November 2018 General Election Voting Guide

NEW: I’ve moved my blog. Find this and more at https://www.sbuss.dev/post/2018-november-general-election-voting-guide/

This is my longest-ever voter guide. Not only do I justify my positions on propositions using my voting framework, I explain those choices in depth. Every ballot prop position is justified by some of my 10 voting principles, eg if you see (1, !2) that means the prop satisfies voting principle 1 and undermines principle 2. Here’s the tl;dr, scroll down for detailed explanations.

Statewide Props

Statewide People

San Francisco Props

San Francisco People

Vote yes on all judges. To my knowledge, there are no scandals or good reasons to remove any of them from office

* The Board of Equalization has been stripped of power and is going to get dismantled. See the explanation below.

Framework

  1. Prefer to vote for new taxes, preferably without a set-aside
  2. Vote for groups that don’t have a strong lobby (youth, disabled, homeless, low-income people, the environment)
  3. Vote for social policy change in ways that agree with my values
  4. Vote for things that price externalities
  5. Vote against things which increase needless or unhelpful bureaucracy
  6. Vote against things which infringe upon rights of the people
  7. Vote against things which undermine good government
  8. Generally vote against budget set-asides, which limit the ability of representatives to budget effectively
  9. Vote to liberate funds from budget set-asides, to be useful for other purposes (new this election)
  10. Vote to fund infrastructure (new this election)

Don’t just vote NO on every ballot initiative. California’s broken tax system requires that way too many things go to the ballot because the legislature doesn’t have the constitutional authority to pass certain taxes and other laws. Voting NO for everything based on a principle of “we shouldn’t have to vote on so much” ensures the state is poorly run. My long term strategy with much of my political activism is to undo these rules and to bring California back to full representative democracy where ballot initiatives are rare..

Statewide Props

1 — Authorizes bonds to fund specified housing assistance programs

Bonds aren’t my favorite way to fund programs like this, but they’re not terrible. In particular, I don’t think we should be using bonds to subsidize mortgages. But bonds to fund construction of apartments for low income people makes plenty of sense. Overall, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

This satisfies principles 1 (even though this isn’t a tax, the bonds are repaid over time from the general fund, which is funded by taxes), and 2.

2 — Authorizes bonds to fund existing housing program for individuals with mental illness

I’m against budget set-asides because they don’t respond to changing conditions. The Mental Health Services Act, passed in 2004, levied a new tax on top earners to fund mental healthcare. But 2004 was a very different time. The main issue in 2004 was just getting money to help people without private insurance access mental healthcare. That’s still important, and Prop 2 ensures that only $140M out of the $2B per year can be spent on housing assistance.

California has seen an epidemic of people ending up homeless and suffering from mental illness so debilitating that they are unable to care for themselves. Prop 2 will give California more resources to help those most seriously impacted by both the housing shortage and mental illness.

This satisfies principles 2 and 9.

3 — Authorizes bonds to fund projects for water supply and quality, watershed, fish, wildlife, water conveyance, and groundwater sustainability and storage

This satisfies principle 10.

4 — Authorizes bonds funding construction at hospitals providing children’s health care

This satisfies principle 2.

5 — Changes requirements for certain property owners to transfer their property tax base to replacement property

Schools and local governments throughout the state would lose $100M per year in the first few years, growing to $1B per year (in 2018 dollars) over the next several decades.

Prop 13 established a landed gentry in California (and gave us the terrible rules about how new taxes must go to a ballot prop), and Prop 5 will further entrench this class and increase the subsidies given to the wealthiest Californians by taxpayers.

This satisfies principle 7 and undermines principle 1.

6 — Eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding, requires certain fuel taxes and vehicle fees be approved by the electorate (AKA Gas Tax repeal)

This undermines principles 1, 4, and 10, and satisfies principle 7.

7 — Conforms california daylight saving time to federal law. Allows legislators to change daylight saving time period

Passing Prop 7 will not actually end daylight saving time, it just gives the state the authority to do so.

This satisfies principle 7.

8 — Regulates amounts outpatient kidney dialysis clinics charge for dialysis treatment

It sets a limit on revenue of cost+15% and forces clinics to repay insurance companies when they make more than that. This will effectively wipe out the operating profit and result in some clinics being unable to pay their staff or their bills. You could uncharitably call this a hand-out to insurance companies, who definitely do *not* need any help making more money.

It’s not progressive to pass a law that results in a vital industry being destroyed. Instead, the state should give subsidies to dialysis patients who cannot afford treatment.

This satisfies principle 5 and 6. 5 is obvious, but I should explain 6: I think the right to make a profit is fundamental to our economic system, and by eliminating profit the state will be violating the rights of the people.

9 — (removed from the ballot by the state supreme court for being unconstitutional. It split CA into three states)

10 — Expands local governments’ authority to enact rent control on residential property

Costa-Hawkins, passed in 1995, prohibited cities from enacting new rent control laws on single family homes, condos, and new apartments. It also prohibited vacancy control. Effectively, this means that all apartments built after 1995 couldn’t be subjected to rent control, and a landlord could raise the rent of a unit when a tenant moved out.

Prop 10 will repeal these limitations on rent control, allowing every one of the 482 municipalities in California to pass their own local rent control laws. It will also allows cities to enact vacancy control, which will prevent units from resetting to the market price upon a tenant moving out. Vacancy control has never led to good outcomes in any city on Earth. Preventing a unit’s rent from rising to market price removes the incentive to ever renovate or improve the unit. And without a framework for rent control from the state, every city will do it differently, increasing the burdens on housing developers, not to mention creating 482 new battles for YIMBYs to fight to ensure the rent control laws don’t get abused to prevent new housing.

The worst thing about Prop 10 isn’t that it legalizes new rent control, it’s that it removes state oversight on local rent control laws. They didn’t have to write the prop this way, but they chose to add this text:

SEC. 7. Amendment and Repeal.

Pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 10 of Article II of the California Constitution, the Legislature may amend this act to further its purposes by a statute passed in each house by rollcall vote entered in the Journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring, signed by the Governor. No statute restricting or eliminating the powers that have been restored by this act to a city, county, or city and county to establish residential rental rates shall become effective unless approved by a majority of the electorate.

https://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2018/general/pdf/topl.pdf#prop10

In plain English: the state legislature may only make amendments which further the purpose of the proposition, not limit it. Any limitations on the powers granted to each of the 482 municipalities must go to a state-wide ballot prop.

Here’s a concrete example of why this is bad: Say Marin decided to pass a law that said all new construction was immediately rent controlled and could only rise at 50% CPI. This would completely stop all construction because the developers would lose money on any new building. The state would be forbidden from punishing Marin. In order to limit this abuse, a state-wide ballot prop would have to be run, which requires hundreds of thousands of signatures and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, just to limit the abuse of one small town. Now imagine this fight happening 481 more times. What a complete waste of time and money due to a bad law we can avoid by voting No.

I’m not necessarily against rent control. In fact, I think it has its place in a vibrant city. But Prop 10 goes further than simply allowing rent control, it undermines good governance and sets the state up for failure.

This satisfies principles 5, 6, and 7.

See my friend Max’s detailed analysis of Prop 10 for a deeper understanding of the negative consequences of this badly designed prop: https://medium.com/@MaxGhenis/no-on-california-proposition-10-60bb5131925e

11 — Requires private-sector emergency ambulance employees to remain on-call during work breaks, eliminates certain employer liability

EMTs in ambulances are guaranteed the same breaks under California labor laws as everyone else. Prior to the court ruling, this included remaining on call during state-mandated meal breaks and shorter breaks. Occasionally, a break would be interrupted by an emergency and the break would be cut short. But because most of the day EMTs are just waiting for a call, the break would make up at some other point in the day. After the court ruling, an EMT could be forced by state law to take a 30 minute meal break where they would be unable to respond to an emergency, but all of the downtime they currently experience is still there. This new ruling makes EMTs less responsive to emergencies while raising the cost of providing emergency services (because more EMTs must be available in a given time period).

This doesn’t satisfy any of my voting principles, and I can’t think of a general purpose principle to add to the framework. So this is more my personal opinion than a principled stance. I think a YES vote is logical and reasonable, though.

12 — Establishes new standards for confinement of specified farm animals, bans sales of noncomplying products

Generally, I want to improve animal welfare and reduce meat consumption. I am a meat eater, but I recognize that meat production results in immense suffering and carbon emissions. One way to balance that is to promote policies which improve the living conditions of animals on farms and which raise the price of meat. Prop 12 will do both.

Like Prop 11, this does not satisfy any of my voting principles. I think this prop is niche enough to not warrant developing a standard principle to include in my framework.

Statewide People

U.S. Senator

I am so tired of Dianne Feinstein. I still hold a grudge against her for being key to downzoning San Francisco and installing both height and density limits. Her bad decisions decades ago set San Francisco on a path to where it is now. She doesn’t understand the average Californian, she’s completely out of touch, and she isn’t bringing meaningful change to the state.

Kevin De Leon probably won’t win, but the party needs new blood.

Governor

I’m no big fan of Gavin Newsom, but his opponent, John Cox, is a climate change denier. I think Gavin is uninspiring, but I support most of his policy positions.

Lt. Governor

The lieutenant governor doesn’t actually have any power, so it’s kind of symbolic, but they still influence policy behind the curtain. Ed Hernandez is strongly pro-housing and, from what I hear from people who’ve worked with him, a pleasure to work with. He can build strong coalitions to accomplish big important goals.

Secretary of State

Alex has been doing a good job. The primary responsibilities for secretary of state include running elections and registering voters. Under Padilla, California has added millions of voters to the rolls.

His opponent, Mark Meuser, believes Trump’s lies about voter fraud. He would start purging the voter rolls and disenfranchise millions of people. He’s an existential threat to California.

Controller

Betty Yee did a fine job in her first term, there’s no reason to not give her a second.

Her opponent, Konstantinos Roditis, wants to gut the tax base which will lead to the state ending up where it was before Jerry Brown took office: broke.

Treasurer

Fiona will prioritize investments in affordable housing and infrastructure — among California’s two biggest problems. She has the experience and political chops to do this job well.

Of note, her opponent, Greg Conlon, correctly identifies unfunded pensions as a nightmare obligation for the state. This is going to be a huge problem for California in about twenty years, and now would be the right time to start fixing it.

Attorney General

Xavier is doing a good job. But honestly, it wouldn’t matter to me if he wasn’t because his opponent is pro-death-penalty.

Insurance Commissioner

My friend Max sums up Ricardo Lara well:

Ricardo Lara is not the perfect candidate, but he suits California’s political moment and comes to the job with experience to make an effective Insurance Commissioner.

https://medium.com/@MaxGhenis/ricardo-lara-for-insurance-commissioner-8ff0ced82b03

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Honestly, both Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck would do a good job. If you want more vocational training and like the teachers union, vote Thurmond; if you like charter schools and the endorsement of most Democratic officials, vote Tuck.

San Francisco Props

A — Seawall earthquake safety bond

The seawall protects the waterfront along the east side of the city. If it ruptures in an earthquake it will cause incredible destruction and likely flooding of the BART Transbay Tube. It needs repair, and a bond is the correct funding mechanism for large scale capital improvement projects.

This satisfies principle 10.

B — Privacy Ordinance

Prop B adds language to the SF City Charter that requires the city administrator propose a privacy-first policy in a set timeframe. But it also grants the Board of Supervisors the authority to amend the Sunshine Ordinance without voter approval “provided that any such amendment is not inconsistent with the purpose or intent” of it.

The Sunshine Ordinance gives any person the authority to request any document from the SF Government. It is used by journalists and activists to keep our officials accountable. It has no barrier to use, though it does suffer from some oversight neglect. It’s like the Freedom of Information Act, but only for the local government and it’s easier to use. (You can even submit requests anonymously!)

It was proposed by Aaron Peskin, who is very much not a fan of the Sunshine Ordinance, and who I generally distrust, and is unanimously supported by the Board of Supervisors. It’s opposed by the Society of Professional Journalists Northern California chapter and the SF Republican Party.

It truly pains me to advise a NO vote on this prop. I really like all of the provisions except for allowing the BOS to undermine the Sunshine Ordinance. As someone who’s submitted dozens of Sunshine Ordinance requests to access public records, I am extremely worried about granting the BOS the authority to shield itself from the transparency the Sunshine Ordinance demands. If Prop B did not contain this clause I would have supported it whole-heartedly.

Or, in the words of a friend, “complicated ballot prop + unclear implications + no obvious benefit == no”.

This satisfies principle 7.

C — Our City Our Home

Prop C is a progressive tax that funds desperately needed services to get homeless people into permanent housing. It makes sense to tax top earning businesses (and people) to fund services for those with the least. It is well designed and funds the right things.

Prop C will institute a new tax on businesses that operate in San Francisco which make more than $50million per year. This constitutes roughly 300 to 400 businesses that employ from 15 to 20% of the city’s job base, and which currently pay 40% of the city’s business taxes. The new tax ranges from 0.175% to 0.690% depending on the level of revenue.

The money would go to fund homelessness services in these amounts:

  • At least 50% to fund permanent housing for homeless people
  • At least 25% for mental health services for homeless people with severe behavioral issues
  • Up to 15% for services for people who have recently become homeless
  • Up to 10% for short-term shelters

The tax would raise about $300 to $400 million per year, effectively doubling the current budget for homelessness services.

The city’s economic impact report found minimal impact on the number of jobs or businesses locating in San Francisco (up to 1000 fewer jobs per year for the next twenty years, in the very worst case). But their model doesn’t reflect the added desirability of a city without an inhumane homelessness crisis.

This satisfies principle 1 and 2, but I’m violating principle 8.

D — New cannabis business taxes

I’m a firm believer that drugs should be legal, regulated, and taxed. But this tax is way too high. The current taxes are from 0.075% to 0.65% on gross receipts on businesses making more than $1 million in revenue. Prop D would cut the exemption in half to $500k, create new taxes at 2.5% on revenues between $500k and $1 million, and raise the tax by TEN TIMES to 5% for revenue over $1 million.

This is not a careful and cautious increase. This is a dramatic and poorly thought-out increase which risks killing a brand new industry, pushing cannabis consumers back into the unregulated and unsafe black market. We should try this again in five to ten years when the industry is more established, and with better informed tax rates.

This satisfies principle 5, but I am violating principle 1.

E — Redirect some of the hotel tax to arts and cultural purposes, without increasing the tax

Prop E would create a new budget set-aside from the general fund without creating a new tax.

I love the arts, and I think we should use public money to fund it. Prop E sounds reasonable until you realize that the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors already have the power to allocate general fund dollars to arts programs. They could, at any point in the normal budgeting process, allocate money from the general fund to fund any kind of arts program.

Budget set asides are bad because it results in an inflexible government that’s unable to respond to a bad financial climate.

Prop E’s set-aside would prevent those funds from being used for anything else, in perpetuity. To change the budget allocation we would have to have another city-wide ballot prop. This economic boom isn’t going to last forever, and when the next recession comes we need to let elected officials direct money from the general fund to the most important programs.

This satisfies principles 7 and 8.

San Francisco People

Board of Supervisors District 2

Nick is formerly from the BART Board, where he was a key proponent for building housing on BART-owned land. We need high rises at every BART station, and we can use the revenue from rents to fund improvements for the system. He is the only YIMBY in the D2 race and he will be both a reliable pro-housing vote and an instigator for positive change.

Board of Supervisors District 4

Trevor McNeil is the only YIMBY in this race, though judging from some of his statements you could be forgiven for thinking he leaned NIMBY. He’s running in a district that hates change and tall buildings, so he’s focused on a family housing and affordable housing message. He’s a public school teacher with a couple kids and a wife, and they are renters. He’s be a reliable pro-housing vote.

But Trevor may very well not win. He’s running against popular challengers, and an anointed successor: Jessica Ho. The current Supervisor, Katy Tang, opted to not run again and is recommending her legislative aide, Jessica Ho, take her seat. Jessica would be a wavering pro-housing vote, but is the second-most YIMBY candidate with a really good chance of winning.

Board of Supervisors District 6

Both Sonja Trauss and Christine Johnson are incredible and would do great things for the district. You definitely should vote for both of them, with Sonja as your #1.

I’ve been volunteering with Sonja’s campaign since January this year. I took two months off of work to volunteer for her full time. She started the YIMBY movement with a few other amazing people. She has detailed, well-thought-out plans to solve the housing crisis, transit gridlock, homelessness, and street crime.

Christine Johnson is a former Planning Commissioner who understands how broken our process is. She has many of the same views and plans as Sonja and would be an excellent steward for District 6.

Board of Supervisors District 8

Rafel is the incumbent and does not have a serious challenger. He has shown a willingness to work across the aisle (like with conservatorship, which he’s working with Mayor Breed on). He just got elected in the June special election, but was required to run again. He deserves a chance to serve out a full term.

Board of Supervisors District 10

Theo is the most YIMBY candidate in D10. I really like his platform and he has been a fan and ally of YIMBY for a long time.

Shamann Walton is a less reliable pro-housing vote, but he has a lot of big endorsements from people and organizations I respect, and (most importantly) would be *way* better than Tony Kelly.

BART Board

Janice is the YIMBY endorsed candidate for BART Board. She wants to build housing on BART property and will fight the NIMBYs to expand and improve our region’s most important transit system.

Board of Equalization, District 2

“In March 2017, an audit by the California Department of Finance revealed missing funds and signs of nepotism, leading to calls for the governor to put the Board under a public trustee.[6][7] In June 2017, the California Department of Justice began a criminal investigation into the members of the Board.[8]

On June 27, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation stripping the Board of its powers.[9] The legislation created two new departments controlled by the governor responsible for the Board’s statutory duties, the California Department of Tax Fee Administration and the California Office of Tax Appeals.[9]

The Board still has its constitutional powers to review property tax assessments, insurer tax assessment, alcohol excise tax, and pipeline taxes.[10] The Board will retain 400 employees, with the rest of its 4,800 workers being shifted to the new departments.[9]” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Board_of_Equalization_(California)

U.S. House of Representatives, District 12

I think Nancy Pelosi has served too long and needs to retire. She’s great at the Federal level, but I don’t think she understands the issues that regular San Franciscans face. She’s growing out of touch.

However, her opponent is really really awful. Hey opponent wants to end the H1-B visa program, strengthen the border, and abolish Net Neutrality.

U.S. House of Representatives, District 14

Some of the same critiques of Pelosi apply to Speier, but to a lesser degree. She is fine.

Her opponent, Cristina Osmena, is a moderate republican. I’d love to see the California GOP run more candidates like her. She has some good ideas and some bad ones. If you’re a more Republican leaning friend of mine, I think you’ll be happy with her. If you’re not a member of the GOP, then definitely vote for Jackie Speier.

California State Assembly, District 17

David is an excellent advocate for housing. He’s a great representative and is running unopposed.

California State Assembly, District 19

Phil is another good advocate for housing.

His opponent, Keith Bogdon, is a dyed-in-the-wool NIMBY who wants to “fight to preserve the character of our residential neighborhoods” and promises to “fight against Manhattanization of the Westside”.

Phil Ting deserves your support.

Community College Board (choose 3)

Victor Olivieri is a friend of mine and he wants to build housing on City College land, while two of the incumbents, John Rizzo and Brigitte Davila have done what they can to block housing on school land. This housing would be for students and teachers.

Thea Selby is an incumbent who I don’t know much about, but since there are three seats for four people, and the goal is to oust either Rizzo or Davila, then you should vote for both Victor and Thea.

Board of Education (choose 3)

Phil Kim is relatively new to politics and he has some real-world experience to bring a fresh approach to the Board of Education. San Francisco’s schools are unequal, with the westside schools outperforming the east side, black and brown students underperforming white and asian students, underpaid teachers that can’t afford to live here, and a ridiculous school assignment system that sends kids across town instead of to their neighborhood school. Phil Kim has the pedagogical background and reform mindedness to fix this broken school system.

I could say much of the same about Michelle Parker. But while Phil takes the “fresh eyes” approach, Michelle combines decades of experience with a strong will to fix problems. She helped the fight against getting rid of 8th grade algebra. Seriously… did you know the SF school system got rid of 8th grade algebra, and now it’s only offered in 9th grade? Like, that’s a thing they actually think was a good idea? Both Michelle and Phil want to make algebra available to 8th graders again.

Though you can choose three people, the “bullet voting” strategy might be preferred. Rather than using all three of your votes, using just two increases the chances of your top two preferred candidates winning. If you don’t believe me, and want to use all three, then I have a slight preference towards Monica Chinchilla over the rest of the candidates.

Assessor-Recorder

Carmen has been modernizing the office of the Assessor-Recorder and doing it very well. She is a competent leader. Interrupting her leadership will set back her reforms by a number of years.

Her opponent, Paul Bellar, is great. I like this guy a lot. I’ve met him and I really like his understanding of the problems and his proposed solutions. Technically, he’s the only candidate to have the required qualifications for the office (he’s a certified real estate appraiser), but I think those requirements are foolish for what is essentially a management position. Paul would definitely do a good job, but Carmen isn’t doing a bad job and I’d prefer to maintain the current leadership.

Public Defender

He’s running unopposed.

All of the various judges

YIMBY Neoliberal lead, YIMBY Action Board Member, Software Engineer, A little too obsessed with land use policy