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Giving Props


We weigh in on a batch of bad initiatives and a good prospect for governor

Hamburg for Governor

This week, Californians are able to do something that is ordinarily irresponsible in statewide and national elections--vote their consciences. New polls show Democratic candidate Gray Davis way ahead. He doesn't need our vote; Jane Harman and Al Checchi don't deserve it. And there's nothing anyone can do yet to stop Dan Lungren. So we're free to vote for someone advocates ecologically and socially sound principles. Like stopping executions. Decriminalizing marijuana. Ending the destruction of old-growth forests. Better pay for teachers. Universal health care.

Green candidate Dan Hamburg not only champions these ideas; he is a credible candidate. From 1994 to 1996, he represented Mendocino County in the U.S. Congress, where he is remembered as the author of the overwhelmingly passed Headwaters Forest Act.

A vote for Hamburg may be a protest vote--we're not that naive about California electoral politics in the '90s--but it isn't a wasted vote.

If there were a chance that anyone other than Gray Davis might win next Tuesday, we would reconsider this position. Davis, though an uninspiring incrementalist, is smart and capable with a solid centrist record. He knows Sacramento well. And he possesses the most important quality a Democrat can have this year--the platform and the team most equipped to beat Dan Lungren.

Hamburg has an excellent record on the environment, as would be expected from the Greens. But the Stanford grad puts forward other well-developed ideas.

His proposals for funding education, transportation and social services set him aside from the pack that offer safe solutions unlikely to reverse the decline of California's educational system, the erosion of its environmental quality or the violence that plagues our state.

New ideas were once the realm of the Democrats. But they have succumbed to the electoral pragmatism of cheerleading the death penalty and environmentally unsound economic development. Luckily, there's an alternative for voters who think schools, forests and coastlines are more deserving of funding than prisons. His name is Dan Hamburg.

Measure A

Nobody ever said teaching is an easy profession. But few people realize just how rough things have gotten for both in Pajaro Valley Unified School District.

These days several classes may be packed into one classroom, leaving even the most disciplined teachers with a sense that anarchy is on the horizon. Politicians brag about passing class-size reductions, but schools haven't had the cash to add facilities to match changes.

Enter Measure A to help spell relief. The measure authorizes $75 million in bonds to build new facilities and improve existing schools before they implode. It allocates about $32 million to the Aptos area and just over $43 million to schools in Watsonville. The idea is that both areas will pitch in $11.5 million to foot the bill for a new high school. Three new elementary schools are also in the works--if voters support Measure A.

"This bond measure is not a political issue," PVUSC board president Sharon Gray says. "It's the right thing to do for our children."
Recommendation: Yes on A.

Measure C

Cabrillo College is sort of the big, furry golden retriever of higher education. While you have to jump through hoops to get the big guys like Harvard or even UCSC to notice you, good ol' Cabrillo is always there. Like a faithful pooch, the Aptos campus is there to serve, welcoming each new batch of children with a gentle wag of its tail.

But Fido's getting old. Built to last 25 years, the campus is now almost 40.

Measure C is the opportunity to patch up the facilities. By floating up to $85 million in bonds, the Cabrillo Community College District could afford much-needed renovations and expansions.

Cabrillo President John Hurd notes that the campus was built for 8,000 and now has 13,000 students. It's time to quit patching and re-patching the roofs, plumbing and heating systems and fork out for replacements.

According to Margot Wells of the Yes on Measure C campaign, this bond will cost homeowners about $2 a month--about the price of a latte. OK, it's for the next 30 years, so think of it as 1,660 lattes. And also think of it as payback from a generation of tight-fisted taxpayers.
Recommendation: Yes on C.

Proposition 219

This one is sort of a slam-dunk. It just means that any statewide proposition must be written to apply to the entire state equally. Most of them already are, but in 1993, Prop 172 enacted a statewide sales tax to pay for additional cops. The tax would be assessed statewide, but the money raised, and the extra cops, would only go to those counties that approved the measure. This provision supposedly encouraged some to vote "yes" when they might have voted "no" just to be sure they wouldn't end up paying a tax they wouldn't benefit from. If a popular proposition were written this way, it would discourage a minority from registering their dissent. How democratic is that? Proposition 219 will assure that citizens can vote with the good of the state in mind and not be punished for disagreeing with the winning side.
Recommendation: Yes on 219.

Proposition 220

This proposition would disintegrate the two-tiered trial court system. As it now exists, municipal court handles the small stuff: misdemeanors, civil suits of less than $20,000 and penny-ante infractions. The superior court handles felonies, family law and big-bucks civil suits.

If Prop 220 passes, it would consolidate the two courts within a county as long as it's approved by the majority of that county's judges--from both courts. The merger would theoretically break up logjams in both courts by keeping all judges' dockets and courtrooms full.
Recommendation: Yes on 220.

Proposition 221

Prop 221 would shift the authority for disciplining the state's court commissioners and referees, the so-called "subordinate judicial officers" who serve as judges for such things as traffic cases and some family and small claims matters. Now, the presiding judge of each local court appoints them and then handles any disciplinary proceedings that arise. Prop 221 would change the law so that the state's Commission on Judicial Performance would be responsible.

Proponents say that because the CJP does not presently discipline commissioners and referees, we are left with such horror stories as commissioners awarding child custody to pedophiles. But when is the last time you heard of the CJP disciplining any of the judges over which they do have authority?
Recommendation: No on 221.

Proposition 222

Lock the door and throw away the key. This is the basic tenet of Proposition 222, which promises to wipe out the criminal justice provision that allows second-degree murderers, whose crime is not premeditated, to trim off part of their 15- to 25-year sentences for hard work and good behavior. The proposition also cracks down on cop-killers, upping the sentence for second-degree murder of a police officer to life without parole. This ballot measure boils down to a difference in thinking about prisoners. Supporters argue that murderers should serve the maximum sentence--no matter what. Opponents believe criminals have the potential for rehabilitation--and we believe they're right.
Recommendation: No on 222.

Proposition 223

Proposition 223 is another one of those chameleon ballot measures that sends out one message and delivers an opposite result. A "yes" vote means schools get less money. Prop 223 claims it will trim down bureaucracies at California schools by limiting the dollars a district can spend on administration to only 5 percent of their total state and federal funds. The remaining 95 percent, the prop says, will be reserved exclusively for the classrooms.

"The teacher in front of the classroom is something we're all focused on, but that doesn't mean they don't need services that support them, whether it be janitorial or a curriculum director," says Maureen Munroe, spokesperson for San Jose Unified School District. "Prop 223 would just create yet another layer of accounting and reporting."
Recommendation: No on 223.

Proposition 224

Prop 224, sponsored by the state's civil engineers' union, would work this way: any time the state needed to build a road or a dam or anything else costing more than $50,000, interested companies and the state itself would submit estimates to the state controller to see who could do it cheapest (currently the state picks firms, then discusses money).

Opponents of 224 say it's a rigged system that discourages competitive bidding and would unfairly award most contracts to the state, taking jobs from unionized workers to the benefit of a select group of state employees.
Recommendation: No on 224.

Proposition 225

First off: Prop 225 is not a direct vote on congressional term limits. That has already been voted on by Californians and declared unconstitutional. Now supporters want to pass a constitutional amendment. Prop 225 would make support of such an amendment the position of the state, it would require all legislators from California to work to pass the amendment and it would require that ballots identify any candidates who refuse to support such an amendment.

If passed, this proposition would allow for all sorts of "ballot position statements." Both sides of the abortion issue might want "yes or no" statements from candidates put on the ballot. And what about the death penalty? Once you open up the door for one issue, you have to open up the door for all. Bad idea.
Recommendation: No on 225.

Proposition 226

Drafted by a coterie of hardball conservatives, Prop 226 has been dressed up to look like the gingham- frocked, freckle-faced buddy of working men and women who have no say over where their union dues go. Its architects even called it the "paycheck protection" act for a while.

But Prop 226, which would require all employees to give permission to their labor unions before their dues could be used for political activities, is a veiled attempt to gum up the works and sap the strength behind union political clout.
Recommendation: No on 226.

Proposition 227

Proposition 227, or the "English for the Children" initiative, proposes to end bilingual education statewide this fall. Instead of the current system, where students can be taught in their native language and eased into English-only classes, the initiative would give students a year to get up to speed.

This initiative has more politics in mind than the interests of kids. Education should not be regulated by initiative, but reformed by professionals who know how to give English to the children.
Recommendation: No on Prop 227.

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From the May 28-June3, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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