As with every election before it, the 2020 election is the most important in California’s history. Thanks to California’s legislative profligacy and relatively low signature threshold for ballot measures, there are twelve propositions on the ballot this year for voter approval, on issues ranging from state constitutional amendments to legislative changes and the issuing of new state debt. The following voter guide neither claims to be non-partisan nor wholly reflects the positions of any major political party; the editorial board of The California Review has, to the best of its imperfect judgement, explained each proposition and why it is supporting or opposing each measure.
No: Propositions 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, and 25
Yes: Propositions 22 and 24
Proposition 14: No
A “yes” vote on “Authorizes Bonds Continuing Stem Cell Research” would require the state to take on $5.5 billion in debt for the state of California to fund additional stem cell research, with no guidelines on how long this grant pool would last; the previous program spent $3 billion over 14 years, with $3 billion in interest bringing total program costs to $6 billion. Including interest, this new program would cost taxpayers $7.8 billion.
14 years ago, after the federal government placed limits on stem cell research (SCR) funding, California issued $3 billion in debt to fill in the gap left by federal cuts to SCR, with promises that this research would result in new therapies that would generate billions upon billions of dollars in revenue for the state. With federal restrictions having been lifted in 2009, and federal SCR funding passing $5.4 billion in 2020, California’s resources are no longer required to make up for lost federal funds. To make matters worse, a 2018 analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle found original $3 billion SCR project to have been an abject failure, stating that “the predicted financial windfall has not materialized” and that barely any resulting therapies were ever approved by federal health agencies—issuing an additional $7.8 billion in debt to supplement already federally well-endowed research during an economic downturn when most are struggling to get by is ill-advised. With major support and funding coming from research organizations and universities that profit handsomely from SCR grants regardless of whether or not grant-supported projects are a success—and stand to gain billions from state-subsidized research when they are—Proposition 14 is a horrendous deal for taxpayers but a guaranteed self-enrichment scheme for some of the most powerful interest groups in our state; vote “no” on Proposition 14 to prevent the egregious waste of taxpayer funds.
Proposition 15: No
A “yes” vote on “Increases Funding Sources for Public Schools, Community Colleges, and Local Government Services by Changing Tax Assessment of Commercial and Industrial Property” would eliminate Proposition 13 protections for commercial and industrial properties, causing their property taxes to reflect current market value, not purchase price plus 2% per year (as it stands now for all property in California). The $12.5 billion in estimated additional annual revenue would then be directed to the state’s general fund to reimburse the state for reductions in tax revenue from property tax deductions, and to counties for administering the new tax regime; of any remaining money, 60% is earmarked for counties and special districts, with just 40% of funds potentially left over after accounting for billions of dollars in property tax deductions actually going to community colleges and K-12 state-funded schools. It is worth noting that even if there is no money left over for schools, the proposition does require that annual spending per student increase by $100 at the very minimum, with this increase coming from the general fund. For reference, it is estimated that California public schools spend $20,642 per K-12 pupil.
California has a cost of living higher than every state but Hawaii, a densely-populated archipelago thousands of miles away from the nearest continent, and the highest cost of doing business in the country. Proposition 15 will further contribute to spiraling costs of living and doing business by markedly increasing property taxes on commercial property. Proponents suggest that excluding businesses with less than $3 million in property from the new tax burden will somehow spare small businesses; what they fail to account for is that most small businesses do not own their own property and instead lease from commercial property firms that most certainly will pass on the new tax to their tenants. These tenants, in turn, must make ends meet by charging higher prices and/or cutting costs by letting staff go, outcomes that will have dire cascading effects throughout a state already reeling from pandemic-induced lockdowns. This additional pressure on small businesses will only further the growing dominance of large chains that have both the credit ratings and bargaining power of scale to secure preferential lease terms. To protect small businesses, limit increases in the cost of living, and fight the numbing homogenization of our city marketplaces by global corporations, vote “No” on Proposition 15.
Proposition 16: No
A “yes” vote on “Allows Diversity as a Factor in Public Employment, Education, and Contracting Decisions” would remove the Article I, Section 31 from the California state constitution: “The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
Most Americans would agree that a more equitable, fair society is one in which one’s inborn external features are not used as a deciding factor in which college one attends or which job one secures. Proposition 16 would allow the state to use these external features in service of this goal, institutionalizing preferential treatment for those with now-favored features and thus a relatively higher bar of entry in employment and education for everyone else. Even worse, it is unelected bureaucrats who would likely have the power to determine favored groups and desired target ratios that would, for legal reasons, likely remain informal and thus not subject to direct public scrutiny. Rather than overcome systemic racism, as the ACLU’s endorsement declares, the measure would enshrine racism as the ethos of California by turning its citizens against each other on the basis of external features like skin color. Instead of the self-empowered culture of merit and personal responsibility that has created the world’s technology, media, and research juggernaut, we will be left with a desperate Third World politics of resentment by those whose features are deemed unworthy of preferential treatment, and protracted politics of control and oppression by those whose features are favored at the time.
Such focus on external features insensibly lumps together groups of individuals who experience widely different degrees of “privilege,” ignoring the reality that class is the number one factor in educational attainment. We must focus on how to expand educational and job opportunities for all poor Americans, regardless of their race, gender, or other features; the challenges faced by a poor, rural white student are far more similar to those of a lower-income urban student of color than those of any student of privilege. Picking and choosing winners and losers by external features allows Americans with shared self-interest to be pitted against each other on superficialities while core issues remain unaddressed; we must not allow our politicians to get away with shifting responsibility for their failed public policies from their own poor judgement to “racism.” All those who wish to be judged on the content of their character, not on external features like the color of their skin, should vote “no” on Proposition 16.
Proposition 17: No
A “yes” vote on “Restores Right to Vote After Completion of Prison Term” would allow individuals who are still on parole—individuals who have completed part of their prison sentence and are finishing the rest of their sentences within a mandated vicinity under parole supervision and stringent rules—to vote. Under current California law, felons who complete parole and/or are under probation are already able to vote.
As the law currently stands, once felons complete their parole, they are granted the full rights and privileges of any other citizen (except for certain firearm restrictions)—the completion of parole is a sign that an individual has made significant strides towards being reintegrated into regular society. Felons still on parole, however, are subject to strict oversight and rules that reflect that more than 50% of parolees are reconvicted within three years, usually well before their parole is complete. While the goal of imprisonment is not only punishment but rehabilitation, granting the right to vote, a citizen’s highest privilege, to felons who more often than not will end up convicted of another crime and do not have freedom of movement and association, is ridiculous. Vote “no” on Proposition 17 to prevent a needless expansion of California’s already generous felon voting rights.
Proposition 18: No
A “yes” vote on “Amends California Constitution to Permit 17-Year-Olds to Vote in Primary and Special Elections if They Will Turn 18 by the Next General Election and Be Otherwise Eligible to Vote” would, for once, do exactly what the measure name suggests.
Youth voters, especially susceptible to targeted messaging campaigns due to their massive digital media consumption, tend to support far left and far right politicians; allowing more teens to vote, under any pretenses, is only going to increase the political polarization that has crippled our government. Does anyone seriously expect more than a handful of teenage voters to have nuanced policy positions arrived at from considering a wide variety of philosophies and information sources? Those who wish voices of reason and experience to prevail over overwhelming tides of uninformed, momentary passion should vote “no” on Proposition 18.
Proposition 19: No
A “yes” vote on “Changes Certain Property Tax Rules would require homes to be reassessed upon inheritance properties worth over $1 million if not used as a farm or the recipient’s primary home, give homeowners over 55 and the disabled more power to bring their property tax base (paying property taxes on the basis of their property’s purchase price with a 2% increase per year) with them through up to three moves in their lifetime anywhere in the state, including to more expensive properties, and expand property tax transfer rights to individuals who have lost properties due to wildfire or disaster. As the law currently stands, inherited properties are only reassessed for property taxes when sold or transferred to another non-recipient party, homeowners over 55 and the disabled can transfer their property tax base with them to a cheaper home in the same county or a county that accepts other counties’ transfers only once in their lifetimes, and natural disaster victims are not able to transfer their property tax bases. The state legislative analyst’s office has concluded that the measure will decrease property tax income in the short term but expand it in the long term, with some of the additional revenue to be used to fund “wildfire prevention” and reimbursing local governments for lost property tax income.
Baby boomers already control 53% of our nation’s wealth—those over 55 who wish to move into a more expensive home hardly need additional taxpayer assistance. A new buying spree fueled by affluent individuals over 55 upgrading to nicer homes in a time of record-low interest rates is sure to drive up home prices, which is why realtor groups have spent $41 million supporting the measure out of the $46 million spent by all groups on either side of the debate. In order to prevent another handout for already wealthy Californians and a sudden increase in housing prices that will result in an overall higher cost of living, vote “no” on Proposition 19.
Proposition 20: No
A “yes” vote on “Restricts Parole for Certain Offenses Currently Considered to be Non-Violent. Authorizes Felony Sentences for Certain Offenses Currently Treated Only as Misdemeanors” would reverse parts of Proposition 57, which accelerated the parole process for felons convicted of “nonviolent” crimes —which include domestic violence, rape of unconscious individuals, sex trafficking of minors, assault on police and firemen with a deadly weapon, by excluding felons who have committed sex, child, and assault crimes from the ability to be eligible for parole after serving of half of the prison sentence from their primary crime (the sentence from their longest-sentenced crime, if convicted of multiple crimes). Additionally, the proposition would re-expand DNA collection to crimes targeted by Proposition 47, which turned certain theft-related crimes (like petty theft, the stealing of up to $950 in property, and illegal drug possession) from wobblers that can be tried at the state’s discretion either as felonies or misdemeanors, into solely misdemeanors. Proposition 20 would create two new crimes that are wobblers—serial theft (for those who have been convicted of theft-related crimes twice or more and found guilty of theft of property worth $250 or more) and organized retail theft (for those found guilty of stealing more than $250 in total property twice in less than 180 days)—and turn some former theft wobbler-turned-misdemeanors back into wobblers.
The tragedy of Proposition 20 is that major reforms that address the criminal failures of Propositions 47 and 57—from the major spike in property crime wrought by changing all petty theft to misdemeanors and allowing human traffickers and rapists go free after serving half their sentences—are combined with the poison pill of mandated state DNA collection for mere suspicion and arrest of minor crimes like drug possession and petty theft. Because DNA can be used to identify not only individuals but anyone in their families, such vastly expanded collection efforts would grant the state enormous power to identify and track the activities of most Californians. While the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, the terrible power afforded to the state surveillance apparatus by an ever-more-complete DNA database outweighs the cost of crimes that many California’s district attornies won’t strongly prosecute anyway; without the DNA collection cause, the measure could be worthy of endorsement, but as it stands, The California Review encourages you to vote “no” on Proposition 20.
Proposition 21: No
A “yes” vote on “Expands Local Governments’ Authority to Enact Rent Control on Residential Property” would allow cities to implement rent control, at their own set rates, on properties over 15 years old. Landlords could increase rents by 15% over the first three years of a new tenancy (above any of those allowed by local rent control measures), with only landlords who own two properties or less as individuals exempted from the measure.
Rent control is the textbook example of how price ceilings have inordinately bad distributional consequences; rent control benefits the few individuals who are able to secure rent-controlled units, increasing the scarcity (and price) of market-rate housing for everyone else—in a state with the highest real estate development costs the continental United States, rent control-induced scarcity would be a devastating blow for all those unable to secure rent-controlled housing. Rent control also causes misallocation of housing as people stay put to preserve their price benefits; in 2003, the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that 21% of New York City renters live in apartments with less or more rooms than they need due to rent control, and that New York City renters paid an extra $500 million in rent due to unit scarcity. With California already facing a housing shortage of at least 3.5 million homes, rent control is a non-starter; to preserve the long-term affordability of our housing, vote “no” on Proposition 21.
Proposition 22: Yes
A “yes” vote on “Exempts App-Based Transportation and Delivery Companies from Providing Employee Benefits to Certain Drivers” would allow app-based drivers to continue to be independent contractors, not employees, as AB-5 dictates. As independent contractors, they would be able to continue to set their own work hours, but not be required to be provided with sick leave, unemployment insurance, and worker’s compensation. Additionally, they would earn 120% of minimum wage, not counting wait time, vehicle insurance, and healthcare subsidies. Without Proposition 22, app-based drivers would transition to employees who would receive sick leave, unemployment insurance, and worker’s compensation, and be assigned set hours and locations of employment.
The CEO of Uber said on October 16 that if Proposition 22 passes, Uber, like other app-based driving services, will have no choice but to cease operations in some areas and double prices in those it remains. For our disabled, for our dinner-and-drinkers, for our people without cars, this would rob them of their mobility and safety. For the nine out of ten drivers who choose to work for rideshare companies because they prefer being their own boss and setting their own schedule, the failure of Proposition 22 would remove their basic human freedom to work as they please. The tens of millions being spent by ridesharing companies to pass this measure pales in comparison is besides the point: what matters is keeping drunk drivers off the road, making sure that people without cars and accessible dense public transit networks have an affordable way of getting around, and providing a low-cost mobility solution for disabled Californians. For the sake of public safety and personal freedom, vote “yes” on Proposition 22.
Proposition 23: No
A “yes” vote on “Establishes State Requirements for Kidney Dialysis Clinics. Requires On-Site Medical Professional” would require dialysis centers, most of which are privately run, to receive state permission to close, would increase reporting requirements, and would require a doctor to be present during all treatments.
One would hardly expect the NAACP, American Legion, and California Medical Association to ever be on the same side of an argument, but here they are, united in their opposition to Proposition 23. Requiring a doctor to be present during all treatment hours would cost hundreds of millions of dollars ($500,000 per clinic and put half of the state’s dialysis clinics out of business), and clinics are already required to have a medical director and submit reports to federal authorities on care quality and incidents. Such a widespread shutdown of clinics could mean death for some of our 78,000 Californians who rely on dialysis to supplement and replace the function of their failing kidneys; vote “no” on Proposition 23 to preserve medical access and prevent needless cost increases and deaths.
Proposition 24: Yes
A “yes” vote on “Amends Consumer Privacy Laws” would require businesses to notify Californians if their data is being collected or has been subject to a security breach, and give Californians the power to tell businesses to delete, not sell, and provide reports on their personal data. The California Department of Justice would be responsible for enforcing consumer privacy laws and developing regulations for how businesses are to handle consumer requests for deleting, not selling, or providing reports on their personal data. Additionally, a $7,500 fine would be levied whenever businesses violate the consumer privacy rights of minors, and a new state agency, the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA), would be created to oversee and enforce the state’s consumer privacy laws.
While this publication is skeptical of most increases in government power, what it is even more skeptical of—what it outright fears—is the ominous data tyranny of modern technology firms. As they stand, current laws are not enough to protect us from the intense data mining and personal manipulation that tech companies subject us to, often without our knowledge or consent. A more free human society of the future is predicated on our ability to control our data and choose what kind of digital world we wish to interact with. Otherwise, our data will continue to be used to hypnotize us from our self-interest by advertisers selling us products we don’t need and algorithms feeding us sick ideologies that drag us ever closer to oblivion; vote “yes” on Proposition 24 to take back control of your digital life.
Proposition 25: No
A “yes” vote on “Referendum on Law that Replaced Money Bail with System Based on Public Safety and Flight Risk” would uphold SB-10, legislation that replaces cash bail, which allows judges to set refundable cash deposits the court must receive for individuals to await their trials outside of jail, with to-be-developed, jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction adopted algorithms that analyze personal traits to assess risk, and requires automatic pretrial release for most misdemeanors.
Before SB-10 was passed, all three ACLU groups in California (and later, the NAACP and Human Rights Watch) condemned the bill’s provisions for “not providing sufficient due process” and creating an “overly broad presumption of preventative detention.” Cash bail, while imperfect, means that most individuals are able to leave jail before their trials. As was written in these pages in 2018 when the bill was passed, risk levels awarded depending on the local jurisdiction’s algorithm, which could account for ZIP code, race, age, gender, education, and a number of other personal traits, are likely to exclude far higher numbers of Californians from pre-trial release than the current cash bail system does. Additionally, while SB-10 denies due process to felons, it denies justice for the victims of serial criminals. California’s COVID-19 experiment with zero bail for misdemeanors and some felonies resulted in one man being arrested and immediately released three times in a single day, first for stealing a car, then for walking through a neighborhood and stealing from people’s yards and porches, and a third time for stealing another car and evading police in a chase. With Proposition 47 already having set all theft under $950 as misdemeanors, SB-10’s automatic release for nearly all misdemeanors would be furnishing serial thieves with a license to steal. The gross injustices of SB-10’s zero bail system for both felony suspects and victims of serial criminals mandate that you vote “no” Proposition 25.