Category Archives: All politics is local

A take on local politicians and propositions

California Propositions on the Ballot – November 6, 2012 UPDATED WITH RESULTS

This year, adding to the excitement of the presidential race, there are a bunch of high-profile measures on the ballot, some even conflicting with each other. Here are some helpful Cliff Notes on the various props and how I would vote on them.

Proposition 30 – Vote YES      PASSED
Proposition 31 – Vote NO         FAILED
Proposition 32– Vote NO          FAILED
Proposition 33 – Vote NO         FAILED
Proposition 34– Vote YES        FAILED
Proposition 35 – Vote YES       PASSED
Proposition 36 – Vote YES       PASSED
Proposition 37 – Vote NO         FAILED
Proposition 38– Vote NO          FAILED
Proposition 39 – Vote YES       PASSED
Proposition 40 – Vote YES       PASSED

Proposition 30 –Proposition 30 is a broad and sweeping sales and income tax increase proposed by Governor Jerry Brown. Sales tax goes up from 7.25% to 7.5% and income taxes increase in various ways for those making over $250,000 for a period of 7 years and this increase takes place retroactively from Jan 1, 2012. The tricky part of this proposition is that funds from this proposition have already been taken into account in the state budget passed in June of this year, which prevented massive cuts to education. So if Prop 30 fails to pass, these cuts will automatically be triggered.

Arguments: Opponents argue that California already has high taxes and increasing taxes would be a burden on an economy that is still struggling. However, Prop 30 restores partially certain taxes that expired in 2010 and 2011. According to the Mercury News, “the overall tax burden will be the same as it was two years ago.” Another propostion, Prop 38 also takes aim at school funding. Read below to see why prop 30 is preferable.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 31: The two most important elements of Prop 31 are the establishment of a two-year budget cycle and allowing the Governor to cut spending unilaterally in the event of a fiscal emergency. This prop also prohibits the California State Legislature from “creating expenditures of more than $25 million unless offsetting revenues or spending cuts are identified”and puts some performance reviews of state programs in place. Another feature of the prop is that it gives counties the power to alter state statutes or regulations related to spending unless the state legislature or a state agency vetoes those changes within 60 days.

Arguments: This measure goes some way in making government more accountable. However, opponents are concerned about the extra power given to the Governor. Also, by having to offset every expenditure with a corresponding revenue, the prop severely hampers use of surplus funds arising out of economic development. Opponents also argue that by giving counties the power to override state legislation, it will create a patchwork of contradictary laws across the state.

My opinion: VOTE NO.

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Proposition 32: Prop 32 bans corporate and union contributions to political candidates. It also bans government contractors from contributing to politicians who have a say in contracts awarded to them and bans automatic deductions from corporations, unions, and government employees’ wages for political contributions.

Arguments: On the face of it, this proposition looks like the cleaning of the Augean stables of political money. However, by exempting business Super PACs and independent expenditure committees from this measure, the proposition effectively makes them the sole contributors to political candidates. This takes away the checks and balance big money has from union contributions by middle class workers. By limiting the ban to “paycheck deductions” the writers of this measure have created a loophole that allows contributions by corporations that come straight from their treasury.

My opinion: VOTE NO.

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Proposition 33: Prop 33 is very similar to an old Prop 17, which was narrowly defeated by voters in 2010. This prop allows for loyalty discounts to be given by auto insurance companies even when they get a new customer, provided the customer was insured continuously over the previous five years.

Arguments: The reason Prop 17 was defeated was because it had a clause in it that would allow insurance companies to severely penalize drivers who had lapsed in coverage. Voters saw through the intentions of George Joseph, the billionaire owner of Mercury Insurance, who funded that prop and this year’s prop 33 as well. Prop 33 has the same clause that allows increase of insurance fees for drivers without continuous coverage and deserves to be voted down as well.

My opinion: VOTE NO

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Proposition 34: Voting yes for the proposition effectively ends the death penalty in California. California is one of the 33 states in te US that currently have the death penalty.

Arguments: Should we be ranked with countries like Libya, Iran and Iraq who still have the death penalty? Hopefully we are more civilized than that.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Proposition 35: This proposition takes a tough stance on human sex trafficking, expanding the definition and imposing more severe punishment.

Arguments: Opponents argue that this would broaden the definition of pimping and intrude into the definition of consensual sex between two adults, but this one is a no-brainer.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Proposition 36: Modifies the state’s current three strikes law to provide for a life sentence only if the third offense is violent. Also provides for a reassessment of prison sentences for those already convicted under this law if their offenses were not very serious or violent.

Arguments: The three strikes law, passed in 1994, was a response to the murder of a girl by a repeat offender. However, in practice, the law pulled into its fold several offenders who were convicted of much more minor offenses like drug possession and petty thievery, ballooning prison costs , money that could be spent on better purposes like education and infrastructure. This modification is much overdue.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 37: This proposition requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. It has several exemptions.

Arguments: The biggest trouble with this prop, written with the best of intentions, is that it has been drafted in such a way as to make implementation very confusing and arbitrary. Though its opponents are the same companies that resisted transparency in labeling, the exemptions provided for “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages” make this a fairly toothless and arbitrary law. While I believe there is a need to label foods as GM, the law needs to be clearer and less ambiguous.

My opinion: VOTE NO

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Proposition 38: Proposition 38 will increase state income tax rates for most Californians for a period of 12 years, with
most of the new revenue of $10 billion going to public school districts and early childhood development programs.

Arguments: Here is another proposition with great intentions and poor delivery. While funding public schools is a laudable cause, this proposition puts money directly in school hands instead of school districts, which means that rich schools would get the same amount of money as poor schools for things like technology, which makes no sense. Also, the money goes just to K-12 schools and charter schools, leaving universities out of the loop. This also competes directly with Prop 30; if both pass, the one with the most votes wins (more or less).

My opinion: VOTE NO

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Proposition 39: Prop 39 requires out-of-state businesses to pay California taxes based on their sales in the state and repeals existing law giving out-of-state businesses an option to choose a more preferential tax liability formula. Added revenue from this measure would fund energy efficiency and clean energy projects in the state.

Arguments: This measure levels the playing field for existing California businesses and encourages companies to invest in jobs and infrastructure in the state, since there is no more advantage to maintain a presence outside California.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Proposition 40: In 2008, voters approved a Citizen’s Redistricting Commission that would redraw the state Senate districts. Opponents of that measure are trying to overturn it by voter referenndum. Voting Yes would keep the Commission in place. Voting No would overturn the commission and put the responsibility of drawing the district lines back with the legislature.

Arguments: The redistricting process has worked well with no complaints from citizens. Even the opponents of the Commission have given up and stopped their opposition.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Primer for the California Primaries: June 8


Results Update: Money power prevailed on Tuesday as the candidates deep pockets won. But Prop 16, which had an early lead, ended up being defeated. Scroll down for results.

It is a measure of our relative levels of peace and prosperity that we are so apathetic about voting, especially in primaries. That, and California’s horrendous habit of putting everything up to public referenda, abdicating the legislature’s responsibility to the voters. No wonder voters typically close their eyes (and minds) and blindly vote no on everything. Or stay home.

The trouble is, if you, as an informed voter, choose to stay out of the election process, then you hand over an enormous amount of power to the crazies on the fringe (one reason why the Tea Party is such a potent threat is that THEY VOTE!!!)

So go vote on Tuesday and here’s a quick primer to help you make up your mind on the various propositions and candidates up on the ballot.



Proposition 13 – Vote YES. Result: YES
Proposition 14 – Vote YES  Result: YES
Proposition 15 – Vote YES  Result: NO
Proposition 16 – Vote NO    Result: NO
Proposition 17 – Vote NO   Result: NO

Proposition 13- Voting Yes makes it easier for builders, developers, and property owners to make earthquake retrofits to their property without worrying that the retrofits will raise the value of the property and therefore, property tax.

Voting No preserves the status quo.


See, that was an easy one. You do want buildings in California to be safer, right?
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Proposition 14 – Voting Yes changes the primary process for a bunch of state positions, including Governor, and national positions, including Senators and Congress representatives. Basically, all voters would have all candidates on the ballot, and instead of the Democratic Party winner duking it out with the Republican Party winner in November, it would be the top two vote getters. In theory, you could have 2 Democratic candidates or 2 Republican candidates squaring off the in the general elections.

In theory this sounds rather nice, because we have seen how primaries can make even reasonable candidates tack hard left or hard right as they try to appeal to their base in the primaries. This way, you’d probably have candidates try to stay centrist in their positions in order to attract as many voters of either party.

In practice, the party affiliations would still show up on the ballot, so registered members of each party are probably going to vote along party lines anyway. And the successful candidates are usually the ones with the most money.

Still, I like the prospect of having candidates trying to appeal to a wider audience than the extreme elements of their base, even if it means that in today’s gerrymandered districts one party could get completely shut out of the general election. (Yes, you could have Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore vying for Senator and then you can stay home!). Third party candidates have been complaining that they will be shut out of the ballot process in November, but when did they have a chance anyway.

I am inclined to VOTE YES.
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Proposition 15 – Voting Yes on this proposition lifts the ban on public funding for political campaigns. It also establishes a public funding system for the Secretary of State position. You might call this a trial balloon for future public funding for other legislative races. Here’s how it will hopefully play out:

Once this proposition goes through, a system of public funding will be established for the Secretary of State position. Funds for this system will not come from taxpayers; rather, a higher fee on lobbyists and voluntary contributions will create the capital fund. Candidates eligible for public funding will have to prove they are serious contenders by collecting a certain number of signatures. They also prohibited from spending any more money than they are allotted.

If this works out, other legislative races have the option of going for public funding, since the ban has been lifted by this proposition.

This measure also expires in 2019, so we will have time to see how it works in 2014 and 2018.

Absolutely VOTE YES. Any step that moves us towards public campaign finance is a welcome step.
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Proposition 16- Have you seen any ad urging you to “Vote No” for this proposition? No? Didn’t think so. This proposition has been bankrolled and shamelessly promoted by PG&E, whose massive ad budget has simply drowned out the opposition.

Voting Yes on this proposition means that local governments would need approval from two-thirds of the voters before they can use alternative means of providing electricity services to their constituents. Since PG&E pretty much has a monopoly on electricity services at this time, and getting a two-thirds vote on anything is pretty much impossible, this is nothing but a blatant attempt to preserve the monopoly.

PG&E has been putting up really misleading ads that this is about our “Right to Vote,” but requiring an absolute majority is a subversion of the democratic process, and leads to minority rule, as can be seen from the gridlock in the U.S. Senate over the last year with filibuster threats by the Republicans for every little initiative.
Also, many townships with independent electricity contracts, like Palo Alto, currently have much lower electricity rates and this measure would make it much more expensive for them to expand service to new homeowners.

This is a bad proposition put up by a greedy power company. Opponents have not had any money to put up a spirited campaign so it up to us to educate ourselves and defeat it.

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Proposition 17 – Voting Yes changes insurance law to allow companies to penalize or reward drivers based on whether they have had continuous insurance coverage or now, regardless of which company they had coverage with. Supposedly, a surcharge to switch coverage is eliminated, and discounts can be offered by insurance companies if the driver maintains continuous coverage.

However, currently drivers in California do not pay a surcharge to switch companies. So this proposition’s claim to remove the surcharge is redundant. However, this proposition does add penalties for coverage lapse. If there was any period of time of 91 days or more in the last five years where you did not pay an insurance premium, you could be hit with heavy penalties, even if your driving record is blemish free or even if you never had a car.
Prop 17 is almost completely funded by Mercury insurance. Enough said.




Republican: Steve Poizner. Supports gay rights, abortion rights. Fiscal conservative. Hard-working insurance commissioner. Result: Meg Whitman blew Poizner out of the water.
Democratic: Jerry Brown. Result: Jerry Brown comfortably.

US Senator

Republican: Tom Campbell. Supports gay rights, gun control and abortion rights. Fiscal conservative. Result: Carly Fiorina won by a big margin.
Democrat: Barbara Boxer. Result: Boxer.

Attorney General

Democrat: Kamala Harris. Smart, competent, female. What’s not to like? Result: Harris
Republican: Steve Cooley, Harris’ counterpart in Southern California. Result: Cooley

Mercifully, Orly Taitz, who, unbelievably, was contesting for Secretary of State, lost. For full results see here.

Picture courtesy Theresa Thomson via Creative Commons.

California Special Election – Propositions on the ballot

UPDATE: Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E – Defeated. Proposition 1F – Passed.

The Californian budget process has always been a mess. Faced with an unprecedented financial crisis, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratically-controlled State Legislature passed an austerity budget in February that closed California’s $42 billion shortfall through a combination of cuts to social services and education, and tax hikes.

The peculiarity of California is that the state constitution places an extraordinary burden on voters to make legislative decisions. Some of the budget measures passed by Sacramento have to be voted on by the electorate in order for them to take full effect. On Tuesday, voters will head to the ballot box to decide the fate of Propositions 1A through 1F.

Despite an aggressive push by the governor, turnout is expected to be low even though these propositions directly and immediately affect Californian residents and impact the ratings of California state bonds. If you are a registered voter and have not yet cast your vote, I urge you to read through the following information and make the trip to your polling place tomorrow.

Here is a summary of my recommendations on the various propositions on the ballot in November.

Proposition 1A – Vote YES
Proposition 1B – Vote YES
Proposition 1C – Vote YES
Proposition 1D – Vote YES
Proposition 1E – Vote YES
Proposition 1F – Vote YES

Proposition 1A – This measure changes the state budgeting practices. In a complicated way it attempts to do the following –

– Increase the size of the “Rainy Day” fund: This makes it possible for the legislature to divert more funds from the General Fund into a reserve when revenues are good. The idea is to stabilize the spending over lean and good years. The state would look at historic trends in revenue and when the current year’s revenue went over those trends the money would have to be put in the reserve fund.

– Spending out of the reserve fund would be restricted to certain causes.  If Prop 1B passes some of the reserve fund would go to education to ameliorate some of the cuts to K-12 spending this year. After spending on education or if Prop 1B fails those funds would be used to pay down debt or spending on infrastructure.

– The Governor gets the authority to make further spending cuts without legislative approval on two matters – spending on general state operations and cost-of-living adjustments to programs in the budget( not salaries.)

– State tax increases that were put in place in February would not expire in 2010-2011 but would continue till 2012-2013.

Arguments: Opponents argue that the proposition is full of loopholes and there was not enough transparency in the drafting process. They also suggest that this measure gives the Governor too much power to cut spending, even in good years. However, the status quo has hardly been working for California. Any attempt to even out revenues over good and bad years can only be beneficial to residents. Also the emphasis on restoring funding to education outof the reserve fund has this mother of two cheering.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 1B: Currently, Proposition 98 establishes a minimum funding level for education. However, loopholes in the law allow for the minimum funding to be calculated by a different formula if revenues are low. The legislature can also override Prop 98 in bad years and provide less than is required by law. When spending is less than mandated, a future obligation (called a “Maintenance factor obligation” ) is created to provide those funds. As of now, this obligation is around $1.4 billion.

Prop 1B allows for the creation of a “Supplemental Education” obligation of $9.3 billion starting 2011-2012. Funds for these come from Prop 1A. These payments are supposed to take care of the Maintenance Factor Obligation that will keep increasing for the next couple of years becaue of the cuts in education spending.

Arguments: The measure does not deal with the underlying problems in Maintenance Factor Obligation calculation or the ability of the legislature to override prop 98. What it does is restore some of the cuts that have been made this year in education, with payments starting in 2011-2012. The idea is that some money will be diverted to the “Rainy Day” fund under Prop 1A and can be used for education in the future.

It is not a well-written law but provides for immediate help ( even if it starts 2 years from now!) to schools and community colleges providing Prop 1A passes.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 1C: Changing the state’s operation of the lottery. Under current law, 50% of the state’s lottery revenues have to go back as prizes and spend no more than 16% on operating expenses. 34% of the funds go to educational institutions ( a very small part of overall education funding). Funds cannot be used for any other purposes.

This measure allows the state to give away a higher percentage to winners ( presumably to attract more lottery revenues), reduce the operating expenses to 13% and no longer dedicate the remaining funds to education( the shortfall would be made up from the General Fund).

More importantly, the measure would allow the state to borrow against future profits from the lottery, upto $5 billion of which is already in the state’s budget right now. The borrowing would be paid off by future lottery profits.

Arguments: This measure does not impact education funding as the shortfall is supposed to be made up by the General fund. In a time of financial crisis, this is a simple way to get some much needed funds right away against the hope that the economy will improve in future years. The success of the measure hinges on the improvement in lottery ticket sales due to the higher payout.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 1D: Protects Children’s Services funding and helps balance the state budget. There is a law on the books ( Proposition 10) that allows for diverting a portion of tobacco taxes towards the First % program that deals with development programs for children up to the age of 5. The funds go to state and county commissions every year and any unspent amount is carried over to the next year.

As it happens the commissions are sitting on an unspent fund of about $2.5 billion which as of now cannot be used for any purpose other than the First 5 program.  What this new proposition does is allow for a temporary redirection of these unspent funds to other state health and human services for young children that do not fall under the First 5 program. This ensures that those vital services don’t get cut at a time of economic uncertainty.
Arguments: The biggest argument against this proposition is that it diverts money from the First 5 program. However, since these are unspent funds that the various commissions are sitting on, there is no reason why these funds cannot be used right away in other places where they are needed. This is also a temporary measure whose effects will disappear after 2013-2014.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Proposition 1E: Temporary reallocation for Mental Health Services funding. Helps balance state budget. Currently, Proposition 63, also known as the Mental Health Services Act, provides state funding for mental health programs through an income tax surcharge of 1% of income over $1 million. The funds are used for a variety of mental health services such as care, education and early intervention and cannot be reduced or diverted as the law stands now.

The new proposition allows for temporary redirecting ( 2009-10 and 2010-11) of some of the funds towards the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment program (EPSDT), which services Medicare beneficiaries under age 21. That way, funds for EPSDT don’t have to come form the General Fund at a time of fiscal crisis.

Arguments: While this proposition takes money away from the Prop 63 beneficiaries, currently unspent funds of $2.5 billion are sitting in state coffers under Prop 63. The idea is to temporarily be able to use this money at a time of fiscal crisis to fund another mental helath services program that would otherwise suffer.

My opinion: VOTE YES.

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Proposition 1F: Prevents increases in salaries of elected officials during budget deficit years. Salaries of elected officials in California are set by the California Citizen’s Compensation Commission based on several factors. The financial condition of the state is not one of them. in addition Proposition 6 prevents reduction of salaries during lean years.  This Proposition amends the Constitution to prevent the commission from raising the salaries during a deficit year( when the General Fund ends the year in a deficit.

Fiscally, the proposition does not have a huge impact. However, it is hoped that the potential impact of lower salaries for elected officials will  make them work harder towards balancing the budget!

Arguments: This is a largely symbolic gesture that ensures that politicians will not continue to get wage increases while their constituents suffer. If it makes you feel good, by all means vote for it.

My opinion: VOTE YES

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Results of propositions on the ballot in California

Here are the results of the propositions on the ballot in California ( to get more details on the propositions, see here)-
Proposition 1 – High Speed Rail initiative and Bonds – Passed
Proposition 2 – Humane Treatment of Animals – Passed
Proposition 3 – Children’s Hospital Bonds – Passed
Proposition 4 – Parents/Adult should be notified about a teen’s pregnancy – Failed( mercifully!)
Proposition 5 – Non violent drug offenses to be given lenient treatment – Failed

Proposition 6 – Increase in funding for police – Failed
Proposition 7 – Forces utility companies to meet renewable energy standards – Failed.
Proposition 8 – Eliminates right of same-sex couples to marry – Appears to have passed. Opponents are still waiting for absentee ballots and provisional ballots to be counted before giving up. Ironically, on a day when we celebrate a civil rights triumph on the Presidential ballot, we take away a civil right granted to another minority. Very sad.
Proposition 9 – More rights for victims of crime – Passed
Proposition 10-Support for alternative energy vehicles and natural gas initiatives – Failed.
Proposition 11-Redistricting voting precincts to avoid gerrymandering – Appears to have narrowly passed.
Proposition 12-Easy loan access for veterans – Passed.

To see all the results from local elections, check out the Secretary of State’s website here.

Local ballot measures – Measure MM and Measure WW

UPDATE: Both Measure MM and Measure WW passed.

In addition to the Californian Propositions, there are also a couple of local measures on the ballot in Fremont.

Measure MM – if passed by a majority of the electorate (50% + 1), this measure will increase the City’s Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) rate from the current rate of 8% to a new rate of 10%, effective January, 1, 2009.
The proposed tax is a general tax, which means the monies raised will be used for general governmental purposes, including such essential services as police, fire, and street and park maintenance. Hotel/motel visitors who stay in the City’s hotel and motels for a period of 30 days or less pay the tax in addition to the room rate.
Based on the current estimates, a 2% increase could generate approximately $800,000 in new revenue for the General Fund for a full fiscal year. Anu Natarajan, Fremont City Council member, is one of the sponsors of this bill.

“This is an easy fix for our budgeting problems and long overdue,” says Anu. “Fremont is still at 8% whereas cities around us have moved to a 10% Transient Occupancy Tax(TOT). 90% of the revenue is likely to go to fund public safety programs.”

The only argument submitted against this measure is whether the city can be trusted to use the monies properly. Given the budgetary constraints every city is facing in this economic environment, it seems like a poor argument and given that even the Fremont Marriott has no problems with this tax, this should be a no-brainer.

My recommendation – Vote YES.

Measure WW – Measure WW, an East Bay Regional Park District (“District”) bond measure, seeks voter approval to authorize the governing Board of the District to cause general obligation bonds to be issued and sold in a principal amount not to exceed $500,000,000 at interest rates within the statutory limit.

The measure’s purposes are to finance the District’s completion of its Regional Park District Master Plan by acquiring and improving regional parks, trails and recreation facilities.

Opinion – On the face of it, anything that increases park land sounds like a good idea to hikers and nature lovers. However, a couple of issues give me pause. One is that 25% of the bond amount goes, not to the EBRPD,  but to places like the Oakland Zoo and municipalities. It also puts a future interest and principal repayment burden of a billion dollars without any proposal to generate revenue.

Also, I hear rumblings of discontent from hikers and environmentalists who complain about the stewardship of the EBPRD and the bloated salaries of the officers. ( the starting salary of a gardener us supposed to be $50,000!) One comparison I read about was that the EBPRD spent 143 million dollars in 2006 compared to the 344 million dollars spent by the entire California Park System. Also, of the 153 square miles under the control of the EBPRD, a very small percentage is open to the public now.

My recommendation – being unsure of the value of this measure, I am going to go for default option on any such measure or proposition – NO.

Propositions on the ballot in California in November

I do this so you won’t have to!

This is my take on the various propositions on the California ballot on November 4th. While most of us are pretty sure of our vote for the Presidential candidate, these various measures are equally important and impact our lives in a more immediate and significant way. Do take the time to read up on them.
Here is a summary of my recommendations on the various propositions on the ballot in November.

Proposition 1 – Vote YES
Proposition 2 – Vote YES
Proposition 3 – Vote NO
Proposition 4 – Vote NO
Proposition 5 – Vote NO
Proposition 6 – Vote NO
Proposition 7 – Vote YES
Proposition 8 – Vote NO
Proposition 9 – Vote NO
Proposition 10-Vote NO
Proposition 11-Vote YES
Proposition 12-Vote YES

Proposition 1: Prop. 1 asks voters to approve the issuance of $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds. This would partially fund a $40 billion, 800-mile high speed train under the supervision of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. ( Matching funds from the federal government is a possibility.)

The train would run between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with Anaheim, California, designated as the southern terminus of the initial segment of the high-speed train system. Estimates are that the train system would be completed in 2030, and that it would take passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in about 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Voting YES would give the state the authority to sell bonds for the amount of 9.95 billion dollars and use the funds to begin construction of the high-speed rail system. The state is likely to ask voters for the remaining funds in later years.
Voting NO means the state cannot sell these bonds.

Opinion: The two main objections to this bill, to which the opposition has been quite half-hearted, seems to be as follows –
–         Given the current state of the economy, we shouldn’t be spending money on a rail system rather than education, health care etc. And anyway, what makes you think the California government is capable of handling a project like this?
–         Environmental concern over the fact that the path of the proposed system might take away some parks and refuges.
However, the taxpayers do not take a direct hit because the state is selling debt which will be picked up by lenders throughout the world. The taxpayer impact will be during the servicing of the loan.

Also, proponents argue that early adoption of a high-speed rail system means getting to be ahead in line to get the state’s share of matching funds from the federal government.
The project is also sure to generate thousands of jobs, a major positive given the current state of the economy. It is also good for the environment in the long run. Here is a good site to get more information about this project.

My recommendation: Vote YES.

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Proposition 2: Requires certain farm animals to be allowed, for the majority of every day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around. Limited exceptions apply.

Voting YES would mean that beginning 2015, these laws would apply to pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal and egg-laying hens.

Voting NO would maintain the status quo.

Opinion: The opposition to this proposition is that Californian producers will not be able to comply and so our meat and eggs will start being imported from Mexico and therefore we have a higher likelihood of being sickened by salmonella. Ridiculous.

My recommendation: This is a no-brainer. Vote YES.

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Proposition 3: Authorizes $980,000,000 in bonds, to be repaid from state’s General Fund, to fund the construction, expansion, remodeling, renovation, furnishing and equipping of children’s hospitals.

Voting YES would allow the state to sell bonds for this amount.

Voting NO would maintain the status quo.

Opinion: The main opposition to this, as before, is that this more debt that California cannot afford and would impact the taxpayers when the loan principal and interest have to be repaid. Also, the way this proposition is worded, the money may go to any acute hospital so long as it treats children. There is an emotional argument to be made to support this bill. But there is some evidence that Prop 61, with the same goal, that was passed in 2004 to the tune of $750 million, still has to finish disbursing the entire amount. Given that, it seems unfair to taxpayers that they should have to take on another loan.

My recommendation: Vote NO.

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Proposition 4: The initiative would prohibit abortion for un-emancipated minors until 48 hours after physician notifies minor’s parent, legal guardian or, if parental abuse has been reported, an alternative adult family member.

Voting YES would put this law into the state constitution.

Voting NO would preserve the status quo.

Opinion: As the parent of a young girl, there is enormous temptation to say yes to a law that would force my child to let me know in case she needs to take the drastic step of having an abortion. But I found this excellent op-ed in the L.A. Times where the author took the trouble to read through the entire proposition and consulted with legal experts.  This is the conclusion she came to –

Here is my version of how an honest summary of Proposition 4 should read:

Proposition to Curtail Abortion for Teenage Girls:
* Do not allow minors to obtain abortions behind their parents’ backs.
* Create an undue burden on physicians, with miles of red tape and severe repercussions for a misstep in filing notifications, reports, etc.
* Make sure pregnant teens go through humiliation and exposure.
* Create a pretext for taking the matter of abortion to court.
* Add vague clauses regarding “court relief” and “coercion,” which could warrant further litigation.

While I did not delve into the proposition myself, I did take the time to read her long and detailed article and agreed with her conclusions. I do not want girls to be afraid of going to doctors on their own and seeking medical advice rather than rely on backdoor abortions. I do not want girls in situations where there has been abuse within the family to be coerced by parents into making one kind of decision. This particular proposition keeps coming up in ballots under various avatars and has always been defeated.

My recommendation: Vote NO.

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Proposition 5: Allocates $460,000,000 annually to improve and expand treatment programs for persons convicted of drug and other offenses. Limits court authority to incarcerate offenders who commit certain drug crimes, break drug treatment rules or violate parole.

Voting YES would mean less people would be imprisoned for minor drug offences and granted parole earlier if incarcerated. Possession if less than 28.5 grams of marijuana would have a lesser penalty than under current law.

Voting NO would keep the status quo.

Opinion: Even though the basic premise of the law sounds like it is letting recreational drug users get off with a slap on the wrist, it seems like the text of the law makes it possible for judges to let criminals off easy if the crime was a result of drug use. That, to me, is a significant difference. Also Proposition 5 expands on Proposition 36, passed in 2004, which has proved to be not particularly successful. Only 24 percent of people “completed treatment; 42.7 percent were re-arrested on a drug charge within 30 months. Overall, treatment-eligible offenders were more likely to be re-arrested for new drug, property and violent crimes than similar offenders in the pre-36 era, UCLA researchers found.” Proposition 5 also makes it easy for criminals to claim to the court that the crimes were the result of drug use and therefore be eligible for treatment programs instead of incarceration. Check out this editorial in the L. A. Times.

My recommendation: Vote NO

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Proposition 6: Requires minimum of $965,000,000 each year to be allocated from state General Fund for police, sheriffs, district attorneys, adult probation, jails and juvenile probation facilities. Some of this funding will increase in following years according to California Consumer Price Index. Makes approximately 30 revisions to California criminal law, many of which cover gang-related offenses.

Voting YES will increase spending on law enforcement as per the bill.

Voting NO will maintain the status quo.

Opinion: This is a huge funding initiative at a time when California is suffering a fiscal crisis. Two things stand out – the fact that the bill has a CPI index-linked increase built in and that the revisions to the criminal law make it possible for judges to sentence prisoners for even longer stays in prisons, driving up costs further. The money for this proposition would have to be diverted from other social programs.

My recommendation: Vote NO.

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Proposition 7: Requires utilities, including government-owned utilities, to generate 20% of their power from renewable energy by 2010, a standard currently applicable only to private electrical corporations. Raises requirement for utilities to 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2025. Imposes penalties, subject to waiver, for noncompliance.

Voting YES would mean that all electricity providers in California, whether private or public, would have to produce a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable energy sources.

Voting NO would mean preserving the status quo.

Opinion: On the face of it, it seems eminently reasonable. So why have I been seeing so many No on 7 ads? Turns out the biggest opposition to this bill is from, you guessed it, utility companies who have put in big bucks to defeat this proposition.

This is a complex bill that can be looked at from two aspects –

Centralized production vs. distributed production of renewable energy – Does it make more sense for utility companies to be the vanguard for renewable energy production or should we look at localized use of solar panels on roofs which would eliminate future chokepoints of energy transmission?

Global impact vs. local impact – Putting the utility companies’ feet to the fire would force them to move to alternative sources of energy which is good on a global scale. Opponents argue that this proposition is not good for small business owners because it would forbid projects that generate less than 30 megawatts of power from inclusion in the utilities’ requirement. That is, if a small business owner put solar panels on his rooftop and sold the power to the utilities, they couldn’t count it towards their 20% goal; which in turn would make them less inclined to support such initiatives by giving rebates and leasing rooftops.

The proponents of Prop 7 argue that that objection only arises from a misinterpretation of the law. They are happy to go on record in court documents stating that the initiative’s authors and supporters have no intent to change current law on energy producers.

Perhaps the confusion arises because the bill is not well written. But it is still an effort in the right direction.

The fact that utility companies are opposing this bill gives me pause. The fact that this bill specifically prohibits utility companies from passing on any fines from non-compliance to the customers makes me cheer.

My recommendation: Vote YES.

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Proposition 8:: Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Voting YES means amending the California Constitution to invalidate same-sex marriage.

Voting NO means preserving the status quo and allowing the marriage of same-sex couples in California.

Opinion: Gay marriage is one of those issues which are trotted out every single election year. I’ve always been suspicious that it is one of those mechanisms by which the party faithful (and no prizes for guessing which party) are motivated to show up at the polls. Ever since the California Supreme Court recognized gay marriage, the alarm and agitation is much more pronounced and real. It has been impossible to avoid the ads on television which allege that very little kids will be taught that marriage means “daddy marrying daddy” and “mommy marrying mommy” in school.

The irony is that because of the media blitz of the anti-gay-marriage crowd, my own little daughter is now exposed to this issue, which otherwise she absolutely would not have in school or home.

Is the allegation true?

Here are the facts –

There’s not one word in 8 about education. In fact, local school districts and parents—not the state—develop health education programs for their schools. No child can be taught anything about health and family issues against the will of their parents. California law prohibits it. I know this as a parent of 2 children in public schools. And nothing in state law requires the mention of marriage in kindergarten.

The ads are pure smear, which does more to put me off this proposition than anything else. By forcing their smears down my kids’ throats ( before I was ready to have a conversation with her at the appropriate time)by advertising in family-friendly TV programming, they have earned my disgust.

Voting yes on Proposition 8 takes a right away from another human being, a right that in no way diminishes the rights of fellow human beings or harms them in any way. Voting yes means children of existing gay families could lose the right to health care. Voting yes means existing gay families could lose the legal protections afforded married couples, including the right to visit their spouse in the hospital, the right to take over the legal affairs of their spouse if they become incapacitated, etc. Voting yes is a step backwards from the civilized notion of equality. To those who espouse “family values” I have this to say – by opposing gay marriage, you are preventing a whole section of society from entering into the same bond of commitment that you consider so important.

My recommendation: Vote NO.

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Proposition 9::Among other provisions, this requires notification to victim and opportunity for input during phases of criminal justice process, including bail, pleas, sentencing and parole. Establishes victim safety as consideration in determining bail or release on parole.

Voting YES means crime victims would have additional rights.

Voting NO means preserving the status quo.

Opinion: The rights proposed in Prop 9 are already in the law. These would now be enshrined in the California constitution. In addition, the law would mean that prisoners could not, under any circumstances, be released before their sentence was over. Given the overcrowding in California’s prisons, this would further increase the burden on the state’s prison system. The rights demanded for victims in this bill can also be granted by the legislature without going to this level.
In a twist that can happen only in America, the proponent of this bill( and Prop 6.) is a man named Henry Nichols, who is facing drug and fraud charges in a stock-backdating scandal that could land him in prison.

My recommendation – Vote NO.

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Proposition 10: Provides $3.425 billion to help consumers and others purchase certain high fuel economy or alternative fuel vehicles, including natural gas vehicles, and to fund research into alternative fuel technology. Provides $1.25 billion for research, development and production of renewable energy technology, primarily solar energy with additional funding for other forms of renewable energy; incentives for purchasing solar and renewable energy technology.

Voting YES means the state could sell bonds for the amount of $5 billion for this purpose.

Voting NO preserves the status quo.

Opinion – T. Boone Pickens is the brains behind this bill. T. Boone Pickens, the oilman turned greenie is the driving force behind this bill which gives 58% of the money collected as rebates to hybrid and natural gas-using vehicles. T. Boone Pickens is also the primary investor in Clean Energy Fuels, a publicly traded company that spent $3 million to put Proposition 10 on the ballot. The company is the nation’s largest provider of natural gas for transportation. Many of the natural gas vehicles would fill up at its stations.
The conflict of interest in this bill makes me very uncomfortable. Also this seems to be a gambit to make taxpayers cough up some more money to give rebates to people driving fuel efficient cars. In this era of high gas prices, it seems like an unnecessary reward.

My recommendation – Vote NO.

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Proposition 11: Changes authority for establishing Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization district boundaries from elected representatives to 14 member commission.
Requires government auditors to select 60 registered voters from applicant pool. Permits legislative leaders to reduce pool, then the auditors pick eight commission members by lottery, and those commissioners pick six additional members for 14 total.

Voting YES means boundaries for state senate, assembly and board of equalization districts would be drawn up by a new commission made up of California registered voters.
Voting NO means preserving the status quo.

Opinion – Gerry-mandering, or drawing up electoral districts to suit particular constituencies and particular politicians is a pernicious fact of politics. In many states it is the Republicans who do it, in California, it is the Democrats. Making the process more open and reflective of the real situation on the ground would mean that moderates would have a better chance at winning some of the local races.

My recommendation – Vote YES.

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Proposition 12: This act provides for a bond issue of nine hundred million dollars ($900,000,000) to provide loans to California veterans to purchase farms and homes. Appropriates money from the state General Fund to pay off the bonds, if loan payments from participating veterans are insufficient for that purpose.
Voting YES means the state would be able to issue $900 million in bonds to provide for veterans’ farm and home purchases.
Voting NO means preserving the status quo.
Opinion – The state is responsible to pay back the bond loan but it in turn gives low-cost loans to veterans and previous such loans have had a history of being paid back in time. The state has never incurred a bad debt in such programs in the past.
My recommendation – Vote YES.

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Ravi Johal – candidate for Washington Hospital Board of Directors

UPDATE: Ravi Johal lost his bid to be on the Washington Hospital Board.

Ravi Johal has been living and working in Fremont as a traffic and criminal attorney with the firm of Leon J. Mezzetti Jr. After a small surgery and the birth of his son made him do the rounds of Washington Hospital in central Fremont, Ravi became aware of the many niggling issues patients and their families face in their interaction with the community hospital that serves the tri-city area. Like long hours in the emergency room; not knowing right at the start what the out-of-pocket expenses are likely to be; your insurance plan not being accepted. Having the time, energy and inclination, he decided to stand for one of the two openings coming up in the Board of Directors of Washington Hospital.

I spoke to him about his message, his mission and his plans for the hospital.

What are the responsibilities of the job?
RJ: There are 5members on the board of which two are being contested. Washington Hospital is a community hospital, funded by tax dollars. The board makes sure the hospital functions properly.

What would be your mission as a member of the board?
RJ: What I would be working towards is improved accessibility to the hospital, a broader acceptance plan for insurance, expanded hours, improve emergency room services. Today if you go to the hospital during off hours, you are sent by default to the emergency room where the wait may be really long. There is room for improvement here. Our population has continued to grow but the infrastructure has not kept pace with it.  I would also like to see more transparency on the board, clear estimates of your medical expenses when you or a member of your family is admitted. We also have to make sure we improve affordability. As a district hospital Washington Hospital has an obligation to the people it serves.
The other thing we can do is to try to engage people without medical coverage in basic preventive care. We can work with local pharmacies to keep costs down.

Why did you decide to contest this particular post?
RJ: I am passionate about health care and people’s right to have affordable health care. I had surgery, my wife had a baby and I was in and out of hospitals. Previously I have worked with local government and done pro bono work for the community.

Is this your first foray into politics?
RJ: It is. This is a non-partisan position.

Do you get any benefit from your affiliation to the Democratic party?
RJ:I get a lot of endorsements. (Ravi has received an impressive list of endorsements from local elected officials.)

I have heard of an email that’s been going around that has some unsavory things about you?
RJ: I wanted to run a clean campaign that focused on the issues. Friends of Washington Hospital, an organization set up by board members in Washington Hospital, have been distributing this mailer arguing that voters should be voting for the incumbents. I have dealt with the allegations on my website.

What has the previous board not been doing that you would do better?
RJ: My message is one of accountability, transparency, and making sure that hospital remains solvent while doing that.

Do you think you could manage to implement any of your ideas, given that you will be g 1 out of 5 members of the board?
RJ: That is the whole democratic process. You need to voice your opinion so that you represent the community, facilitate a change in the mechanism. One person obviously cannot do it by himself. But one person can make a change if he is active and create open dialogue and be able to work with other board members.

How is it going so far?
RJ: It is going very well. In a short period of time I have been able to speak to a lot of people. I got the endorsement of the California Nurses Association (I am the only candidate to get the endorsement). I met with nurses, listened to them and gave them my input. They play a critical and vital role in giving the patient the best possible care.
We have done a lot of walking..meeting people wherever I go. It is mostly word of mouth.

What about funding?
RJ: This is a tough economy. We ran a couple of kickoffs in the beginning. It takes $2675 to file with the registrar which I loaned that to my campaign. I have asked friends and family to help. Being a 3-city election it is much  harder to target because it costs a lot.

Do you have larger political ambition?
RJ: I do not. I just want to give back to the community. I have the time, energy and knowledge to do this job.

More information on Ravi Johal at

Other candidates for this post:

Evelyn Li

Patricia Danielson(Incumbent)

William F. Nicholson(Incumbent)

Article on debate between the candidates here at Tri-City Beat.

Harmeet Dhillon – Candidate for State Assembly

UPDATE: Harmeet Dhillon lost her bid for State Assembly from California’s 13th district.

Harmeet Dhillon is one of a rare breed – a Republican in Democratic California. Arriving in the United States as a small child, Harmeet was educated in North Carolina and went on to Dartmouth College with an active participation in civil rights issues. She came into prominence when she questioned a music professor about an inappropriate level of political correctness (too much! according to her). An article about the same landed her an interview on 60 minutes.

In California, Harmeet continues to be active in civil rights legislation, providing legal services to political refugees, victims of domestic violence, and plaintiffs in civil rights litigation, including several First Amendment cases. She is also one of the up-and-coming members of the California Republican Party, being the Governor’s appointee to the party.

I spoke to her about her candidacy for the State Assembly from the 13th Assembly District of California, which includes many progressive, liberal, San Francisco neighborhoods.

You have been an active member of the Republican Party in California. What made you decide to run for office?
In every county we have a Republican committee that’s elected by the registered voters of each party. This committee determines party policy in each county. I was appointed to a vacancy in 2004. Then I was elected to the committee in June in this year.. The party then asked me to run for State Assembly.

As assemblyman, what would your responsibilities be?
The State Assembly is like House of Representatives for the state.  We have a bicameral legislature that is responsible for passing legislation, coming up with the budget etc.

How Republican leaning is your district?
HD: It’s virtually impossible for a Republican to win in my district. It is probably the most liberal district in the state. About 27% of the voters are registered as independent and I am focusing on them.

In that case, why would you run for office in this district?
HD: They are various reasons why you run. The first generation Indian Americans think the reason to run is to have power. I am doing it to educate the people and grow the party statewide. If I am able to increase the number of people voting Republican, I would consider my job done. I am also increasing my profile, increasing my chances of getting a  political appointment. It is a long term view. People who run for office can be arrogant. But they have never been involved in politics, never written op ed pieces. The way it works here , the party has to know you and the party has to back you. Otherwise you have no credibility.

Is party affiliation more important to the voters or the personality?
HD: That depends on your county. In San Francisco, the endorsement of the Democratic Party for ballot initiatives or school board matters a lot. Particularly in the non-partisan race, voters tend to be influenced by the recommendations of the Party.

What are the issues of concern to the voters in your particular district? Could you enumerate your positions on those?
HD: Environmentalism, the budget crisis in California, the economy. A lot of people are concerned about illegal immigration.
Education – We have a terrible system. The main culprit is the teachers’ unions. They grant teachers tenure after just 2 years. After that it is impossible to get rid of bad teachers, we cannot monitor performance. I advocate a full scale reform of the educational system. I support vouchers and more opportunities for home schooling. The state should allow a charter school program. People can go to vocational track. In North Carolina where I grew up, there was a boarding school for the gifted. That’s a great system where general schools deal with the average students and there are special schools for the bright kids. In California they tend to get lost.
Environment – I am a strong proponent of market based solutions. I think we are over reliant on fossil fuels. I am in favor of drilling as a long term solution. I would encourage car manufacturers to develop cars with better mileage. The way to do that is by judicious of tax credits for people and businesses and making it attractive for people to make that choice. In terms of protecting the environment, I am in favor of that. Conservation is a republican value.
Balancing the budget – I think the governor made one mistake in proposing the 3-year one cent sales tax increase. The budget process needs to be started earlier. The Governor should make it clear right now that he will not sign any legislation any bills  without a budget.
Crime – This is more of a local issue. It is somewhat related to the immigration issue. Certain cities like SF declare themselves sanctuary cities. This prevents police officers from informing the INS about criminals who are also illegal immigrants. This was horribly put to the test in the case of the Bologna family murders. The killer of the family members, who had previously been in trouble with the police, was allowed to roam free because there was no provision for the police to make sure he was deported.
Immigration – I believe illegal immigrants should get in line like the rest of us did.

Does the latest spell of bad economic news make it more difficult for you?
HD: I’m mot sure it will affect state races. San Francisco is a weird place. The majority of people are renters, so they don’t care about the housing market..they care about protecting rent control, which I am opposed to.

What is your opinion on the budget stalemate in California?
HD:I think the original budget was a terrible budget and I’m glad the Governor stood firm and asked for some changes. Spending now needs to be cut. There are lots of wasteful and inefficient government programs. One, as I mentioned before, is the sanctuary city policy that coddles young criminals. The city allocated 650000 for cultural adjustment training for these young criminals, I think that’s an outrageous abuse of taxpayer funding. There is room to cut teacher’s pensions. The teachers’ unions have negotiated for a lot of unnecessary money. One thing I recommend is that the city and state should not be subsidizing education for illegal aliens. California currently subsidizes education  at the UCs and state colleges for illegal aliens. The irony is that they cannot find work once they graduate.
I believe we should spend on infrastructure. I am in favor of the high speed rail initiative and in favor of green technology. But wasteful bureaucracy must go.

I understand that you an ardent supporter of John McCain? Do you agree with all his policies?
HD: I don’t agree with the policies of any politician a 100%. On abortion, I believe a  woman should have the right to choose in the first trimester. I think he is correct in that we should get out of Iraq with dignity. I trust him because he is a POW. I agree on his immigration policy where he advocates guest worker program( Senator McCain has said since that he would not vote for his own bill). I support a path to legalization.

Do you have a message for Indian-American voters?
HD:  Indian Americans pay more than their fair share of taxes, more that their fair share of the intellectual process, but we are not sophisticated consumers of politics. We don’t run for school boards, state assembly. I am the first person to stand for election with the backing of the party. And we‘ve been here for a 100 years. Nobody’s even trying. We need to be more sophisticated. We need to get out there in the community and give back. Volunteer, work in public service. Take jobs in the public interest.

Fremont School Board candidate – an interview with Lily Mei

By Vidya Pradhan

UPDATE: Lily Mei wins one of the three seats on the Fremont School Board. Congratulations, Lily Mei!

I met Lily Mei outside Forest Park Elementary School in Fremont as she handed out fliers proclaiming “Do the right thing!” She was supporting the teachers as they protested the proposed cuts in education in the upcoming California State budget and urged parents to call their representatives.

Lily Mei is standing for one of the 3 open seats on the FUSD School Board. This mother of two young kids in Fremont schools has served in many parent organizations in Fremont in roles ranging from room parent, math and music parent volunteer, vice-president of fund raising and membership as well as serving two years as the PTA President of her school. Today she serves as the Fremont Council PTA School Board Liaison, coordinating communication between the unit PTAs in Fremont and the Fremont School Board.

I spoke with her as we sat on a bench outside the school, with the background noises of children at play. Continue reading

Fremont City Council candidate – Vinnie Bacon

In honor of the upcoming elections, WNI is starting a new category today called “All politics is local.” Given the hype and hoopla over the presidential election, it is easy to forget that there are lots of local elections also going to be determined on November 4th. And unlike the presidential election, your Californian vote will actually count for a lot in these races, which are decided often by margins of a few hundred votes.

UPDATE: Vinnie Bacon lost his bid to be on the Fremont City Council.

We’ll put out some of our recommendations closer to election day, but today we profile Vinnie Bacon, who is standing for Fremont City Council. Like another Democrat who is making waves on the national stage, Vinnie is banking on grassroots mobilization to make him better known at the local level. A member of the environment friendly Sierra Club and with experience in transportation planning, Vinnie is running on a platform of sensible urban development.

WNI spoke to Vinnie Bacon a few days ago. Continue reading