Ballot Initiative Voter Guide: California, LA County, and the Cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica

First things first: Are you registered to vote? At your current address? Are you sure? Please take a moment to check here and confirm that you're properly registered for the November 8th, 2016 election. Voter registration closes for Californians on October 24th. 

Also, if you're looking for a cheat-sheet summary of my recommendations, you can click here, or scroll wayyyy down to the bottom of this post.

As many have noted, we have a surfeit of democracy here in California, to the point where it's nearly impossible for the average person to fully grasp everything they're being asked to vote on. At my address in the City of LA, I've got 32 things to vote on: schools, measures, propositions, judges, representatives. Even if you're trying to follow along, it can be overwhelming.

At a recent ballot party with some fellow city-lovers, I researched state propositions 51 through 58. I also heard some solid arguments from others who had researched propositions 59 through 67, and was already fairly knowledgeable about some of the LA County, City of LA, and Santa Monica ballot initiatives—so I figured I'd share those thoughts here for anyone interested.

I'll start with the state initiatives, then move on down to county and city. The format is: Title of proposition; Official description found on ballot; Analysis (supported by research and analysis of others); and Recommendation.

I'm happy to discuss any of my thoughts and recommendations in greater detail, so feel free to leave a comment if you want to dig in. With that said, let's get started.


California Ballot Initiatives

My analysis and recommendations for the CA initiatives are below. For reference, you can also find a summary of endorsements by major political parties, newspapers of record, community groups, and unions here.

Proposition 51: School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds for new construction and modernization of K–12 public school facilities; charter schools and vocational education facilities; and California Community Colleges facilities. Fiscal Impact: State costs of about $17.6 billion to pay off both the principal ($9 billion) and interest ($8.6 billion) on the bonds. Payments of about $500 million per year for 35 years."

Analysis: We have more school construction and modernization needs than we have money to pay for them—the state fund provides matching grants for these programs is basically tapped out. That said, there are a lot of problems with this initiative, many of them articulated by none other than the California Legislative Analysts Office: "the existing program fails to treat school facility costs as an ongoing expense despite the recurring nature of facility needs, allows disparities based on school district property wealth, fails to target funding according to greatest need, results in excessive administrative complexity, and lacks adequate accountability mechanisms.” For relatively complex reasons, the current funding structure (which this initiative would perpetuate) also subsidizes sprawl at the expense of needy, underutilized schools in existing communities.

For me, the biggest problem here is how the program awards funds based on who gets their applications in fastest, which inherently favors more affluent school districts that are better-resourced to put those applications together—and which are least in need of state support. It's also the only bill since this program began in 1998 that wasn't put forth with the support of the legislature or the governor. The LA Times recommends a no vote, and the rather liberal "San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters" provided no endorsement either way. Given that school funding is obviously needed, and that liberals are almost always happy to tax themselves to bolster our schools, I think the unwillingness to lend their support speaks volumes. I try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but this initiative is very far from perfect, and we're better off waiting til next time for a better proposal.

Recommendation: Vote No.

Proposition 52: Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Summary: "Extends indefinitely an existing statute that imposes fees on hospitals to fund Medi-Cal health care services, care for uninsured patients, and children’s health coverage. Fiscal Impact: Uncertain fiscal effect, ranging from relatively little impact to annual state General Fund savings of around $1 billion and increased funding for public hospitals in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually."

Analysis: The hospital fee program is basically a work-around that allows the state to receive more money from the federal Medicaid grant program at limited direct cost to the state or its residents. We tax the hospitals, then use most of those tax proceeds (about 76 percent) to increase our Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, so the money goes right back to the hospitals. Those higher reimbursement rates lead to more Medicaid funding—an extra $4 billion last year. The tax has been in place for a while, and this initiative rewrites the state constitution to make it permanent and cap diversions to non-Medi-Cal uses at 24 percent.

Without this tax the state of California receives less than its fair share of Medicaid funding from the government, and 12 million of our residents depend on the program for affordable health care, so I strongly encourage your support. The LA Times and SF League both agree.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Proposition 53: Revenue Bonds. Statewide Voter Approval. Initiative Constitutional Amendment. 

Summary: "Requires statewide voter approval before any revenue bonds can be issued or sold by the state for certain projects if the bond amount exceeds $2 billion. Fiscal Impact: State and local fiscal effects are unknown and would depend on which projects are affected by the measure and what actions government agencies and voters take in response to the measure's voting requirement."

Analysis: Basically, this would mean we need to vote on even more stuff every year, including projects that aren't even being proposed in your part of the state. Revenue bonds don't generally put the taxpayer at risk because they're funded by user fees, which is why they don't require a vote with 2/3 approval like special taxes do. This is just pandering to anti-government, anti-tax folks, and it doesn't deserve your vote—especially since the guy backing it is an agribusinessman with a direct stake in the success of the initiative. Once again, the LA Times and SF League agree.

Recommendation: Vote No.

Proposition 54: Legislature. Legislation and Proceedings. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Summary: "Prohibits Legislature from passing any bill unless published on Internet for 72 hours before vote. Requires Legislature to record its proceedings and post on Internet. Authorizes use of recordings. Fiscal Impact: One-time costs of $1 million to $2 million and ongoing costs of about $1 million annually to record legislative meetings and make videos of those meetings available on the Internet."

Analysis: This looks like a sensible idea that would increase government transparency and ensure that lawmakers aren't voting on bills they couldn't possibly have had the time to review. Its got the support of the LA Times, SF League, and various good government groups. That said, someone raised the issue that this would also affect amendments to bills proposed on the floor of the legislature, requiring a 72-hour waiting period after any such amendment, no matter how minor. With that in mind, this looks more like an effort by a conservative billionaire to make state government work less efficiently, all under the guise of transparency and good government. If this is a good idea, it can wait.

Recommendation: Vote No.

Proposition 55: Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Summary: "Extends by twelve years the temporary personal income tax increases enacted in 2012 on earnings over $250,000, with revenues allocated to K–12 schools, California Community Colleges, and, in certain years, healthcare. Fiscal Impact: Increased state revenues—$4 billion to $9 billion annually from 2019–2030—depending on economy and stock market. Increased funding for schools, community colleges, health care for low–income people, budget reserves, and debt payments."

Analysis: Prop 55 extends an income tax increase that was first approved in 2012 for a six-year period, along with a four-year sales tax increase, in order to plug the massive budget holes left by the Great Recession. This would carry the income tax through 2030 instead of eliminating it at the end of 2030. When the tax was first approved, it added a 1 percent tax (to a total 10.3 percent) for earnings between $250,000 and $300,000; 2 percent for earnings between $300,000 and $500,000, and 3 percent for earnings over $500,000. The sales tax will expire as planned.

When it was first proposed there were promises made about the income tax also being allowed to expire in 2018, but deciding whether the voters want to see this happen is kind of the whole point of a ballot initiative. The LA Times is against it, and the SF League is for it; I'm with the League on this one. Some argue that higher taxes on our most affluent residents will push them out to other states, but there's little evidence that this is the case (or ever has been). What is irrefutable is that California has the most inequitable property tax regime in the country, and that we need to make up for those lost revenues somewhere—and partly because of our property tax system, poor and middle class residents are the ones we're increasingly unable to hold onto. Taxing the rich is our most equitable alternative.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Proposition 56: Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Summary: "Increases cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, with equivalent increase on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes containing nicotine. Fiscal Impact: Additional net state revenue of $1 billion to $1.4 billion in 2017–18, with potentially lower revenues in future years. Revenues would be used primarily to augment spending on health care for low–income Californians."

Analysis: It's a cigarete tax, so this should be a no-brainer. California currently has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country, at just $0.87 per pack. (New York’s is $4.35 per pack.) The tax hasn’t been increased in 18 years, and we haven't had one pass the legislature in 34 years. A ballot initiative is the only way this is going to happen. The tax would also apply to e-cigarettes, unless/until the FDA determines them to be a "smoking cessation device." Most of the funds raised would go to Medi-Cal, which is smart since smokers are lower income on average, and therefore more likely to be dependent on Medi-Cal. Everyone supports this, and you should too.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Proposition 57: Criminal Sentences. Parole. Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Summary: "Allows parole consideration for nonviolent felons. Authorizes sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, and education. Provides juvenile court judge decides whether juvenile will be prosecuted as adult. Fiscal Impact: Net state savings likely in the tens of millions of dollars annually, depending on implementation. Net county costs of likely a few million dollars annually."

Analysis: This one is pretty complex, so if you're going to read a more detailed summary on anything, I suggest you review the LA Times' Editorial Board's endorsement of this proposition. Briefly though, if you support reducing the population of non-violent offenders in prison and transferring some power out of the hands of prosecutors (who make their living putting people in jail) and into the hands of judges (where more power used to be, before a series of decisions in past decades that were motivated at least in part by racism), then this proposition is for you. The LA Times and SF League are both in support, and so am I.

There are some who would argue that Prop 47, which reduced penalties for some crimes and was passed in 2014, went overboard and has increased crime on our streets. They might also say that this just doubles down on a failed strategy. I would argue that the case for dismantling the prison-industrial complex, a systemically racist criminal justice system, and prosecutorial overreach should carry the day here.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Proposition 58: English Proficiency. Multilingual Education. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Preserves requirement that public schools ensure students obtain English language proficiency. Requires school districts to solicit parent/community input in developing language acquisition programs. Requires instruction to ensure English acquisition as rapidly and effectively as possible. Authorizes school districts to establish dual–language immersion programs for both native and non–native English speakers. Fiscal Impact: No notable fiscal effect on school districts or state government."

Analysis: Most bilingual education was banned by another racist law passed years ago, Proposition 227. There was a kernel of legitimacy in the original proposition, in that some English language learners (ELLs) would be relegated to non-English classes for their entire education, which left them ill-prepared for adulthood in a predominantly English-speaking country. Proposition 58 would allow for bilingual education again, but would still allow parents to request that their children take English-only classes. When done right, bilingual education has been shown to result in better outcomes for ELLs, and this initiative will restore the rights of students to take that path, without forcing them to do so. It's an easy "yes" vote that will help remedy an embarrassing chapter in Californian history.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Proposition 59: Corporations. Political Spending. Federal Constitutional Protections. Legislative Advisory Question.

Summary: "Asks whether California's elected officials should use their authority to propose and ratify an amendment to the federal Constitution overturning the United States Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Citizens United ruled that laws placing certain limits on political spending by corporations and unions are unconstitutional. Fiscal Impact: No direct fiscal effect on state or local governments."

Analysis: The Citizen's United decision sucked and everyone knows it. Undoing that decision, narrowing its scope, or creating legislation that achieves those same aims, would be a great idea. Unfortunately, Prop 59 doesn't actually achieve any of that; it's completely non-binding, which begs the question of why we needed it on the ballot in the first place. If you want to vote yes on this to express your distaste with Citizen's United in a relatively meaningless but possibly cathartic fashion, despite polling data already making those feelings quite clear, feel free. If you think these kinds of resolutions are a silly waste of time, vote no, as the LA Times suggests. That's probably what I'm doing. It doesn't really matter, which is why the SF League's recommendation was literally, "Sure ¯\_(ツ)_/¯."

Recommendation: Do Whatever You Like Because It Doesn't Mean Anything.

Proposition 60: Adult Films. Condoms. Health Requirements. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Requires adult film performers to use condoms during filming of sexual intercourse. Requires producers to pay for performer vaccinations, testing, and medical examinations. Requires producers to post condom requirement at film sites. Fiscal Impact: Likely reduction of state and local tax revenues of several million dollars annually. Increased state spending that could exceed $1 million annually on regulation, partially offset by new fees."

Analysis: In 2012, LA County passed Measure B, a law that banned unprotected (condom-free) sex in adult films. This initiative would double down on that law and take it statewide. Although LA County was the porn capital prior to Measure B, I don't think there's evidence that the amount of porn being filmed in the U.S. declined as a result of its passage. Instead, the filming has been taken elsewhere, with filming permits falling by about 90 percent the year after the initiative's passage. This obviously cost our county a lot of jobs, but it may also perversely result in worse health outcomes, since the prophylactic and STD-monitoring practices in the porn industry here were actually highly effective, with no HIV outbreaks since 2004. Some of that work may have been taken underground, where the same practices are less enforceable.

As I mentioned, Prop 60 actually goes further than Measure B, and not just in its geographic reach. According to the LA Times, it creates broad liabilities that allow any resident to sue the "producers and purveyors" of pornography if they spot a violation, and this liability may even extend to hotels and cable channels that display pornography for customers. In what seems to be a hallmark of Michael Weinstein-backed initiatives, Prop 60 takes a well-meaning core idea and twists it into a personal crusade with implications far beyond the stated intent.

The best argument I heard in favor of this initiative is that many young people learn about sex from pornography, and that films without condoms "model" irresponsible behavior; for the same reason, we rarely see movies or television shows in which the actors smoke cigarettes. All that said, it's debatable whether this will actually increase the share of films where condoms are used, and in fact very possible that it will result in decreased safety as filming moves underground or to other states, where regulations may be less stringent. The state's Occupational Health and Safety department is already working on more sensible regulations, so follow the lead of the LA Times and SF League (and me) and vote no on Proposition 60.

Recommendation: Vote No.

Proposition 61: State Prescription Drug Purchases. Pricing Standards. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Prohibits state from buying any prescription drug from a drug manufacturer at price over lowest price paid for the drug by United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Exempts managed care programs funded through Medi–Cal. Fiscal Impact: Potential for state savings of an unknown amount depending on (1) how the measure's implementation challenges are addressed and (2) the responses of drug manufacturers regarding the provision and pricing of their drugs."

Analysis: First off, this is another Michael Weinstein ballot initiative, so you should already be wary. The guy just always has an ulterior motive, even when there are legitimate issues raised. What the initiative essentially says is that the state can't pay more for drugs than what the Veteran's Administration pays. Sounds great—as Weinstein's initiatives always do, at face value. The actual specifics are far more complex, and to some extent the implications are unknowable until and unless the initiative passes. What everyone seems to agree on is that Prop 61 is unlikely to result in less spending on drugs overall, though it may shift costs away from the state and onto the privately insured. There's also a carve-out for Medi-Cal managed care plans, and Weinstein's billion-dollar non-profit operates one—I'll admit that I don't actually know whether this benefits his organization in some way, but I have every reason to be skeptical. Save your vote for something that will actually help resolve the problem of high drug prices, because this isn't it. The LA Times opposes it, the SF League opposes it, even all the veteran's organizations oppose it. (Correction: All but one. VoteVets supports Prop 61; 28 veterans organizations oppose.) You should do the same.

Recommendation: Vote No.

Proposition 62: Death Penalty. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Repeals death penalty and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Applies retroactively to existing death sentences. Increases the portion of life inmates' wages that may be applied to victim restitution. Fiscal Impact: Net ongoing reduction in state and county criminal justice costs of around $150 million annually within a few years, although the impact could vary by tens of millions of dollars depending on various factors."

Analysis: This is the "repeal the death penalty" initiative. If you think the death penalty is morally repugnant and find it reprehensible that California has the largest death row population in the country, you should vote yes on Prop 62. If you are disgusted by the fact that people of color are more likely than whites to be sentenced to death for the same crimes, you should vote yes on Prop 62. If you deplore the money we waste putting people to death instead of simply sentencing them to life without parole, you should vote yes on Prop 62. If it concerns you that of 344 DNA exonerations since 1989, 20 were men on death row waiting to be executed—and that execution forecloses the possibility of any future exoneration—you should vote yes on Prop 62. In other words, you should vote yes on Prop 62. 

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Proposition 63: Firearms. Ammunition Sales. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Requires background check and Department of Justice authorization to purchase ammunition. Prohibits possession of large–capacity ammunition magazines. Establishes procedures for enforcing laws prohibiting firearm possession by specified persons. Requires Department of Justice's participation in federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Fiscal Impact: Increased state and local court and law enforcement costs, potentially in the tens of millions of dollars annually, related to a new court process for removing firearms from prohibited persons after they are convicted."

Analysis: I'm not going to argue one way or another about the merits of gun control, because I think this is a pretty fact-free area of politics. If you do think you're open to being convinced to support them, this LA Times endorsement might be for you. Prop 63 would require background checks for the purchase of ammunition, prohibits possession of large-capacity magazines, requires reporting of lost or stolen guns, and makes anyone convicted of gun theft ineligible to own or possess a firearm, among other things. It's a bit of a cheap ploy by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the backer of the initiative, in light of all the recent gun control laws that were already passed just this summer. So maybe don't give him too much credit. But you can take solace in the fact that you'll be sticking it to the National Rifle Association, which has thwarted sensible gun reform for decades, even when those policies have enjoyed the support of a huge majority of Americans.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Proposition 64: Marijuana Legalization. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Legalizes marijuana under state law, for use by adults 21 or older. Imposes state taxes on sales and cultivation. Provides for industry licensing and establishes standards for marijuana products. Allows local regulation and taxation. Fiscal Impact: Additional tax revenues ranging from high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually, mostly dedicated to specific purposes. Reduced criminal justice costs of tens of millions of dollars annually."

Analysis: If Prop 64 passes, the main change will be that you no longer have to fake insomnia or dry eyes in order to score some weed. We would treat marijuana less like meth and more like alcohol, which makes sense since all signs point to alcohol being far more costly to individuals and to society. And since every aspect of our criminal justice system disadvantages the poor and people of color, decriminalizing pot will disproportionately benefit them—as it should. And we'll get another billion dollars a year in tax revenue. Join me and everyone else, except Republicans and the police, in approving Prop 64 and legalizing recreational marijuana.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Proposition 65: Carryout Bags. Charges. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Redirects money collected by grocery and certain other retail stores through mandated sale of carryout bags. Requires stores to deposit bag sale proceeds into a special fund to support specified environmental projects. Fiscal Impact: Potential state revenue of several tens of millions of dollars annually under certain circumstances, with the monies used to support certain environmental programs.

Analysis: This is a weird, vindictive law put forth by plastic bag producers. As the LA Times noted, it seems intended either to confuse voters who also face a referendum on the plastic bag ban (see Proposition 67), or simply to punish grocers who supported the ban when the state legislature initially approved it in 2014. This initiative, like plastic bags themselves, is garbage—and you should vote against it.

Recommendation: Vote No.

Proposition 66: Death Penalty. Procedures. Initiative Statute.

Summary: "Changes procedures governing state court challenges to death sentences. Designates superior court for initial petitions and limits successive petitions. Requires appointed attorneys who take noncapital appeals to accept death penalty appeals. Exempts prison officials from existing regulation process for developing execution methods. Fiscal Impact: Unknown ongoing impact on state court costs for processing legal challenges to death sentences. Potential prison savings in the tens of millions of dollars annually."

Analysis: This proposition is essentially the opposite of Prop 62, seeking to speed up death penalty executions rather than abolish them. See my analysis on Prop 62 if you don't understand why this initiative is so awful, and then vote no on Prop 66. If you need more convincing... why? Executions have no "good side" and they serve no purpose in modern society.

Recommendation: Vote No.

Proposition 67: Ban on Single–use Plastic Bags. Referendum.

Summary: "A "Yes" vote approves, and a "No" vote rejects, a statute that prohibits grocery and other stores from providing customers single–use plastic or paper carryout bags but permits sale of recycled paper bags and reusable bags. Fiscal Impact: Relatively small fiscal effects on state and local governments, including a minor increase in state administrative costs and possible minor local government savings from reduced litter and waste management costs."

Analysis: Two years ago the state legislature voted to ban single-use plastic bags in California. Plastic bag manufacturers put this referendum on the ballot to try to overturn it. Lots of cities and counties had already approved bag bans, including LA County, and as a result the state has cut bag use in half, from 30 billion to 15 billion bags a year. The legislature's statewide ban will help us cut that number even further. There's really no case for disposable bags, whether plastic or paper, and the ban on plastic tied with a 10-cent fee on paper bags has severely curtailed the use of both. Since this is a referendum, voting "yes" means you approve of the legislature's ban—and that's what you should do.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.


Los Angeles County Initiatives

Measure A: Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers Protection, and Water Conservation Measure.

Summary: "To replace expiring local funding for safe, clean neighborhood/city/county parks; increase safe playgrounds, reduce gang activity; keep neighborhood recreation/senior centers, drinking water safe; protect beaches, rivers, water resources, remaining natural areas/open space; shall 1.5 cents be levied annually per square foot of improved property in Los Angeles County, with bond authority, requiring citizen oversight, independent audits, and funds used locally?"

Analysis: Los Angeles County is, for many of us, an embarrassingly park-poor place to call home. A majority of our residents—particularly people of color and lower-income households—live in areas with less than 1.5 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, and that has major implications for physical and mental health, air quality, productivity, mobility, and social connection. In nearly every facet of our lives, we are diminished when we lack access to adequate park and open space. Measure A would re-enact a 1992 parcel tax and extend another that is set to expire in 2019, providing a dedicated funding source to restore our parks, beaches, natural areas, and multi-use trails, and to build new ones in abundance. (No new beaches, unfortunately.)

For me, a major selling point of Measure A is that it's a broadly-based funding source, collecting taxes on all improved property throughout the county, and acknowledging that every resident should play a role in building and preserving our open spaces. When people think "property tax," they often associate this with homeownership, but everyone pays property taxes: from the single family homeowner, to renters (whose landlords recoup their costs in the form of slightly higher rents), to commercial and industrial property owners. Of course, those with larger homes pay more, so it's a relatively progressive revenue stream, too. As someone who's lived in some pretty park-poor neighborhoods in LA—namely Koreatown and Downtown—I can attest to the importance of park access and the void you feel when there's nothing within reach. Measure A will help remedy that severe parks and open space deficit for neighborhoods across the county.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Measure M: Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan.

Summary: "To improve freeway traffic flow/safety; repair potholes/sidewalks; repave local streets; M earthquake retrofit bridges; synchronize signals; keep senior/disabled/student fares affordable; expand rail/subway/bus systems; improve job/school/airport connections; and create jobs; shall voters authorize a Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a one-half cent sales tax and continue the existing one-half cent traffic relief tax until voters decide to end it, with independent audits/oversight and funds controlled locally?"

Analysis: Much as some of our residents might wish otherwise, there's no going back to a congestion-free Los Angeles. The city will continue to grow—and even if it didn't there are enough residents, jobs, and tourists already here that we'll never again see free-flowing streets in abundance. (Did we ever?) Measure M promises to relieve congestion, but what it will really accomplish is to provide an alternative to congestion. You can sit on the 10, or you can take the Expo Line in your own right-of-way. You can drive to Beverly Hills, or you can take bus 720 along the Wilshire transit-only lane, bypassing most traffic. You can drive to the corner store or local restaurant, or you can save money and improve your health (and avoid a lot of stress) by walking or biking along new sidewalks and protected bike lanes.

For an additional $25 per household each year, Measure M will make it easier for millions of LA County residents to make these kinds of life-affirming, cost-saving, environmentally-friendly decisions every day. New rail connections will be made to the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, subway service will reach UCLA and connect the Crenshaw line to Hollywood through West Hollywood, an entirely new line will be built from Union Station out to the sorely under-served Gateway cities to the southeast, the LA River will become a destination, with a beautiful walking and biking path along its entire 51-mile length. And on and on.

There are communities that are not being served as early as they could be, or perhaps even should be. And compromises have been made, with less-impactful investments prioritized in the name of geographic equity—but that's the cost of requiring 2/3 of the vote for approval, and frankly is only fair, to some extent, since every LA County resident will bear the cost of the 0.5 percent sales tax increase. Metro is not without its flaws, but it's earned our trust in recent years with several major projects delivered on-time and on-budget. And with the oversight built into Measure M, we can be confident that our region's transportation vision will continue to be achieved—and our options will continue to proliferate—for decades to come.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

This GIF shows today's Metro rail network compared to the full build-out in several decades if Measure M is approved.


City of Los Angeles Initiatives

Proposition HHH: Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond. 

Summary: "To provide safe, clean affordable housing for the homeless and for those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, seniors, foster youth, and the disabled; and provide facilities to increase access to mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, and other services; shall the City of Los Angeles issue $1,200,000,000 in general obligation bonds, with citizen oversight and annual financial audits?"

Analysis: Several months ago, I wrote up a three-part summary of the City's new Comprehensive Homeless Strategy. A major focus of the report was the need for a massive increase in the supply of permanent supportive housing—to adopt a "Housing First" approach to homelessness, which has proven highly effective at reducing chronic homelessness, and less costly than our existing system of emergency care and law enforcement "street-treatment." Proposition HHH is city's effort to fund that housing and finally provide a long-term solution to a homelessness crisis that has worsened as rents and home prices have continued to grow unsustainably. There are 28,000 homeless men and women in the City of Los Angeles, and homelessness grew by 12% throughout the county between 2013 and 2015.

Some argue that, based on the history of supportive housing development in Los Angeles, most of the HHH funds will be used to build more homeless housing in Skid Row, continuing the concentration of poverty in that struggling community. It's a valid concern, but I believe it's overblown. For one, the proposition might result in the construction of up to 1,000 new units per year, and I simply don't see a way that all of them end up being built in Skid Row. The city has also already identified a number of publicly-owned parcels on which supportive housing could be built, all of them outside of Downtown LA. We as residents of the city will also need to exert our own influence to ensure that communities across the region bear the burden of supporting our homeless neighbors. If NIMBYs can do it, so can we.

For an issue this complex and fraught, no answer will ever be perfect. But this proposition gets most of it right: it focuses on permanent supportive housing, which is the best long-term solution to homelessness; it shares the burden of housing the homeless amongst all LA residents, rather than trying to solve such a mammoth problem on the backs of a narrow group (such as developers, or new residents to the city); and perhaps most importantly, it puts us on the path to a solution now—we simply can't wait another four years, or even another two, to get our start. Please vote for Proposition HHH.

Recommendation: Vote Yes.

Initiative Ordinance JJJ: Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Related to City Planning. 

Summary: "Shall an ordinance: 1) requiring that certain residential development projects provide for affordable housing and comply with prevailing wage, local hiring and other labor standards; 2) requiring the City to assess the impacts of community plan changes on affordable housing and local jobs; 3) creating an affordable housing incentive program for developments near major transit stops; and 4) making other changes; be adopted?"

***UPDATE***: This initiative is particularly contentious, and pretty difficult to parse. I've written a more exhaustive summary of my arguments against it here. If you're still not sure after reading below, please check out the detailed version.

Analysis: This one is tough. As with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, this one starts with a fair premise: If developers receive a concession from City Council that lets them build more housing than current zoning allows, they should have to provide some affordable housing in exchange. The state has a density bonus law that lets you build up to 35 percent more housing if you provide about 10 to 15 percent of the units to low income households, so yeah, of course a zone change or general plan amendment that doubles your unit density should require something in return. And rather than negotiating those give-backs on a case-by-case basis, it's better to formalize the process. Measure JJJ does that, and it does so in a fairly nimble way compared to the typical ballot initiative.

The problem with JJJ is that it didn't stop there. Although it really has no direct impact on the supply of affordable housing in our city, the initiative includes a host of labor-friendly policies that favor union members and dramatically increase the wages of tradespeople on many projects. (Labor is the main backer of the initiative, though it has broad support among social/economic justice groups, affordable housing developers, and others.) The main issue with the labor provisions, though not the only one, is its "prevailing wage" requirement, which pretty dramatically increase the wages of tradespeople on these projects. Right now prevailing wage is already paid to workers on most large projects, but the law would now extend to every development of 10 or more units. There's a serious concern that these smaller projects would become completely infeasible, reducing total housing supply and, as I've argued on multiple occasions, driving up the cost of all housing—new and existing. So we get a few dozen or few hundred more low income units each year; meanwhile, the 1.3 million units already here get more expensive, faster. It should also be noted that while the affordable housing requirements in the initiative can be decreased by City Council if they're found to affect project feasibility, the wage requirements cannot. I think that shows where the priorities for this initiative lie.

Beyond these specific arguments, ballot box planning in general has a horrible track record in California. Proposition 13 is the most harmful example at the state level, and Prop U is probably the best analog here in the City of LA. It begins with a decent idea and then leads to sweeping, economy-destroying unforeseen consequences. I don't think JJJ is nearly as short-sighted as Propositions 13 or U, but I've grown very distrustful of making planning decisions in this way. And it should be noted, City Council is currently at work developing "value capture" standards that would accomplish the same affordable housing goals found in this initiative, with the benefit of a lot more study and debate going into their development, and the freedom to adapt and reform them as circumstances dictate—not so with initiatives, as we've tragically seen in the cases of Props 13 and U. This one's a grudging no, with the caveat that I strongly recommend contacting your City Council member to advocate in favor of affordable housing requirements for projects that request zoning, height district, or general plan amendments.

If you're still unsure, you can find my more detailed analysis here.

Recommendation: Vote No. But contact your Councilmember to advocate for similar affordability requirements adopted through the formal legislative process.


City of Santa Monica Initiative

Measure LV

Summary: "Shall the City's General Plan and Municipal Code be amended to require: a new permit process for major development projects exceeding base sizes or heights of 32-36 feet, with exceptions such as single unit dwellings and some affordable housing projects; voter approval of major development projects and development agreements, excluding affordable housing and moderate income and senior housing projects, among others; and voter approval of changes to City land use and planning policy documents."

Analysis: Measure LV is the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative of Santa Monica, and the NII is the Donald Trump of ballot initiatives. That's mostly all you need to know. The NII is crazy, but this takes crazy to another level.This initiative literally requires that most projects over 32 to 36 feet tall would require a vote of the entire city in order to move forward. I talked about a surfeit of democracy at the top of this epically long post, and Measure LV makes it all so, so much worse. The idea that people should be required to waste the space in their brain determining the desirability of each individual project in their city of 100,000 people is, frankly, insulting to those voters and their time. This is why we have elected representatives.

And as with the NII, this measure is a fundamentally pessimistic initiative that views its city's best days as being behind it. Traffic sucks in Santa Monica—fact. But in what sense does freezing things in place solve anything? The backers of this initiative are like a man who's discovered he has a slow-growing, curable cancer—but one that, in lieu of a painful course of chemotherapy, will eventually kill him. Afraid to face that pain, he elects to willingly succumb to a slow death. The backers of this initiative have given up on something better. Measure LV is the proposal of a group of people who have no vision for a future that is greater than what came before. And lacking that vision, they'll settle for what they have, and damn those outsiders who might like to live, work, and play in the city. Damn those who would contribute to the tax base, so that investments could be made in more efficient modes of transportation, negating the soul-crushing weight of westside traffic congestion. Because the problem is intractable, and nothing can be done.

This is a depressing initiative, and if you live in Santa Monica I hope you'll vote no, then work with your neighbors and colleagues to create a vision for something greater.

Recommendation: Vote No. No No No.

That's it! You did it. I'm very proud of you. Now get out there and change the world, tiger. Here's the cheat sheet as your prize: