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Vote by Numbers: Measure T proposes to divide Santa Cruz into seven districts. One of its controversial borders cuts through Beach Flats, putting part of the neighborhood in District 4, and the remainder (the section close to the San Lorenzo River) into District 3.

Propositions and Ballot Measures

State Props

Proposition 32:: YES
Housing Assistance For Veterans

The so-called Veterans Bond Act of 2000, put on the ballot by the Legislature, asks for voter approval to renew the funding for a state-run program that helps California veterans of the Vietnam War and earlier conflicts get first-time homebuyer home loans at a low interest rate.

The Office of Veterans Affairs says that the $500 million the bond raises will help about 2,400 Vietnam veterans purchase new homes or farms--few of which, one can only presume, will be in the inflated Bay Area, where $250,000 won't get you a one-room hovel. And therein lies the core of our argument in favor of the bill: in today's ridiculous real estate market, everyone deserves a break toward owning a first home.

The bill's opponents do not agree. But they err in the voter pamphlet when they say, disapprovingly, that under this bill, "even someone who stayed home in the National Guard is a qualified 'veteran' under the Cal-Vet loan program." According to the experts, such a person does qualify for some Cal-Vet loan programs but not for the particular program these bonds will go toward, which requires that the vets in question saw wartime service abroad prior to the end of the Vietnam conflict.

Theoretically, taxpayers could end up paying off some of the debt that will be incurred herein, but only if all the veterans who take advantage of it default on their loans. This has never happened in this loan program's 88-year history.

Proposition 33:: NO
Pensions for State Legislators

Prop. 33 would allow members of the state Legislature to receive retirement benefits from the Public Employee's Retirement System (PERS), like all other public employees. It would counteract part of Prop. 140, an amendment voters enacted in 1990 to eliminate pensions for legislators.

According to the ballot summary, PERS costs would come out of a fixed annual amount provided in support of the Legislature. Supporters say it's only fair that legislators, who serve six to 14 years, should have access to the same retirement benefits as most other state workers.

But the proposition's opponents call it an unnecessary perk. "This is not for the benefit of the public," said Lewis Uhler, the president of the National Tax-Limitation Committee. "This is crass self-interest."

We agree. Legislators already earn $99,000 per year and are eligible for about $25,000 per year more in tax-free reimbursement for living expenses. That's plenty of dough to invest in their own retirement.

Proposition 34:: NO
Campaign Contributions

Prop. 34 is a cynical attempt by state politicians to sell voters a package of positive campaign finance reform. The proposition would allow for almost unlimited campaign donations and undo the work of Proposition 208, the 1996 campaign reform initiative passed by 61.3 percent of voters. A year after it was enacted, a federal court suspended the proposition, but this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled favorably in a Missouri case with provisions similar to 208. Legal experts believe that based on this case, Prop. 208 will be reinstated. If Prop. 34 passes however, chances of reviving Prop. 208 may diminish, if not be killed completely.

Proposition 35:: YES
Private Contracting of Caltrans Projects

We all know how long Caltrans can take to finish anything. Caltrans has a backlog of public-works projects that are completed largely by in-house engineers and architects. Current California law allows the state to contract outside services but only under limited circumstances. Under Prop. 35, state agencies would be able to use qualified private engineers and architects to simply get the jobs done safely and efficiently. And maybe even more cheaply.

According to supporters, an economic study of the proposition showed that the use of private-sector service would save California taxpayers $2.5 billion annually and create 40,000 additional private-sector jobs.

Opponents say that the initiative is only following a trend of privatization, and in doing so, public employee unions lose out on pay and work.

But we're going along with the countless supporters of the proposition: sponsor Taxpayers for Fair Competition, the California chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the California Minority and Women's Business Coalition. We say spread the wealth, and the work. With more people working on the job, long-term projects are accomplished sooner--on time and on budget.

Proposition 36:: NO
Diversion of Drug Offenders

Proposition 36, backed by the same sponsors that helped pass the Medical Marijuana initiative, presents a sticky situation. Since the war on drugs began, federal and state measures combating drugs have focused on criminal law enforcement over prevention and treatment. In California, where prisons have become a boom industry, that effort has largely failed, and the public seems ready to consider more liberal drug policies.

At first glance, Proposition 36, which seeks to put most first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs instead of in jail, seems to fit that growing sentiment. If passed, the proposition would divert approximately 37,000 nonviolent drug offenders from California's prisons, which hold the highest rate of admissions for drug-related offenses in the United States.

So what's not to like? Prop. 36 does not push for any real accountability, excluding what existing drug-court judges regard as crucial court sanctions--the "carrot and stick" approach--used to get addicts to clean up. Prop. 36 also prohibits spending any of the money allocated in the initiative for drug testing, which, according to judges, is the only tried-and-true method to determine if someone is using drugs. When drug-court graduates were asked what kept them in treatment, 91 percent said jail sanctions and 87 percent said frequent drug testing, according to a study done by American University.

The lack of treatment opportunities for offenders has important implications and, if anything, Prop. 36 accurately pinpoints California's growing interest in doing more about it. But the oddly worded initiative undermines the work currently being done by California's drug-treatment courts and provides no satisfactory solution. Vote "No" and let's wait for more precise and forward-looking legislation on drugs.

Proposition 37:: NO
Eliminating Fees for Hazardous Businesses

Let's pretend we don't give a damn about reading through lengthy and complicated propositions. Let's just say that all we want to do is show up at the polls and punch the hole next to the vote that will least embarrass us when we discover what the proposition was really all about.

There's actually a way to cut through the mumbo-jumbo: Just follow the money. Take Prop. 37, for example. Philip Morris ponied up $350,000, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States kicked in $200,000 and Chevron sweetened the pot with another $200,000 to push it through.

For the record, companies that create hazards to our health have to pay a fee for the state to monitor and then clean up their messes. Prop. 37 would redefine these fees as taxes, therefore subjecting the fees to a two-thirds vote for approval. In other words, we--not the polluter--would be footing the cleanup bill.

Who's against Proposition 37? American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters--and Metro Santa Cruz.

Proposition 38:: NO
School Vouchers

The theory behind Prop. 38, venture capitalist Tim Draper's school voucher initiative, appears to be that since California's public schools are in need of some help, we should just take their funding away and give it to private educational institutions. This logic is a little like attempting to cure the homeless problem by taking away people's cardboard boxes.

The initiative proposes to hand out vouchers in the amount of $4,000 per child. According to state budget analysts, Prop. 38 would cost around $3 billion, money that would be unloaded from the state's coffers--and certainly from the already inadequate public school budget. While the parents of children already enrolled in private schools would no doubt welcome a publicly funded reduction in tuition payments, this action would indisputably jeopardize the futures of our children still remaining in public schools.

Proposition 39:: YES
Easier Passage of School Bonds

If passed, Prop. 39 would overhaul the way school bond money is spent. It would amend the state constitution (which now requires a two-thirds vote of the electorate) to allow school districts to authorize by a two-thirds vote the sale of bonds not exceeding $100 per average household. The bond issue must then be approved by 55 percent of the voters. Prop. 39 offers greater safeguards than guaranteed under Prop. 13, which set no limit on the amount of bonds that can be issued.

At the same time, Prop. 39 makes it easier for struggling school districts to order the kind of capital improvements sorely needed in California, which ranks second in the nation in class size.

Santa Cruz City Measures in depth

Measure T: NO
District Elections

This charter amendment seeks to switch the City Council from at-large elections to district elections. Under the proposed system, starting in 2002, residents in Districts 5, 6 and 7 will vote for one councilperson. Residents in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4 won't vote for a City Council representative until 2004.

Proponents say that the switch will result in fairer representation, easier access to councilmembers and neighborhood accountability. But what is proposed falls short of these promises and does little more than risk confusing a general electorate already apathetic toward local races.

This is the second time that district elections have been proposed, and the first time the issue has made it to the ballot. Much of this effort's success must lie with residents' general discontent with the current makeup of the City Council. But antipathy is not a reason to change an election system that for the most part works.

There are numerous other reasons to oppose Measure T. Supporters claim that by splitting the city into seven voting districts, with one representive chosen by voters in each district, that greater neighborhood representation will result on a council that has been largely dominated by progressive interests, and currently by a Santa Cruz Action Network-supported majority. However, even supporters agree that district elections will likely not change the philosophical makeup of the council.

The proposed districts illogically split key neighborhoods like the Westside Circles, Seabright and Beach Flats. In the last case, the largest concentrated Latino population in the city would be divided in two. The proposed district borders are based on old census figures and will have to be adjusted even as they go into effect. But the way the lines are currently drawn--and will likely be redrawn as mandated following the new census--separates neighborhoods rather than unifies them.

Measure T supporters further argue that a district election would lower campaign spending by drawing candidates from a smaller pool. Neither cost nor overspending has arisen as a campaign issue in the past, and there is no guarantee that playing to a smaller field will limit campaign spending.

Supporters also don't factor the likely cost of runoff elections, which would be required when district candidates don't receive at least 50 percent of the vote. In Berkeley, almost every district election has required a runoff vote, at unspecified cost and an even greater risk of voter apathy. It's hard enough to get people to come and vote once; why would they want to come out again four weeks later? The runoffs, which would take place four weeks after the election, would also tend to disenfranchise student voters, who will be mired in the end of the term or even be out of town when it's time for the second vote.

District elections in Watsonville were mandated by the Supreme Court to insure that minority interests were represented. In cities like San Jose and San Francisco, district elections made sense because of their size and the potential of big-money interests (with questionable results) influencing elections. These factors are negligible in a city the size of Santa Cruz.

At its core Measure T--a charter amendment that could not be changed by future ordinances--limits exactly what it claims it would offer: choice. District candidates must reside in that district for their full two-year term, hardly a controllable factor in this tight housing market, especially for renters. If a seat is vacated, only candidates from the same district are eligible without a special election. Furthermore, without moving, none of the current councilmembers up for re-election in 2002 would be eligible to run, nor would some candidates for this year's general election be able to run in 2004. Seems like less choice to us.

Measure U: YES
Transient Occupancy Tax

Most residents of Santa Cruz have an opinion about the city's homeless problem, ranging from annoyance toward panhandlers to fears of neighborhood degradation from camping denizens. A loud argument in some sectors is that the homeless problem risks hurting the tourism industry that the city relies upon. Yet many of the same people who demand the City Council do something about the homeless--business, restaurant and lodging management--are the most vocally opposed to Measure U, an ordinance that would raise revenue to help the problem by funding homeless services and shelters.

The measure, which requires a two-thirds vote to pass, would increase the transient occupancy tax on hotel and motel rooms from 10 percent to 12 percent. The increased revenues--an amount that the city's financial office concludes could reach nearly $707,000--are earmarked "to provide additional funding to nonprofit homeless service providers for the provision of shelter services, including establishing permanent year-round shelter with appropriate facilities for homeless families and children." It leaves the decision of how to improve homeless services in the hands of those who understand the problem better than anyone: service providers.

Opponents argue that the increased room tax would hurt Santa Cruz' tourist industry--not just hotels and motels, but also restaurants and other tourist-targeting businesses. They also claim that the ordinance isn't clear in its mission of providing additional shelter for the city's homeless. There is no real indication, however, that increasing the transient tax by 2 percent would dissuade visitors from coming to Surf City.

A more pressing reason to support this measure is that the "homeless" are not just those folks pilfering grocery carts and leaving makeshift beds along the San Lorenzo River bike path. The area's skyrocketing rents and crushing housing market mean that many working families are one paycheck away from eviction, and could easily add to the crunch in the city's woefully lacking shelter space.

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From the November 1-8, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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