Out of Control Policy Blog

CA local ballot measures: trains, prostitution and plastic bags

California is little more than a fundraising stop in the presidential election, but what it lacks in contested candidate races, it makes up in initiatives. 12 statewide propositions are topped off with 380 local measures on the November 4 ballot.

Most of the local measures are for school, hospital and library bonds and local taxes, but even among these there are stand outs. For example, Proposition K in Encinitas (San Diego County) would raise taxes to pay for delivering sand to local beaches so that they don't get too rocky. Other highlights from local ballots include:

Sonoma-Marin Measure Q: tax to build a train
For the second time in two years, proponents of a 70-mile diesel commuter train are seeking a quarter-percent sales tax increase to start building the project. The proposed train would share a single track with freight service along an existing right-of-way. Environmentalists are vocal on both sides of the campaign. Proponents argue that an alternative to the congested, greenhouse-gas-belching highway commute is needed; opponents say the project would cost too much and serve too few commuters to make any difference, and may open an export route for gravel mining on the Eel River. Using official projections for operating costs alone, the train project would cost $1,350 per ton of avoided greenhouse gas emissions--approximately 30 times more expensive than the most expensive abatement measures currently being considered nationwide for climate change mitigation.

On a related theme, the Santa Clara Measure B sales tax would increase funding for extension of BART into Silicon Valley. This proposal, also up for a vote for the second time in two years, reunites the coalition of environmentalists and libertarians that helped defeat a similar measure in 2006.

San Francisco Measure K: decriminalizing prostitution
San Francisco's Controller estimates that the city spends between $1.6 million and $3.2 million each year prosecuting prostitutes for prostitution. Measure K would require the city to stop enforcing laws against prostitution and end the First Offender Prostitution Program, a demand-side anti-prostitution program which, over the last 12 years, generated a total of $3.1 million in fees for "re-education" of commercial sex customers and subsidization of police activities including reverse sting operations. Critics of that program have long characterized it as little more than police bribery, wherein those accused of soliciting prostitutes are shamed into paying the fee instead of going to court. An impressive archive of endorsements for Measure K and related news is available here.

Fairfax (Marin County) Measure C: plastic bag ban
The California Environmental Quality Act requires that public agencies assess the environmental impact of any new ordinance. The town council of Fairfax (pop. ~7,070) approved a ban on plastic retail shopping bags in July 2007, but under threat of an environmental lawsuit, they made the ordinance voluntary. The City of Oakland lost a similar lawsuit earlier this year. If approved by voters, Measure C will circumvent environmental review. In the official ballot argument, proponents of the measure repeated unfounded claims about plastic bag impacts on marine animals and a misleading statement about petroleum resources used to produce plastic bags--they left out the fact that manufacturing and use of the paper bags required under Measure C would result in several times more petroleum use.

Skaidra Smith-Heisters is Policy Analyst


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