If I'm deciding where to put a convention (say, the International Electron Device Meeting, or the San Francisco Bike Expo), 2% extra (okay, 1.78% extra) tacked on to everyone's bill may well be the straw that broke Jan Heine's porteur.
  • Proposition K (hotel tax "clarification"): This is a competing measure to Prop. J, to dilute the vote. I'm voting against this one as well. The idea is it would require brokers like to collect the tax. Let the BOS deal with this; it doesn't warrant a proposition.
  • sitting on sidewalk
  • Proposition L (no sitting or lying on sidewalks): If I'm out running and strain my hamstring and need to sit down to massage my leg, I don't want a ticket. If there's a parade and I stand but the 70-year-old next to me wants to sit on a chair, she shouldn't get a ticket. I vote no, and refuse to support any candidate for office who publicly supports this. It's a brazen attempt to target a specific population, but there's already laws on the books to deal with these other issues. Some argue police discretion will prevent abuse. I refuse to throw the our "free" society at the mercy of police discretion where it can be avoided. The police, in my experience, demonstrate little tendency to select discretion over expediency.
  • Proposition M (mandatory police foot patrol plans): I'm against this one simply because M is too high a letter or a proposition, especially considering AA. Okay, so while proposition fatigue set has started to set in, I did in fact read this one. Interesting little nugget at the end of the fine print says this measure would invalidate L. It's tucked away in Section 2a.89.6.2. Cute. I'm tempted to support it for that alone, but I will oppose it anyway: too many details, too many mandatory reports. It's hard to see how this sort of police micromanagement is productive. The way this sort of thing is to happen is to hire a police chief who supports foot patrols, then let him do his job.
  • Proposition N (increased transfer tax on high-valued properties): Arguably the most famous, or perhaps infamous, voter proposition in California history is Proposition 13 which passed in 1978. It was one of those "it seemed a good idea at the time" votes which are all too common, and an example of why throwing detailed legislation at voters who are bluntly unqualified and unwilling to carefully consider what's at stake is a bad idea. With so many properties paying tax at only a 2% inflation rate beyond 1975 rates, cities scramble to find new ways to extract revenue. A key result of Prop 13 is it discourages the transfer of property, because transferred property can be reassessed, and given that most property has appreciated far in excess of the 2%/year schedule allowed by Prop 13, property transfers can result in a huge increase in property tax rates, while the carrying cost of land can be relatively low. Therefore property may tend to be underutilized. Property tax is like a "membership fee" in a city, a "rental" for the position taken within the common society. None of us lives on an island, we live in a society where we depend on each other for survival. Property tax makes sense; it keeps properties active, provides incentive for them to be used efficiently. On the other hand, taxing transfers has the opposite effect: it discourages someone who has less use of the land from selling it to someone who has a better use. So I oppose this one.

So there you have it. In summary on the state issues;
  • YES: AA, B, G, H
  • NO: A, C, D, E, F, I, J, K, L, M, N
I like to hold propositions up to a high standard, so my yes rate on this one, 27%, is consistent with this.

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