UKIAH — The Mendocino Women’s Political Coalition and the Saturday Afternoon Club took citizens on a whirlwind tour of the ballot measures at the Ukiah Civic Center Thursday Sept. 29, starting with City Council members and ending with positions on Prop 64, the proposition to legalize recreational marijuana throughout California. Audience members submitted questions written on index cards, which moderators read to the speakers.
Douglas Crane and Steve Scalmanini are incumbent City Council members who are running unopposed. Crane, who is in his 12th year of service and called himself “the institutional memory” of the Council, also argued in favor of Measure Y against private citizen Ed Haynes.
Measure Y, a Ukiah City measure, would create a 1% sales tax to fund street repair. Crane said it is now up to the City to pay for fixing its streets, offering his own economic theory that, “As cars became more efficient, as the dollar continued its decline — which we lovingly call inflation [but] is actually devaluation of our currency — we got to the point where less than half of the purchasing value remained for the dollars that came in from gas tax. And we wound up with less gas being sold per mile because the efficiency of engines improved substantially.”
Haynes countered that the tax measure would be permanent until the voters rescind it. He also suggested looking at what he said were the high salaries made by city employees and linked higher taxes to lower retail profits. “If you were going to bring your business to Ukiah knowing that your retail profits were a full percent lower and you were also a box store…You might think about that.” he posited, referring directly to the Costco many citizens yearn for.
Measure Y would institute a general sales tax, which means that revenue collected could be used for any purpose, and that it only requires a simple majority to pass. It is accompanied by the advisory Measure Z, which is not binding, but asks voters if they want the collected revenue to be spent on streets.
Next up were the county ballot measures, starting with AG and AH, the pair of initiatives backed by Sheriff Tom Allman to fund a mental health facility. AG is the proposal to enact a half-cent sales tax to fund the development of the physical location of the facility, which could mean new construction or refurbishing an existing building. Sales tax in the unincorporated areas of the county, which currently stands at 7.625%, would rise to 8.125%. The sales tax in the cities is already higher and would also rise by half a percent. It should be noted that of the existing sales taxes only 1% goes to the county with the additional 6.625% going to the state.
Additionally, the measure will fail unless voters approve both AG and AH. AH asks voters if an ordinance shall be adopted containing specific language to allow the California Board of Equalization to collect the tax. Both initiatives must be approved by two-thirds of the voters.
Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman told moderator Annie Esposito that he would be happy to argue in favor of the measures “as long as you want,” and proceeded to present a case that the county would save millions of dollars a year with its own facility, rather than straining law enforcement resources and sending mentally ill patients to facilities out of the county when they are having a crisis that providers in Mendocino are not equipped to address.
Lynda McClure, who moderated the state initiatives later in the program, sat in for the opposition and read a letter by Nancy Sutherland, who expressed dissatisfaction with the measure for not conducting a needs assessment or providing for competitive salaries for those who would work at the facility.
A trio of pot measures was up next. Sarah Bodnar, campaign manager for Measure AF, the citizen initiative to regulate all aspects of the cannabis industry, squared off against Second District Supervisor John McCowen, who spoke for the cultivation ordinance crafted by the Board of Supervisors.
Esposito read an audience member’s comment claiming that the pro-AF campaign had missed the September 29 deadline to file paperwork with the Fair Political Practices Commission. However, it won’t be clear until next week if the deadline was missed, as documents need only be postmarked no later than September 29, not necessarily received by that date.
Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde spoke in favor of Measures AI and AJ, saying, “I urge everyone in this room, regardless of how you feel about AF, [to] vote yes” on the county’s cannabis tax measures.
Measure AI, “The Marijuana Tax,” would impose a commercial tax on all cannabis businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county, starting at 2.5% of gross receipts for cultivators. Minimum cultivation rates would be tied to square footage, and all other businesses would pay a flat rate of $2500 per year, to be increased after July 1, 2020, according to the Consumer Price Index.
Measure AJ is another advisory measure. It is meant to gauge the opinion of voters, asking them if they want the majority of the revenue from AI to be spent on mental health, road repair, fire and emergency medical services, and enforcement of marijuana laws.
Gjerde said that if AI passes, it would apply to both medical and recreational cannabis, whether Prop 64 passes or not.
Val Muchowski of the Mendocino Women’s Political Coalition spoke for the opposition, saying she found it “interesting” that the tax only applies to the unincorporated area of the county, as do all the county measures.
The state propositions were presented in groups by subject, starting with education.
Muchowski, a retired teacher, spoke in favor of Prop 51, a $9 billion public schools facilities bond. She said $3 billion would go towards new construction, another $3 billion for modernization, $1 billion for charter and vocational schools, and $2 billion for California community college facilities. This is needed, she opined, because it has been 16 years since California passed a school bond, and the state is not contributing enough to local education.
Mary Pat Palmer, who called herself a “pseudo-con” because she was speaking for the opposition although she does not oppose the measure, said the argument against it was a confusing statement about how the bond money would go to wealthier districts that already have the resources to apply for it. If the bond passes, taxpayers would have to pay back $17.6 billion, with $9 billion as the principal and $8.6 billion as the interest. According the Secretary of State’s analysis, annual payments would be $500 million over 35 years.
Palmer played pseudo-con again against Prop 55, the first of several proposed constitutional amendments to be discussed throughout the course of the evening. This one would extend Prop 30’s 2012 income tax increase on those whose annual incomes exceed $250,000, in order to fund education and healthcare.
George Young, of the California Teachers’ Association, argued that Prop 30 “allowed us to stop the bleeding as a state.” Prop 55, he claimed, which would merely extend the provisions of the previous proposition, is not a new tax. He added that the money would go into a dedicated fund that “the legislature can’t touch.”
Palmer said the opposition came from taxpayer associations who don’t want taxes to increase and whose members believe the proposition is not needed.
The night was notable for a deficiency if reliable opposition, necessitating frequent stand-ins, or pseudo-cons. Palmer stayed on as pseudo-con for Prop 58, which would allow instruction in languages other than English at California public schools. This would repeal Prop 227, a 1998 initiative requiring California public schools to teach students with limited English skills in special classes, mostly in English, and usually not for longer than one year. Under this proposition, parents need to sign a waiver to allow instruction in other languages.
Muchowski said that 2.7 million, or about 22% of children in California public schools speak a language other than English. About half of these, she stated, are not yet fluent in English. She related an anecdote about how she once recruited some Spanish-speaking ten-year-olds to help teach younger Spanish speakers how to read in their first language, which she said aided their English literacy immensely.
Palmer said the opposition argues that full English immersion is the best way to teach children, but that she hadn’t found research to back that up.
The topic moved to healthcare, starting with Prop 52, another proposed amendment to the state constitution. This one would divert hospital fee revenue dedicated to Medi-Cal. Ukiah Valley Medical Center Vice President David Weiss explained that this means the federal government would continue to pay matching funds for Medi-Cal at no additional cost to California taxpayers. The current law allowing for this arrangement expires next year.
Judy Popowski countered that the proposition would divert resources from patients, and that oversight was not sufficient.
Weiss argued next in favor of Prop 56, which would raise the tax on cigarettes to $2 a pack, with equivalent hikes in other tobacco products. He rattled off a list of healthcare organizations that support the initiative, and added that tobacco-induced mortality in Mendocino is one of the highest in the state, responsible for 852 of every 100,000 deaths.
Popowski stated that not enough of the revenue generated by the initiative would go to education.
From death by cigarettes, the discussion moved on to the death penalty. Linda Fox debated Galvin Graham on Prop 62, which would repeal the death penalty. She declared that execution, with its lengthy appeals process, is 18 times more expensive than life without parole. She advocated for death row inmates to be dispersed to Level Four prisons and go to work, with 60% of the money they earn going towards victims’ restitution.
Graham, too, believed that the appeals process goes on too long, which is why he argued against Prop 62 and in favor of 66, opining that all appeals should be cut off after five years. “Why should we keep a murderer alive?” he asked. Fox countered that the strict deadlines and the workload Prop 66 would impose on lawyers would actually not reduce the time spent in appeals, nor would it reduce the risk of convicting the innocent.
McClure read a “modified question” from an audience member who wanted to know if Graham and Fox were Christians, which both declined to answer.
Ellie Schacter then faced off with Kristana Arp over plastic bags in another pair of opposing initiatives, Props 65 and 67.
Schacter said that Prop 65 would extend the ban on free plastic bags, which is in place in many municipalities, to the entire state, and redirect money from sales of plastic bags to a special fund administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board. Arp, a former philosophy professor, declared herself ready to raise the philosophical issues of the opposition, saying that bag bans are being used by the government to impost unwanted restrictions on small businesses.
Schacter then argued in favor of Prop 67, which would uphold a law banning plastic bags. This, she said, is opposed by four large out-of-state plastic bag companies. Arp, as the pseudo-con, stated gravely that this would set a dangerous new precedent, resulting in increased shoplifting and the spread of disease and germs.
Schacter then acknowledged a modicum of confusion, saying that “it sounds good, that the money [from Prop 65] would go to an environmental organization,” but that the California Fish and Game Commission, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the League of Women Voters, the California Democratic, Green, and Peace and Freedom Parties all recommend a no vote on Prop 65 and a yes vote on Prop 67.
Kate Gaston spoke about Prop 53, a proposed state Constitutional amendment, saying, “I thought this would be the most boring one, but it’s not!” Prop 53 would require voter approval for revenue bonds over $2 billion. Revenue bonds are municipal bonds supported by money generated by a specific project, often an infrastructure addition or improvement.
It supporters hold up the $68 billion bullet train project, which started off as a $33 billion project, as an example of an unfair increase voters should have been allowed to vote on.
The propositions sole supporters are Republican millionaires Dean and Joan Cortopassi. It is supported by twenty-two taxpayers associations. The state legislative analyst’s office does not believe that many projects, aside from the California High-Speed Rail and the tunnels to move water through the Sacramento to the San Joaquin River Delta, are large enough to be affected by this measure.
Popowsi then spoke about Prop 54, which would require legislative bills to be displayed online for 72 hours before a vote. This, she explained, could lead to greater government transparency, preventing “gut and amend,” the practice of changing a bill until it is unrecognizable, then passing it. However, any minor change could lead to another three-day cycle, which Popowski said could “tie the legislature up in knots.”
Prop 54 was developed by conservative republican Charles Munger. Its supporters include the California Republican Party, the California Libertarian Party and the Libertarian Party of Kern County, and the Santa Monica Democratic Club.
District Attorney David Eyster and Deputy Public Defender Jonathan Opet then debated Prop 57, which would allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide if juveniles should be tried as adults and increase parole opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent offenses.
Eyster spoke against Prop 57, saying it treats all recidivists as first-time offenders and would lead to a spike in crime. “Gut and amend is what happened to 57,” he declared, portraying it as an effort that started with the best intentions towards juveniles, but would end up putting more violent criminals back out on the street, with no funding for promised rehabilitation efforts. Rape of an unconscious woman and use of explosive devices, he asserted, are among the crimes deemed nonviolent under this proposal.
Opet argued that prisons are “severely overcrowded because of policies that don’t work.” Prop 57, he said, would allow inmates to be released before serving time for enhancements, or additional time for things like gang activity or prior offenses.
Margaret Koster and Robin Sunbeam then debated the merits of Prop 59, an advisory measure urging elected officials to do everything in their power to overturn Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and declare that corporations are not people. Koster came out swinging, declaring that this measure is similar to Measure F, the “advisory measure to end corporate rule and defend democracy,” which passed with 75% of the vote in 2012. Measure F asked county representatives to call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would establish that only humans and not corporations have constitutional rights, and that money is not speech, from which it follows that political contributions can be regulated.
“Bernie Sanders wants you to vote yes on it,” she told the crowd.
Sunbeam, who has worked alongside Koster in promoting Prop 59, retorted that this is an advisory measure only, “with no teeth or claws,” and demanded to know why the taxpayers’ money was being wasted to put another measure on a ballot that is already crowded. Sunbeam was another pseudo con, arguing in place of a true believer who was not present.
Koster agreed that the ballot is cluttered, but that there “is no reason to pick on this particular initiative as the cause of this particular clutter.”
Next came Prop 60, which would require pornography performers to use condoms while performing. “I decided to get involved in community politics, and here I am, talking about plastic bags and condoms,” remarked Arp drily. Nobody should have to risk their health to protect their jobs, she went on, claiming that Prop 60 has the support of medical associations.
Popowski countered that the initiative was essentially a job guarantee for Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. If the proposition becomes law but is challenged, she said, it contains a provision that the state would have to hire Weinstein to defend it. She added that there is already a law requiring that porn performers use condoms.
Perri Kaller argued in favor of Prop 61, which would require state agencies to pay the same price for prescription drugs that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs pays. She acknowledged that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation supports this measure, too, but urged voters to think about it, pointing to vigorous opposition by taxpayers’ groups and the pharmaceutical industry on one side, and support by Bernie Sanders and dozens of healthcare organizations on the other as solid grounds to consider voting yes on it.
Popowski responded with a scenario in which drug companies would raise drug prices so the VA would pay more, driving up the cost for state agencies, ultimately enriching the companies and reducing the selection of high-quality drugs in California. “Weinstein wrote himself in,” she concluded, “looking for a job.”
From drugs to ammunition, then. Muchowski argued in favor of Prop 63, which would restrict large capacity ammunition magazines and require background checks for ammunition purchases. She recited an all too familiar list of mass murders and asserted that these crimes took place because killers had easy access to ammo.
Kathy Graham, a National Rifle Association representative who was the California Rifle and Pistol Club’s number one recruiter in 2011, replied that Prop 63 would be “costly, ineffective, [and] another ploy” that would cost Californians millions of dollars. As for a provision that would prevent violent criminals from having firearms, she added, “that’s already on the books.”
The forum ended on Prop 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana. With ten minutes to go before the civic center bouncer started turning off lights, Arp read parts of a letter by Cloverdale Police Chief Stephen Cramer, who argued that Prop 64 would remove local control over crafting marijuana policy and allow large corporations to move into small communities. He was also concerned with the possible increase of drugged drivers, which he views as a public safety hazard.
Kristin Nevedal, Chair of the Emerald Growers Association, countered that $3 million would be distributed to the CHP to establish DUI protocols, and that licensing fees scaled to the size of businesses would preserve local control.