The propositions and you

They’re complex. They’re expensive. They’re controversial. Here’s some help.

Once again this November, there are more initiatives on the ballot than any voter should have to master: 12, in total. It’s not a record number—there were 20 on the March 2000 ballot—but these propositions are as complex and challenging as any presented to voters in recent years.

Some—such as Proposition 8, the gay-marriage initiative, and Proposition 4, the parental-notification measure—are intensely controversial.

Others ask voters to finance expensive projects—some of them highly attractive, such as the high-speed rail line from the Bay Area to Los Angeles (Proposition 1A)—at a time when both the state and the nation as a whole are experiencing major financial difficulties.

The members of the CN&R editorial board have studied these measures in depth, consulting numerous sources both pro and con on them, in order to offer voting recommendations.

By and large, we have taken the position that this is the wrong time to authorize additional bond measures, no matter how attractive the purpose. As is said, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. As long as voters and lawmakers are unwilling to raise taxes, adding bond repayment costs—nearly $650 million in the case of the rail line—to a budget already in deficit would force spending cuts in other areas, notably education and health care.

Finally, an irony: The two tough-on-crime measures on the ballot, Propositions 6 and 9, are being bankrolled—to the tune of nearly $6 million—by Orange County high-tech billionaire Henry Nicholas III. Earlier this year, Nicholas was indicted on two federal charges. The first alleges that he stocked a secret lair underneath one of his homes will illegal drugs, hired prostitutes and escorts, and spiked the drinks of guests with ecstacy, without their knowledge. The second indictment charges him with conspiracy and securities fraud.

1A: High-Speed Passenger Train Bond
This would authorize the state to sell $9.95 billion in bonds to continue planning and start building an electric, high-speed rail system linking the Bay Area and Los Angeles via the San Joaquin Valley. The total cost of the system is estimated at $45 billion, with funds expected to come from federal, state and local governments, as well as private sources.

CN&R recommends: No

The rail line is a worthy project, but California can’t afford it right now.

CONFINED<br>Proponents of Proposition 2 say animals deserve more room to move than allowed by crates and cages at “factory farms.”

Courtesy Of Farm Sanctuary

2: Standards for Confining Farm Animals
This would make it illegal to keep certain farm animals—pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal and laying hens—in a way that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. People who break the law could be fined up to $1,000 or sent to jail or both.

Proponents say the measure would end factory-farm conditions that are cruel and inhumane, lower the risk of spreading animal diseases and protect the environment from air pollution and waste.

Opponents—mostly egg producers—say laws prohibiting cruelty to animals are already on the books and that the measure would increase grocery prices, put farmers out of business and cost jobs.

CN&R recommends: Yes

We agree with the Humane Society of the United States that farm animals should not be confined to crates and cages so small they prohibit natural movement. We understand the measure will make production slightly less efficient and perhaps more costly, but efficiency and cost are not the important factors here. Not only will this measure lessen suffering, it will also support small farmers who struggle to compete with the huge corporations that control the factory farms.

3: Children’s Hospital Bond Act
In November 2004, voters approved $750 million in bonds for California’s 13 children’s hospitals. This measure would allow the state to issue another $980 million in bonds, money that would be used to expand, remodel and provide updated equipment for these hospitals. Total cost: about $2 billion. Annual payment: $64 million.

CN&R recommends: No

This is a mom-and-apple-pie issue that we’d support in a heartbeat if the state were solvent. California’s children’s hospitals, most of which are private facilities, provide crucial and life-saving services. As it is, though, they have yet to spend some $350 million of the 2004 bonds, and the state cannot afford to add another $64 million expense to its budget.

4: Parental Notification About Abortion
This measure is largely identical to Propositions 73 (2005) and 83 (2006), both of which failed. It would require physicians to notify a parent, legal guardian or other adult family member and wait 48 hours when a minor seeks an abortion. Girls fearful of their parents would have the option of going to Juvenile Court to ask a judge to waive the requirement.

Supporters say it’s only reasonable to require parental permission for a major health decision involving a child. Minors need the support of the adults in their lives. And girls hiding an abortion from their parents might delay getting help for medical problems after the abortion.

Opponents, including Planned Parenthood, argue that laws cannot force good communication in families, and that teens afraid to talk with their parents may try to get unsafe, back-alley abortions.

CN&R recommends: No

Studies have shown that existing parental-notification laws do not work in the real world. They too often cause a delay in seeking medical care—especially for girls waiting until they turn 18—that is dangerous and increases the number of second-trimester abortions. And the court alternative simply doesn’t work, mostly because it’s rarely implemented well.

5: Rehabilitation of Nonviolent Criminal Offenders
This measure would expand the types of offenders who are eligible for drug treatment diversion programs and increase the services they can receive. It also would require more prison and parole rehabilitation programs and reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The measure could cost the state more than $1 billion per year for new drug-treatment programs, but it would save about the same amount in prison and parole costs.

CN&R recommends: No

This is a well-intentioned bill that seeks to expand the success of Proposition 36, the “treatment-instead-of-incarceration” measure of 2000 that may have lost some funding yet continues to work. Unfortunately, Prop 5 tries to do too much too fast, and is altogether too complex (36 single-spaced pages) for voters to give it fair consideration as a ballot initiative.

6: Public Safety Spending and Criminal Penalties
This would require the state to increase its spending on law enforcement by $365 million annually, beginning in 2009-10, with annual increases after that. It would hike the penalties for certain crimes, especially those involving gang members; increase the number of parole officers; and make other, similar changes.

CN&R recommends: No

Studies have shown that there’s no correlation between increased prison sentences and reduced crime. Also, there are better ways to fight gang activity, beginning with programs that reach youths in their communities. Finally, the state cannot afford the estimated $500 million a year this would cost, on top of a one-time $500 million prison construction cost.

7: Renewable Energy
This is a rare bird: an environmental measure that is opposed not only by the state Chamber of Commerce and both major parties, but also by many major environmental groups.

It would require all utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010, 40 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025. That’s clear enough, but the devil is in the details. For one, it confusedly splits regulatory powers between two state agencies. Second, it contains language that seems likely to discourage construction of small renewable plants. Finally, it locks its provisions into place and can be changed only by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or another ballot measure.

CN&R recommends: No

Implementation measures for AB 32, the state’s greenhouse-gas measure, are in the process of being developed and promise to do a better job of encouraging renewables than this flawed measure.

LAWFULLY WEDDED<br>Chico City Councilman Scott Gruendl (left) married longtime partner Nicholas Goodey this fall—something that would not be possible should Prop 8 pass.

Photo By matt siracusa

8: Ban on Gay Marriage
This constitutional amendment was placed on the ballot in response to a May 2008 state Supreme Court decision overturning a ballot measure passed in 2000 that stated only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

The measure would remove homosexuals’ constitutional right to marry.

CN&R recommends: No

Proponents of Prop 8 argue that it protects families and traditional marriage and that gay and lesbian people still have the same rights under the state’s “domestic partners” law. But it clearly denies a right to one group of people that it gives to others—and besides, domestic partnerships are not the same as marriages. This is a matter of human dignity.

9: Victims’ Rights
This proposed constitutional amendment would add new rights for victims of crimes and strengthen the rights they now have. It would also change the constitution to stop prisons and jails from letting offenders out early to reduce overcrowding. And it would make changes to parole, such as increasing the length of time between parole hearings.

Its financial impacts are unknown, but opponents argue that it will result in longer prison sentences and thereby cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year on top of the $10 billion already spent on incarceration.

CN&R recommends: No

Victims’ rights are already protected in California. Prop 9 is unnecessary and would force spending cuts in other areas such as education and health care. In addition, it is not something that should be added to the constitution.

10: Bonds for Alternative Energy
This should be called the “T. Boone Pickens” initiative. That’s because his natural-gas fueling company—the one he doesn’t mention in all those TV ads—has spent $3.2 million promoting the thing. Why? Because it would fund $5 billion in bonds for alternative fuels, more than half of which would go for rebates on alt-fuels vehicles.

And what kind of alt-fuel vehicles? Well, if you buy a Prius, you might get $2,000. But if you buy a “clean alternative fuel vehicle”—that is, an electric, natural-gas or hydrogen-fuel-cell powered vehicle—you’d get a whopping $10,000. And the measure also would spend $1 billion for rebates on purchases of natural-gas-powered trucks—at $50,000 a pop.

CN&R recommends: No

Spending bond money on cars makes no sense. The cars will wear out before the debt is paid, and in the meantime the bill will add $335 million in annual interest payments to the state budget. Tightening fuel standards is a much better way to go.

11: Redistricting
As it stands, the Legislature has the job, once every 10 years, of drawing the map lines for the state’s Assembly, Senate and congressional districts. This measure would remove that redistricting power for the Assembly and Senate and give it to a nonpartisan 14-member citizens committee.

The Legislature would continue to draw the congressional districts.

CN&R recommends: Yes

Allowing lawmakers to draw their own districts allows them to choose their voters, rather than the other way around, and is clearly undemocratic. This change will make races more competitive—and thus politicians more accountable to the voters. It unfortunately won’t include congressional districts, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, worried about losing a Democratic seat or two, put the kibosh on the idea.

12: Bonds for Veterans’ Home Loans
This measure will continue to fund the Cal-Vet program, which provides military veterans with low-interest loans for homes and farms. It will allow the state to sell $900 million in bonds, sufficient for loans to at least 3,600 veterans.

CN&R recommends: Yes

Unlike the other bond measures on the ballot, this one is self-supporting. As has happened in the past, the money will be paid back by the veterans who take out the loans.