Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - May 28, 2010

Voters face important propositions

Voters confront five statewide propositions in the June election, including two self-serving special-interest initiatives that deserve rejection

California voters face five propositions on this primary election, including two — Proposition 16 and Proposition 17 — that are largely financed and promoted by special interests that will reap great benefits if they pass.

Here are the Weekly's recommendations:

Proposition 13: This is primarily a housekeeping measure to allow owners of buildings being seismically retrofitted avoid a reassessment for tax purposes.

We urge a YES vote on Proposition 13.

Proposition 14: This measure would create an open-primary system so all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would appear on the same primary-election ballot, with a runoff for the two top vote-getters in the November elections. While its effect has yet to be tested, we believe it has the potential of being a moderating influence on the California's crisis of political polarization — a paralysis that affects all levels of government, cripples the state's ability to respond rationally or effectively to urgent issues, and discourages able candidates from seeking state office. Vote YES on Proposition 14.

Proposition 15: Dubbed the "California Fair Elections Act," this proposition lifts a ban on public funding of political campaigns and would test public funding in races for Secretary of State in 2014 and 2018. The funds used would be raised primarily from fees assessed on the approximately 4,300 registered lobbyists in California from an annual $25 fee to $700 every two years, with inflation adjustments to follow. The fees would raise an estimated $6 million per four-year election cycle, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office.

It is time to test public funding of campaigns. We urge voters to vote YES on Proposition 15, which will provide a good test of this process.

Proposition 16: Pacific Gas & Electric has bankrolled this initiative amendment to the California Constitution. If approved it would force a public agency to obtain a two-thirds voter approval before the agency could enter the retail-power business. Without such approval, cities could not create municipal utilities or community-wide clean-electricity districts called "community choice aggregators," used to sell energy generated by wind or solar systems.

Palo Alto has its own municipal electric utility, dating back about a century — a service that generally has kept rates well below PG&E rates while transferring many millions of dollars to the city's general fund. Santa Clara also owns its electrical utility. Yet municipalities that wish to buy and sell "clean" renewable energy should not be hindered by an initiative measure that so blatantly blocks their chances of doing so.

Small cities that might go into the power business are hardly a threat to PG&E. But the giant utility has spent millions on seriously misleading advertising to promote its passage, deceptively calling it a "right to vote" measure when in fact it would abandon the majority-rules tradition in a democracy in favor of a two-thirds-approval requirement (giving one-third-plus-one of voters veto power) for any new municipal system. Plus, since cities may not legally spend money to campaign for ballot measures, PG&E could use its virtually unlimited funds to beat back such measures under present majority-decides voting.

We urge voters to defeat this special-interest power grab. It would preclude lower-priced or greener energy for consumers while giving PG&E an even greater monopoly than it already enjoys. Vote NO on Proposition 16.

Proposition 17: A vote for this proposition is a vote for Mercury Insurance. The giant company has spent more than $10 million to skirt a provision of Proposition 103, the landmark 1988 consumer initiative that rolled back California insurance rates and set strict guidelines on setting auto-insurance rates.

Under current law, an insurance company can offer longtime policyholders a "persistency discount" to existing customers. But under Proposition 103 insurers cannot offer such discounts to new customers even if they had continuous coverage from a different insurance company. Proposition 17 would give insurance companies the right to offer such discounts to customers of other insurers who have not let their policies lapse for more than 90 days in five-years.

But opponents of the measure fear that the roughly 20 percent of drivers in the state who do not qualify for persistency discounts — those who have been out of the market or who temporarily lost coverage — will be forced to pay substantial surcharges when they re-enter the market.

This measure's prime sponsor, Mercury Insurance, is no favorite of state regulators. As reported by USNewswire on April 12, the California Department of Insurance said Mercury Insurance "has overcharged and discriminated against California customers for over 15 years, including failing to deliver discounts required by state law and imposing unlawful surcharges."

That's enough for us. We believe consumers are well-served by Proposition 103, which should not be confused or undermined by changes proposed by Mercury or other insurance companies. Vote NO on Proposition 17.

Rich Gordon for Assembly, Jeff Rosen for DA

As we outlined in two full-length editorials (May 7 and May 14, www.PaloAltoOnline.com), the Weekly supports Rich Gordon in the June 8 primary-election race for state Assembly and Jeff Rosen for Santa Clara County's next District Attorney.

Rosen is challenging incumbent D.A. Dolores Carr, who we feel has failed to provide the promised "reform" leadership in her first term and who instead has made several poor judgment calls — including an unprecedented "black-balling" of a Superior Court judge. Those lapses are showing up in the overwhelming endorsement support that Rosen's campaign has elicited, including from former D.A. George Kennedy, the county Bar Association and several law-enforcement organizations.

Despite his lack of management experience, we believe Rosen's 15 years in the D.A.'s office prosecuting complex felonies will enable him to lead the department effectively and institute needed reforms.

In the Assembly race for the Democratic nomination, Gordon, a longtime San Mateo County supervisor with statewide leadership experience as president of the supervisors' association, has a clear experience edge on former Palo Alto City Council member Yoriko Kishimoto and "green energy entrepreneur" and activist Josh Becker. All three are intelligent, energetic, well educated and committed to pushing for a better state and environment.

But political experience counts. Gordon has demonstrated his independence and breadth of support, picking up endorsements even from supervisors from conservative counties in the outback regions of California. We believe he is the best bet to help heal the disastrous political polarization that has afflicted California for too many years.

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