This voter guide was written jointly by Shane Phillips and Cliff Massey. Please note that these recommendations represent our own personal views and not the opinion of any organization, corporation, or other entity.
It's time to vote again!
Yes, yes, I know you just voted in November. And hopefully you learned something about the importance of voter turnout from our last election, because that all goes double, triple, quadruple for local elections. Turnout for presidential elections exceeds 70% of registered voters, whereas municipal and county elections in Los Angeles see turnout of 15% or less, despite local leadership and policy affecting all of our lives in really meaningful ways. Don't let someone else—specifically, a demographic that heavily skews older and more conservative—decide the future of your city and your neighborhood.
Following up on my guide for the November 2016 election, I've put together a local ballot initiative guide for Angelenos with my friend and former classmate, Cliff Massey. You can find a simple Google doc summarizing our recommendations here, or you can read them below.
If you aren't sure if you're registered, you should look to be sure! If you've moved recently, you should update your address there, too! If you're voting at a polling place and need to know here to go, you should find out where to go! If you want to register to vote by mail, you can do that here (as long as you fill out the form before February 20th)!
Los Angeles County Ballot Initiatives
This year, there's just one ballot initiative at the county level: Measure H.
Measure H: LA County Plan to Prevent and Combat Homelessness
Summary: "To fund mental health, substance abuse treatment, health care, education, job training, rental subsidies, emergency and affordable housing, transportation, outreach, prevention, and supportive services for homeless children, families, foster youth, veterans, battered women, seniors, disabled individuals, and other homeless adults; shall voters authorize Ordinance No. 2017-0001 to levy a 1/4 cent sales tax for ten years, with independent annual audits and citizens' oversight?"
Analysis: Over the past few years, the City and County of LA have both adopted comprehensive homelessness reduction plans, and with November's election, the City of LA approved $1.2 billion in new funding to help house its homeless population of over 25,000. Measure H is the County's complement to the City commitment: Not only will it raise $350 million per year for 10 years to support homelessness reduction and support services, it will also fund many of the services that ensure the permanent supportive homes built by Measure HHH are as effective as possible.
The City and County have both transitioned from an "enforcement" model to a proven Housing First approach to homelessness, with the understanding that stable housing is the first step to health and recovery for our chronically homeless neighbors. Aside from being the right thing to do morally, Measure H and the Housing First approach also a smart move economically, as it is often more expensive to treat homelessness on the street—with frequent emergency room visits, law enforcement and justice system costs, and temporary housing solutions—than to build a new home and provide necessary services on-site. An extra quarter-cent sales tax for 10 years will pay dividends in the future with dramatically reduced chronic homelessness and millions saved on medical and public safety costs each year.
Key Supporters: National Resources Defense Council, LA Mayor Garcetti, City of Long Beach, City of Pasadena, LA County Democratic Party, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH).
Key Opponents: LA County Republican Party.
Recommendation: Vote Yes!
City of Los Angeles Ballot Initiatives
There are 4 ballot initiatives for City of LA voters: Measures M (as in Marijuana, not Metro), N, H, and S.
Measure M: Cannabis Regulation After Citizen Input, Taxation and Enforcement
Summary: "Shall an ordinance providing for enforcement, taxation and regulation of cannabis and/or cannabis products (cannabis) by: 1) providing that the City Council retains the authority to amend existing and adopt new regulations regarding cannabis activity in the City after conducting public hearings regarding various aspects of the commercialization of cannabis and medical cannabis, and giving priority in the processing of applications to existing medical marijuana dispensaries operating in compliance with current City law; 2) authorizing criminal penalties, nuisance abatement, increased civil fines and disconnection of water and power utilities for unauthorized cannabis activities; and 3) establishing new business taxes, effective January 1, 2018, including taxes of $100 per each $1,000 of gross receipts from cannabis sales and $50 per each $1,000 of gross receipts from medical cannabis sales, $10 per each $1,000 of gross receipts from cannabis transportation, testing or research, and $20 per each $1,000 of gross receipts from cannabis manufacturing, cultivation or other commercialization of cannabis; be adopted?"
Analysis: California voters approved Prop 64 in November, legalizing marijuana statewide. It is now up to the cities and counties of the state to regulate the sale and use of the substance. Measure M is better than Measure N (below) because it is more flexible: it allows for the City Council to determine—with public input—the appropriate permitting, taxation, and regulatory scheme for managing recreation marijuana sales. It also allows us to alter the regulations going forward, as we learn from inevitable missteps. Also of note: one of the supporters of the measure has the last name Hadley-Hempstead, so it just feels right.
Key Supporters: LA Police Protective League, Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, Los Angeles Business Council, County Federation of Labor, Chamber of Commerce. (Of Note: The Federation of Labor and Chamber of Commerce almost never agree on anything, so this is a big deal.)
Key Opponents: None.
Recommendation: Vote Yes.
Measure N: Cannabis Activity Permits, Regulation, and Taxation
Summary: "Shall an ordinance establishing a City permitting program for cannabis activity, prioritizing existing medical marijuana businesses compliant with current City law (MMBs) and maintaining 135 dispensaries in the City unless increased by the City Council, including by: 1) authorizing the City to issue permits for cannabis activity including cultivation, manufacture and sale of medical cannabis; 2) providing existing compliant MMBs a limited time to register for initial permits for specified cannabis activity and other priority in the permitting process; 3) allowing permitted cannabis activity in certain non-residential zones; 4) providing operational standards and minimum-distance requirements from schools and other sites; 5) authorizing fines and other penalties for non-permitted cannabis activity but limit enforcement procedures for violations of the ordinance by permit holders; and 6) allowing permittees to operate as adult use marijuana businesses and impose a tax of $80 per each $1,000 of gross receipts from adult use marijuana sales if state law changes to allow non-medical adult use of marijuana; be adopted?"
Analysis: Similar to Measure M (above), this measure sets out rules to regulate cannabis. However, Measure N is much more prescriptive, setting out very specific initial regulations. At this point this is almost irrelevant, as the authors of Measure N are now asking everyone to back Measure M instead.
Key Supporters: All official support retracted in favor of Measure M.
Key Opponents: LA Police Protective League, Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, Los Angeles Business Council, County Federation of Labor, NAACP Los Angeles.
Recommendation: Vote No.
Measure P: Maximum Term of Harbor Department Leases
Summary: "Shall the City Charter be amended to increase the maximum term for franchises, concessions, permits, licenses and leases that may be entered into by the Harbor Department from the current maximum of 50 years to a new maximum of 66 years, to be consistent with recent changes to state law?"
Analysis: A franchise is a fancy term for a lease granted to an entity (like a utility) to put their private property (like power lines) on your private property (or, in this case, everyone's public property) in exchange for fees. On the whole, taxpayers make money on longer-term public franchises, generating revenue for the city. Businesses are more willing to negotiate for longer terms because it decreases their risk and increases certainty/market stability. It's a win-win. Plus, this only allows for an increase in the maximum term for these agreements; it doesn't mandate that every agreement be this 66 years. This isn't a super important initiative, and it applies only to the Harbor Department, aka the Port of Los Angeles. It's just a minor technocratic fix that doesn't have any meaningful drawbacks for the city.
Key Supporters: Councilmember Joe Buscaino (Council District 5), LA Chamber of Commerce.
Key Opponents: None.
Recommendation: Vote Yes.
Measure S: Building Moratorium; Restrictions on General Plan Amendments; Required Review of General Plan
Summary: "Shall an ordinance amending City laws related to the General Plan, including to: 1) impose a two-year moratorium on 80 YES 81 NO projects seeking General Plan amendments or zone or height-district changes resulting in more intense land use, an increase in density or height, or a loss of zoned open space, agricultural or industrial areas, with exceptions including for affordable housing projects and projects for which vested rights have accrued; 2) prohibit geographic amendments to theGeneral Plan unless the affected area has significant social, economic or physical identity (defined as encompassing an entire community or district plan area, specific plan area, neighborhood council area or at least 15 acres); 3) require systematic, public review of the General Plan every five years; 4) prohibit project applicants from completing environmental impact reports for the City; 5) require the City make findings of General Plan consistency for planning amendments, project approvals and permit decisions; and 6) prohibit certain parking variances; be adopted?"
Analysis: Measure S is an exceedingly deceptive ballot initiative. It promises affordable housing, less traffic, and reduced homelessness, and delivers exactly the opposite. If you need to know one thing about Measure S, it's that every organization committed to providing affordable housing, reducing homelessness, and protecting tenant's rights is opposed to it. Measure S imposes a two year ban on the use of zone changes and height district changes for new housing developments in Los Angeles, and permanently bans general plan amendments for such projects. The practical effect of this—due to the outdated nature of our general plan and community plans—is to immediately stop the construction of a huge amount of homes just as we're in the midst of a historic housing shortage and our population continues to grow.
This will mean that landlords have even greater leverage over renters, freeing them to raise rents even faster. By stopping development on parking lots and industrial sites—where general plan and zone changes are most frequently used—it will also push more investors to purchase existing housing, evict its tenants, and either rebuild at higher density or upgrade the existing units to appeal to higher-earners (or turn them into condos). The initiative is also entirely contrary to the goals outlined by LA voters this November: If Measure S is approved, it will nullify the affordable housing and living-wage jobs benefits of Measures JJJ, and make building permanent supportive housing for the homeless, funded by Measure HHH, much more difficult and expensive.
Measure S is the "Make Los Angeles Great Again" of ballot initiatives, and it's steeped in the same backward-looking nostalgia that views our city's best days as being behind it. Or as Christopher Hawthorne of the LA Times put it: Measure S is "an expression of mourning for an L.A. that is already dead, a city of single-family subdivisions, highway construction, discriminatory zoning and free parking that worked (to the degree that it ever did) only as long as the region continued to sprawl voraciously at the edges." Vote No, and tell everyone you know to do the same. It was moved from the November ballot to the March election specifically to appeal to an older, wealthier demographic, with far smaller turnout, because it knew it couldn't compete with Measure JJJ on its merits. Don't allow that cynical ploy to pay off; every renter and future generation will pay the consequences if it passes.
Key Supporters: AIDS Healthcare Foundation (funding the entire Yes campaign), former Mayor Richard Riordan, LA Tenants Union, various homeowners associations. Full list here.
Key Opponents: United Way, Mayor Garcetti, Los Angeles Times, Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, ACLU of Southern California, labor unions (police, firefighters, AFL-CIO, SEIU, etc.), Chamber of Commerce, Coalition for Economic Survival, SAJE, TRUST South LA, East LA Community Corporation, Skid Row Housing Trust, Inner City Law Center, Los Angeles Mission, Downtown Women's Center, County Democratic and Republican party, California Green party, Stonewall Democratic Club, National Resources Defense Council and League of Conservation Voters, USC and UCLA professors. And a whole bunch more. Full list here.
Recommendation: VOTE NO! And tell all your friends to do the same.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about any of these ballot measures that you feel weren't answered by the above summaries and analysis, please feel free to follow up with any questions. You can comment below, or get a hold of me using the contact page at the top of the page.