A guide to the California, Los Angeles propositions
Gore Vidal famously said, “Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half.”
Turnout for recent nonpresidential year elections has been notoriously low in Los Angeles, and predictions are that the upcoming Nov. 4 election could suffer the same fate. And yet, as can be seen in the following summaries of the propositions on the ballot, significant matters are at stake.
Proposition 1 — Water Bond
Proposition 1 allows for the sale of $7.5 billion in general obligation bonds — $7.1 billion in new bonds and $425 million in unsold bonds — to pay for state and local water supply and water quality projects.
The goal is to begin to shift the state off snowpack — currently the largest water source — and toward local, sustainable sources. With climate change threatening snowfall and groundwater sources dangerously low, this measure would begin to shift the burden away from California’s aging water infrastructure.
In addition to allotting $2.7 billion to water storage projects, including possibly dams and reservoirs, Proposition 1 allocates roughly $1.5 billion for ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration, and $900 million for groundwater contamination cleanup.
Also included in the $7.5 billion is money for water treatment and water recycling systems.
However, Proposition 1 does not earmark specific projects. It calls for grants to be made by competition, and in most cases local governments would be required to provide matching funds.
The bond would cost taxpayers about $360 million annually over the next 40 years, though local governments would likely save money on water-related projects in the coming decades.
Supporters say this proposition would increase California’s water storage capacity, clean up contaminated sources and safeguard water for farms. The bill passed the state legislature nearly unanimously and is supported by both major parties, The Nature Conservancy and the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Opponents, including numerous environmental and fishing groups, contend that Proposition 1 undermines the public trust doctrine, does little for near-term drought relief and rushes in a new era of dam construction.
Proposition 2 — State Budget Reserves
The measure would require annual transfers of 1.5 percent of general fund revenues to the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” officially known as the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA), and would allow the fund to grow to 10 percent of the general fund, or roughly $11 billion (from an existing maximum of around $8 billion). Once the maximum is reached, the annual transfer would instead be used to fund local infrastructure projects.
Support for Proposition 2 is as close as California has come in recent years to unanimous for a proposed measure. Opposed by a number of education reform groups, as well as by Delaine Eastin, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Proposition 2 would change the rules for how money is deposited in the BSA.
Beyond making it more difficult for the governor to stop funds from being transferred into the BSA and for the legislature to take funds out of the BSA, which currently have few restrictions, Proposition 2 would require that roughly half of the money apportioned to the fund for the next 15 years be used to pay down the state’s debts.
In addition to general fund revenues, capital gains tax revenues exceeding 8 percent of general fund revenues would also be added to the BSA.
The one controversial component of the measure is a requirement that capital gains revenues also, under narrow circumstances, be set aside for a separate stabilization fund for public schools. This last stipulation would trigger another law that limits local school districts’ own reserves, forcing some districts to reduce their funds.
While supporters argue that Proposition 2 would guard schools against deeper cuts, opponents maintain that it creates a double standard, allowing the state to grow its fund while limiting districts’ ability to do the same, perhaps resulting in deep cuts for districts in dire financial straits.
Proposition 45 — Health Care Insurance Rates
Backed by Santa Monica-based consumer interest group Consumer Watchdog, Proposition 45 would require individual and small-group health insurers to receive approval from the California Insurance Commissioner prior to changing rates.
Consumer Watchdog is the same organization that helped pass Proposition 103 in 1987, making the insurance commissioner an elected position with the authority to veto rate hikes on auto and property insurance.
Proposition 45 would expand the commissioner’s oversight to the health insurance industry, though the current proposal would not apply to employer large-group plans.
Supported by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer as well as the California Democratic Party, the proposition would require insurers to submit a statement to the commissioner swearing to the accuracy of their information, and to provide public notice and hearings on rate changes.
Additionally, it would forbid auto, health and homeowner insurers from determining eligibility or rates based on prior coverage or credit history.
Fearing potential financial losses from further regulation, insurance companies are spending big money to try to defeat Proposition 45. Kaiser Permanente alone has contributed $15 million to opposition campaigns, and Wellpoint has given about $13 million.
Some opponents to Proposition 45 object because it was written prior to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) taking effect in California, meaning that it does not take into consideration how the timetable for Covered California’s negotiations with insurers would be affected by the commissioner’s new veto power.
Asked about this concern, Consumer Watchdog President and Chairman of the Board Jamie Court responded, “There is a one-year window to get rates to market and get them approved, and it happens in 35 other states. Why can’t it happen here? This is window dressing by the insurance companies.”
Throughout the campaign, the insurer-funded opposition has repeatedly been accused of making misleading statements, including referring to Covered California as an “independent commission.”
While true that Covered California is an independent organization within the state government, the governor and the state legislature appoint its board members.
However, those who oppose the current proposition believe that it puts too much power in the hands of one politician.
The Legislative Analyst’s office estimates the fiscal impact of the bill in the low millions, to be funded from new fees paid by the insurers.
Proposition 46 — Medical Safety and Lawsuits
This year, the most costly and controversial ballot fights are over regulation of the health-care industry. The second of two is Proposition 46, which is backed by consumer attorneys, patient-rights advocates and Consumer Watchdog, and bundles together a few distinct items.
First, it would require clinics and hospitals to conduct random drug and alcohol tests on the doctors they employ, and that positive tests be reported to the state’s medical board. It would also mandate tests within 24 hours of an “adverse event” at a clinic or hospital.
Second, in an effort to crack down on “doctor shopping,” Proposition 46 would compel doctors to check CURES, a statewide patient drug history database created in 1997, prior to prescribing certain substances with a history of consumer misuse.
Finally, and most controversially, Proposition 46 increases the cap from medical malpractice lawsuits on noneconomic damages, also known as quality-of-life damages. The current cap of $250,000 was set by the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) of 1975. This proposal would link the 1975 cap to inflation, effectively increasing it to about $1.1 million (though that amount would fluctuate year to year).
The Legislative Analyst’s office estimates the cost to state and local governments of the proposition could range from tens of millions of dollars to several hundred million dollars annually. However, it also estimates that those governments would save an uncertain amount from the drug and alcohol testing and prescription drug provisions of the proposition.
Asked why it made sense to bundle these three items into a single proposition, Consumer Watchdog’s Court responded, “It’s all about patient safety. It’s about detection of impaired doctors, curbing of reckless prescribing and access to justice for victims of both, so that there is deterrence and dangerous doctors don’t keep practicing.”
Dr. Noachim Marco, incoming chief medical officer of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, agrees that the stated goals of this proposition have value, but he takes issue with how the law is written.
Asked about the testing stipulation, Marco noted that doctors would be compelled to take drug and alcohol tests within 24 hours “regardless of whether their actions had anything to do with the event, regardless of whether they were even working when the event was recognized, or were on vacation. Failure to do so would lead to suspension of that doctor’s license.”
He also said the CURES database has been underfunded and underutilized since coming online. It is currently only voluntary for doctors, and tens of thousands of health-care providers have yet to sign up for the system.
So, though Proposition 46 would require doctors to begin using the CURES database the day after the election, the law includes no funding to assist in the processing of applications.
“I don’t currently have access to the database,” Marco said. “This means that if I need to prescribe pain medication for an elderly patient at the Jewish Home, I will be put in the unfair position of having to choose between what’s best for my patient, which involves breaking the law, and doing what’s legally obligated of me, which involves denying my patient the medication they need.”
A few doctors have expressed concern regarding the state mandating how they practice medicine, and the No On 46 campaign has repeatedly claimed that CURES is particularly vulnerable to security threats.
However, the reality is that, to date, the CURES database has never been breached. The statistic cited in commercials funded by the No On 46 campaign — that 4.5 million patients’ data was recently stolen from hospital networks — is not from CURES, but rather from an announcement by Community Health Systems, a national, publicly traded hospital operator.
“There has never been a breach of CURES database,” Court wrote in an email. “By contrast, the hospitals that have opposed us have been breached 10 million times.” This last statistic does not refer to the number of individual occurrences of unauthorized access, but rather to the number of records breached at facilities affiliated with groups funding the No On 46 campaign.
While consumer and physician groups are actively involved in the debate, much of the financing for the two campaigns has come from ancillary groups — insurers who oppose the measure because they stand to pay more in damages, and malpractice lawyers who support the measure because higher damages mean higher pay.
“Most people agree drug-testing doctors could be a good idea, that asking doctors to use the CURES database to ensure they are prescribing appropriately could be good,” Marco said. “Unfortunately this proposition is so poorly written to address those issues that I think they are only using them as a smokescreen designed to get more money to the trial attorneys.”
Conversely, some trial attorneys assert that the current cap is not high enough to make malpractice cases financially worthwhile.
Although increasing the cap would incentivize lawyers to take on more malpractice claims, there is also worry that quadrupling the cap all at once would force doctors and hospitals to purchase larger insurance policies, perhaps driving them out of practice. And yet, supporters of the measure point out that states that have raised their caps have not reported this effect.
Proposition 47 — Reducing Criminal Penalties
At its worst, California’s prison system was filled with inmates to almost twice its design capacity. In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the system in a state of emergency, and in 2011, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the overcrowding was unconstitutional.
After years of fighting court rulings requiring the state to drastically reduce its prison population, a three-judge panel finally offered a reprieve, providing two extra years, until February 2016, to lower overcrowding to 137.5 percent of design capacity.
Proposition 47 would reduce felony sentences to misdemeanors for a range of nonviolent crimes, including drug possession and petty theft. It would also open a three-year period in which inmates serving felony convictions for these same crimes could apply for consideration for reduced sentences.
“Prop. 47 is the sort of common-sense reform that is difficult to oppose. Once people actually learn the effects of the law, they tend to get behind it,” said Evan Kuluk, an attorney in the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s office who is also on the San Francisco Bay Area regional council of progressive, Jewish organization Bend the Arc.
“It is important for us to shift our priorities to address the root causes of incarceration by investing in mental-health and substance-abuse treatment,” Kuluk said.
The state estimates that up to 10,000 felons would be released from its prisons. However, the reduced sentencing would not apply if a person had previously been convicted of a crime such as rape, murder or child molestation.
Opponents of the measure, including the California Police Chiefs Association and the California District Attorneys Association, contend that the release of so many inmates would put the citizens of California at serious risk.
The resultant reduction in the prison population would save the state an estimated $150 million to $200 million annually. The County of Los Angeles also stands to save a few hundred million dollars annually.
The current measure would allocate money the state saves to a new Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, to be used on schools, drug-treatment and mental-health programs, and crime victims.
Proposition 47 is supported by the California Democratic Party, an assortment of the major unions, the Children’s Defense Fund of California and the League of Women Voters of California, among others.
Proposition 48 — Indian Gaming Agreements
Proposition 48 will either ratify or overturn gaming agreements between the state and the North Folk Rancheria of Mono Indians and the Wiyot Tribe.
If passed, the agreement would permit the North Fork Indians to build a new, 2,000-slot-machine casino in Madera County, about 38 miles from the tribe’s reservation and closer to major roads and Central Valley communities.
In 2005, the North Fork Tribe sought permission from the federal government to acquire the 305 acres of land and put it into trust. The federal government lent its support for the site in 2011, and California Gov. Jerry Brown formally agreed in 2012.
As a part of the agreement, the North Fork Tribe would make a one-time payment of between $16 million and $35 million to local governments in the Madera County region to pay for costs related to the operation of a new casino. This initial reimbursement would be followed by annual payments of $10 million over the next 20 years.
Approval of Proposition 48 would also ratify a compact between the state and the Wiyot Tribe. The tribe would agree not to build its own casino on its tribal land near an environmentally sensitive region of Humboldt County.
In exchange, the Wiyot Tribe would receive between 2.5 and 3.5 percent of annual slot-machine revenue from the new North Fork casino, estimated at around $6 million for each of the next 20 years.
Although a few public officials oppose the measure, including Sen. Feinstein and Madera County Supervisor David Rogers, most of the financing for the oppositional campaign has come from California tribes that already have casinos and are alarmed by possible competition.
Some opponents are worried that the North Fork casino would inspire other tribes to build casinos outside their reservations, closer to highways and populated communities.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY
Measure P — Safe Neighborhood and Parks
Added to the ballot by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Measure P levies an annual, per-parcel tax of $23 for 30 years to fund neighborhood park improvement, gang prevention, youth and senior recreation, and wildlife preservation.
Measure P replaces the expiring Proposition A, approved by voters in 1992. However, unlike Proposition A, the current measure levies a flat, regressive tax. Also unlike Proposition A, Measure P is not itemized. It splits use of a large portion of the funds evenly among the five county supervisors.
Of the estimated $52 million Measure P would produce annually, 20 percent would be for local cities and unincorporated county areas, 30 percent for county projects and open space, 15 percent for county parks, 15 percent for maintenance and the rest divided among a variety of local sources.
Almost all local organizations and officials support Measure P. The most significant opposition has come from the Los Angeles Times editorial board, which opposes the measure because the Board of Supervisors wrote it behind closed doors, only informing the public a few days prior to placing it on the ballot.
CITY OF SANTA MONICA
Rental Unit Registration Fee Amendment
If passed, this amendment would gradually raise the annual controlled rental unit registration fee from $174.96 to $288 for owners.
It also forbids landlords from passing along more than 50 percent of this fee to their renters, limiting the tenants’ share to $12 per month.
Opponents to the measure argue that the Rent Board already has an excessive budget, and that this increase will allow board members to further raise their high salaries.
Voter Approval of Airport Development Initiative
This initiative amends Santa Monica’s city charter to require voter approval prior to any changes made to land use at the Santa Monica Airport.
Recent proposals by the airport’s board of commissioners and the Santa Monica City Council to close or partially close the airport spurred the initiative.
The chief proponent of the measure is a group called the Community Against Airport Traffic, which is largely funded by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
They argue that the airport adds $275 million per year to the local economy and could be an essential resource in the event of a local disaster.
Opponents counter that downsizing or closing the airport would diminish pollution, noise and traffic, and would increase property values in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Groups such as Community Against Airport Traffic and Airport 2 Park claim that the initiative is written in such a manner that it could keep the airport from adjusting its prices in the future.
Complaints of noise pollution have become increasingly common in recent years, and there is growing support among local residents for a plan to turn part or all of Santa Monica Airport into a public park.