Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Recommendations for California & San Francisco Election, November 4, 2014

For those of you not from California or San Francisco, you might find it interesting what goes on in Nancy Pelosi's Congressional District and what those San Francisco values are all about.

Here are my recommendations for the State of California proposition and City and County of San Francisco Measures on the November 4 ballot.

State Propositions:

Prop 1: This is a bond measure to authorize the state to issue $7.5 billion in bonds (repaid over ~40 years) to finance new water storage (dams and replenishment of groundwater), regional water storage (flood protection, water supply, fish habitat), water recycling, and protection of watersheds, and improvement of water quality.  Most of the funds ($5.7 billion) must be spent on projects with matching funds from local districts and entities. We have a great need for water projects in the state. This is the kind of infrastructure spending the state should be doing. It provides jobs. It is wise in demanding matching funds from local entities.  It was placed on the ballot with near unanimous support from the legislature (Senate 37-0; Assembly 77-2).   YES.

Prop 2:  This is a modest proposal to even out some of the state's notoriously volatile tax collection.  Because our tax revenues are heavily dependent on the state income tax, in boom years the state is awash in money; in recession years revenue falls off precipitously. This makes planning difficult.   This measure aims to set aside 1.5% of annual collections into a rainy day fund.  The discretion for the legislature and governor to dip into the rainy day fund is reduced. The total amount held in reserve is increased. It provides for some accelerated debt repayment.  This is a Legislative Constitutional Amendment and it passed unanimously in both the Senate and Assembly.    YES. 

Prop 45:  Should the state insurance commissioner regulate health insurance plans for small businesses and individual plans?  The insurance commissioner would be required to approve insurance rates for small business plans (less than 50 employees) and individual plans.  This would affect about 6 million Californians in such plans. Administration costs would be in the "low millions" of dollars according to the Legislative Analyst. Let's call it a dollar for everyone covered by small business and individual plans.  This cost is negligible.  It also provides for some additional employment.  I consider this a non-factor.  Main proponents are Dave Jones, the insurance commissioner, and a consumer watchdog organization.  Covered California [the state Obamacare plan] issued a report critical of prop 45: the report found the initiative, if passed, could disrupt the exchange’s work negotiating with health insurance companies, cause delays by allowing third-party challenges and risk having insurers leave the market. The LA Times and SF Chronicle editorial boards recommend no, primarily for those reasons. Health insurance companies are spending lots ($55 million to date?) to defeat the measure.  This tells me they don't like it; it doesn't really tell me much about the merits.  I'm voting "no." Let's give Covered California a couple of years to get going, and if we still need to regulate rates, let's craft a proposition that will take account of that effort.  NO. 

Prop 46: Raises cap on pain and suffering damages from $250,000 to $1.1 million, requires drug and alcohol testing of doctors, requires the Medical Board to discipline doctors found to be impaired, and requires hospitals to check databases designed to check abuse of prescription drugs.  To me this is  a broad change with consequences that are difficult for voters to assess. It expands the powers of a heavy handed bureaucracy.  I'd be open to raise the pain and suffering damage amounts some, but not by more than 400%. Based on my experience representing some doctors, the bureaucracy on doctor discipline can be heavy handed.    NO.

Prop 47:  This reduces sentencing for certain non-violent property and drug crimes. We have way too many people incarcerated in prisons and jails: ~2.5 million nationwide/136,000 in California.  The rate per 100,000 in CA is reported as 439 (which would suggest a rate closer to 160,000). This reflects a large increase in the prison population in the 1980's.  Reducing prison population back to historical levels, before the craziness of the "tough on crime" politics in the 80's and 90's is the right thing to do.   YES. 

Prop 48:  More Indian gaming stuff. Indian tribes, as we know, are semi-sovereign entities.  They get to do stuff on their land--like sell fireworks and run gambling casinos--the rest of us don't. Since tribal areas are the result of compacts between Indian tribes and the federal government, what Indian tribes can and can't do on their land goes back to federal law. Federal law permits recognized Indian tribes to run gambling casinos on Indian land--generally considered as reservation lands or lands held in trust by the U.S. for the benefit of an Indian tribe.  The "held in trust" part allows for some land not part of a reservation to be used as "Indian lands." Federal law generally prohibits gaming on land that was obtained and put in trust after October 17, 1988. This proposition would make an exception. The exception requires both federal blessing and state blessing.  Both the feds and the state--through AB 277 enacted last summer--have given their blessings. That's where we come in: this proposition asks whether we should scotch the deal?  Here's the deal: the Federal Government and the State approved a compact with the North Fork tribe (Madeira county) and the Wiyot tribe (Humboldt County) to develop a gambling casino on 305 acres near Fresno that they purchased in 2005. This is not on "Indian lands." The North Fork and Wiyot tribes would share the profits from the operation. The state would receive some revenues to off-set costs and to distribute to other Indian tribes. The Wiyot give up their right to develop a gambling casino on Indian land in Humboldt county. I'm voting "yes" because (a) this has been vetted and approved by the feds and the state; (b) it concentrates gambling in an area where it is more profitable and less environmentally harmful; (c) a no-vote doesn't mean "no gambling;" it may lead to the Wiyot, for example, to develop gaming in Humboldt county where it is environmentally harmful (I'm taking the governor's word on this); (d) there is state-wide benefit for the Indian community which remains disadvantaged.   YES.

San Francisco Ballot Measures

A. Transportation and Road Improvement. This is a $500 million bond measure to construct and improve streets, sidewalks, make infrastructure changes to increase MUNI reliability, and make other traffic changes. The Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 to place this on the ballot.  Let's continue to make our city better!  YES.

B. Adjusting Transportation Funding for Population Growth. This is a city charter amendment. The city charter requires a portion of the general fund to be paid over to Muni. This would increase that portion based on population growth. The measure would make an adjustment based on population growth over the past 10 years (resulting in an immediate transfer of $22 million to MUNI). Future increase would be about $1.5 million/year based on historical growth. The Supervisors were split on this 6-4.  SPUR points out that this proposed increase to the city’s general fund set-aside for Muni is not tied to available revenue, is not funded by a new revenue source, does not expire, and it is not connected to a measurable outcome.  I agree with them.  NO.

C. Renewal and Increase of Children's Fund. The City sets aside 3 cents for each $100 of assessed property value for a Children's Fund (CF). The CF is used to provide services for children under 18, including child care, health services, job training, social services, educations, recreational and cultural programs. The deposit in the fund for the current fiscal year is $49 million. However, this fund expires next June.  The city also has a separate public education enrichment fund ($77.1 million this fiscal year) which also expires next June. Measure C is a charter amendment: it would extend the CF for 26 years, increase the set aside fro 3 cents to 4 cents, extend the age group served to 24 years of age,  establish a children and family advisory council, and divide an existing rainy day fund (so 25% would be a School Reserve).  This measure had unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors. SPUR says the program currently serves 56,000 kids. Do it for the kids.  YES. 

D. Redevelopment Agency Employee Retirement Benefits. The SF Redevelopment Agency was a state agency dissolved along with all other Redevelopment Agencies in 2012. Approximately 50 former RDA employees are or will become employees of the city. This charter amendment would allow these employees to count their Redevelopment Agency time as if they had been city employees during their tenure with the RDA.  Supervisors approved this unanimously. It's the fair thing to do. YES. 

E. Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Would add a tax of 2 cents per ounce on sugar sweetened drinks. This tax charged to distributors could add $35 million to $54 million/ year.  The money would be spent on various health programs. Supervisors were split 6-4 in favor. SPUR recommends 'yes.' This should lead to a reduction in the consumption of unhealthy sweetened drinks, and it will provide funds for public education and health services.  A virtuous cycle.  YES.

F. Pier 70 Height Limit (40' to 90'). This measure would increase the height limit from 40' to 90' for 28 acres of Port owned land adjacent to Pier 70. SPUR say the planned project "would add 1,000 to 2,000 units of housing, 30 percent of which will be affordable, and would open up this part of the waterfront to public access. The project sponsor has carefully considered the mix of uses for this special site and has engaged extensively with the community to decide what should go here. The plan’s focus on restoring historic buildings for cultural uses is not only appropriate for this area of the city but also thoughtful and creative."  YES. 

G. Additional Transfer Tax on Multi-Unit Residential Buildings (2-30 Units). Current transfer tax rates on multi-unit buildings are 2.5%. This proposes to raise the transfer tax up to 25% for multi-unit residential properties sold in less than 5 years after purchase.  SPUR says: "This measure attempts to address the recent rise in Ellis Act evictions, which allow owners of rent-controlled buildings to evict tenants and convert the property into ownership units." This strikes me as certain to lead to wasteful litigation, and way too heavy handed with a 25% penalty.  NO. 

H. Requiring Soccer Fields (at west end of GG Park) to Remain Grass. The park department wants to turn these fields to artificial grass and install lights for playing at night. My daughter played on those fields: artificial grass and lights is the correct solution. This is obnoxious.   NO.

I. Renovation of Playgrounds, Walking Trails, and Athletic Fields. This is intended to combat the abuse of measure 'H.' It gives the park department discretion to proceed with improvements that will double their anticipated usage--without interference from meddlers like the sponsors of Measure H.   YES.

J. Gradual Increase of Minimum Wage to $15/hr by 2018. Current minimum wage in San Francisco is $10.74/hr.  This measure would increase the rate in steps for anyone working in the city, including City employees and home support workers.  There are minor exceptions for workers under 18 working in an subsidized training or apprenticeship program, and employees over age 55 working for non-profitsthat provide social welfare services and whose positions are government subsidized.   The controller estimates this will add $56 million to city costs by 2018.  This received unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors.  I'm in favor. This would make the city more affordable for lower income workers, it would increase local spending in restaurants and other businesses, and we can afford it.  YES.

K. Goal to Increase Affordable Housing. This is a non-binding measure placed on the ballot by a unanimous Board of Supervisors. It reaffirms the mayor's commitment to built 30,000 additional housing units by 2020, with 40% set aside for affordable housing. It seems like the correct policy. YES. 

L.  Parking Policy. This was put on the ballot by voters who want the city to lower parking rates, not charge for parking on weekends, and not use flex parking rates to encourage higher turnover at meters.  This measure doesn't sound like the correct policy. The city needs to have all the tools available to manage a very tough parking situation in San Francisco, including encouraging people to use MUNI and not drive.  NO. 

Happy Voting!  

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