State Ballot Initiatives

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Proposition 14: Borrowing for Stem Cell Research

Funded by Silicon Valley real estate developer Robert Klein, JDRF International – a nonprofit that funds diabetes research – and Open Philanthropy Project, this measure would authorize the issuance of a $5.5 billion bond to fund stem cell research.  In 2004, voters passed Proposition 71 to create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which channeled $3 billion in state money toward stem cell research. That pot of cash is now almost empty. 

View recommendation:  Meh. Stem Cell research shows promise, and the Institute of Regenerative Medicine has been an economic boon to Mission Bay, but it’s hard to argue that a narrow focus on a particular set of medical investigations is the best way for California to spend billions of dollars. 

Proposition 15:  Split roll

Largely funded by the California Teachers Association, California Service Employees International Union and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, under this constitutional amendment commercial property would be taxed based on its market value, rather than its purchase price plus capped annual increases. In 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13, which limited property tax hikes, thereby constraining revenues dedicated to local governments, which’re largely funded through property taxes.  This initiative would repeal property tax protections only for commercial landlords with more than $3 million in holdings. If it passes, those landowners would have to make tax payments based on their properties’ current value — a tax rise for most — generating $6.5 to $11.5 billion more for cities, counties and school districts.

View recommendation:  Yes.  Probably not an excellent time to sock commercial properties with additional significant taxes, what with empty office towers and the like. Then again, local governments and schools could really use the money.

Proposition 16: Ending Affirmative Action Ban

This constitutional amendment would reauthorize schools and public agencies to consider race and other immutable characteristics when making admission, hiring and contracting decisions. The measure would overturn Proposition 209, adopted in 1996, which banned use of affirmative action at state institutions. In 1995 more than six percent of University of California, Berkeley freshmen were African American; in 2017 that’d been halved, to less than three percent. Similarly, 29 percent of UC Los Angeles students are Asian American, 27 percent White, 22 percent Latinx and three percent Black. In comparison, 39 percent of state residents are Latinx, 37 percent White, 15 percent Asian American, and six percent African American. Civil rights organizations’ attempts to repeal Proposition 209 have so far been blocked by a coalition of Republicans, moderate Democrats and progressive legislators who represent Asian American voters. Chinese Americans in particular have argued that increasing enrollment of students from underrepresented racial groups would come at the expense of “overrepresented” Asian American scholars.

View recommendation:  Naybe.  Black and Brown students are no doubt provided with lower-quality kindergarten through twelve grade education, as a result garnering less than their fair share of college admissions.  However, it might be better to address this fundamental failure, by voting for Proposition 15.

Proposition 17: Restoring the Parole’s Voting Rights

This constitutional amendment would allow Californians on parole to go to the polls. In 1974, state voters passed a ballot measure that gave people who committed felonies the right to vote once they completed their sentences and are no longer on parole. Presently, there are roughly 40,000 non-imprisoned Californians who can’t participate in elections, upwards of two-thirds of whom are Latinx or Black.  

View recommendation:  Yes.  

Proposition 18:  Granting Some 17-Year-Olds Voting Rights, Sometimes

This constitutional amendment would allow 17-year-old American citizens to vote in primary and special elections if they’ll turn 18 by the subsequent general election. The California Democratic Party has been steadily working to expand voting access, including same-day registration, automatic registration at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds.  This measure would add California to 23 other states in which 17- year-olds can vote in certain circumstances. 

View recommendation: Yes. It makes sense to enable those who will qualify to vote in an upcoming general election to help choose what’ll appear on that ballot.

Proposition 19:  Property Tax Breaks

This constitutional amendment, backed by the California Association of Realtors, would allow homeowners who are over 55, disabled or natural disaster victims to take a portion of their property tax base with them when they sell their house and buy a new one. It’d also limit the ability of those who inherit properties to keep their parents’ or grandparents’ low property tax rate. Most of the additional revenue raised would go into a state fire response fund. Realtors argue that current property tax rules disincentivize longtime homeowners from moving, “trapping” empty nesters in houses that’re too big for them and locking out new families. Under this measure, home inheritors would only be allowed to keep the low property tax rate if they use the dwelling as their primary residence, limited to the first $1 million of increased value since the property was purchased. Inspiration for this element may have come from the Los Angeles Times, which reported that “The Big Lebowski” star Jeff Bridges, among others, was paying 1970-era property tax levels on his rental property.

View recommendation:  No.  The main meat of this stew is providing property owners over the age of 55, who have an average net worth of well over $1 million, with a tax break.  The fire toppings are nice, but don’t merit buying the casserole.

Prop. 20: Roll Back Governor Jerry Brown-era “Leniency”

Largely funded by law enforcement agencies, this constitutional amendment would allow prosecutors to charge repeat or organized petty theft as a felony, require probation officers to seek tougher penalties for those who thrice violate their parole terms, and exclude those who have been convicted of domestic violence and certain nonviolent crimes from early parole consideration. Brown spent his last two terms as governor working to reverse the “tough on crime” policies he supported during his first two terms in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2011, California legislators reduced punishments for parole violators. In 2014, voters passed Proposition 47, recategorizing some non-violent crimes as misdemeanors. In 2016, the electorate endorsed Proposition 57, giving inmates convicted of certain non-violent offenses a shot at early release. This measure would partially undo those reforms.

View recommendation: Naybe.  Property crime is a problem, no doubt, but the solution isn’t to jail more people.

Proposition 21: Rent Control

Funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, this statute would overturn state restrictions on locally-imposed rent control measures, allowing cities to adopt new rent control laws, or expand existing ones, but only on residences that’re at least 15 years old, and not on single-family homes owned by landlords with no more than two properties. Last year the State Legislature passed a law that set a seven percent ceiling on rent increases.   

View recommendation: No. Older residential properties in San Francisco are already subjected to quite sufficient rent regulation; this measure would further embed inequitable rules based on building age. 

Proposition 22:  Self-Employment for Ride-Hail and Other App-Drivers

Mostly funded by Lyft, Uber and Doordash this statute would turn “app-based” drivers into independent contractors, exempting transportation network companies from standard wage and hour restrictions. It’d also guarantee these drivers an earnings floor, a stipend to purchase health insurance and other minimum benefits.  The initiative would overturn Assembly Bill 5, adopted last year, which codified a state Supreme Court ruling that made it much harder for companies to treat their workers as independent contractors, rather than full-fledged employees. That, in turn, upended the business models of Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Postmates and Instacart, all of which rely on an army of flexible gig-workers to provide their services. In the meantime, California’s Attorney General has sued Uber and Lyft for violating the new law; California regulators declared their drivers to be employees.  The companies have poured more than $110 million to push this proposition, which’d exclude their drivers from AB 5, while adding some worker benefits and protections.

View recommendation:  No.  Drivers should be paid a fair wages and benefits.

Proposition 23: Regulate Dialysis Clinics

Funded entirely by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, this statute would require dialysis clinics to have at least one physician on site always and report patient infection data to California health officials. DaVita Kidney Care and Fresenius Medical Care own most for-profit dialysis clinics in the state. For years, SEIU-UHW has been at war with them, failing to unionize clinic staff.

View recommendation:  No.  

Proposition 24:  Stronger Consumer Privacy Laws 

Funded by San Francisco real estate developers Alastair and Celine Mactaggart, this statute would further strengthen California’s already strongest-in-the-nation consumer privacy law and establish a California Privacy Protection Agency. In 2018, state lawmakers passed the California Consumer Privacy Act, giving consumers the right to find out what data companies are collecting about them, to optout of having it gathered and to have that data scrubbed. It’s the only law like it in the county. Along with establishing a state agency tasked with enforcing the privacy law, the measure would increase financial penalties for violators and allow consumers to demand that personal information not be shared at all, rather than simply not sold. 

View recommendation:  Sure.

Proposition 25:  Cash Bail

Largely funded by the bail bond industry, this referendum asks voters to either approve or strike down a state law that banished money bail from the state criminal justice system. In 2018, acting on the advice of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, legislators passed a bill that made California the first state to end cash bail. Rather than allowing people to pay their way out of jail while they await trial, the law enables judges to determine whether someone who is arrested should be kept behind bars based on the risk they’re deemed to pose to themselves or others. A “yes” vote keeps the state law that terminated cash bail; “no” returns the state to the bail system. 

View recommendation:  Yes.