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The Local Measures

Yes on roads, no on city hall and let Bob Binkley do what he wants


Measures A & B

Advisory Vote on Transportation Spending, and Half-Cent Sales Tax

This corporate-sponsored measure employs sales tax to relieve traffic congestion in the Santa Clara Valley, which has worsened in recent months as the economy reheats and jobs are added. There is little doubt relief is needed; anyone who has driven Interstate 880, the Guadalupe Parkway, Highway 17 or the Montague Expressway during daylight hours knows that most travelers don't actually drive on these roads; they sit behind the wheel and curse.

Measures A and B attempt to address the valley's transportation problems by building new roads and expanding mass transit systems. Measure A is a non-binding advisory vote which lets the politicians know how the people want any sales tax increase spent, though it doesn't force local governments to spend the money on transportation-related projects. Though structured as a general fund tax, there is little doubt that the money would be spent as is being sold to voters--if the pols know what is good for their political futures.

Measure B would increase the county sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.25 percent for nine years. It also sets up a "watchdog" committee of citizens that is supposed to have the power to hold public hearings and audit the use of the taxes.

The authors made Measure B a general sales tax to circumvent the ruling that made the 1992 sales tax for transportation projects illegal--because it supposedly violated Proposition 13. If Measure B was written as a tax for transportation, it would have to pass with a two-thirds majority--something that is probably not going to happen in this lifetime.

The estimated $90 million the additional tax is supposed to raise each year will not be controlled or handed out by the committee. The money will be doled out to the various cities and transportation agencies to fix pothole-pocked streets, and to the county to create a rail link, via the Union Pacific tracks, to Fremont BART.

Money also will go to widen Highway 17, the Guadalupe Parkway, Highway 101 between Bernal Rd. and Morgan Hill and that I-880 bottleneck between Highway 101 and 237. Also, the signals on the Almaden, Central, San Tomas and Montague expressways will be synchronized.

There are reasons to criticize the underlying logic of the tax-and-pave bandwagon. The commuting infrastructure benefits big business and its employees disproportionately but makes everyone pay. And does the valley really need more cars and pavement?

Like it or not, more vehicles are coming and, as Californians learned during the Jerry Brown era, the failure to build roads only results in more bad air and congested roadways, not a mass embrace of bicycling.

Anyone who has spent the past decade in Silicon Valley knows that the last round of sales tax-funded freeways contributed the valley's quality of life. It's easier to get to many parts of the valley than it was in the 1980s. (Now if they could only hire a good architect to improve the aesthetics and acoustics of the soundwalls.)

Luckily, the transportation plan includes a serious mass transit component to lessen the region's dependence on freeways. Valley residents should overlook the regressive nature of the tax and support the twin measures. Or else get out of their cars and roller-blade to work.

Recommendation: Yes on A and B.


Measure C

Elections for Mid-Term Supervisor Vacancies

What could be more democratic than offering citizens the chance to vote on who will fill a mid-term vacancy on the county's board of supervisors? Measure C would amend the county charter to allow the county's supervisors to either appoint a replacement or call for special elections. Currently, the board only has the discretion to appoint replacements.

Allowing voters to select a replacement representative is obviously the American thing to do. Problem is, relatively few people turn out for special elections--between 9 percent and 32 percent of registered voters over the last two years, according to the Registrar of Voters. Thus a relatively small group of well-funded special interests could influence selection of the new supervisor. Special elections also cost money: as much as $350,000 a pop.

The cost is worth it, if only to prevent the board's majority from handpicking another yes vote. A single bad vote or inside deal could cost the public a lot more.

As written, Measure C gives supervisors the discretion when to appoint and when to call for an election. This can encourage whichever political faction holds the majority on the board to choose the route most likely to help them retain control.

Despite its flaws, Measure C will allow supervisors the option of putting vacancies to a vote, something which isn't available now.

Recommendation: Yes on C.


Measure D

Transit Plan

Measure D asks voters to pass judgment on the Santa Clara County Transit District transit plan. The vote is purely advisory and occurs every six years.

No longer a political arm of the county supervisors, the Santa Clara County Transit District has made decent progress since 1990. They've put bike racks into buses and light rails and started construction of the Tasman Light Rail Corridor, among other efforts. Bus service is still pretty cheap and considerably better than neighboring AC Transit.

Measure D doesn't suggest any alternatives to the current plan, only a yes or a no. The only reason to vote no is if you've utterly lost faith in county public transit. We don't see any reason for this. Measure D is a good complement to the transit improvements that we hope will be funded by Measures A and B, like commuter transit to BART.

Recommendation: Yes on D.


Measure E

Office of the Independent Police Auditor

San Jose's independent police auditor was brought in as a compromise after community groups demanded the establishment of a citizens' police review commission. The office investigates citizen complaints against police and issues public reports to the city council. Though many activists would rather see a commission, and police would rather police their own ranks, there is little doubt that the office has been a step in the direction of greater community accountability.

Measure E would give the Office of the police auditor the same chartered status as the city auditor--extending the same protection, autonomy and employment benefits. Measure E would allow the police auditor to serve four-year terms by City Council vote, and only be voted out by at least ten City Council members.

Formalizing the auditor's office will keep it independent and to the extent possible, distanced from politics. Since its establishment, the Office of the Independent Police Auditor under Teresa Guerrero-Daley has done a credible job as the city's first independent law enforcement watchdog. It makes good sense to keep it.
Recommendation: Yes on E.


Measure F

Civil Service

The civil service system, with its exams and disciplinary hearings for government employees, was devised to ensure that elected officials don't celebrate their victories by handing out patronage jobs to relatives and golf partners. Measure F would take some temporary and some high-level jobs out of the civil service. The Mayor's New Realities Task Force recommended these measures in March.

San Jose is just catching up with other cities in the state in taking key policy positions out of civil service. The city manager could use more flexibility in hiring, disciplining and firing employees who don't perform in an era of governmental reengineering. Under civil service rules, it is harder to keep tenured managers in line, and the public foots the bills for managerial inefficiency in the form of higher taxes and substandard services.

Civil service requirements make it cumbersome for the city to fore an incompetent manager, hire a teenager for a summer program, retain a lawyer with specialized knowledge or a employ programmer to install a new software system. The city has its own requirements, outside of civil service, to ensure that these positions are advertised and well-defined.

No one will lose a civil service position as a result of Measure F; current civil servants are grandfathered in. The city manager retains control, so council members still won't be able to unilaterally appoint friends to high positions.

Recommendation: Yes on F.


Measure G

Auto Yard

San Jose needs a central place to drop off thousands of abandoned or wrecked cars a year. The Planning Commission and City Council have both approved by wide margins a Pick Your Part auto wrecking and recycling yard near Kelley Park on Senter. Local recyclers say that unlike many auto yards, the new yard will use updated technology that will recycle more parts of each car with less toxic runoff.

The yard was all set to go until some local auto-wrecking competitors financed a petition campaign to get Measure G on the ballot. This might have been understandable if the yard had been some hush-hush, late-night consent-calendar item, but it wasn't. There's been a lengthy site selection process, public hearings and visits by the Planning Commission to other Pick Your Part yards.

TV ads by Measure G opponents make it seem as if the yard is located too close to Kelley Park and a historical museum. The truth is, there are already other auto wrecking yards a stone's throw from the site. The yard itself will be partitioned off by a 10-foot-tall landscaped wall. The TV ads cry, "What about the children?" referring to a nearby school site. But the local school superintendent supports the yard.

The San Jose Mercury News opposed the yard because of problems uncovered at Pick Your Part's Hayward yard. But the environmental group that blew the whistle on Hayward and other area yards, Baykeeper, says Pick Your Part has been unusually fast to clean up its act. Baykeeper director Mike Lozoau says that Pick Your Part's new yard in Anaheim is about the cleanest he's seen. In any case, the city responded to concerns by ordering mandatory inspections (funded by Pick Your Part) and strengthening cleanup standards for the site, enforceable by fines.

Pick Your Part's competitors figure that with enough money, they can buy a ballot measure and a policy reversal. Prove them wrong.

Recommendation: Yes on G.


Measure H

Campaign Spending Limits

The U.S. Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to impose mandatory campaign spending limits, but Measure H hopes to make voluntary reductions attractive to candidates. Its authors hope that candidates who refuse to cap their expenditures will be spanked by voters and the media. In addition, those candidates will be forced to piece together funds from size-restricted contributions. Candidates who agree to restrain their spending to a figure that will later be determined by the Campaign Finance Review and Ethics Board will continue to receive a maximum of $250 as city council candidates and $500 as mayoral candidates. (The overall spending cap has not yet been determined, but Councilmember Margie Fernandes speculates it will be no higher than $200,000.)

Even if Measure H is passed, however, it's only a drop in the bucket toward abating the money-raising mania that continues to taint the electoral process. It still must make its way onto the city council's agenda and be voted in. And even then it's only voluntary.

While Measure H opponents acknowledge that Measure H is an incremental step in the right direction, they're concerned that voters will erroneously assume that the measure will seriously reduce the influence of money on local politics. Their concern is valid. But this measure, supported by Mayor Susan Hammer and Councilmember Margie Fernandes, seems headed on the right path. As long as voters are informed, Measure H does no harm and might actually do some good.

Recommendation: Yes on H.


Measure I

San Jose Civic Center Relocation

Here are six reasons to vote against this silly, sneaky measure. First, it purports to be revenue neutral, because it would consolidate city departments that are currently renting space downtown. That sounds fiscally reasonable, unless one realizes that the city took leases downtown to funnel hidden subsidies to developers and prop up the downtown economy during the 1980s, so it may be overpaying for space. Second, does the city's bureaucracy really need to occupy the most expensive real estate around? Third, the city has the bad habit of giving its employees free parking. Since it hasn't built a public garage in more than a decade, a downtown city hall would further worsen a customer-unfriendly parking situation. Fourth, using land instead for a tax producing private use would generate taxes for the city and actually make it money. Fifth, do we really want all those code enforcement officers measuring signs and checking fire exits? And finally, has a redevelopment agency-administered project ever come in on budget? What are they going to do when the project architect decides that the lobby needs more polished marble or discovers that the roof leaks--tear the building down?

Measure L removes the need for the city to ask voters for permission to move its offices. But without a detailed proposal voters don't really have a clue what they are saying "yes" to. The city should come back when it has a plan.

Recommendation: No on I.


Measure J

Use of Moffet Field

This measure aims to poll Mountain View residents' views on the possibility of air cargo flights or civil aviation at Moffett Federal Airfield. The results will serve as a barometer of local opinion about the future of the federal site, but that's about it. NASA reportedly shelved its plans for noisy, early-morning air cargo flights earlier this year. The cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale have worked in tandem and selected an 18-member community advisory committee to study all options. In the sample ballot, voters have been presented with an argument against, and no argument in favor. The measure appears geared toward failure, for good reason.

Recommendation: No on J.


Measure K

Saratoga General Plan Amendment

When Bob Binkley's father died and he decided to sell off the smaller of his father's two lots, he never dreamed he'd have to put his plans to a vote of the people. Supporters of the measure responsible for Binkley's situation, Measure G, never thought he'd have to, either.

Measure G, a growth-control initiative, requires any changes to the city's general plan be put to a vote of the people. And Binkley's lot line adjustment changes a half-acre parcel of land from its designation as "hillside conservation, single family" to "very low density, single family." So, poor Binkley is the first case affected by Measure G, passed by Saratoga voters in March.

The fact that this measure is even on the ballot is testimony to the acrimonious atmosphere between Saratoga residents and their councilmembers. Measure G supporters are saying, "That's not what we meant," and councilmembers are saying, "We told you it was a bad idea." Meanwhile, Binkley is stuck footing the $3,500 bill to put his lot line adjustment on the ballot.

Planning commissioners didn't have a problem with Binkley's adjustment. Measure G supporters didn't have a problem with it. The voters shouldn't have a problem with it, either.

Recommendation: Yes on K.


Measure L

Saratoga Utility-Users Tax

A decade ago the Saratoga City Council said, "The streets are a mess. Residents are complaining. Let's impose a tax to raise money for the streets. It'll be based on utility bills." And so was born the utility-users tax. In 1990, the City Council extended the tax another five years. And again in 1995. The tax is now set to expire in June 2000. Meanwhile, Proposition 62 was passed in 1986. Prop. 62 requires a majority public vote for general taxes and a two-thirds vote for special taxes. Does Proposition 62 make the utility-users tax illegal because it was extended without a vote of the people?

Many Saratoga residents thought so, and they informed the Pacific Legal Foundation, which threatened to sue Saratoga unless it stopped collecting the tax immediately and put it on the November ballot for a vote. The city agreed, but kept collecting the tax, claiming it was a legal tax because it was originally enacted before Proposition 62.

But now, Measure L itself is under attack. PLF attorney Deborah Fetra and many Saratoga voters say the city hasn't really placed the tax on the ballot at all. The measure states, "This measure would amend the existing sunset clause, thereby continuing the tax at the same rate of three and one-half percent until Jan. 1, 2001." Amend the sunset clause? Isn't the issue the tax?

The utility-users tax amounts to about $77 a year for Saratoga households, not much in such an affluent area. And the money is needed in a city that has been dipping into reserves and reducing the size and scope of its facilities for the past few years. But the legality of the tax is questionable, and the wording of the ballot is cloudy. Voters need to send a message to the city: A new tax can be imposed legally, but this tax has too many skeletons in its closet.

Recommendation: No on L.

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From the October 31-November 6, 1996 issue of Metro

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