By Sharon Byrne
California offers ballot initiatives as a route to direct democracy, and it is one of the things I both love and hate about this state. I love it because it gives voters a chance to enact legislation should their legislators prove too squeamish or self-interested to do their jobs. I am thinking of 2010’s Prop 20 to redraw state and congressional district lines using a non-partisan citizens’ commission, as that exercise was counter to sitting elected officials’ interest in being able to pick their voters and thus stay elected.
On the flip side, ballot initiatives can be complicated, heavy-handed, and deceptive. Prop 63 in 2004 promised acute care for the most severely mentally ill. Billions of dollars later, it’s funding conferences and glossy brochures, while mentally ill homeless individuals roam the streets. The Compassionate Use Act fooled many Californians into thinking they were allowing dying cancer patients to use marijuana for pain relief. They had no idea they were passing a toe-hold to drug legalization.
So I hesitate with ballot initiatives. I want to know who’s funding them, who wrote them, where they came from and what they really do. Succinct information is surprisingly hard to come by. We get deluged with hyperbole by the “yes” and “no” camps, but it is a hard sell to the average voter to make a careful, thoughtful analysis that takes in all the nuances on a given initiative. If facing multiple ballot initiatives…well, it might be easier mentally to just throw in the towel.
This election, we have a couple of initiatives that sound great, but give pause – S and P. Let’s deal with S first.
Full disclosure: I am the parent of a child that attends SBCC as a dual-enrollment student through the Santa Barbara High School. My daughter has taken classes at SBCC since the 8th grade. I am a huge fan of that program. I live next door to an SBCC student, and another lives behind me. These 3 kids grew up here.
Over the past 4 years, longtime Latino families have moved out of this neighborhood as rents have risen. Those homes now host SBCC kids, and I’ve met several of them over time. Late-nite parties have necessitated those meetings. These kids are all Euros or Brazilians. I often hear German, French, Portuguese and Swedish spoken on a street that used to host mostly Spanish speakers.
Someone posted photos on the Santa Barbara View recently of all the foreign co-eds now living in the lower Westside, another neighborhood that used to be dominated by Latino families.
I’ve heard the official numbers for foreign enrollment at SBCC, but it doesn’t jive with what I see in the community. And the rental squeeze is definitely on. These kids are living 8-10 to a house that formerly housed 8-10 Spanish-speakers, but I guess the college kids pay much higher dollar.
When SBCC proposed Measure S, I internally balked before I’d even heard much about it. The fallout from Deltopia, the takeover of parts of downtown causing the rental squeeze, the partying, trashing and dumping in neighborhoods by SBCC students – things are seriously out of balance between SBCC and the community. Forcing homeowners to pay the school more money to serve an increasingly foreign population – no. I particularly don’t like the college’s answer for the problems of poor student treatment of neighborhoods:
“Once they’re off campus, they’re not our responsibility.”
Not so. Many college towns in this country have successfully pushed campus administrations to significantly improve student behavior in the community. That’s responsible citizenship, and college administrations should be first in line to demonstrate that quality. After all, they’re educating our future citizenry.
As it stands, I don’t feel there’s enough ‘city’ focus at SBCC, so I won’t be voting for S.
Measure P has a similar hesitation factor for me. Fracking Ban? Sign me up. That was easy. There’s simply too much data now about fracking harms that you ought to be very wary when it turns up at your doorstep. But Measure P keeps getting undressed as a huge overreach. The county liability factor with vested rights and existing wells just keeps swirling. This seems to be a Get Oil Out Initiative, which is fine. Just say that’s what you’re up to. Don’t dress it up as one thing, when what you want to do is something else entirely. For many in the campaign industry, that’s good business. Say whatever you have to in order to get the win. Secure the toe-hold. Push for as much as you can. Initiatives are time-consuming and expensive for those wagering them. So initiatives like these ‘aim for the moon’.
For the voters, though, the feeling of being duped leaves a very sour taste, and diminishes our willingness to embrace future ballot initiatives, good and bad. Ultimately yesterday and today’s ballot initiative proponents are screwing future proponents by generating increasing voter scrutiny and distrust, so overreach and masking is really not smart long-term politics. It just makes it easier for voters to say no.