How I’m voting (or would vote if I lived in these districts in Santa Cruz County) in November 2018. Part 2: Ballot Propositions

Part 1 about local elected officials is here.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about how I’m voting (or would vote if I could) for elected officials throughout Santa Cruz County. Today, I talk about my reasoning behind how I’m voting for ballot propositions and measures. And I finally have to make a decision on Prop 10!

Statewide Prop 1: I’m voting Yes

Build, baby, build! And build affordable housing no less! The only thing I have to add here is that lots of people have misconceptions of what affordable housing really means and whether these houses are actually “affordable”. I guess maybe I shouldn’t say misconceptions, just not the knowledge that a myriad of government beauracracies already exist to screen people and households for income verification so as to avoid giving 7 figure tech execs housing. People or families that meet income limits which are often defined as a percent of area median income (AMI) are allowed to apply for the homes. Sometimes these affordable homes are available for purchase at a price where the owner will only pay a reasonable level of their income (usually 30%) on the house payments. There are also vouchers that renters can obtain where they also spend no more than 30% of their income on rent and then the voucher picks up the rest of the rent. There’s probably a much more detailed explanation of this, but I think that’s the introductory explanation of how government programs can provide affordable homes to people.

Statewide Prop 2: I’m voting Yes

The measure says the bond would “fund housing for those with mental illness who are homeless”. As a Christian, I think it would be heresy for me to not support this. I hope this passes and I also hope I don’t have to read an article by LA Times writer Liam Dillon about how some cities have managed to stop this money from being spent.

Statewide Prop 3: I’m voting Yes

For all the people who are always asking “what about the water?” here’s a ballot measure for you. It seems the main reason people are concerned about this is that it’s general obligation bonds that don’t have a ton of oversight, it was put forth by bypassing state legislature and that private companies oughta pay for this stuff. Well, the water issue isn’t my forte, but since everyone seems to be concerned about whether there will be enough water storage, I’m voting yes.

Statewide Prop 4: I’m voting Yes

Building, expanding and maintaining hospitals for children? Sounds good to me.

Statewide Prop 5: I’m voting No

What a dumpster fire of a ballot measure. Where to start? So if passed, this would allow those poor souls actually known as wealthy homeowners to sell their home and take part of their oftentimes unreasonably low tax assessment rate with them to their new home. You can sort of do this today, but only once and only for a move within the same county or to one of 10 very generous counties not including Santa Cruz County. Prop 5 says if you’re over 55 you can move anywhere in the state and take part of your home’s assessed value with you and apply it to your new home an unlimited amount of times.

The realtors have funded 77% of the yes campaign for this. They tell us that this will help seniors downsize to smaller homes because apparently they can’t right now because that would mean they’d have to pay taxes like the rest of us would. This argument is such bullshit. Why in the hell should someone who was born long before me and got a chance to cash in on Prop 13 get to pay significantly less in property taxes for the same property that either of us would purchase? And does that mean that suddenly my wife and child will suddenly be competing for starter homes with an influx of seniors looking to downsize?

Let’s also talk a bit about this whole allowing people to take their tax assessments to any county. If a senior could retire and go anywhere in the state and still keep a fairly low tax assessment this will mean more seniors will try to move to Santa Cruz County than were before. Why do we want to give an edge to this particular group of homebuyers that have already had it so good when my generation is struggling to even make rent? Here’s some tough love for you old folks who want to pay less taxes than my family for the same piece of property: If you really truly can’t afford your property taxes, there are programs to help you, but I say be happy that you actually own a home in the first place because my generation is getting shut out of that opportunity.

Oh, and by the way, this would result in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue each year, so schools would get defunded more.

Statewide Prop 6: I’m voting No

This prop is the direct result of Republicans trying to create a wedge issue by cutting taxes in a way that has the effect of defunding transportation construction projects. Even Paul Ryan has contributed to the Yes on 6 campaign. Prop 6 repeals a gas tax increase enacted by the state legislature in 2017 — the first increase since 1994! Since 1994, the gas tax has remained at the same nominal level, so the real value of gas tax revenue has been steadily decreasing. The arguments against this are typical Republican drivel. “Taxes are theft!” “I don’t like big gubement.” But the other thing is this fear that some of the gas tax money won’t go directly towards laying down asphalt for gasoline-powered cars and trucks to drive on.

I dream of a day where society, in general, realizes we should be taxing gasoline use much more for a few reasons:

  1. Gasoline emissions are a major pollutant
  2. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emission in the state
  3. To further incentivize a transition to electric vehicles
  4. To disincentivize driving so damn much and
  5. To adequately fund transit projects

Like it or not (I fricking love it!) Caltrans is already becoming a multi-modal transportation agency. This gas tax increase would/is fund/ing transportation projects like Caltrain electrification, BART extension to San Jose and a Capitol Corridor train extension to Salinas. It is the beginning of a jolt towards making California have more transportation options than just driving everywhere. It is the direction this state needs to go because the state is increasingly densifying. We need multi-modal transportation to support all the passenger travel. Highways in urban areas are insanely expensive and have less capacity than rail systems. Heck, it may cost just as much to revive the Santa Cruz mountain railway to San Jose than it would to widen highway 17. I think if this measure passes, lots of stuff will be canceled, but we’ll still be headed in the multi-modal direction albeit at a much slower pace where people will be like “these projects take forever, but we don’t want to fund them”. If this measure is rejected, we can get on with it and will see lots of exciting transportation projects become a reality faster.

Statewide Prop 7: I’m voting Yes

Well well well, time to do some humblebragging. As the maintainer of an open-source digital map of the world’s timezone boundaries, I actually have more of a personal opinion on this: I like it when there’s still light outside at 7 pm. Let’s vote yes to clear a legislative hurdle towards making it light outside later in the evening; I don’t mind the extra work it will create to maintain my timezone data project.

Statewide Prop 8: I’m voting Yes

Frickin-ay this one is complicated. The core of the issue seems to be that a union is fighting a battle with the dialysis companies that apparently make a ton of profit but resist unionization. And therefore, the ballot initiative will limit the revenue these dialysis companies can make to 115% percent of patient care. ok… but like the question remains, why is this something I’m voting on? Oh right, California’s initiative system. Well, do I pick the side of the profiteering corporations or the unions? Gotta go with unions here.

Statewide Prop 10: I’m voting Yes

Here it is. I am finally going to make this decision. I’ve been on the fence about this issue since it was proposed. But, throughout my organizing as a YIMBY I’ve really been pushed further left and have seen some especially good arguments on why voting yes on this is something that could fit within a pro-housing construction agenda. In particular, Victoria Fierce and East Bay for Everyone have been a big influence to me and their pro-prop 10 letter which I am actually making an effort to link to here has really sold me on how it is possible to be both pro-rent control and pro-development. I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed that the YIMBY talking point of building a crapton of housing is a solution that will take decades to fully manifest and therefore, I have at times felt like there hasn’t been a near-panacea type of thing to do that would have a major effect in the short term. Rent control can be that thing and if done right it can even incentivize new construction. For example, it could be more profitable to build new housing and less so to rent out small properties that could otherwise be developed to greater extents.

The catch with this vote is that I worry about what the actual effect will be. Voting yes on this opens up a potential for very damaging rent control that could severely hamper rental housing construction. In addition to the example above, it could also incentivize major remodels that actually decrease the number of available homes. I hear lots of rent control advocates say rent control is a short-term solution, so I hope progress can be made on both short and long-term solutions and it is essential that the short-term solutions don’t impede the long-term solutions.

Statewide Prop 11: I’m voting Yes

I guess it makes sense to require emergency workers to be on call during their breaks. It’s interesting that the unions don’t appear to be mounting an opposition, so I guess they’re cool with it.

Statewide Prop 12: I’m voting Yes

I think I’m doing a good thing for chickens by voting yes, but I really have no idea.

County Measure G: I’m voting Yes

Yes, Measure G is a regressive sales tax, but it goes to fund a lot of good stuff including some homeless programs.

County Measure H: I’m voting Yes

I really hope this passes and full disclosure, I’ve donated $100 to the Yes on H campaign. This is the first time I’ve ever gone canvassing for anything political and I enjoy it because I get to talk to real-life people who potentially vote. I like it when people say they’re going to vote yes, but boomers, come on, please pony up a little bit of money to give some people a big leg up in housing.

Measure H will raise about $150 million to build more affordable housing (probably a minimum of 1,000 units), provide down payment assistance programs and also have some money for homeless programs. It gets funded by a property tax assessment of $16 per $100k of assessed value. If you own a home assessed at $500k, you’d pay about an additional $100 a year or like $9 a month.

Also, this has the potential to interact very positively with Statewide Prop 1&2 and County Measure G. Those funds can be pooled together to create even more housing and homeless programs.

City of Santa Cruz Measure M: If I could, I would vote No

I’ve been quiet about this measure because it is extremely controversial in town. It’s ugly. But hey I’m taking a stance finally. The reason for my no vote is that this measure has no stated exclusion on applying rent control to new construction. If Prop 10 passes (it should!) and if Measure M passes then I feel like there would be a serious attempt to place price controls on new construction and very little recourse to stop that from happening. I’m pretty sure that would kill all rental construction projects. I feel like making that claim sounds like a threat to some, but I really do not see a path forward for the private market to provide a substantial and risky loan to build something that is price controlled from the beginning. And maybe that sounds great to some, but I’m not there and don’t think I will be. I think a private market for housing should exist alongside government-funded housing projects and programs.

The part I’m uncomfortable with in opposing Measure M here is aligning with the big moneyed interests and a lot of disgruntled landlords who don’t seem to have many alternatives to offer. But I still think it’s the right thing to do based on the content and intent of the measure with regards to new construction. I do think there is a lot of unreasonable fear around the just cause provisions of the measure. I don’t have a problem with any of the just cause part of the measure. In fact, I think it’s kind of gross that somehow the landlord gets to act as a judge with broad powers over who gets to live in a house even if the tenant pays on time. Santa Cruz consists of over 50% renters and renters deserve the stability of a home without a looming threat of eviction or termination of lease — especially for no reason in particular — which is easily a veil for racism and other deplorable behaviors. Landlords are not gods and enacting tenant protections is extremely beneficial for the well-being of tenants.

Nonetheless, the lack of exemption of price controls on new construction is a deal-breaker for me. Heck, there isn’t even a rolling window like the one being proposed in Berkeley. Ballot measures are to be treated very seriously. Prop 13 is terrible, yet it has been around 40 years. I definitely see the need for rent control to be enacted in Santa Cruz because rent is increasing very fast. I believe a lack of abundantly available housing resulting from a chronic lack of housing construction is primarily to blame for this issue. If there were enough supply, then arguably rent control would not be needed at all — people would have an abundance of reasonably priced housing choices and programs reserved for those with not enough resources would fill in the gap. But we’re definitely not close to that right now, so I do see how rent control would provide a lot of help and relief until lots more housing does get built and in a really bad case if building more doesn’t ever happen, then rent control is absolutely essential (so long as it is enforceable). But if the rent control policy itself is preventing progress on resolving the fundamental supply problem by blocking new construction then that is unacceptable.

Another thing to point out is that the City of Santa Cruz City Council acted and continues to act way too slow on both allowing more housing construction and enacting rent control. They continue to propose paltry solutions like upzoning just downtown or in the case of an alternative to rent control they didn’t propose any just-cause for eviction. The City Council should’ve voted for the alternative because it was better than nothing, but it could’ve and should’ve done way more. Maybe they will continue to do very little and if that happens maybe another rent control initiative will be needed. It would be amazing if a rent control + just cause + upzoning + demolition control all-in-one initiative could be passed.

Scotts Valley Measure A: If I could I would vote Yes

Oh the joy of having to settle for less efficient and less progressive taxation methods because of Prop 13 and friends. Nonetheless, Scotts Valley School District needs the revenue. Investing in kids’ education is extremely important and is everyone’s obligation.