A Voter's Guide: Local Elections 2016

October 23, 2016

I spent a long time researching different local races and some of the ballot measures here in Santa Clara County. In case you’re on the fence or want some further information to guide your voting, I’ve compiled my thoughts here.

Selection Methodology

I have three tiers for selecting candidates.

  1. Alignment on Issues: I will choose the candidate who is most closely aligned with me on the issues I think are important.

  2. Experience and Education: All other things being equal, I will choose the candidate who has the most knowledge of what is required for the position, either through education, previous experience, or active participation in similar positions.

  3. Women and Minorities: All other things being equal (#1 and #2 above), I will choose candidates who are women or minorities in order to increase the diversity of voices of our elected officials. It’s my own personal form of affirmative action.

The Issues

We’re fortunate enough to live in a place where most things are good. We have good schools, good parks, lots of (some would say too many) jobs, etc. We even have a fairly cohesive constituency who agree that issues of climate change are important, equity and justice are important, and a strong education system are important. Thus, I tend to agree with the candidates on most issues, and have just a few main issues that I use to separate them:

  1. Housing: The Bay Area in general and Mountain View in particular are suffering from a high jobs-to-housing imbalance that is driving the cost of housing up. The underlying issue is that we do not have enough housing (supply) to accommodate everyone who wants to live here (demand), and building new housing is expensive. In some areas, like San Francisco, it’s not even allowed as-of-right as it is in most of the rest of the country. My top issue for local elections is choosing people who want to encourage the construction of new housing, not just for low-income individuals, but for all income levels (ie, “diverse” housing). Refer to my previous discussion of this problem.

  2. Transportation: Because of the lack of housing, there is a traffic congestion problem where people must commute long distances to their place of work since they cannot live close by. I want to elect people who will take a multi-modal approach to solving the transportation issue through supporting high-speed rail / Caltrain electrification, biking and pedestrian infrastructure, BRT, etc, and not just highway widening.

  3. Rent Control: This is specific to Mountain View, where we have two similar but fundamentally different rent stabilization measures on the ballot. I can attest that our rent has been going up by 4% to 10% per year since 2013, so I can understand the anxiety about this issue. However, my general position is that tenant protections, like protecting tenants from evictions without just cause, are good, but price fixing is bad. Economists seem generally agreed that rent control / rent stabilization does not achieve the goal of making housing more affordable, and in fact can have the opposite effect, as has been the case in San Francisco. Here’s another comment on that. Thus, I have voted against both rent control measures and would prefer to support candidates who oppose rent control.

The Races

US Senator: Harris. In watching her debate with Sanchez, she seemed clearly to have a better grasp of the issues and more well-thought-out policies.

US Representative: Eshoo. Her Libertarian opponent, Fox, seems to care only about the debt and nothing else. Eshoo, the incumbent, is doing fine by me.

State Senator: Hill. His opponent, Ciardella, seems a bit crazy. I don’t like that the incumbent, Hill, opposed a proposed highway toll that I think would have been a good idea to discourage driving and encourage public transit, but otherwise I think he’s doing fine.

State Assembly: Berman. He seems to have much more thought-out policy proposals than his opponent, Veenker, and generally aligns well on the issues, despite his support of a retail protectionism measure in Palo Alto that I oppose (requires ground-floor retail in certain areas of the downtown).

For the three school board races, I thought all the candidates were generally good ones, so I’m not as strongly supportive of my choices here. However, if you want a recommendation:

SCC Board of Education: Mah (her opponent has no experience)

Foothill-De Anza Board: Ahrens, Casas, Landsberger

MV-Whisman School District: Wilson, Gutierrez, Blakely

Mountain View City Council: For this race, with eight candidates for four seats, I ended up making a chart on my whiteboard to help me sort out their various positions and experience. I oppose Coladonato for his intemperate reputation and lack of policy positions, although he’s the only candidate who, like me, opposes rent control. I decided against Cornes and Clark because they do not support new housing strongly enough, and against Carpenter for his lack of experience.

That left me with Ramirez (my top choice), Abe-Koga (has good experience), Matichak and McAlister (also experienced), who all more or less support new housing and sensible transportation policies, despite all also supporting some form of rent control. It will be interesting to see how this election plays out and what happens in the rental market after this.

The Ballot Measures

I borrowed heavily from Justin’s research into these, so I’m just going to summarize the ones that I looked into myself or think are most important.

51: Voted No. This was the toughest one for me. I am a strong supporter of school construction, both because I think education (and the facilities that support it) is critically important, and because I have a financial interest in new construction. However, I decided that I agree with the Governor, who opposes this measure, that the existing school bond program that this money would support is inequitable and has the wrong priorities. I also agree with the San Jose Mercury News that developers should be shouldering the cost for new school construction, as is common across the country; state bonds should be reserved for the communities with the least ability to fund adequate school facilities themselves. I hope that a “No” vote signals that the legislature needs to take up this issue again, as the governor has asked, and design a better bond program that benefits the poorest school districts most, not wealthy districts.

53: Voted No. I don’t want to see a statewide referendum on every infrastructure project that costs more than $2 billion (which is probably every major state-level infrastructure project). The state needs the ability to fund and build important statewide infrastructure without subjecting it to votes from people who will self-interestedly vote against it.

59: Voted Yes. This is a ridiculous measure and I initially thought I might abstain. California legislators cannot do anything concrete to overturn Citizens United, so this is merely a protest vote saying that we don’t like it. I decided in the end that I might as well join the protest.

62: Voted Yes. The death penalty is outdated and awful. It’s also morally reprehensible.

66: Voted No. This would speed up death penalty sentencing and make it easier to execute people.

67: Voted Yes / 65: Voted No.

The plastic bag measures are pretty ridiculous, especially when they show up on either side of something as important as death penalty sentencing. However, there are major differences between the measures so it’s important to separate them. Measure 67 continues the state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags and allows stores to go on selling bags as usual. This would have no noticeable effects. Measure 65 would direct money collected by stores for selling bags into a special fund. Why two measures? Apparently, measure 65 is supported by the plastic bag industry, who would prefer for us to overturn the existing ban (by rejecting measure 67), and even if we uphold it, could potentially prevent it from being enforced if measure 65 gets more votes. Just be careful and approve the referendum (ban) but reject the initiative (bag fees) so that we continue as normal.

A: Voted Yes. I agree with SPUR’s analysis that a measure that provides permanently affordable housing for those most in need is a good idea for our area.

B: Voted Yes. Again, I agreed with SPUR’s analysis that this is a good measure for transportation funding, since it is multi-modal and not just for highway expansion.

V: Voted No. See my discussion above about rent control.

W: Voted No. Ditto.

I hope this is helpful to some folks still trying to sort out everything on the ballot!