Monday, October 30, 2006

California Initiatives

California sent out a 190 page booklet of initiatives for the upcoming election. Why do we even bother electing representatives?

Many of the propositions and measures are filled with good intentions, but fall apart in the details. Here are my endorsements:

Santa Clara County Measure A - no. It claims to protect hillsides and agricultural land. This seems good on the surface. However, it is carried out by setting large minimum lot-sizes, and grandfathering in everybody currently there. Not good. If we were truthful about protecting hillsides and agriculture, we would simply enact a ban on development in those areas. Minimum lot-size requirements were what created suburban sprawl in the first place. This can have the potential for creating similar rural sprawl, instead of encouraging the dense, smart growth that is needed.

On to the California measures -
1A) NO. This restricts from borrowing from the gas tax. The gas tax is already restricted to transportation. Property taxes aren't restricted to property development, business taxes aren't restricted to business development. But gas taxes get their special treatment. And now they want to make it more difficult to borrow against them. Thus if oil prices skyrocketed and the economy tanked, we would be forced to immediately build lots of roads. Not exactly smart.

1B) NO. This bond issues consists of a number of transportation earmarks, with a focus on reducing congestion by increasing road capacity. Much of the congestion occurred due to the increased capacity. If less space were devoted to roads, people could live closer to jobs, and drive shorter distances. Less driving = less congestion. Furthermore, there is already a dedicated funding source for transportation projects - why not use that and save the $19 billion in interest. If we build all the roads now, they will likely need to be rebuilt or replaced before the bond is paid off. If we don't build them all right now, why are we issuing a bond? $20 billion devoted mostly to roads will only decrease air quality and commute times, while increasing indebtedness.

1C) NO. Why are bonds needed to encourage homeownership? There are a hodgepodge of housing related programs in this bond issue. However, to be best used these need to be long term programs. A long term program would be much better run with a regular appropriation source rather than an expensive bond issue that doubles its cost. Furthermore, high housing costs are a function of supply and demand. Adding subsidies for certain people raises the cost for others. The best solution with the current demand is to increase supply by increasing density. California has endless suburban sprawl. Converting some of these single-family developments to moderately sized, walkable multi-family developments would increase affordability and reduce traffic. Simply build for people instead of cars.

1D) NO. Local bonds for schools make a lot of sense. State bonds don't. There are many previously built-out areas that have unused schools. High property prices and prop. 13 encourage people to stay put, thus making it difficult for young families to live in old neighborhoods. Thus new neighborhoods are built further away, and new schools are needed. Again, the state portion could be more economically done as a pay-as-you-go. Schools will need to be updated over time, not all at once. Also, there is a provision to encourage replacing portable buildings with fixed buildings. With mild weather, many schools are constructed in with a number of small stand-alone buildings. Portable buildings are an efficient way of adding capacity that can be more easily removed when needed. With a multiple building design, there is minimal difference between these and other buildings. Why encourage them to be removed?

1E) NO. The delta levees appear to be in poor condition. Immediate repair may be needed to avoid high costs, especially if catastrophic weather conditions occur. This would be a very appropriate use of bond money. However, the measure itself lists an estimated cost of repairing the levees of $7-$12 billion, while only allocating $3 billion. Furthermore, there does not appear to be accountability restrictions. Why is construction still being allowed in the flood-prone areas of the delta? This needs to be addressed in a proper delta bond measure.

83) NO. Expensive draconian punishments for sex offenders. They can't live within a half mile of a school or park. Where will they live? If sex offenses are so bad, effort should be spent minimizing the initial cause of sex offenses, rather than putting the extreme punishments.

84) NO. It's difficult to see why there is an immediate need for this water bond. The funds are also very narrowly earmarked, limiting its flexibility.

85) YES. Parental notification for abortion. There are sufficient options to satisfy the concerns of abusive parents. This can help prevent somebody from getting unduly pressured in to a procedure with possible consequences.

86) YES. Cigarette tax. This is an extremely high tax that will probably cause a drop in smoking (and an increase in smuggling) The use of the excess funding is somewhat worrisome. (There are excessive earmarks and restrictions.) However, this can serve as a better model of regulating other drugs (like marijuana)

87) YES. Oil production tax. Raising the cost of production is a politically easy way to raise money. With gasoline as a global commodity, there is little chance that this will have a significant change in gasoline prices. In one extreme, oil companies may find it so expensive to extract oil from California, that they leave the state. This will preserve oil for a later time when it is much more expensive and scarce. On the other extreme, production will continue and increase, raising huge amounts of money for alternative energy research. There are some problems with the spending - too much is spent for gasoline substitution plans - without including alternatives to cars themselves. However, its a good start.

88) NO. This is a bad attempt to through a few pennies at schools while adding a huge layer of government regulation. This is another poor attempt to 'improve' open the problems of Proposition 13 that will only make matters worse. A better option would be to make it easier for people to vote themselves a local property tax increase for education, or reduce the 2% increase in assessed value.

89) NO. Campaign finance reform. A key problem is limits on the amount of money that minor party candidates can receive. This gives increased favoritism to major political parties at the expense of new ideas. Also raising the tax on businesses seems like an unfair way of doing it. (Why not close a few loopholes instead? Or add a tax specifically on media companies - who tend to benefit from political advertising.)

90) NO. This attempt to protect property rights could prove to be even worse than proposition 13. For one, it gives heirs to require property if it is no longer used for its original purpose. Thus if a school closes down, it could not be transformed in to a park without the risk of an heir claiming the right to the property (and being taxed as if it were their previous cherry farm.) Furthermore, it allows for compensation for damaged property, regardless of the cause, as well as jury trials for determining fair market value. Not only could this be expensive, it could be unfair with vastly different results. (However, some may be good - perhaps I could claim property was damaged by an extra freeway lane, or increased air pollution.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How traffic should be...

I was riding down Cascade, when I reached the stoplight at Hollenbeck. I waited there, and the sensor picked up my bike and gave me a green signal. I looked at the other street and the only vehicle that was stopped on Hollenbeck was another cyclist...

Last night, I was riding north down Sunnyvale Avenue. About half of the vehicles I saw were other bicyclists - all equiped with lights in front and back. (One behind me was exceptionally bright.)

(Alas, later on the trip back, most of the other cyclists were the 'hidden in the dark' types without lights.)

Bike traffic is peaceful, and pleasant. If only the focus were made on these wonderful vehicles.