Tuesday, May 17, 2022

#137 / A Gary Patton Voting Guide

This edition of We Live In A Political World is most relevant to voters in the City of Santa Cruz, and perhaps also to voters in the County of Santa Cruz, since I am focusing mainly on key ballot measures on the City ballot, while also providing my recommendations on candidates and ballot measures that are on the Santa Cruz County ballot.
Every registered voter should have received a mail ballot by now, so if you are registered to vote, you can vote by mail at any time, up to and including "Election Day," Tuesday, June 7, 2022. If you are not registered to vote, and want to vote by mail, you can register up until May 23, 2022. For in-person voting, you can register up to and including "Election Day" itself. Click that link, above, for information on the key deadlines related to the current election.

One very significant and important measure before voters in the City of Santa Cruz is Measure E, which would change the current "at-large" system for electing members of the Santa Cruz City Council, replacing the current "at large" system with a "district" system, with six districts and an at-large, elected mayor. 

The Santa Cruz Sentinel is recommending a "Yes" vote on Measure E, which appears on the June 7, 2022, ballot. I am strongly recommending a "NO" vote. 
The most important part of Measure E, in my opinion, is not whether or not we should have a district system with six separate Council districts, plus an at-large elected mayor (which is what a "Yes" vote on Measure E is purportedly going to get you), or whether we should have a district system with seven separate Council districts, with the Mayor then being selected by Council Members from among their own number. This is, purportedly, what a "No" vote will get you. 
What is most important is whether or not voters should authorize a "district" system to elect City Council Members in the first place. Currently, we have an "at large" system, specified in the City Charter, that says that all voters in the city will get to vote for all members of the City Council
As one of my friends recently told me, agreeing with me that the proposed "district" system is vastly inferior to our current "at large" Council election system: "DO THE MATH." 

Under our current "at large" system, all members of the City Council must "care about" every voter in the City. Every voter in the City gets to vote for or against every City Council Member. If our current "at large" system is replaced with a "district" system, then City Council members will only have to "care about" the voters within the Council Member's designated district. 

Just as my friend told me, "DO THE MATH!" As a City voter, would you rather have seven Council Members who would have to care about your opinion, and take your opinion seriously, or would you rather exchange the SEVEN Council Members currently in that position for ONE Council Member? If the voters change the current "at large" election system to a "district" election system, every voter in the City of Santa Cruz will lose their electoral control and authority over six out of the seven Council Members. 
If you live on the Eastside of the City, as I do, where high-density, high-rise developments are being proposed along the major transportation corridors, it would be nice to have EVERY member of the City Council care about the neighborhood impacts of this kind of development. If you live on the Westside, where oversize vehicle parking has been a problem (to pick one example), would you prefer to have ONE Council Member sensitive to your concerns, or would you prefer to have SEVEN Council Members who would take your concerns seriously?

DO THE MATH! If you do the math, and if you agree with me that the current proposal to move to "district" elections will dilute your voting power, then you should vote "NO" on Measure E.
The "problem" with voting "No" on Measure E is that voters are being told that a "No" vote on Measure E will not defeat the proposed change to a "district" election system, because (per the Sentinel) "that decision has already been made." Do you remember voting on that? No, you don't remember voting on that because you didn't get to! The City Council presumed that it could make that decision itself, even though our current "at large" system of electing Council Members is clearly specified in Section 601 the City Charter, and the City Charter, as the "constitution" for our city government, can only be changed by city voters. 

How this all happened is complicated, and, unfortunately, it looks like a legal challenge is going to be necessary, since the Council has not stood up for city voters, but has usurped what ought to be the voters' decision. I have written a couple of letters to the City Council (ignored and never answered) raising the legal problems with what the Council is attempting to do. Click this link if you'd like to read one of my letters, and get into some of the legal arguments.

In the end, the most important thing - if you agree with my "Do The Math" analysis - is simply to Vote "NO" on Measure E. 

Measure F on the City ballot proposes an increased sales tax. I recommend a "NO" Vote. Sales tax increases are "regressive," meaning that they fall disproportionately on poorer residents, which is one good reason for a "No" vote. The way the City Council has campaigned for this proposed tax increase - wanting voters to give it more money to spend, for whatever the Council wants to spend that money on - is another good reason to turn down the proposal. I have already outlined my concerns in an earlier edition of this blog
There are lots of candidates and ballot measures on the "County" part of our June 7th election ballot. Here is a quick summary of my recommendations, followed by a few additional comments about the Third District Supervisor race and about Measure D:

I don't think it is unfair for me to claim to have at least a little bit of "expertise" about the Third District County Supervisor race. I did, after all, serve in that office for twenty years, having been elected five times. If readers want to see what I think makes a good Supervisor, please check out the "Five Rules" I followed as a member of the Board. I do know Justin Cummings personally, and he follows the same rules - and he has been "tested in action," having served as Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz during the Black Lives Matter protests, the CZU fires, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Others running for the office lack significant experience demonstrating their ability to provide governmental leadership. I think the opposite is true for Justin, and that his campaign motto, "Bringing Us Together / Getting Things Done," is validated by his record. I was pretty wowed, in fact, when I was at a campaign event, and the person who introduced Justin to the crowd, owner of a local restaurant, said (and this is a direct quote), "after the pandemic, Justin saved my business."
The fact that Justin is campaigning as a "Climate Scientist / Climate Activist / Climate Leader" confirms my belief that he well understands what will be our biggest challenge moving forward. Most importantly, Justin follows my Rule #2. He sees himself as being in charge of the bureaucracy, and doesn't just rubber stamp what the bureaucrats propose. 
One of his opponents, who also serves on the City Council, had previously told the neighbors opposing the infamous 831 Water Street project that she would respond to their very valid concerns about health, noise, and traffic safety issues. Initially, she did, but then she turned around at the last moment, doing what "the staff" told her to do, and ending up as the swing vote in favor of a really bad development. This is the same Council Member who quite recently attended a meeting of a pro-development group, apparently violating the Brown Act by appearing at the meeting with three other members of the Council, and discussed with the group how to avoid the County's campaign contribution limitation ordinance. Those actions were, in my opinion, serious - and in fact outrageous - violations of the law
As far as I am concerned, Justin Cummings is far and away the best choice for Third District voters. He is a very serious person, and he is a hard worker. He is not the "prima donna" type, or the "entitled" type, and doesn't give the impression that he considers himself to be some kind of "cut above" the ordinary voter. It would be hard to overstate how important it is that Justin be elected to serve as the Third District Supervisor on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. 

It would also be hard for me to overstate my opposition to Measure D, which would strip out all references in the County General Plan that indicate that the County should attempt to make rail transportation work on the existing Watsonville to Santa Cruz to Davenport to Roaring Camp train track. My idea of politics is that we should be trying to achieve what we think is best, not giving up and capitulating because something is hard, and because we have no guarantees we can do what we would like to do. There will be a "trail," for pedestrians and bicyclists, no matter what the voters do on Measure D, though a "Yes" vote will delay trail construction. The key issue is whether we want to preserve the option for rail transportation on the right of way. I say that the answer is that we do want to preserve the rail option, so it's "NO on D" for me!
No one can claim that we "will" be able to restore a viable and effective train service on our rail corridor. I, for one, however, would like to see Santa Cruz County government continue to try to make that happen. If you, also, would like to see that happen, then "NO on D" is the right vote for you. 

Image Credit:
Gary A. Patton

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