Propositions on the Ballot in California on November 3, 2020

Hello world! I am emerging from a long hibernation to put up my bi-annual recommendations for propositions on the ballot in California. California’s awful referendum system means every couple of years the public is forced to suffer through reams of political ads and millions of dollars spent on misinformation. It’s not surprising a majority of even politically aware citizens simply check out of the process and vote “NO” on everything in protest!

But if you want to be thoughtful about your choices, here is a primer. Use to inform yourself; you don’t have to agree with my choices, but it is helpful to know what impact your vote will have.

Proposition 14: Authorizes $5.5 billion state bonds for: stem cell and other medical research, including training; research facility construction; administrative costs.

In 2004 Prop 71 was passed authorizing 3 billion dollars in bonds for stem cell research in the hope of exciting new cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons. 16 years later that promise has not really come true though other, lesser known, disorders have benefited from the research and saved lives. Now that the money is running out, the state is back at the well.

Here is a good, balanced article about the pros and cons of this initiative. My reasons for voting no come down to the following reasons:

  • It looks like last time the money mostly went to the interests supported by the board of the agency formed by Prop 71
  • The government cannot benefit from the royalties from any drug developed under this initiative
  • There is nothing stopping the government from allocating funds for stem cell research from the general fund. Interest on these bonds take money away from the general fund and divert money from other, equally or more important budgetary needs like housing etc.

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 15: Increases funding for public schools, community colleges, and local government services by changing tax assessment of commercial and industrial property.

After the infamous Prop 13 passed in 1978, taxpayers in California who own homes and businesses for many years have been assessed at far less than market rates on their property values for tax purposes. This initiative leaves residential taxes alone and increases the tax on commercial properties.

The main opposition to Prop 15 is that this tax would have adverse consequences for businesses just as they are recovering from the effects of the pandemic. The other concern is that landlords of commercial properties could pass on the tax to the small businesses that rent from them.

However, the reassessment would only begin in 2022, hopefully after the economy has begun recovering. And the reassessment is expected to bring in 6.5 to 11.5 billion dollars to government and schools in a 60/40 split. Here is a good article to read some more about this initiative.

My recommendation: VOTE YES.

Proposition 16: Repeals Prop 209 (1996) that said that government and public institutions could not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.

Voting yes on Prop 16 is essentially a vote for affirmative action. The intense discussion on desi WhatsApp groups suggests that this is a loaded topic, with Indian American parents already suing colleges like Harvard for discriminating against their children on the basis of race. But there is a reason that we are discussing a repeal of an anti-discriminatory initiative, which on the face of it sounds counter-intuitive.

After prop 209 was passed, the top UCs, Berkeley and LA, immediately saw a drop of 60% in underrepresented group enrolment, with a statewide drop of 12%. Among other such effects, dollars awarded to certified women-owned business enterprises fell by roughly 40 percent, compared to levels before Proposition 209.

So there is a case to be made that we are not out of the woods with respect to equal opportunities for underprivileged groups. Prop 16 forces colleges to consider backgrounds, and push for more college preparedness for marginalized students. It also benefits women and minority owned businesses when it comes to public contracts.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Prop 16 does not call for quotas. It just allows for race and gender to be considered as factors.

Making diversity a priority may not be on everyone’s list, but there is no denying that it reduces income inequality and eventually makes the state a better place to live for everyone.

My recommendation: VOTE YES

Proposition 17: Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole

At last, an unambiguous initiative I don’t have to research! If you believe, like I do, that people who have served their time in prison deserve to be rehabilitated into society as full members, then you will vote yes on this initiative. Too many people, especially minorities, are deprived of their fundamental right to participate in democracy because of minor infractions. And we all know how the justice system works for certain segments of people!

My recommendation: VOTE YES.

Proposition 18: Allowing 17-year-olds eligible to vote in the next general election to vote in the relevant primaries and special elections.

Makes sense! And getting more young people involved in the electoral process can only be a good thing.

My recommendation: VOTE YES.

Proposition 19: Extending property tax breaks for certain eligible homeowners.

Currently senior citizens, people with disabilities, and victims of natural disaster can move from one home to another with no impact on their property taxes if the market value of the home being purchased is equal to or less than the house being sold. This protects people who have been in their home for a long time and wish to downsize, without the market movement affecting their taxes.

This initiative extends that special treatment to allow, among other things, seniors to be able to upgrade to a more expensive home with a favorable tax treatment. Here’s the new calculation as I understand it.

Old system: Say you (55+) bought a house for 1,000,000. Now it is worth 2,000,000. You can sell your house and move to a new one with your property taxes staying the same (assessed on 1,000,000) if the purchase price is 2 million or less. If the price is more, you pay property taxes on the full amount of the new purchase.

New system: You bought a house for 1,000,000. Your house is now worth 2,000,000. You want to buy a house for 2,500,000. Your new assessment for taxes will be 1,000,000 + (2,500,000 – 2,000,000) = 1,500,000.

That’s the gist of it. A previous similar bill was soundly defeated, so this time around there are some sops thrown in, but basically this is a measure brought to you by realtors. A tax rule that basically protected long-time homeowners from property value appreciation is now a mechanism to give a tax break to the wealthy and create business for realtors.

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 20: Dubbed “Crackdown of Crime” this initiative increases penalties for certain property crimes and repeated parole violations — and make it more difficult for some convicted felons to qualify for early parole and release from prison.

Another easy one. The bill seems to have been written by the prison system bent on increasing the pipeline of incarcerated people by making certain categories of non-violent crimes invite harsher punishment. Why?

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 21: Would allow cities to once again enact rent control laws, but only for properties more than 15 years old. Cities could also prevent landlords from raising rents on a unit when a tenant moves out.

Rent control is another of those controversial issues people tend to have strong views about. The Brookings Institute has collated the research on this and comes to the conclusion that rent control, while giving some relief in the short run, really doesn’t pay in the long run, leading to less housing, unoccupied flats and, oddly enough, gentrification.

The argument that it will provide relief to renters affected by the pandemic does not really wash since that can be done through short term measures.

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 22: Classifying rideshare and delivery drivers as independent contractors.

I call this the Uber/Lyft bill because this is such a specific bill designed to affect one specific industry (and just a handful of companies). After the CA legislature passed AB5 which put 3 conditions for classifying workers as independent contractors, ride-share companies realized that they would fail those conditions and went on a massively funded effort to overturn the bill by referendum.

A family discussion brought up some good points.

  • Why should there be a special carveout for just one industry just because they can spend massive amounts on changing the law? What about all the other industries and workers affected by AB5?
  • Uber/Lyft are able to put downward pressure on driver compensation because they operate monopolistically. They set the rates, they set the rules. In this situation, free market really doesn’t exist, so who is protecting the interests of the workers?

AB5 may be a bad law, but the place to fix it is in the legislature, for all affected businesses and workers. Carving out an exemption for just one industry and codifying the changes in a way that gives no flexibility to the legislature in the future is a bad way of operating.

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 23: Requires on-site physician at dialysis clinics.

Despite the rather innocuous text and requirement, this initiative was brought by a large labor union group (SEIU-UHW West) that has been fighting a battle with private dialysis centers to unionize their employees. Opposition to it has been hugely funded by the clinics, but the initiative has also been opposed by patient and doctor groups who fear that the bill will force the closures of clinics, especially in remote areas.

I have mixed feelings about this bill because I think the whole dialysis clinic system is a racket. In this country we don’t educate and inform our most vulnerable communities about good health habits and then exploit their chronic conditions to milk the government of reimbursements. But this bill doesn’t address the underlying issue; instead, it seems to be a nuisance bill to score a point in the war between the union group and the private clinics.

My recommendation: A reluctant NO.

Proposition 24: Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative

My first thought in reading the summary bill was – Stricter consumer privacy laws. No brainer. Why wouldn’t you vote yes? Then I delved into the murky state of privacy laws in California. There is a lot of history and a lot of complexity, some of which is well summarized in this Wired article. Bottom line: In 2019 the legislature enacted a law called the California Consumer Privacy Act that was supposed to be one of the strictest privacy laws ever drafted. But it left gaping loopholes through which companies like Facebook and Google could drive right through. This initiative aims to fix those loopholes and has been crafted by Alistair Mactaggart, the same guy who helped to write the original bill which got watered down eventually. The bill has the support of Andrew Yang, Ro Khanna, among others.

The thorniest issue with this initiative is whether a complex piece of legislation like this should be left to the voters to decide. The question is: Can we afford to wait? According to Mactaggart

The most important thing about Prop. 24,…, is its potential to steer the internet away from an economy based on tracking users across sites in order to serve them the most highly targeted ads at the lowest cost. …. that business model is accelerating the demise of the journalism industry, and taking democracy down with it.

I feel the sense of urgency about this too.

My recommendation: VOTE YES.

Proposition 25: Referendum to uphold “Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments”

In 2018, SB 10 was passed replacing cash bail with risk assessments (risk of fleeing/avoiding showing up in court) because requiring defendants to put up cash for bail disproportionately affects the poor. The bail bond companies stand to lose a lot from SB10, so they’ve sponsored this initiative to overturn SB 10.

While risk assessments can be biased, there is no denying that cash bail is punitive.

My recommendation: VOTE YES to uphold SB 10.

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