Tag Archives: June primary

Hey Californians! Judicial Races Matter, Too

( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Lost in all the presidential primary news is the fact that California has another important primary coming up on June 3rd. Many of us are boning up on Prop 98 and 99 and understanding the importance of our votes on those measures.

But most of us are woefully unprepared for decisions in other contests, especially those for the office of Superior Court judge. And with turnout expected to be light, we could wind up with some very scary judges if people don’t pay attention and vote.

Normally judges are appointed by the governor, serve out their six-year terms and are then considered reelected if there are no challengers.  But this year, ten seats in LA County are open because the incumbents retired and Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t have enough time to appoint successors, or otherwise decided to leave the decision to voters. Similar situations exist throughout California.

If you’re like many people I know, you leave this part of the ballot blank and feel a bit guilty. Or worse, you pick one like some people pick a horse race, by a picture, the sound of their name (seriously)  – or even by a coin toss. Lest you think that the vote doesn’t matter, consider the role these people serve in our judicial system. As the Times notes, they can “dissolve a marriage, break up a family, impose the death penalty, appoint conservators and decide whether a drug user ought to go to prison or deserves a break”.

And if you still think your vote doesn’t matter, consider two very different candidates among the many running in Los Angeles County for these seats.

A Good One. Thomas Rubinson, running for Office 82, is endorsed by the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, LA’s daily for the courts and legal issues. The paper says he is “the only candidate for Superior Court Office No. 82 who possesses the qualifications for the post.” It goes on to quote from a recent performance evaluation in his role as criminal prosecutor: “He is experienced, intelligent and well versed in criminal law and procedure. He has demonstrated good judgment in his handling and evaluation of cases. Mr. Rubinson is a reliable and dependable employee, often staying beyond regular working hours to ensure that the job gets done. He maintains a professional manner and demeanor at all times and possesses the highest of ethical standards.”

A Scary One. On the other hand, Bill Johnson, running for Office 125, is the subject of a scathing LA Times editorial, which notes that “Los Angeles voters, if they don’t pay attention, could hand judicial robes to a racial separatist who called for restricting U.S. citizenship to persons ‘of the European race’ and deporting blacks, Asians, Latinos and others who don’t meet his racial criteria.” Calling it a “stealth election” the Times explains that he’s run for different offices under different names, and wrote a book supporting racial exclusion in the Constitution.

Would you have known this going into the polls? Absentee ballots are already going out. Make sure you’re registered to vote. Get your absentee ballot. Know about your candidates (one good local resource in LA is the Metropolitan News-Enterprise). And vote on June 3rd!

Share your insights on judicial candidates in comments below.  

Editorial: The Case Against Proposition G

(The Prop F/G debate is a really, really big deal in San Francisco. The Bayview Shipyard is a huge mess and something needs to be done about it. The question is whether Prop G is the best means of getting that done. The good folks at Beyond Chron think no. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Today, Beyond Chron comes out against Prop G – a local San Francisco measure on the June ballot to redevelop Bayview-Hunters Point.

On June 3, San Francisco voters will decide the future of the largest remaining undeveloped acreage remaining in the City. Although its location at the Hunters Point shipyard and alongside Bayview’s low-income minority community has long kept it out of sight and mind, this land is our last opportunity to remake the City’s waterfront a striking community that continues to meet our city’s needs.

Remarkably, almost all the information sent to voters has come from political consultants hired to sell this proposal. It comes in brochures with attractive drawings but very little else, with campaign costs already over $2 million and likely to set an all-time record for a San Francisco ballot measure.

San Francisco, the leader in so many areas, appears to be on the verge of giving birth to yet another first-of-a-kind: the stealth campaign to write public policy out of public view, through a ballot measure exclusively funded by the corporation anxious to seize a billion-dollar prize, and offered in language that wriggles, weasels, and walks away from all the promises it boasts.

Proposition G on San Francisco’s June ballot challenges the old rule that public policy should be done in public. Why is a major decision involving the transfer of public land and rezoning of a neighborhood ignoring public debate?

It’s not the cumbersome process of public participation that is the reason. It is the fear of facing questions in public about the details and how they will translate even good intentions into good public policy.

If such a stealth campaign can succeed without facing rigorous debate and discussion, it will become the way to operate in other San Francisco important decisions – and likely be copied as a new model in other cities with equally eager consultants and special interests.

In the case of this June’s ballot measure to convey hundreds of acres for free to the Lennar Corporation, there’s a reason why this needed to be a stealth campaign.

The actual details – and lack of details – would send alarm bells ringing for every voter. In fact, the measure is unprecedented in any major land use decision in our City’s recent history.

Claim: Voters are told that this measure will result in 8,500 to 10,000 units of new housing, with 25% of the units affordable for moderate to low-income buyers.

Fact: The real wording voters are asked to approve has no written agreement that requires 25 percent of the housing be affordable, or even that requires 8,500 to 10,000 new units of housing be built. It merely states “this Initiative encourages the development of new housing in the Project Site with a mix of rental and for-sale units, both affordable and market-rate.”

Claim: Voters are told that this measure will result in 8,000 permanent new jobs for San Francisco residents.

Fact: The real wording voters are asked to approve actually repeals an earlier written commitment for as much as 50 percent of the jobs to be targeted for San Francisco residents in building out this site. Instead, the language weakly states “this Initiative encourages and anticipates construction and permanent jobs for local economically disadvantaged residents, particularly in the Bayview, and a range of economic development opportunities, including retail and commercial space.”

Claim: Voters are told that this measure will result in new parks and open space.

Fact: The real wording voters are asked to approve will result in the loss of valuable waterfront parks and open space which now could be converted into commercial office space. The promised parks are actually replacements elsewhere of the lost parks and open space.

“This Initiative will permit the City’s park property at Candlestick Point, including land currently used for Monster Park and associated surface parking, to be transferred for development….At the same time, this Initiative requires that any park property transferred by the City be replaced with other public park and open space property of at least the same size in the Project Site….” As news accounts confirm, park of the “parks” to be built include an astro-turf like area of grass embedded into synthetic mesh to double as stadium parking.

Claim: Voters are told that there will be no new taxes required.

Fact: The real wording voters opens the way for General Fund dollars to be used and specifically taps into other city funds. The language states that this project should “minimize any adverse impact on the City’s General Fund relating to the development of the Project Site by relying to the extent feasible on the development to be self-sufficient.” Other provisions state that the Project will tap into the City’s Affordable Housing Fund, use tax allocation bonds, rely on the issuance of community facilities bonds, and tax exempt financing tools.

Claim: Voters are told that the new owner will pay to clean up toxics at this site.

Fact: The real wording voters are asked to approve calls for the cleanup to be paid from state and federal funds. It states “To the extent feasible, use state and federal funds to pay for environmental remediation on the Project Site and help pay for transportation and other infrastructure improvements, and provide ways for other development project outside the Project Site to pay their fair share for new infrastructure improvements.” In short, taxpayers will pay to clean up the site.

Finally, it then discards even these weak and watered down goals by asking voters to approve that “market changes” and “economic feasibility” could take back every provision put before the voters in this measure if the developer decides it won’t be profitable.

The language states “certain variables, including, for example and without limitation, market changes, economic feasibility and the timing of the 49ners departure from Monster Park,” that “the final development plan for the Project Site may be materially different from the Project and the boundaries of the Project Site may be materially different …”

This ballot measure actually repeals some of the hard-won provisions of the former Bayview Hunters Point plan, including its provisions to require

• a written commitment to provide an opportunity for 1,000 permanent jobs for recipients of general assistance who undergo a job training program,

• a written commitment for a good faith effort that 50 percent of the construction jobs go to residents of the Bayview Hunters Point South Bayshore community as well as 25 percent of the

permanent jobs,

• a written commitment that there be adequate labor union representation,

• a written commitment to adhere to the city’s administrative code including nondiscrimination based on domestic partner status,

• a written commitment to pay any shortfall in property taxes needed to pay tax allocation bonds as a result of reassessed property values (the new proposal also relies on tax allocation bonds but without this guarantee)

• height limits to protect the waterfront from being walled off from the city by inappropriate highrise developments

• and a city determination that the city will provide no more than twenty percent of the project construction.

Those provisions were written in the 1997 measure because of due diligence by the Board of Supervisors who demanded specific promises in writing. While it applied to a different proposal for this site, those standards ought to be upheld in this measure.

One thing alone explains how such empty promises were put on the ballot. It came from a closed door arrangement without any competitive bids from other developers, was written by the hand-picked developer, and has had none of the public hearings or consideration by the Board of Supervisors that are expected of any major City deal.

“We didn’t want to start over because we are on a remarkably quick timeline, so they were the right one,” Michael Cohen of the mayor’s staff explained to the Chronicle. The rationale was spelled out: the timeline was linked to ink a deal that could persuade the 49ners that San Francisco would provide the site for a world-class football stadium.

“We have a plan that we can finance — no surprises,” Newsom said in an interview. “I want to put pressure on the 49ers. I want to make it very difficult for them to leave our city,” Newsom said.

That may account for the fact that this measure has more devoted to a potential stadium than it does to such basic community needs as schools, health clinics and libraries in a new community with tens of thousands of residents – none of which are even mentioned in this proposed measure.

Contrast that with the City’s other major land deals – Mission Bay and Treasure Island – which were put out to competitive bid.

Mission Bay commits in writing to having 28 percent of the housing be affordable to moderate-low income residents.

Treasure Island commits in writing to having 30 percent of the housing be affordable to moderate-low income residents.

Under Prop G, Lennar makes no promises in writing. Instead, it only commits to “encourage” a 25 percent affordability standard. Anything more would be a “poison pill.”

The City rushed into this deal with Lennar without being fully appraised of the corporation’s fragile finances or of its record of broken promises.

Rushed is a mild description. The City announced its no-bid selection of Lennar on one day, and the next day Lennar announced that its earnings had dropped 73 percent in the first quarter of 2007.

In all, last year Lennar reported it lost $1.9 billion, its stock falling by two-thirds and plunging it into junk bond realm. It had to lay off 8,000 of its 14,000 employees, cancel 90 land-swap deals it signed with other communities, and recently had to deny financial media reports that it might be bought out by a United Arab Emirates investor group.

In this San Francisco ballot measure, there are no timetables for completing any housing, no default payments to the city if Lennar can’t deliver, and – worst of all – no provision to keep Lennar from selling San Francisco’s last remaining land for housing and jobs to another company that would have a guarantee in writing from the voters that it could ignore every single statement told to the voters in this campaign.

Lennar’s Troubled History:

Lennar’s record is that it repeatedly has been unable to uphold its end of the bargain. Lennar committed when it won the development rights for the first Bayview parcel that the result would be 700 units of affordable housing.

Before the first housing was even built, Lennar announced it couldn’t afford to keep its end of the deal. It cancelled all 400 affordable rental units it committed to build, insisting it needed the higher profits from selling homes. The only affordable units being built, 300 of them, are being paid for by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

Last month, Lennar was part of a Las Vegas consortium that got default notices in the mail for $765 million for a parcel there.

Three years ago, Orange County signed with Lennar for the former El Toro air base, in exchange for thousands of housing units and a major new public park. Now the housing hasn’t been built, the funds don’t exist for the park, and the community is trying to renegotiate its deal with Lennar.

One official there noted in the Los Angeles Times, “Some of us felt we needed a Plan B all along.” As the Times notes, “Now Lennar has started to rethink some of its promises.”

Recently Palm Springs called in an $8 million bond in its Lennar deal after the company halted progress on its commitments. As one city manager there told the local newspaper, “if Lennar does not perform, they either pay us the money or they perform the work.”

Vallejo’s Mare Island also is finding Lennar backtracking on its commitments, even asking city officials to use their offices to persuade state regulators to give Lennar an easy time in meeting state requirements.

And in the last week of April, a Lennar partnership to develop 15,000 acres of the former Newhall Ranch close to Los Angeles defaulted and appears ready to declare bankruptcy.

Morningstar, the eminent investment company, advised “with debt of about $2.3 billion spread among joint ventures employing recourse debt, Lennar could be on the hook for $917 million in the event of a total meltdown. On top of this, we’d expect significant legal wrangling if and when its other two large nonrecourse ventures sour.

Both Heritage Fields, its massive venture involving the El Toro military base, and Kyle Canyon, its large Las Vegas venture, employ nonrecourse debt. That said, it’s not unreasonable to assume the banks involved in the deals are doing all they can to make sure it’s as difficult as possible for Lennar to exit the ventures cleanly if it chooses to do so.”

The business sections of newspapers from Florida to Texas tell the same story: Lennar enters into an agreement for a land-swap that locks up valuable acreage in exchange for a promise to deliver affordable housing and public benefits, but then delays come, and to often, Lennar has walked away.

Bayview Hunters Point constitutes our City’s most marginalized community, yet sits aside some of the most valuable real estate remaining for development. Promises have been made, and promises have been broken.

Someone, somewhere, always had an idea. A homeport for a battleship would revive the industry, but the battleship went into the mothball fleet instead. A grand suburban-style shopping mall and new stadium would create jobs in an area with high unemployment, but the football team’s owners bickered with each other and the project stalled and died. Now one of the nation’s largest homebuilders sees an opportunity to bank hundreds of acres of prime real estate for free, with promises it has no obligation to keep.

There is no mystery about what ought to be done.

Bayview-Hunters Point needs more housing suitable for families with children, more affordable housing of all types, grocery stores and dry cleaners, schools and pre-schools, more open space and parks, health clinics and recreation and community centers. Community plans should also encourage small businesses, and particularly retain and enhance the artist community.

In short, it needs to become a new and valued San Francisco neighborhood that provides real opportunity in housing, jobs and a quality of life.

That kind of outcome requires hard work, community participation, solid financial planning, and enough guarantees to ensure that someone else’s dream doesn’t become San Francisco’s nightmare – worming its way into San Francisco’s future by stealth.

Competitive Democratic Races Could Defeat Prop 98

(Have you seen any other candidates come out against Prop 98? Let us know! – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

I wrote this for today’s BeyondChron.

With no presidential primary on the statewide ballot, voter turnout in June is expected to be abysmal.  Which means that Proposition 98 – the extreme right-wing measure to abolish rent control, basic tenant protections, environmental regulations and water laws – could actually pass.  But with term limits forcing many state legislators out of office, there will also be a number of competitive June primaries – creating the potential to drive up voter turnout in the state’s more progressive pockets.  If Democratic candidates for Assembly and State Senate make the defeat of Prop 98 a central part of their campaign, they could help it go down in flames.  Candidates who mobilize to defeat it would also benefit – as it will help them connect more strongly with the Democratic voters in their district.

“Prop 98 is a terrible initiative, and I will campaign against it loudly,” said Barbara Sprenger, who is running in the 27th State Assembly District (Santa Cruz and Monterey.)  By re-defining “private use” to include when a public agency takes over natural resources, Prop 98 threatens to undermine any public water project in the state.  “I’ve helped organize my community in opposing higher water rates from private water companies,” said Sprenger.  “Prop 98’s effect would be devastating.”

“I expect to have ‘No on 98’ on all my campaign literature,” said Kriss Worthington, who is running in the 14th State Assembly District.  “It seriously questions our environmental policies, and is a very blatant attack on affordable housing and rent control.”  As a current member of the Berkeley City Council, Worthington sponsored a resolution to have the City oppose it – and organized a press rally in November to draw some media attention.  He also will encourage voters to support Prop 99 – a competing measure that deals with eminent domain – as a “far more reasonable alternative.”

Sprenger and Worthington are both running in competitive races – in heavily Democratic districts where constituents are likely to oppose Prop 98.  But unless voters in these areas turn out, Prop 98 could pass statewide – so the burden is on local candidates to make its defeat a rallying cry.  “Prop 98 is horrible,” said Nancy Skinner – who’s running against Worthington in the 14th A.D. – “and it’s a worse poison pill than the last initiative [i.e., Prop 90] that we defeated.  I will have it in my campaign materials, and I will speak out against it at every opportunity.”  If competing candidates make a point of it when they boost their own campaign, they can ensure a healthy progressive turnout.

In San Francisco – where Mark Leno and Carole Migden are locked in a bitter race for the State Senate – the two candidates jointly appeared at a rally last November to defeat Prop 98.  I had previously written that having Leno and Migden run against each other could help progressive measures pass in San Francisco.  To defeat Prop 98, we’ll need similar efforts elsewhere.

Gina Papan and Richard Holober are running against each other in the 19th Assembly District (San Mateo County.)  Both oppose Prop 98, because it hamstrings the ability of local government to advance solutions.  “I believe that it goes way too far,” said Papan, who currently serves as Mayor of Millbrae.  “I will be working to help defeat it in my campaign.”  Holober’s campaign manager said that the candidate “doesn’t think that the state should dictate and tell localities what to do – and he opposes Prop 98.”

I spent much of last week calling many Democratic candidates throughout the state to see who would go on the record opposing Prop 98 – and whether they plan to make it a big part of their campaign.  Many were vague about how they expect to do so (most are just kicking off their campaign right now), but a few were happy to talk about how their background made it important to defeat Prop 98.

“I’m a renter myself,” said Anna Song, who’s running in a competitive race for the 22nd Assembly District in Santa Clara.  “It’s really important for renters to have a certain level of stability, and Prop 98 would take that away.”  Before running for public office, Song worked for Project Sentinel – a non-profit in the South Bay that assists tenants and low-income homeowners – so has encountered this issue first-hand.

A spokesman for Mariko Yamada – who’s running in the 8th Assembly District in West Sacramento – talked about the candidate’s firm commitment to rent control.  “She’s a social worker by training,” he said, “and is very sensitive to the needs of mobile home park residents in the district.  Gentrification has been pushing a lot of people out, and we’ve been working closely with grassroots organizers on these issues.”

Many of these candidates didn’t even know they were running until February 5th – when the defeat of Prop 93 termed out a lot of state legislators, opening up the chance for Democrats to run in the June primary.  As a result, a lot of them have been late in writing their campaign strategy – and some were even unsure about Prop 98 when I first brought it up.  “I need to get more educated first,” was a common response I got from a lot of them.

But now is the time to put them on record – while they’re still introducing themselves to their district – and ask them to campaign against Prop 98.  Because only with competitive races that generate a high Democratic turnout – and an emphasis on the devastating impacts of Prop 98 – will we ensure that affordable housing, environmental protection, rent control and water rights are protected in California.

And who knows?  Maybe we’ll get a more pro-tenant state legislature when it’s all over.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Before joining BeyondChron, Paul Hogarth lived in Berkeley for many years and worked for City Councilman Kriss Worthington.  He has endorsed Worthington’s run for the State Assembly, and donated $400 to his campaign.  He also supports Mark Leno’s run for the State Senate.

Let the Races Begin

In the aftermath of the failure of Prop 93 on Tuesday, most attention seemed to be focused on the leadership contests in Sacramento. But Prop 93’s failure has sparked a whole series of contests to replace outgoing lawmakers. With the June primary four months away, potential candidates are scrambling to get their names out there in the public eye, raise money, and rally supporters. These contests will help determine the future of the Democratic legislature and progressive politics in the state, and so it’s time we looked at some of these in greater detail.

Here in the Monterey Bay area, in AD-27, we’re faced with the task of replacing the incomparable John Laird, one of the most knowledgeable legislators on the budget and a strong progressive. The Yes on 93 campaign won Santa Cruz and Monterey counties with an effective “Yes on 93 – Keep John Laird” appeal, but it wasn’t enough. Laird’s future is uncertain – like the equally talented Fred Keeley, who represented the district before he was termed out in 2002, Laird does not live in SD-15, the long coastal state senate district currently represented by Republican Abel Maldonado. Most of us here would love Laird to move a few miles east and run in SD-15, one of the most winnable Senate districts in the state (Dems now have a lead in registration), but Laird has not announced his intentions.

Five candidates have declared for the Democratic primary here in AD-27. Emily Reilly is a member of the Santa Cruz City Council and last year served as the city’s mayor. She’s visited Calitics before – in December she wrote an excellent piece attacking the “design-build” concept that Arnold is so much in love with, and I personally support her in the race to replace Laird. She has strong progressive credentials on issues from health care to sustainability and climate change, and has also demonstrated significant fundraising prowess – she raised nearly $120,000 from over 300 small donors in Q4 2007, even before it was known whether she would actually be a candidate for AD-27 (she, like most in the race, promised to withdraw if Prop 93 passed).

Bill Monning is another experienced entrant into the race. Monning is a Monterey attorney, and has challenged for this seat before – in 1994 he was the Democratic nominee, but lost to Bruce McPherson in that year’s Republican tide. Monning, like Reilly, emphasizes his strong progressive credentials, and is especially interested in action on climate change. According to the Monterey Herald Monning has $60,000 in the bank, but plans to raise $480,000 for the primary.

Over the flip I discuss the other announced candidates for the seat…

Barbara Sprenger is an activist from Felton in Santa Cruz County, and like Reilly and Monning has a strong commitment to progressive ideas – her website explains her support of single-payer care, student loan reform, and green jobs. Sprenger also helped organize the town of Felton’s public buyout of a private company that had controlled their water supply. According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel she had already raised $60,000 as of early January.

Stephen Barkalow, a Monterey doctor, emphasizes the need for health care reform (though does not explicitly call for single-payer) as well as action on education, environment, and affordable housing.

Finally there is Doug Deitch, of Aptos in Santa Cruz County. He doesn’t have a website yet his website is here, but he is running as a one-issue candidate – focused on water. Deitch believes that the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency should have its state-delegated powers stripped because, in his eyes, the agency has given too much groundwater to farmers. Interestingly, Deitch was going to run in the primary even if Prop 93 had passed.

Overall it’s a strong field, and each one will be bringing a good set of progressive values to the campaign. Of course, with the state budget issue dominating all else in CA politics, and given that these candidates are vying to replace the legislature’s acknowledged budget genius, they’re going to need to explain to voters how they will help provide long-term revenue solutions to the budget, instead of going for short-term fixes and crippling spending cuts. My advice to the candidates is to take leadership on the budget, and show voters how that squares with the candidate’s other progressive positions.

That’s good advice for any Democrat running in the June primary, and I invite your comments on other races.