Opinion: The Post’s recommendations on the 12 ballot propositions and Measure RR

RR — Reverse Robinhood tax

Measure RR — No. This is a new one-eighth-of-a-cent sales tax that would last 30 years to fund Caltrain.

The letters RR, in our opinion, stand for Reverse Robinhood because this tax steals from the poor and gives to the rich.

Sales taxes are regressive. Poorer people pay a larger percentage of their disposable income on sales taxes than the rich. On the other hand, Caltrain riders are the wealthiest of public transit users in the Bay Area. Caltrain’s own fare study shows that 60% of its riders make over $100,000 and 23% over $200,000. Instead of taxing the poor, Caltrain should either raise fares or tax large employers who benefit from the commuter railroad.

The tax itself is an attempt by Caltrain to escape accountability. Caltrain’s board is appointed by officials in San Mateo County even though the railroad also serves Santa Clara and San Francisco counties. In fact, the CEO of Caltrain — currently former Redwood City politician Jim Hartnett — is hired and fired by the SamTrans board, which has no connection to the other two counties either.

Most of Caltrain’s money comes from fares. But Caltrain typically needs another $20 million to $30 million every year to balance its budget. So Hartnett goes hat-in-hand to transit agencies in the three counties for funds to balance the budget. That’s the only time Santa Clara and San Francisco counties can exercise any control over Caltrain.

If RR is approved, Caltrain can stop asking the other two counties for money, avoiding any oversight. RR is a blank check — $108 million a year with no oversight.

After Caltrain replaces the $20 million to $30 million it gets from the three counties, what would it do with the remaining $78 million to $88 million from the tax?

Caltrain has made no binding commitments for how it will spend the windfall. They’re saying in so many words “trust us.”

If you don’t like how Caltrain spends it, tough luck. Nobody is directly elected to Caltrain’s board.

How does Caltrain spend its funds now? Hartnett’s pay and benefits for running Caltrain and SamTrans hit $462,936 in 2018, according to the nonpartisan public compensation website Transparent California. Not bad for a guy with no transportation management experience who didn’t even meet the qualifications of his job when he was hired.

Finally, this tax comes at a terrible time. The Covid lockdown recession has thrown tens of thousands of Peninsula residents out of their jobs. A shocking number of businesses have permanently closed. And despite all that, Caltrain hasn’t laid off one single employee. Yet Caltrain wants to raise your taxes.

The lockdown commercials say, “We’re all in this together.” Except for Caltrain.

To get your vote, Caltrain is threatening to close the railroad if RR isn’t approved. They’re bluffing, of course, because the last thing they want to do is give up their own paychecks. It’s a desperate scare tactic. If they’re going to pull stunts like that, why would you ever trust them with more money by approving this tax?

(Yes, we know Robin Hood is two words. You grammar cops, give us a break!)

Prop. 14 wastes money

Prop. 14 — No. It authorizes the sale of $5.5 billion in bonds for the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, now that the agency has exhausted the original $3 billion it got from taxpayers 16 years ago.

The original purpose of the agency known as CRIM was to fund fetal stem cell research because President Bush had prohibited such research on religious grounds. In 2009, that prohibition ended, and the purpose of this agency went away. But that didn’t stop CRIM. With the original $3 billion approved by voters in 2004, CRIM gambled on research that led to two cancer drugs and a few therapies, but no breakthroughs.

Despite this dismal record, CRIM is asking for more money. If Prop. 14 is approved, the state will have to make debt payments of at least $310 million for 25 years.

If CRIM had been run properly, it would have financed research that would be paying dividends today, and there wouldn’t be any need to go to the voters for more money.

We recommend a “no” vote on Prop. 14. The state has better uses for this $310 million over the next quarter century.

Save local retailers

Prop. 15 — No. This proposition repeals a portion of the landmark Prop. 13 from 1978 that saved property owners from unlimited tax increases. Prop 15 eliminates these protections for business properties worth more than $3 million.

Promoters say they’re just taxing big corporations to pay for schools. But many small businesses have “triple net” leases that require them to pay the rent plus utilities, insurance and all other costs including property taxes.

So Prop. 15 will hit the corner deli, neighborhood dry cleaner and mom-and-pop grocery with a stiff tax increase. This will crush the small businesses who managed to survive the Covid lockdown. If you care about preserving neighborhood retail, you’ll vote “no” on Prop. 15.

Don’t legalize race bias in admissions, hiring

Prop. 16 — No. Dr. Martin Luther King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech that he wished for a society that didn’t judge people by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

The proponents of Prop. 16 forgot King’s speech.

Prop. 16 would allow the state to use race and sex in hiring decisions, awarding contracts and college admissions.

Prop. 16 would repeal Prop. 209, a 1996 state constitutional amendment approved by 55% of voters, that forced the state into making color-blind decisions based solely on merit.

If Prop. 16 passes, thousands of Asian-American and white students would be turned down for admission by the UC and CSU schools because enrollment would be decided by racial quotas.

Bringing back racial discrimination isn’t the way to end racial discrimination. We need to spend more money improving the education of African-Americans and Latinos so that they can compete with Asian and white students.

All Prop. 16 will accomplish is further dividing California by race.

Finish your sentence first

Prop. 17 — No. Prop. 17 grants violent criminals — murderers, rapists and child molesters — the ability to vote before completing their sentence when they’re released on parole. Yet parole is part of a criminal sentence. They shouldn’t get this right back until they’ve completed the entire sentence, including parole. This would deny justice to crime victims.

17’s too young to vote

Prop. 18 — No. Prop. 18 lets 17-year-olds vote in a primary if they’re going to be 18 by the general election. The law prohibits 17-year-olds from smoking and drinking because the logic and reasoning portions of their brains aren’t fully developed.

Moreover, a young person living at home doesn’t have the same responsibilities as an adult who is trying to put food on the table, pay the rent and a car payment, so they have a different perspective. The adult, with adult responsibilities, shouldn’t have their vote canceled out by a kid.

Let’s have 17-year-olds hold energetic, rollicking mock elections at school. But vote “no” on Prop. 18.

Fairness for seniors

Prop. 19 — Yes. This would allow homeowners who are over 55, severely disabled or whose property has been damaged by a wildfire or other disaster to keep their lower property tax assessment if they buy a home anywhere else in the state. This will free up many mid-Peninsula homes that are owned by older homeowners who won’t move because they can’t afford the taxes on a new home elsewhere.

Eligible homeowners would also be able to use Prop. 19 to move to a more expensive home. Their property tax bill would go up but not as much as it would be for other homebuyers.

The proposition would require that inherited homes that are not used as principal residences, such as second homes or rentals, be reassessed at market value when transferred.

Overall, this proposition should put more homes on the market locally, a step toward solving the region’s housing affordability crisis. We strongly recommend a “yes” vote on Prop. 19.

Commonsense reform

Prop. 20 — Yes. This proposition cleans up some of the unintended consequences of previous propositions 47 and 57.

Prop. 47 made all thefts under $950 a misdemeanor no matter how many times a person is convicted of stealing. This led to an explosion of theft and billions of dollars in losses to retailers, a cost passed on to consumers. Prop. 20 will allow felony charges against a third-time offender. And it would let DAs charge a felony if the total value of multiple thefts by a serial thief or organized theft ring was over $950.

Voters were told when they passed Prop. 57 that it would allow for the early release of “non-violent offenders.” But the following crimes were considered “non-violent” under 57: Solicitation to commit murder, kidnapping a child to sell them as a sex slave, assaulting and injuring a transgender or homosexual person as a hate crime, shooting at or stabbing a firefighter, bombing a church or mosque, rape of a developmentally disabled person, and domestic violence causing injury. And we could give other examples.

Prop. 20 would define these crimes as “violent,” making those who commit them ineligible for early release. Prop. 20 doesn’t make sentences any longer or eliminate “good time” provisions that allow them to serve about half their sentence. It simply says they’re not eligible to be released extra early.

These are commonsense reforms that will reduce crime and make our communities safe. We recommend a “yes” vote on Prop. 20.

Bad proposition returns

Prop. 21 — No. If you get a sense of deju vu, it’s because Prop. 21 a watered down version of a rent control proposition two years ago that Californians rejected with a 59% vote. The problem then and now is that this measure won’t create any more housing, and it will cause landlords to pull homes off the market and use the real estate for more profitable purposes. Prop. 21 makes it less likely that investors will fund housing developments.

Moreover, Prop. 21 isn’t necessary since Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a statewide “rent caps” bill (that’s the tricksters’ way of saying “rent control”) that limits rent increases to 5% plus inflation or 10%, which ever is lower.

Save gig workers

Prop. 22 — Yes. A “yes” vote eliminates a portion of Assembly Bill 5 that outlawed certain types of independent contractors, such as drivers for Uber, Lyft and Doordash. Drivers who take these “gig economy” jobs decide when, where and how much they’ll work.

Not surprisingly, a survey finds that four out of five like the flexibility.

The unions, which sponsored AB5, say these workers must have benefits and protections that are given to employees. But these independent contractors are free to quit Uber, Lyft or Doordash any time they wish and get full-time, benefit-paying jobs. It’s their choice. The unions want to take away that choice. If the unions succeed, not only will hundreds of thousands of workers lose their gig jobs, but consumers will face longer wait times, higher prices and the permanent shutdown of services in many areas. Vote “yes” and save the gig economy jobs.

A union power play

Prop. 23 — No. This proposal to force unnecessary and expensive regulation on dialysis clinics was rejected by voters two years ago. This is an attempt by a union, SEIU-UHW West, to force clinic owners to submit to its demands. If Prop. 23 were to pass, many clinics would close, threatening the lives of 80,000 patients. In 2018, 59.9% of voters rejected this measure. In 2020, voters should reject it again.

Beware, this is a trick

Prop. 24 — No. This proposition is the kind of trick Roger Stone would pull. Make people think they’re voting for one thing when they’re really getting something entirely different.

Prop. 24 is being sold to the public as a consumer protection measure that would expand privacy rights and crack down on those unethical tech companies.

But wait a minute. The ACLU is against Prop. 24, saying it would actually hurt consumers.

“Overall, it is a step backward for privacy in California,” said Jacob Snow, a technology and civil liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. He argues Prop. 24 would make it easier for businesses to charge customers higher prices — or “pay for privacy” — if they refuse the collection of their data, or downgrade services for those who don’t pay the fee, which could hurt low-income communities and those who can’t pay to protect themselves.

“That’s not how privacy should work. It should not be a luxury that only rich people can afford,” he said.

It turns out that Prop. 24 was written behind closed doors with assistance from the tech giants who it is supposed to regulate, and the measure’s sponsor rejected almost every suggestion from 11 major privacy and consumer rights groups.

As a result, if Californians are dumb enough to pass 24, it will increase the ability of tech companies to invade the privacy of workers and consumers.

Prop. 24 is a trick — vote “no.”

Don’t eliminate bail

Prop. 25 — No. This is a confusing proposition.

A “yes” vote means no one would pay bail to be released from jail before trial. Instead, arrestees would be released automatically or based on what a computer says is their risk of committing another crime or not appearing in court.

A “no” vote would go back to the old system, where people arrested for minor crimes would be released without bail, and those accused of more serious crimes would have to post a cash bail, the amount of which would be determined by the severity of the crime.

We recommend a “no” vote because we don’t think a computer algorithm will fairly determine who should be released on bail. The algorithm will reflect the biases of those who created it.

“Prop. 25 will be even more discriminatory against African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities,” said Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the NAACP. “Computer models may be good for recommending songs and movies, but using these profiling methods to decide who gets released from jail or who gets a loan has been proven to hurt communities of color.”

During the pandemic, the state Judicial Council forced jails to switch to zero bail for many offenses, putting criminals back on the street. The result was predictable — a sharp increase in repeat offenses by suspects who were ticketed and released. In less than 90 days, the Judicial Council rescinded its order.

The zero bail experiment was an embarrassing failure. Yet it still remains on the ballot for some reason. Vote “no” on Prop. 25.

13 Comments

  1. Instead of a Caltrain tax, raise the fares to cover the ENTIRE cost of running this railroad. Why charge those of us who don’t use Caltrain in order to bail out this bloated bureaucracy that is operating technology out of the 1850s?

    • Even though you don’t ride Caltrain, you benefit from the reduced congestion on the freeways and reduction of greenhouse gases. Especially since Caltrain will be using electric powered trains.

    • Caltrain has been modernizing its system with electrification, meaning faster and more clean trains. Also people riding the train means less cars on the roads and less pollution. I do not think 1/8th of a cent sales tax is going to be that noticeable. That’s one penny for $8. I don’t think anyone notices that. Many people need to ride the train. They could be low income, they don’t have cars, they could be disabled etc. This measure is for the good of the whole.

  2. Thank you for you’re “no” recommendation on Prop 15. This will drive many businesses, including my own, under water. And what a horrible time to raise taxes. The legislators in this state are insane.

  3. If you read the “Argument in Favor of Measure RR” in the Voter Information Guide, you’ll know right away that the Caltrain officials are lying. It says passage of RR will “make Caltrain more affordable and accessible”? They’re never going to bring down fares, and improving accessibility would mean bringing back stations they’ve eliminated like Atherton. That’s never going to happen.

    They say this will “increase rider and pedestrian safety”. Rider safety is already in grave danger by Caltrain’s foot-dragging on installing Positive Train Control (PTC), a system that stops disasters such as derailments. They’ve let that slip past one deadline after another, as if safety isn’t a priority. As for pedestrian safety, how do they accomplish that except without grade separations. But there’s no money in this tax for grade separations. Caltrain is forcing the cities to pay for them.

    At some point, Caltrain needs to be held accountable for the lies it tells the public. I’m holding them accountable by voting NO on RR.

    • The rest of us still need to ride the trains. We may be essential workers, may be lower income, may not have cars, may be disabled, etc etc. People have ridden the trains to go to sports events, so when they return, the trains will be very important. It’s for the greater good of everyone that we need to maintain this peninsula transportation!

  4. Vote NO on prop 19. This is for and by realtors. Even if they use it as a primary residence, retired people who inherit their family home as planned for for decades will now be forced to sell since the jump in taxes can be 10’s of thousands more per year than planned. This only generates realtor commissions by forcing people out of family homes and forcing communities to unexpectedly accept low tax rates from other counties. Some elements are good, but this prop is a confusing mess on purpose to hide the damage it will do to the middle class. Vote NO on 19.

  5. Re Measure RR, you have it wrong. The Caltrain board is made of 3 people from each of the 3 counties. And alot of people who ride the train are low income, without cars, may be disabled, etc. They need the train. Re the 1/8th of a sales tax, If I understand that correctly, it means paying a penny extra in tax for every $8 spent. No one is even going to notice that!!! So no, it’s not an issue of being a regressive tax. You should be advocating YES on Measure RR to keep the train running for everyone who needs it, for the continuation of the electrification of the system which will help it run cleaner and faster, for the equity programs that Caltrain plans to add, TO KEEP THE CARS OFF THE ROADS AND REDUCE POLLUTION – come on, this is a green proposition. PLEASE REVERSE YOUR STANCE AND SAY YES ON MEASURE RR. I am a former Palo Altan.

  6. I’m low income and I’ve been riding Caltrain for almost 50 years. I can’t afford a car and without Caltrain I’d be forced to take a bus. It would take 2 hours at least on a bus but would be only 25 minutes on Caltrain. Please vote yes on RR. There are a lot more financially poor people that depend on Caltrain. I couldn’t imagine life without it. What would replace it?

  7. Oh pleeeze! Caltrain always threatens to close if it doesn’t get what it wants. If we reject RR, they’ll have to continue the current system of funding, where they get help from the three counties. There’s no need for this tax, especially at a time like now when the unemployment rate is so high.

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