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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Ballot propositions have problems

Uploaded: Oct 20, 2020
I voted yesterday. And after I gave my ballot to my mailman (he assured me the ballots were flowing smoothly through the post office), I thought about my votes and what I was being asked to decide on the ballot. I reflected on those 12 state and three local ballot measures, and the problems I had deciding which side I should vote for.

On Sunday I talked to one of my sons. "I voted!" he said. "Great," I responded. " How did you vote on Prop 15?"

"Which one was that?" he asked.

And therein lies one of several problems I have with state propositions.

Peppered on so many streets in town, I see signs, "Vote yes on 18." "Vote no on 23." "Vote no on 22, or 25, or 15." But I can't always remember what measures these numbers represent, so the lawn signs have no meaning until I've read all the literature and examined my ballot material. The same is true with TV vote ads. "No on 21 -- A flawed initiative that will make housing worse," or "No on Prop 25 -- unfair, unsafe costly." What are these measures about? Which one is Prop 25, I ask myself.

And in Sunday" Mercury News, I found an full-page ad urging voters "Yes on 16." The ONLY description was: "Prop 16 is about being on the right side of history. It reveals the playing field for women and people of color." That comment was followed by more than half a page listing who is for Prop 16, and in red at the bottom, "Who's against Prop 26? ("The California Republican Party") -- and that was it. (Republican ads do the same thing to Democrats.)

Okay that's one problem I have about the propositions. The next is the way we don't realize how much money a measure is really going to cost state residents. Example: "$50 million for school bonds" doesn't mention the additional $50M+ interest that voters will have to pay.

Prop 14 is about stem cell bonds -- $5.58 billion -- a lot of money. Except with interest, it will really cost $7.78 billion. Yes, we are talking about billions of dollars in one little proposition. We shouldn't be casual about an expenditure like that.

The next problem: Some of these measures don't belong on a ballot for voters to decide -- they are too complex, oftentimes require knowledge most voters don't have, and are too convoluted to decide. Case in point: Prop 23 on dialysis clinics. I know little about dialysis nor whether clinics need to have a physician on hand, or why, and if they don't what that would mean. Nor should I be expected to know. Ditto for Prop 14 on stem cell research. It's a wonderful idea, we need even more, but we gave companies $3 billion several years ago, and the results have been good, but not great. A lot of private medical companies are delving into stem research -- do they need this money? Or would the state set up its own research companies? Would the state's efforts unknowingly duplicate some of this research? What is the best way to use this money? I won't get my questions answered by the election but these are some of the problems I had in deciding whether I should agree to $5+ billion more in funds -- especially when we have huge problems with the coronavirus and don't yet know how to get rid of it or if we can find a vaccine that works.

One other proposition problem is most of us do not think too much about the amount of money these bond and other spending measures will cost us. We see words like "environmental" and "safety"" and "clean air," and glide through the exact cost to taxpayers -- i.e., was that $2 million or $2 billion. They see these words without caring what the measure is all about. Instead, their "I'm for the environment" attitude overtakes analysis of the measure.

Years ago, when I first encountered California's propositions, both referenda and initiatives, I thought it was a great way for people to have a ballot voice in determining the future of our state. And usually getting an initiative (a measure initiated by the people) requires a certain and significant number of signatures. Some groups managed to get their measures on the ballot. But now lobbyists and unions and political action groups hire signature gatherers, and more measures succeed in getting on.

I now am at the point of wanting Californians to do something to improve this process. Maybe create a bipartisan powerful commission of wise people to decide apolitically what measures should go on the ballot -- which should be decided by the legislature, or professional groups, and which by people. Some of these measures have become too complex man of us to understand.

When I told my son what Prop 15 was, he said, "Oh yes, I voted "yes on it because of..." And he gave a good answer. But when I responded, "this ballot is really about xyz not abc," he said, "Mom, you and I must be talking about different measures." We weren't. I had read different material than he had. And he said, "I didn't realize this measure would do that."

So let's just revamp the whole proposition process!
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Common sense, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 1:32 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

I agree with your general comments that the ballot proposition process has become something of a racket and could use overhaul. But this anecdote --

'when I responded, "this ballot is really about xyz not abc," he said, "Mom, you and I must be talking about different measures." We weren't. I had read different material than he had. And he said, "I didn't realize this measure would do that." / So let's just revamp the whole proposition process!'

-- seems like an argument for reading more widely about ballot propositions rather than just what lands in your mailbox or what your friends tell you; i.e., becoming an informed voter. An option that already is under voters' control and choice.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 2:20 pm

Alan is a registered user.

Good article. I particularly resent propositions that are intentionally written to be confusing. I do take the time to research them - it's my responsibility as a citizen. However, I wish they would limit these to issues that are worth my time.

Posted by Novelera, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 3:17 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Diana, your post today hit a bullseye with me! I also hated the dialysis one. Why in the world are the voters of California involved in this at all? The only answer I come up with is the same answer for nearly all the propositions. Someone stands to make money or lose money.

I am particularly angry with the little 8-1/2 x 11, folded over, cheap mailers I am getting that call themselves "Voter Guides". Not only do they advocate for certain council candidates, but they also take positions on propositions. The one that came in today's mail was outrageous. It contained a lie about each and every proposition for which it advocated yes or no votes. And, in the finest print possible, there is a disclaimer stating stating someone paid for it.

I have seen these screeds for years and am certainly discerning enough to toss them directly into the trash. But what about voters who haven't researched the propositions.

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:13 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

The one that annoys the heck out of me is Prop 22 - app based drivers. This is an employer - employee issue, and shouldn't be left to the voters. I couldn't care less if they're employees or independent contractors. I never have and never will take Uber, Lyft, etc. It's internet hitch hiking. I'm leaving it blank, which I've never done.

Voting no on Prop 23. Even though we aren't involved in the dialysis situation, I'm more than happy to vote in favor of the dialysis patients to help save their lives.

Your son is probably in the minority of voters who don't remember what Prop 15 is, especially if you're a business owner or homeowner.

I take the time to research Propositions too. I remember voting backwards on a prop in my twenties. They are written to be confusing.

Posted by Diana Diamond, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:33 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Common Sense --
You wrote: "seems like an argument for reading more widely about ballot propositions rather than just what lands in your mailbox or what your friends tell you; i.e., becoming an informed voter. An option that already is under voters' control and choice."

It was addressing the different ways my son and I viewed Prop 15. Yes, we did read different material, and yes, we both did our homework on all the issues and researched each of them. On that particular issue on businesses paying property taxes, I had the advantage of hearing Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone speak on this issue, and talking about the difficulties his and other assessor offices would have in determining the assessed value of each business property and erasing all business properties in the county every three years.

What I gleaned from what he said is having businesses pay property taxes was a good idea, but this particular proposition was laden with rules that assessors' offices and businesses could not easily handle. In other words, there was a better, simpler way to solve the inequities between the Ads of private property owners and businesses in this state.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 5:21 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I vote "NO' or leave blank all initiatives unless I have a strong reason to vote for it.
With better leadership -- electeds -- we would not need the initiative process.
Special interests need the initiative process.
I will vote YES on Prop 15.

Posted by Steven Goldstein, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 7:42 pm

Steven Goldstein is a registered user.

Proposition 15 is a GOOD thing.

The Commercial Real Estate market is about go through a major correction no matter what.

But, The real terror is about to hit, and it has nothing to do with Prop 15 The Commercial Real Estate Mortgage Based Securities are going down badly.

Here is a great video talking about this problem called “NYC commercial mortgage backed securities are going to crash" found here (Web Link

The reality is that both Residential and Commercial Real Estate vacancies are eventually going to force a collapse in these securities.

And unfortunately a lot of pensions have investments in this area, and most local and state taxes are dependent on them.

OMG if you think things are bad now?

I am still in favor of Prop 15, but I am not demanding anyone to vote for it, I just hope you all do your homework and make your own decision.

Posted by Greenacres, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 21, 2020 at 2:30 am

Greenacres is a registered user.

I was just thinking the same thing, Diana. Another problem is propositions that contain several elements in order to get a poison pill through along with something people will probably support. Prop 19 is like that.

Prop 19 allows people's children to keep a tax basis if they inherit the home and live in it. The trouble is that people then cannot use the home as anyone else would, by renting it out if they need to in order to keep it. It should have been possible to keep really rich people with multiple homes from taking advantage without making it impossible for people who can only afford to hang onto a home if they rent it out for awhile after they inherit it, or rent it out while they take a job somewhere else that allows them to keep it. There are so many scenarios -- the point being, what a nightmare for people to have the reassessment of their home hanging over their heads if they rent out a room only to discover that triggers a reassessment (I heard a radio program that gave a similar example, yes, they would be reassessed).

The people hurt by this are those whose home is their only asset, and who are on the bottom rungs of homeownership and really need to both keep the asset and have to rent it out precisely because they aren't rich. The trump tax increases on California homeowners were hard enougn, this is going to peel of the people who need the transfer of wealth the most to remain middle class.

It seems designed so the real estate industry can get leverage against people who most likely will be forced to sell their homes. To the rich, it won't matter, but to those struggling, it will cost them their family homes and their only asset. I mean, just think of a family splitting the cost of their home with their parents, who pass away. If the family has to take in other renters to take the place of the lost income, their home gets reassessed and they won't be able to afford to continue living in it anyway.

The other two provisions were clearly put in there to get people to buy into the poison pill above. The first allows wildfire victims to transfer their tax basis if they move. This is already possible and has been for almost 30 years.
The county people move to has to accept this but most already do, and those that don't, can change their minds without having to amend the CA constitution. This part is just unnecessary but it's here to get people to vote for it.

The other part let's seniors transfer their basis up to three times instead of one. While I agree with some of the reasoning, this is already possible once, and a proposition to increase that should have been a standalone. Until then, people can already move one time and transfer their basis.

Vote NO on Prop 19.

Posted by Miriam Palm, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 21, 2020 at 10:43 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

As several who posted above have said: if you do not understand a proposal, vote NO.

Posted by staying home, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 21, 2020 at 12:02 pm

staying home is a registered user.

I recommend Web Link It contains all of the state level proposition information, also showing the financial impact, who is backing it and for how much, who is recommending it or against it, and what the major parties think. Knowing who is spending millions on an initiative reveals who truly benefits sometimes.

Posted by Jennifer Bestor, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Diana, like you I did my homework on Prop 15 -- and am voting NO -- and agree that the initiative process has become a mess. The legislature should have put a close-the-loophole measure on the ballot years ago. Instead, we have Prop 15 shamelessly taking advantage of labyrinthine property tax allocation mechanics to strip hundreds of millions out of Bay Area counties.

One would expect opponents to draw attention to this, right? But they don't want people to understand property tax mechanics, for fear the legislature might do its work in two years -- and find us all supporting a fair, sensible measure.

Individuals cannot do the work to understand Prop 15 unless, being idiots like me, they devote years to it. This should be the work of our elected bodies. Listening to the six hours of the Board of Equalization hearings was a misery (esp. as Yes on 15 had lined up dozens of callers with near-identical scripted comments). Analyzing local assessors and controllers reports is hard. Reading all the LAO publications on property tax AND school funding takes time and patience. But none of the three areas that Prop 15 barges into are simple: not property tax assessment, not property tax allocation, and not school funding.

Our elected officials owed a close-the-loophole fix. They didn't deliver. Instead, we get a wholesale smash-and-grab that will hurt local schoolchildren more and more as the years go by.

Posted by Resident here, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 3:48 pm

Resident here is a registered user.

Can you please share why you think Prop 15 says something different than what I've read? Ever since Prop 13, homeowners have been paying a larger and larger share of the overall property tax burden. Large corporations can just change leadership as often as they wish without selling the property and thus pay almost nothing. Nothing in my experience leads me to believe that anyone, residential or commercial, passes on those savings to renters (except in very unusual circumstances). Prop 15 just has large commercial owners paying their fair share .

Commercial businesses have gotten a sweetheart deal for a really long time, and now it's time the tax law was more fair to California homeowners, who just recently saw a dramatic, life-altering increase in their property taxes because of federal tax code changes.

Posted by Steven Goldstein, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 7:18 pm

Steven Goldstein is a registered user.

Here are the REAL facts.

The reason why the assessors do not want Prop 15 to pass is that they will be flooded with reassessment requests by commercial properties.

BUT, that IS their JOB. They are just trying to avoid doing it.

They are wishing that they only need to record the last purchase price of a property and calculate the bill to the new owner. That is what they do. WHY?

Because no one wants to request a reassessment because a downward assessment will insecure the Mortgages of the property and destroy the Residential AND Commercial Backed Securities. Please read thew video here called “NYC commercial mortgage backed securities are going to crash" (Web Link

THAT is why they don't get reassessed. A reassessment down would destroy the Securities which make up so much fictional wealth in the country. And the buyers will learn how fake the Real Estate seller were in their evaluations, and the investors will be killed regarding the RMBS and the CMBS's

We are about to get a major shakeup in that market because if we don't get Federal and State unemployment extensions the public will all go bankrupt and these properties will sit vacant forever.

I still am voting yes for prop 15

Posted by Resident here, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 8:25 pm

Resident here is a registered user.

The other thing I hate is having to vote for judicial appointments with so little information. We at least get information pro and con about the propositions. For judicial appointments, you get no sense of whether the judge, as a lawyer, only represented bit corporations against regular people, or was every disciplined. There is a judge running of superior court who has been disciplined in way that is deeply disturbing:
Web Link

But most people see an unopposed race and just check it off. I'm going to withhold my vote for this position, but what will that do?

Posted by Native to the BAY, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 9:39 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

22 is a measure repeal Calif legislator and Gov. Newsome's signature that hold delivery service corps accountable to treating the human labor that make a few of their top shareholders billions. Vote no on 22. Door Dash, Uber, Grubhub treat labor like pack mules. Labor has to provide their own cars, absolutely no benefits, no paid sick leave but the hourly wage and a few meager tips. Yet. Many are considered essential workers. Again Vote no. It's a measure backed by billionaires!! Don't get me started about MADD �" very manipulative, weak ad campaign. NO on 19.

Posted by Measure for Measure, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 9:45 pm

Measure for Measure is a registered user.

I bet many of those who agree w Diane's opinion voted for the local, Measure D referendum. Shame. It could have helped propel us forward in a now significantly worse housing shortage for financially struggling low wage essential workers and retired PA residents. I am voting no on 19 and yes on 15.

Posted by TripleLMember, a resident of Triple El,
on Oct 26, 2020 at 11:18 pm

TripleLMember is a registered user.

I have a well-respected friend who was a dialysis patient. This is what he has to say about Proposition 23:

As a long-time former dialysis patient, I have strong views on California's Proposition 23 on dialysis clinic requirements. It is not necessary to have a physician present while patients are being treated. In fact, it is ridiculous to have a physician present. He or she would have nothing to do almost all the time. Dialysis is a simple procedure. Almost all the complications can be handled by a nurse or a nurse assistant. In my seven years of dialysis, four years were home dialysis with no one present except myself and three years were in a clinic, where the physicians came once a week during the day to talk to the patients.

Proposition 23 will lead to shortened hours or inconvenient hours for the patients. For example, I liked doing dialysis in the evening from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. or from 8 p.m. to midnight, because after dialysis one is usually tired and drained. If it ends late at night, I can go straight to bed. With Proposition 23, there will be few if any evening hours. If a clinic does not have evening hours, then I liked early hours like 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., since the best way to pass time while one is immobilized for four hours is to sleep through it. Proposition 23 will lead to few early morning sessions available.

Proposition 23 will also raise the cost of dialysis significantly, just to pay for all those physician-hours, and it is a tremendous waste of resources, when physicians are so needed elsewhere. The pro argument that it will make clinics safer is absurd. Dialysis is very safe as it is. I have yet to hear of a single fatality or incidence of harm. It is a stupid and destructive proposition and must be defeated. I am sure that even nonprofit clinics are opposed to this measure.

The other part of Proposition 23 about nondiscrimination is a separate issue, but on the basis of the requirement of physician presence alone, the proposition has to be defeated.

Posted by NeilsonBuchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 28, 2020 at 9:56 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Propositions One thru Infinity range in value. Most are confusing and represent misdirection.

It is important to know that there is an entire industry of lawyers, pollsters and petition-gatherers ready to feed conflicting information to newspapers, tv, radio and social media who in turn profit handsomely.

All of this mess is modern freedom of speech which has become babble to most citizens who vote.

I dont know how to avoid this pesky mosquito which buzzes outside and inside my head each election. I wish for someone like Will Rogers or Jon Stewart to make satire out of it. At least we would get a laugh out of this folly.

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