The most surprising thing about Prop. 19 is how it has divided those who say they support the legalization of marijuana. Critics within the cannabis community say decriminalization should occur at the federal level or with uniform statewide standards rather that letting cities and counties set their own regulations, as the measure does. Sure, fully legalizing marijuana on a large scale and regulating its use like tobacco and alcohol would be better — but that's just not going to happen anytime soon. As we learned with the legalization of marijuana for medical uses through Prop. 215 in 1996, there are still regional differences in the acceptance of marijuana, so cities and counties should be allowed to treat its use differently based on local values. Maybe San Francisco wants full-blown Amsterdam-style hash bars while Fresno would prefer far more limited distribution options — and that's fine.
Other opponents from within marijuana movement are simply worried about losing market share or triggering federal scrutiny of a system that seems to be working well for many. But those are selfish reasons to oppose the long-overdue next step in legalizing adult use of cannabis, a step we need to take even if there is some uncertainty about what comes next. By continuing with prohibition Californians and their demand for pot are empowering the Mexican drug cartels and their violence and political corruption; perpetuating a drug war mentality that is ruining lives, wasting resources, and corrupting police agencies that share in the take from drug-related property seizures; and depriving state and local governments of tax revenue from the California's number one cash crop.
Bottom line: if there are small problems with this measure, they can be corrected with state legislation that Assemblymember Tom Ammiano has already pledged to carry and that Prop. 19 explicitly allows. But this is the moment and the measure we need to seize to continue making progress in our approach to marijuana in California. Vote yes on Prop. 19.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT REAPPORTIONMENT
Prop. 20 seeks to transfer the power to draw congressional districts from elected officials to the 14-member California Citizens Redistricting Commission, the state agency created in 2008 to draw boundary lines for California state legislative districts and Board of Equalization districts.
Supporters argue that Prop. 20, (which is backed by Charles Munger Jr., the heir to an investment fortune) would create more competitive elections and holds politicians accountable. And indeed, there's been some funky gerrymandering going on the the state for decades.
But the commission is hardly a fair body — it has the same number of Republicans as Democrats in a state where there are far more Democrats than Republicans. And most states still draw lines the old-fashioned way, so Prop. 20 could give the GOP an advantage in a Democratic state. States like Texas and Florida, notorious for pro-Republican gerrymandering, aren't planning to change how they do their districts.
That's why former state Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), who lost his recent bid for the State Senate thanks to gerrymandering and an August special election, calls Prop. 20 "the unilateral disarmament of California."
It could also create a political mess in San Francisco, Laird said. "An independent commission could end up dividing the city north/south, not east/west. Or it could throw Sen. Mark Leno and Leland Yee into the same district." Vote no.
VEHICLE LICENSE FEE FOR PARKS
Part of the reason California is in the fiscal crisis it is now facing — underfunding schools, slashing services, and considering selling off state parks — is because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for office on a pandering pledge to deeply cut the vehicle license fee, costing the state tens of billions of dollars since then. It was the opposite of what this state should have been doing if it was serious about addressing global warming and other environmental imperatives, not to mention encouraging car drivers to come closer to paying for their full societal impacts, which study after study shows they don't now do. This measure doesn't fully correct that mistake, but it's a start.
Prop. 21 would charge an $18 annual fee on vehicle license registrations and reserve at least half of the $500 million it would generate for state park maintenance and wildlife conservation programs. As an added incentive, the measure would also give cars free entrance to the state parks, a $50 million perk. Of the remaining $450 million, $200 million could be used to back-fill state general fund revenue now going to these functions, which means most of this money would go to parks and wildlife.
We'd rather see funds derived from private car use go to mass transit and other alternatives to the automobile, but we're not going to quibble with the details on this one. California desperately needs the money, and it's time for drivers to start giving back some of the money they shouldn't have been given in the first place.
LOCAL REDEVELOPMENT FUNDS
This one sounds good, on the surface: Prop. 22 would prevent the state from taking money from city redevelopment agencies to balance the budget in Sacramento. But it's not so simple: Sometimes it actually makes sense to use redevelopment money to fund, say, education — and only the state can do that. Besides, this particular bill only protects cities, not counties — so San Francisco will take even more of a hit in tough times. Vote no.
SUSPENDING AIR POLLUTION CONTROL LAWS
Think of Prop. 23 as a band of right-wing extremists orchestrating a sneak attack on the one hope this country has for removing its head from the tarball-sticky sand and actually doing something, for real this time, about global warming. Assembly Bill 32, California's Global Warming Solutions Act, imposes enforceable limits on greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 — and now, Big Oil is drilling deep into its pockets in an effort to blow up those limits.
Funded by Texas oil companies Tesoro Corporation and Valero Energy Corporation in conjunction with the Koch brothers, billionaires who have been called the financial backbone of the Tea Party, Prop. 23 would reverse a hard-fought victory by suspending AB32 until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters — not likely to happen anytime soon. In truly sleazy fashion, proponents have dubbed Prop. 23 the "California jobs initiative."
The environmental arguments for rejecting Prop. 23 are obvious, but this time there's a twist — even the business community doesn't like it. Take it from Rob Black of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which is actively opposing Prop. 23. "There is a fear that clean energy policy is a communist plot," Black explained. "We actually think it's a good capitalist strategy." To most business leaders, AB32 is like the goose that laid the golden egg — it encourages investment in green technology, which is probably California's best future economic hope. Vote no on 23.
Prop. 24 repeals some special-interest tax breaks that the Legislature had to accept as part of the latest budget deal. In essence, it restores about $1.7 billion worth of taxes on corporations, particularly larger ones that hide income among various affiliates. Vote yes.
SIMPLE MAJORITY BUDGET PASSAGE
Prop. 25 would be a step toward ending the budget madness that defines California politics every year. It would allow the state Legislature to pass a budget and budget-related legislation can be passed with a simple majority vote.
It's not a full solution — a two-thirds vote would still be required to pass taxes. But at least it would allow the majority party to approve a blueprint for state spending and help end the gridlock caused by a small number of Republicans. Vote yes.
TWO-THIRDS VOTE FOR FEES
Prop. 26 would require a two-thirds supermajority vote in the Legislature and at the ballot box in local communities to pass fees, levies, charges and tax revenue allocations that under existing rules can be enacted by a simple majority vote
It's supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, the Wine Institute, and Aera Energy.
Opponents argue that Prop. 26 should be called the "Polluter Protection Act" because it would make it harder to impose fees on corporations that cause environmental or public health problems. For example, it would be harder to impose so-called "pollution fees" on corporations that discharge toxics into the air or water. It would also make it nearly impossible for San Francisco to impose revenue measures like the Alcohol Fee sponsored by Sup. John Avalos. It's another in a long line of attempts at the state level to block local government from raising money. Vote no.
ELIMINATING REDISTRICTING COMMISSION
We opposed the 2008 ballot measure creating the redistricting commission, arguing that, while allowing the state Legislature to draw its own seats is a problem, the solution would make things worse. The panel isn't at all representative of the state (it has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats) and could be insensitive to the political demographics of California cities (it makes sense, for example, to have Senate and Assembly lines in San Francisco divide the city into east and west sides because that's how the politics of the city tend to break).
This measure abolishes that panel and would allow the Legislature to draw new lines for both state and federal offices after the 2010 census. We don't love having the Legislature handle that task — but we like the existing, unaccountable, unrepresentative agency even less. Vote yes.