November 2018: Propositions

Here are my current thoughts on the propositions on the November 2018 ballot.

You can also read my thoughts on candidates, or see a cheat sheet summary.

State-wide propositions

Yes on 1 (housing bonds)

Bonds for housing? We need housing. The official no argument is arguing against random other housing-related issues not actually related to this proposition.

Yes on 2 (allow mental health funds to be used for housing)

The actual effect of this one is a little subtle. In 2004, Prop 63 increased the state income tax on people making over a million dollars a year and dedicated that money to mental health services. In 2016, the legislature sought to use less than 10% of that money to build and rehabilitate housing specifically for people with mental illness.

Whether this was a legal use of the Prop 63 tax is currently under court review. This proposition would say that the answer is yes.

Most everyone is in favor of this. The no side seems to mostly be from the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Contra Costa; presumably they are one of the organizations that may see a small decrease in funding under this plan. I’m sympathetic, but helping people with mental illness stay off the streets by building more housing seems like a reasonable use of a small fraction of mental illness funding.

No? on 3 (non-legislative water bond)

We just had a water bond in June! And this one comes not from the legislature but from outside. I’m not really sure that groups other than the legislature should be deciding what water infrastructure projects our state takes. The League of Women Voters says no! So does the Sierra Club of California! I’m leaning towards no, mostly on good governance reasons: I don’t feel good about voting for a water bond that was developed in parallel with the actual government water bond without even knowing how that one would turn out.

Yes? on 4 (children’s hospital bond)

A bond to pay for construction and upgrades at all the major children’s hospitals in the state, both private non-profit and UC. (There do not appear to be any for-profit children’s hospitals covered by this.) It seems like we’ve done this before, in smaller propositions in 2004 and 2008 whose funding is about to run out. The League of Women Voters says to vote no because we shouldn’t fund private organizations with state funds. Some of these hospitals are doing quite well financially, and just because they are non-profit doesn’t mean they don’t have lavishly paid executives.

That said, this still seems like a good cause to me, and it seems to have a fair amount of support. The fact that there’s precedent for funding children’s hospitals via state bonds is attractive, and children’s hospitals in California do end up getting a majority of their funding via Medi-Cal and CCS, making them a bit closer to public institutions. If there were for-profit hospitals involved, I’d feel differently, but I think I’ll vote yes on this one.

NO! on 5 (lower property taxes for old rich people)

This is a terrible one.

Prop 13 (1978) is the worst set of laws on the books in California. Among other things, it prevents real estate from being reassessed until it is sold, meaning that long-term property owners can pay property taxes on 1970s-era assessments while their newer neighbors pay based on their recent purchase price. This law slashed local government funding and is the prime reason California has one of the nation’s worst public school systems.

Props 60 (1986), 90 (1988), and 110 (1990) extended Prop 13 even more. People who are over 55 or are severely disabled can, once in a lifetime, move to a home of equal or lesser value and still pay taxes on their old home’s old assessed value. This transfer has to be within a county or to a county that has agreed to accept this transfer.

To be completely explicit: the “equal or lesser value” here is comparing the market values of the two homes, not the assessed value! This legitimately is capturing the idea of “downsizing”. It’s not great that this deprives local governments of money, but it’s understandable: old folks can once downsize without affecting what they pay in property taxes.

Prop 5 would take that loophole and amplify it in so many directions. People using this loophole would be able to use it once and would be able to move to any county. Worse, it would take away the restriction that the home had to be of lesser value. Rich folks moving to a more expensive home would still get to keep their old assessed value (adjusted up by the different in market values)! Folks moving to a less expensive home would get to decrease their assessed value (as opposed to it just staying the same as in the current loophole)!

The original loopholes address real concerns about old folks stuck in an oversized home who can’t afford to pay property taxes on a smaller home.

The new loopholes just save money for rich people, drive housing prices up, enrich realtors (who literally wrote the measure), and defund local government.

This one is really bad. Please vote no.

Last year, the legislature passed a set of new car-related taxes (gas and diesel taxes and vehicle licensing fees) to fund road maintenance and transit programs. Perhaps you’ve seen the “SB1” signs near ongoing repair projects. These projects have already started and are important for our transportation infrastructure. In the long term, they will save drivers money by reducing wear on their cars, and of course I am in favor of the transit funding. We also voted in June to ensure that the legislature can only use the money for transportation purposes (which in my opinion is silly, but at least sets the stage for making a stronger argument for No on 6, which was the whole point of the June measure).

This measure would repeal all those new taxes. What will this do for the in-progress projects that are funded by them? The proponents have no answer.

Worse, this would require another proposition to ever pass any similar taxes again. Do you hate ballot box budgeting? This proposition is a “vote yes if you want more propositions” proposition, and I vote no on them on principal.

Honestly, this proposition is awful enough without even getting into the fact that our gas taxes are preposterously low compared to the rest of the world and that taxing gas to fund transit (and safer roads) is a no-brainer for trying to get anywhere near solving the problems of climate change. Or the fact that while its proponents certainly do honestly hate taxes, this is primarily on the ballot to drive conservative turnout and help some Republican members of Congress hold onto their seats. That’s why Paul Ryan has been backing it.

This one is really bad. Please vote no.

Yes on 7 (let legislature decide about daylight savings)

California’s time zone and DST rules were set via a proposition in 1949. This proposition would allow the legislature to control our time zone and DST rules. That seems totally reasonable to me.

Specifically, the proposition would encourage the legislature to consider switching us to permanent Pacific Daylight Time (aka permanent Mountain Standard Time, aka Arizona time). As a programmer and a parent, I dislike the DST time shift, though honestly I would vastly prefer year-round PST over year-round PDT — I like waking up to sunlight!

But there’s no reason we shouldn’t trust the legislature to make these decisions. So yes on 7.

Yes on 8 (cap dialysis center profits)

Most dialysis centers are run by a few for-profit companies, who charge exorbitant rates to private insurers (government insurers set rates much closer to costs). Prop 8 would require clinics to rebate any revenue greater than 115% of “direct patient care service costs”. So it kind of caps their profits, but you have to calculate profits in a way such that adminstrative costs don’t count as subtracting from their revenue, which is an even stronger way of preventing them from being extractive.

I’d rather this be the legislature than a proposition, but hey, there’s big money behind the no vote and I’m guessing this wouldn’t make much headway in the legislature. It’s a little weird that it’s so specific to dialysis centers and not to medical care in general, but on the other hand I like the idea of trying out a new form of lowering health care costs on one part of the industry first to see how it goes. So sure, yes on 8.

There is no Prop 9

This was going to be the “chop up California into smaller states” proposition but it got kicked off the ballot.

Yes on 10 (local power over rent control)

After the Assembly race, this is the second most difficult choice I have to make on this ballot.

This repeals Costa-Hawkins, the state act limiting how local governments can impose rent control.

Specifically, Costa-Hawkins bans:

I think the fixed date aspect of Costa-Hawkins is clearly problematic. That date was set 23 years ago and hasn’t changed. I understand telling developers that they should be able to control rents on new buildings as they please, but if you can’t figure out how to make all your profits in say, 20 years (the rolling window Berkeley will set if we pass Prop Q below) then maybe you shouldn’t be a developer.

Rent control without vacancy control has the clear downside that it incentivizes landlords to evict tenants or, in localities with eviction control, make living in the building unbearable until tenants leave. There are downsides to vacancy control (if too strict it can make it unaffordable to maintain buildings) but we’ve had the experiment of vacancy decontrol for 23 years; I’d like to see us try it again.

The main argument against Prop 10 is that rent control allows local governments to prevent housing development by instituting strict rent control. But local governments have plenty of other ways (especially downzoning) to prevent development much more directly. Letting them use this one tool which also can be used to help tenants seems OK to me. Even East Bay For Everyone (the East Bay YIMBY group) supports Prop 10. So I’ll vote yes on Prop 10.

No on 11 (let ambulance companies off the hook for past labor abuses)

The status quo for ambulance companies is to require EMTs and paramedics to be “on-call” during the rest and meal breaks required by general California labor law. In practice this apparently means that it’s hard to plan rest and meal breaks and they can get interrupted, but that there often is a lot of downtime during shift anyway.

It seems pretty clear that this is a violation of the written law even though it has been the standard operating procedure for a while. The courts recently held that security guards need to be fully off-call during their breaks, so probably the ongoing lawsuits against AMR and other ambulance companies will be decided in favor of the EMTs and paramedics and this will have to change…

… unless Prop 11 passes, which would make an exception to these labor laws for ambulance crews.

If that’s all it did, I could imagine voting yes. I can understand that public safety employees may need to be treated differently in some ways by labor laws. I don’t actually know if firefighters working for governments get off-call breaks. Maybe this is a reasonable way for things to be.

But Prop 11 also retroactively excuses ambulance companies from having to pay out from any ongoing lawsuits about this practice. And that’s hella sketchy. I don’t think this is like legalizing marijuana, where expunging the records of people locked up for pot crimes is part of justice. These are big powerful corporations who knew quite well they were breaking California labor laws, and even if the law should be different going forwards (and I’m not convinced of that!) that doesn’t mean they should get out scot free by paying millions to put an initiative on the ballot.

This issue can probably be resolved by the legislature anyway. Vote no to let the legislature do its job and force AMR to negotiate with its employees and the legislature rather than getting a “get out of jail free” card from us.

Yes on 12 (high standards for animal confinement)

I guess Prop 2 in 2008 was pretty good and this makes things a little better? It’s hard to track exactly which animal rights group is which (eg PETA is opposed, but PETA is weird) but on the whole this seems reasonable.

Peralta Community College District (Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, Alameda, Albany, and Piedmont) propositions

YES on E (renew a community college parcel tax)

Yay for the Peralta Community College District! Iris is a Laney College alum and still swims on their Masters team so I’m a little biased. Letting this tax expire in 2020 would be a big shame. (Note: it’s not like this is the only tax supporting the district: it gets most of its taxpayer funding from the main 1% county property tax and state and federal sources. But it’s still a helpful part of the budget!)

This one requires two thirds of the vote to pass, so please don’t miss it!

Yes on G (community college bonds)

Let’s not just renew the ongoing Peralta tax with E — let’s sell some bonds so we can improve the facilities! I haven’t changed my mind on our community colleges since the last paragraph, so um yes please be part of the 55% of voters who need to vote yes on this one.

Berkeley propositions

YES on O (affordable housing bonds)

We need to build more affordable/subsidized housing. The main way to pay for this is from requiring developers of market rate housing to pay for it, but directly supporting it via taxes is good too. Why bonds and not taxes? Well, partially because bonds get you the money faster, but also because Prop 13 (boo hiss) caps county property taxes at 1%, so it’s impossible to raise the main property tax. (That’s why all the other taxes we pay are per-parcel (super regressive!) or per-square-foot — we can’t raise the percentage tax!) But we can have percentage-based taxes for bond service.

Anyway, we should be spending public money on housing. Yes on O.

YES on P (raise transfer tax to help homeless)

Prop P raises the property transfer tax only on properties sold for $1.5 million or more, and spends that money on helping the homeless.

OK, technically it doesn’t have to spend the money on helping the homeless: it just allocates the money to the general fund and the proponents promise to spend it on helping the homeless (along with an advisory panel who would implement that promise). Why? Yet another shitty anti-tax proposition: 1996’s Prop 218, which says that any tax whose funds go to a specific purpose need to be approved by two thirds of voters. (Why? Because its proponents are cheap assholes who don’t appreciate living in civilization.) So Prop P uses the same mechanism as the recent soda tax to try to pass a new “general” tax needing only 50% of voters to approve, with a panel to ensure that the proposition’s promise is upheld. So far the soda tax panel has been honest. I trust the Prop P panel too.

The main opposition here are realtors, and they’ve been sending out all sorts of shady propaganda based on lies. They conveniently don’t mention that this only applies to property sold for $1.5 million or more, and they strongly imply that the (admittedly high) amount raised by this tax is an annual property tax, not a one-time transfer tax imposed on somebody who just took in over a million dollars. Yes on P.

YES! on Q (ensure Berkeley isn’t broken if 10 passes)

There’s a good chance Prop 10 will pass. If so, Berkeley’s never-repealed rent control law from the 90s will suddenly spring back to life, zombie-style!

Whether or not you like rent control in general, that would be pretty problematic. Berkeley used to have vacancy control, and if it is suddenly legal again, who knows what that would mean for the legality of basically every current rental rate in Berkeley! Lots of confusion and lawsuits, probably.

Prop Q would update Berkeley’s rent control law for a post-Costa-Hawkins world. It does three things:

I think these are reasonable ideas all around, but the last one is the most important for me — if Prop 10 passes, it’s important that everyone understands what their current rent is rather than creating confusion and lawsuits (and being financially untenable for small landlords).

Yes? on R (non-binding resolution about the future)

There’s so much on the ballot that it’s hard to spend energy thinking about non-binding resolutions. Non-binding resolutions from the mayor and unanimous City Council? Why is anyone wasting my time with this?

I can’t find anybody arguing against this, so sure, I’ll vote yes. If it gives the city government some support to use for pushing for good environmental things, then OK.

East Bay Regional Park District proposition

YES on FF (renew parcel tax)

This renews a small parcel tax ($12 per house) to fund the excellent East Bay Regional Park District. I love our parks and this isn’t even raising taxes, just renewing it! (I did look into it and this parcel tax is only 2% of the tax funding for the district; most of it comes from the main 1% taxes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.) The only no arguments come from people who don’t like the way the parks district deals with invasive tree species.