Sacramento Report: Just When You Thought the 2016 Ballot Initiative Scene Couldn't Get Crazier ... - Voice of San Diego

Government UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Sacramento Report: Just When You Thought the 2016 Ballot Initiative Scene Couldn't Get Crazier ...

The problem with the CalGang database, when old bills become new again and an outsider’s guide to covering Cali.

We already know that 2016 is on track to be a banner year for ballot measures. The reason we know this is because we’ve been told many times, like here, here and here.

But this week taught us something we didn’t know: That citizen-led initiatives seeking to raise taxes for a specific purpose — like, say, a stadium — only need to get a majority vote to pass, not two-thirds. If the court decision laying this logic out holds up, it will basically upend everything we thought we knew about passing new taxes in California.

Sacramento Report logoHere’s how the L.A. Times George Skelton explained the basic set-up in a column last week:

“Under mind-boggling California law, a local tax that raises money for a specific purpose — such as healthcare — requires a two-thirds vote. If it’s for a general purpose and dumped into one big pot, only a simple majority vote is needed. So counties are leery of tying legal strings to a tax proposal.”

Skelton was discussing a proposal to “allow counties to seek voter approval of a local tobacco tax aimed at discouraging smoking.” In the case of that effort and other scenarios in which it’s a government body — a county, the Legislature, a City Council — imposing the tax, his description holds up.

The new ruling by the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, though, dealing with a dispute between a marijuana collective and the city of Upland, says that efforts to raise taxes for a specific purpose that are driven by citizens’ initiatives, don’t have to pass that high bar of getting two-thirds of voters. Just a majority will do.

Whether the ruling will affect measures in the short term is unclear: Upland’s city attorney is reviewing the decision and will recommend whether to appeal next month, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. If the city does appeal, the state Supreme Court would have 90 days to decide whether to take the case.

• Though our new podcast, San Diego Decides, focuses largely on local races, the latest episode unveiled a new segment in which we break down some of the craziest statewide ballot proposals.

First up: a proposal to require candidates and elected officeholders to take regular lie-detector tests about residency and other issues, and a measure that would restrict speech when it relates to Holocaust denial. Got suggestions for strange proposals we should highlight? Send, please!

The Logic Behind New Old Bills

Each week, journos across California write stories on new legislation being put forward. But many of the bills being introduced by San Diego lawmakers (and others) might not need much of an introduction – because they’ve been ‘round the block before.

Our Sacramento contributor Anita Chabria delved into why legislators frequently revive bills that have either been vetoed or failed to pass altogether.

Bringing failed legislation back year after year isn’t uncommon, but it takes a good strategy to do it successfully. Legislators say it often involves a tricky mix of persistence, flexibility and personality.

Different lawmakers try different tactics to make their legislation more appealing – whether it’s working directly with the governor or interest groups to tweak objectionable pieces, or simply waiting things out until there’s new data (or perhaps a new governor) that would make a bill more likely to pass.

The Problem With CalGang

Are you – yes, you! – in the CalGang database? It’s possible you could be and not know it, a new Reveal investigation suggests:

Aside from a 2013 law that established a way for parents and juveniles to challenge a child’s inclusion in the database, most people can’t find out whether they are in CalGang. An effort to create a similar process for adults failed last year amid heavy lobbying by law enforcement agencies, which use the data to build files and bring charges against people based on their alleged gang ties.

Civil liberties advocates claim that the secrecy surrounding CalGang has created, in effect, a statewide investigative file blocked from external scrutiny.

The story revisits San Diego’s Aaron Harvey, whose unusual, infuriating case I wrote about in depth.

And it details San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s skepticism about the effectiveness of CalGang. Weber revealed in a hearing last year that her own son had been threatened with inclusion in the database during a police encounter in the Gaslamp.

The state auditor is in the midst of an examination of CalGang, at Weber’s urging: “The forthcoming state audit is expected to shed light on the training procedures for personnel who input individuals into the database, as well as documentation procedures and information sharing among law enforcement.”

I talked with Weber about the database last year – here are a few choice cuts from that convo:

“I used to think a gang list was a list of active gang members, and people who had committed gang crimes or were stopped carrying weapons. I just assumed there was some violation of the law that happened that caused you to be put on this list. …

I find it personally disconcerting the fact that I live in America and we have this list of individuals who have committed no crimes, and every time a crime occurs, they pull out this list. … it’s incredible to think that those things are occurring at a time when we are trying to figure out ways to keep people out of prison.”

The Outsider’s Guide to Cali

Whenever a scandal hits San Diego or Oregon, my home state, I always cringe as I read the steady stream of hot takes from East Coast journalists who suddenly become experts on the dynamics of a faraway place to which they’ve rarely, if ever, been.

That’s what makes Paul Mitchell’s new guide for outsiders covering the California presidential primary so great. It includes gems like: “You think it was pretty astounding that Jeb Bush’s political PAC spent $14 million on TV in Iowa?  Well, that’s cute. In California, we spent more on TV passing a recent water bond.”

I’d like to throw my own pet peeve into the mix: If you find yourself tempted to write about Baja California, be advised that it is not actually part of California but another country altogether. (Seriously, I have seen reporters make this mistake multiple times.)

Golden State News

Orange County Republicans are anxious that Donald Trump’s rhetoric could undo years of work trying to persuade Latino voters to support the GOP. (L.A. Times)

In California, the job of raising money for pricey elections is increasingly dominated by women. (KQED)

Yet another effort to require parental notification for abortion has failed. James Holman, editor of the San Diego Reader, pumped $590,000 into the measure. (Sacramento Bee)

L.A.-area Assemblyman Richard Bloom is pushing several measures “that seek to lower barriers to new housing production in cities throughout California.” (CA Streets Blog)

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez makes the case for her bill allowing “gig economy” workers to collectively organize. (Union-Tribune)

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