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News and Features
10.22.08

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Phaedra

Zip, Zip, Hooray : Breezing down to L.A. could be a low-carbon proposition if high-speed rail becomes a reality.

State Propositions


Prop. 1A California High Speed Rail Bond
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: Yes

It's time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it. The $10 billion bond on the November ballot will help build the first leg of the long-awaited California High Speed Rail, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We know it's not going to be a panacea for global warming and high gas prices, and we've heard the opponents argue it's a boondoggle that will break the state's bank. But it's time to put our money where our mouth is. California's bullet train could lead the way to other smart transportation alternatives across the nation. Plus, it's just cool.

Prop. 2 The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: Yes

Who doesn't cringe at the horrific footage of drooling, bleary-eyed, immobilized factory farm animals? Proposition 2 would allow us to have happy animals and eat them, too.

The act makes it a misdemeanor for California farmers to tether or confine their livestock in any way that prevents them from doing basic low-impact aerobics moves--lying down, standing up, fully extending limbs and turning around freely. This of course would eliminate common farming practices such as battery-caging chickens and keeping calves and pregnant sows in small crates, which produce maximum yield for minimum overhead--and often prevent some animals from ever walking. One serious downside to this proposition is that it would hurt California egg farmers. That's why poultry producers have mounted the greatest outcry against passage, arguing the conversion will be too expensive and markets will be flooded with unsafe eggs from Mexico. However, the act would not go into full effect until Jan. 1, 2015, giving farmers time to adjust their facilities and practices.

Beyond the logistics, this is just the way the wind is blowing these days. Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon already have similar legislation, and universities, restaurants and grocery stores are increasingly demanding products from animals living relatively normal lives. Criminy, even Burger King is giving preference to cruelty-free critters.

Best vote yes and usher in a new age of happy meals.

Prop. 3 Children's Hospital Bond Act
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: Yes

It's pathetic that the state of California must resort to this in order to provide care for dying children. The fact that we must take on this debt, with the state already deep in the red, is a genuine shame, and almost too much to bear. But it's the right thing to do.

Prop. 3 would authorize the issuance of roughly $1 billion in bonds for hospitals that treat children with life-threatening illnesses. Money from Prop. 3 bonds would pay for buildings, equipment and similar capital expenses at five UC hospitals and eight nonprofit hospitals. All of the money is earmarked to improve and expand access to child health care. The vote comes only four years after passage of a similar $750 million bond. Since that time, as you may have heard, the costs of doing any kind of business in this industry have skyrocketed. Supporters say these institutions can barely cover their operating expenses much less pay for necessary capital improvements.

California is already $120 billion in the hole from outstanding general-obligation bonds alone. We've sold bonds to pay for infrastructure like highways and water treatment systems, and even to pay off older debt. This is no way to run a state. This is no way to finance things like children's hospitals. Let this serve as more evidence that the state and the nation need comprehensive health care reform. But don't let sick kids pay for our leaders' failures.

Prop. 4 Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: No

Don't be surprised if you're hit by a wave of déjà vu in the voting booth--the parental notification proposition is baaack. If passed, this would amend the state constitution to require notification of a minor girl's parents or legal guardian that she is planning to have an abortion, and a 48-hour waiting period following notification. The fresh coat of paint over this twice-rejected proposal recasts it as "Sarah's Law," "Sarah" being a 15-year-old Texan who died in 1994 following a botched abortion. It's been widely reported that "Sarah" was actually in a common-law marriage, would not have been considered a minor and therefore would not have been helped by Prop. 4, not to mention that she, erhm, would have been in the wrong state. No matter.

Proponents say this year's model has more options, including the possibility that a judge waive notification if the girl demonstrates enough maturity or the abortion is in her best interest. To blow your own mind, try imagining an underage girl going through the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy, who can't turn to the adults in her life but will stand up in a courtroom of strangers to fight to have an abortion. It's like trying to comprehend infinity.

The spin on Sarah's story is that older men prey on underage girls and then cart them off to an abortion clinic to cover up their sexual crimes. It's all very Law & Order, but the simple truth is this is just a cynical ploy. Bury Proposition 4 alongside its similarly disingenuous predecessors.

Prop. 5 The Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: Yes

Proposition 5 would provide much-needed reforms to the state's criminal justice and drug rehabilitation systems. An expansion of Prop. 36, the 2000 initiative that established a drug treatment diversion program for nonviolent drug offenders, Prop. 5 would funnel more money into that program. It would also refine sentencing and parole guidelines.Instead of wasting taxpayers' money on incarceration and excessive parole sentencing, Prop. 5 establishes a three-track system that takes into account offenders' criminal, substance abuse and treatment histories. The initiative also drops possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction (like a speeding ticket) and directs the $100 fine from the infraction to fund drug treatment programs for juvenile substance abusers. Additional reforms include expanded treatment for juvenile drug offenders and oversight committees to track the effectiveness of the programs.

Due to savings from decreased incarceration and parole costs, plus the money saved from decreasing the need to build more prisons, the net cost of the $460 million-per-year-program could well be neutral.

The cycles of substance abuse and criminal recidivism can only be broken through realistic, comprehensive drug treatment programs that emphasize rehabilitation and make incarceration the very last resort. Prop. 5 is a vital piece of the vast reform needed in our state's broken criminal justice system.

Prop. 6 Police and Law Enforcement Funding
Metro recommends: No

State Proposition 6--fundamentally a lock-'em-up initiative originated by married SoCal state representatives George and Sharon Runner--has won the endorsements of numerous police and sheriff's organizations. Given spreading statewide gang problems, which it's designed to address, we can see why. But the proposed law, informally known as "The Safe Neighborhoods Act," has a serious economic--not to mention moral--downside.

Prop. 6 will add up to 10 years to the prison sentences of previously convicted felons who are caught carrying weapons, as well as gang offenders picked up for violent crimes. It also adds five years' annual registration for gang members following prison discharge and increased sentences for meth makers and dealers and witness tamperers.

Perhaps proving that its sponsors are hard-core law 'n' order zealots, Prop. 6's draconian language applies to repeat graffiti violators.

In addition to being Neanderthal in its approach to crime-prevention, the proposal is a budget-buster. The state budget analyst's office calculates its immediate costs at $365 million a year ($465 million a year by 2013) and points out that it will require, over time, prison construction and upgrade costs of an additional $500 million.

Deeper questions exist about the very root of the program; namely, the practice of authorities' assigning "gang enhancements" to youth offences, thus increasing sentences. Mistakes have frequently been made, and once law enforcement personnel have labeled someone a gang member, it's virtually impossible for that person to get off the list.

For these reasons, we join several state labor unions and taxpayers' groups, and even firefighters' groups, in opposing Proposition 6.

Prop. 7 Renewable Energy Generation
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: No

Prop. 7 tries to accomplish the noble and essential goal of securing more renewable energy for California, but its approach and unclear wording could ultimately undermine growth of clean energy sources.

Currently, the state obtains about 11 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal and biomass, with the goal of increasing that to 20 percent by 2017. Prop. 7 would accelerate the schedule and raise the bar by requiring all utilities to generate 20 percent of power from renewable sources by 2010 and 50 percent by 2025.

Despite this apparently pro-green mission, Prop. 7 is opposed by most major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, for three key reasons.

First, the measure seeks to fast-track the government approval process of new clean energy plants, which could lessen oversight and weaken environmental protections.

Second, increases on consumers' bills from renewable energy would be capped at 3 percent annually, while the bill fails to require a similar price cap for energy obtained from fossil fuels.

Finally, small-scale renewable utility companies that produce less than 30 megawatts could have more difficulty operating if this bill passes. That would lessen or eliminate community control over energy policies.

While the measure may be well-intentioned, its potential unintended consequences outweigh its possible benefits.

Although renewable energy policies need to be enacted on state and local levels, a flawed ballot measure is not the way to accomplish those goals.

Prop. 8 Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: No

On March 11, 2004, San Francisco's City Hall rang with laughter and tears in the surge of emotion uncorked when Mayor Gavin Newsom made same-sex marriage a legal reality. Later that day, the state Supreme Court ordered the city to cease and desist in its unilateral display of tolerance and love. But two months later, on May 15, that same Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on gay marriage, and California became one of two states in the nation to reject the bigotry that has denied gay couples this fundamental human right. (The other is Massachusetts.) On paper Prop. 8 is an issue of semantics. When it was first submitted, it came titled as the "California Marriage Protection Act," implying that the very institution of marriage would be hurt should same-sex couples be allowed to wed.

Prop. 8's title was sensibly changed by Attorney General Jerry Brown to "Limit on Marriage"--and then, after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May of this year, changed again, to "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry."

Prop. 8's conservative supporters, including the Mormon Church--which has called on its members to funnel millions into the campaign from around the globe--are at issue with the very simple language in the new title.

Supporters of Prop. 8 try to argue that same-sex couples already have the same domestic partnership rights of married couples in California. Hence, the only thing they're concerned about, they say, is whether same-sex couples get to say they're "married."

It's important to remember that the definitions of words change constantly. Remember when "gay" meant happy? For "marriage," those societal changes have already taken effect, and it's time to allow the definition to change accordingly.

By seeking to amend the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California, proponents of Prop. 8 are not "protecting" marriage. They aren't "defending" marriage. There is nothing to be lost in the institution of marriage by expanding its definition to include same-sex couples.

Prop. 9 Criminal Justice System; Victims' Rights; Parole
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: No

Prop. 9 does not define what victims' rights it professes to protect, except perhaps their right to see convicts locked up forever. In fact Prop. 9 has nothing whatsoever to do with victims' rights. It deals only with convicts' rights--by decimating them.

The main purpose of this at-best-misguided scheme is to deny convicts the right to petition for parole every five years--parole hearings would come only after 15 years. This is allegedly being done to save victims the cost of attending a slew of parole hearings.

This draconian measure is being driven by a cadre of supporters--including the powerful prison guards union--that has been working for years to make California law the most punitive on earth. Because of their past successes, our prisons are already overcrowded to crisis proportions, mostly with nonviolent offenders.

California runs the third-largest prison system in the world. The United States, home to 5 percent of the world's population, is home to 25 percent of the world's prison population. Besides being immoral, this is impractical. We have plenty of evidence to prove that incarceration, a crude anti-crime tool, does not work.

The international organization Human Rights Watch has been deeply critical of U.S. prison policies, stating that "the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States wreaks havoc on individuals, families and communities, and saps the strength of the nation as a whole."

In addition to being an assault on fairness and due process, this measure would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Prop. 10 Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy Bonds
Metro Santa Cruz Recommends: No

California needs a dynamic, comprehensive and fully funded clean-green renewable energy and fuels program aimed at eliminating carbon emissions.

This ain't it.

This proposition springs from the mind of T. Boone Pickens, the lifelong oil mogul and corporate raider. Having recently had an epiphany regarding the danger of carbon emissions and the efficacy of alternative fuels, he has essentially come up with a plan to sell us some.

Pickens wants California taxpayers to pony up so firms and individuals can buy or lease carbon-emitting natural gas-burning vehicles (hybrids need not apply), thus enormously expanding the market for guess-who's natural gas company. In a nod, he also includes cash payments in his plan for hydrogen and electric cars.

Pickens sank close to $4 million into Prop. 10 through his own Clean Energy Fuels Corporation. He has at least two additional backers, most notable for their utter obscurity.

A corporate raider's slick trick to pick California's green clean? That's what every state newspaper editorial board weighing in thus far believes. The plan has also been nixed by a remarkably wide range of strange bedfellows: the Sierra Club and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association; the Consumer Federation of California and the California Chamber of Commerce; the California Tax Reform Association and the California Nurses Association.

Prop. 11 Redistricting
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: Yes

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger championed redistricting reform back in 2003, it was easy to see it is a cynical ploy to wrest control of the state legislature from the Democratic Party. Back then, Schwarzenegger was a polarizing, partisan figure. He's changed a bit since then, and yet he is still dead set on seeing this done.

The governor put up nearly $2.5 million of his own money to get this measure on the ballot, arguing--as he always has--that it is a root cause of the very real polarization that often paralyzes Sacramento. This time, we believe him. So does former state Treasurer Steve Westly, who ran against Schwarzenegger in 2006 and co-chairs the "Yes on 11" effort. Former Gov. Gray Davis, former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, former Santa Cruz Assemblyman Fred Keeley and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (all Democrats) have endorsed the measure, along with AARP, the League of Women Voters and California Common Cause. In the short term it may in fact hurt Democratic lawmakers. In the long term, it's good for California.

Prop. 12 Veteran's Bond Act
Metro Santa Cruz recommends: Yes

Since 1922, in 26 elections, California voters have approved $8.4 billion in bonds for low-cost loans to veterans through the Cal-Vet fund. All of that money has been repaid.

Here's how it works: The state authorizes the sale of bonds to raise the money--in this case, $900 million. That money is made available for veterans to apply for low-interest home loans. As they pay off their houses, the debt is retired.

This bond will allow 3,600 California veterans to buy houses.Our service men and women put their own lives on hold to serve the country and are currently about the only Americans doing anything that smacks of self-directed sacrifice. They should be able to relax in a room or two they can call their own once that service is done.


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