My thoughts on the California bond initiatives

Proposition 1B - Bond money for roads - No


First of all, I object to the amount of bonded indebtedness we've already incurred with exorbitant measures that have been pushed and passed at a bipartisan level.  The money isn't free.  The 20 billion the state would borrow for this measure will double in costs over the next 30 years.


Secondly, the money is ostensibly for congestion relief, but the bulk of the funds would go to road expansions which is temporary relief.  The expansions historically lead to more mass housing developments, which quickly fill up the roads again - or to quote my environmental law professor: "if you build it, they will come." Only a small portion of the funds go to public transportation, the only serious way to address traffic congestion.

The measure calls for an increase in debt higher than the other three bond measures combined (excluding proposition 84), yet it has all the support of alleged fiscal conservatives such as the California Tax Payers Association, and the usual tax posse types who are opposing all of the other measures are silent.  That's because unfettered automobile use is a sacrament in conservative politics.  We fight wars over it.   


Proposition 1C - Housing bonds - Yes, with reservations


Proposition 1C would issue just under 3 billion in bonds earmarked for housing development, with about half of it dedicated to low income housing, battered women's shelters, and shelter for homeless and farm workers - all well and good in my bleeding heart framework of priorities.


It's the other half that troubles me - it's dedicated to development of infrastructure for urban housing developments with no reference to income level of beneficiaries.  I'm concerned that the low income project provisions are window dressing for a measure that would otherwise receive little support. I don't know why certain communities should benefit from this while others don't as there's clearly not enough money to go around.  Also troubling is the pork-barrel aspect of this portion, though my concerns are somewhat mitigated by the auditing provision absent from other bond measures.  And the qualifying developments would mostly be designed to exploit existing public transportation, which presents a very good incentive to municipalities and private developers.


And it's the least costly of this year's bond measures.  The bonding process is specifically provided to build things, and that's what this measure does.


Proposition 1D - School bonds - Yes


Over 10 billion in bonds for new school buildings and upgrades.  Yes, it's a chunk of change, and yes, we've been passing similar measures, and yes though construction is underway in some communities it's not always visible to everybody.  But the schools have been neglected for so many years following Proposition 13 that many buildings remain unsafe and some unsanitary.  South Fork High School is a classic example.  With the buildings falling apart at the seems, you can't blame students for taking it as a message that they aren't a priority.  And while I'd like to see more oversight on the money, and more public examination of where the money is being spent, the fact is, if the bonds aren't sold the schools won't be built.  


I'm not certain I agree with the strict guidelines of this measure, which call for focus on projects specifically aimed at safety, small communities (hopefully SoHum would get something out of it), certain neglected career training areas, and energy efficiency (which could save the districts some money in the long run).  Again, these measures often prevent the legislature from doing its job.  But I suppose the provisions are designed to facilitate some confidence in the measure for voters wondering what's happened with the money they've already voted for.


In any case, education should be the top priority in state spending and again this type of measure is precisely why we have the power to sell bonds.   


Proposition 1E - Valley flood relief bonds - No


Katrina has developers flipping out.  They've been dropping sprawl on top of farm land now at an alarming rate for decades.  All along the way environmentalists and civil engineers have been harping on a number of points, including the flood dangers, but project after project after project was rubber stamped by state, county, and municipal governments who never met sprawl they didn't like.  It's continued unabated despite a few flooding incidents a decade ago.  Now all of the sudden they're worried that the sky might literally fall.


Despite a few bones thrown to other areas, the vast bulk of these 4 billion in bonds will go to the valleys.  And really, there's only so much they can do.  It's a valley.  The land is flat.  There are rivers running through it.  It's not the place to build large tracts of homes.


I'm sympathetic to the folk already living there, but my feeling is that the money should come out of the hides of developers.  How about some steep licensing and permit fees for future developments?  If it slows the spread of the sprawl and thus revenues, so much the better.  We can make up the difference in a bond initiative then.

Proposition 84

A bond initiative that was for some reason not included in the Prop 1 lettered subsections dedicated to the rest of the bond issues. This one would sell about 5 billion in bonds to preserve wetlands and water sources in parks and wilderness areas. It also dedicates money for protection of drinking water and some flood protection (not sure if it overlaps with prop 1E, but I won't hold that against the proposal). It also dedicates some money to integrated regional water management, which could potentially have some positive impact on the Eel River diversion controversy. On this latter point, I'm not positive as to the authority the plans would have over county policies when pols like John Pinches start talking about source county rights (even though the Eel River actually originates in Lake County rather than Mendo), but at least it would provide a forum if not a mechanism to raise the issue. The wording is as follows:


   

75026. (a) The sum of one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) shall be available to the department for grants for projects that assist local public agencies to meet the long term water needs of the state including the delivery of safe drinking water and the protection of water quality and the environment. Eligible projects must implement integrated regional water management plans that meet the requirements of this section. Integrated regional water management plans shall identify and address the major water related objectives and confl icts within the region, consider all of the resource management strategies identifi ed in the California Water Plan, and use an integrated, multi-benefit approach to project selection and design. Plans shall include performance measures and monitoring to document progress toward meeting plan objectives. Projects that may be funded pursuant to this section must be consistent with an adopted integrated regional water management plan or its functional equivalent as defined in the department's Integrated Regional Water Management Guidelines, must provide multiple benefi ts, and must include one or more of the following project elements...


If I hadn't made up my mind before I read the following passage from the opposition argument in the ballot pamphlet, it would have ensured a yes vote on principle.


   

The authors set aside billions for bureaucratic studies, unnecessary protections for rats and weeds, and other frivolous projects, but they couldn't find a single penny to build freshwater storage for our state's growing population.


In other words, they fault the measure for protecting the water instead of prioritizing reckless development. It reminds me of the anti-environmentalist parlance on the logging front about putting owls before people. I didn't appreciate it then, and I don't appreciate it now.


Meanwhile someone posting on my blog tells me that the measure is part of a secret farmer plot to keep all the water in valley at the expense of fishermen and fish. He or she neglected to provide any detail or suggest any readings on the topic. But I suppose I'll change my mind if someone can make that case.


In the meantime, I'll be planning to vote with the Nature Conservancy, California Audubon Society, Save the Redwoods League, Peninsula Open Space Trust, and Big Sur Land Trust in favor of the proposal.

Tags: battered womens' shelters, bond debt, bonded indebtedness, bonds, California, CalTrans, Education, Election, environmentalists, farmers, farming, highways, homeless, housing, katrina, mass transit, pork barrel, public transportation, schools, slow growth, sprawl, water politics (all tags)

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