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Mad Props 

Prop 1A: Not Our Train

The "Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act" aims to throw a whole lot of money at the California railroad system. The legislature, which put this measure on the ballot, is asking voters to approve almost $10 billion in new state bonds, 90 percent of which would be spent building a new high-speed passenger train from the Bay Area to San Diego through the Central Valley. Most of the remainder -- about $950 million -- would go toward building or improving other rail projects around the state.

Any chance that some of that could flow our way? Unfortunately, no. The $950 million is earmarked specifically for passenger lines that connect directly to the new high-speed rail network, and our own Northwestern Pacific Line is anything but that. In the first place, the railroad has been off-line for 10 years, and though there are plans to restore it, passenger service to Humboldt County is definitely off the table for the foreseeable future. There's another agency -- Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART -- that want to institute passenger service on the south end of the line, but there's no way for SMART's train to directly link into the high-speed mainline. That means that Prop 1A funds are out of the question, SMART spokesperson Chris Coursey told the Journallast week.

So the issues, to Humboldt County residents, are probably only the generic ones. On the downside: for the bonds, about $525 total cost (principal and interest) to each California resident -- man, woman and child. Potentially greater costs to actually complete construction of the high-speed rail system, and possibly to subsidize its operation. The plus side, according to backers? San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and forty minutes for $55, and a 324 pound decrease in carbon dioxide emissions per passenger.

-- Hank Sims

Prop. 3: Children's Hospital

At a little under $1 billion, the "Children's Hospital Bond Act" is just a tenth of the size of the proposed high-speed train bond issue. But it's directed to an infrastructure issue far more tangible to most Californians: the system of children's hospitals, one of the crown jewels of the state. The initiative is intended to fund the "construction, expansion, remodeling, renovation, furnishing and equipping" of the hospitals. Twenty percent would go to acute care institutions associated with the University of California -- such as the UCSF and UC Davis Children's Hospitals, familiar to many on the North Coast. The remaining 80 percent would go private facilities, such as Stanford University's children's hospital, that focus on serious, life-threatening illnesses.

The opposition? Fiscal conservatives worried about the massive state budget deficit, and who fear the possibility of the state completely collapsing under the load. Also, they manage to sneak in some scary language about the hospitals catering to the kids of "illegal aliens." But the antis do raise another interesting point: Isn't this exactly the same bond we passed four years ago, back when it was called Prop. 61? Isn't it true that the funds raised in that bond issue haven't even been fully distributed yet? The answers: yes and yes. But proponents say that the 2004 money has all been allocated (though not yet spent) and construction costs have since gone through the roof.

-- Hank Sims

Prop. 4: Parental Notification

This is basically the third time around for this state constitutional amendment, which, with certain exceptions, would compel doctors to notify the parents of a teenager seeking an abortion. California voters defeated similar initiatives in 2005 and 2006, by comfortable but not overwhelming margins.

The arguments for and against the "California Parental Notification Initiative" are highly emotionally charged, with each side naturally claiming that it represents the best interests of children. Opponents of the initiative -- including the California Medical Association, the California Teachers Association, and the California Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics -- argue that forced parental notification might shame some teenagers into seeking back-alley abortions. Proponents say that the amendment would simply bring California into line with the 30 other states that require some form of parental notification.

-- Hank Sims

Props. 5, 6 and 9: Crime and Punishment

Of the three crime initiatives on the ballet, one in particular may resonate with the Humboldt audience -- Prop. 5, the "Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act," which allocates $460 million a year to create more treatment and rehabilitation programs in the criminal justice system and divert thousands of prisoners into them.

Among other things, Prop. 5 reduces the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction, meaning an offender would face a fine but not incarceration. The only real downside, says Redway attorney ED Denson, is with a misdemeanor an offender can demand a jury trial.

"The benefit is, they wouldn't have a misdemeanor on their record," he says. "The detriment is, with a misdemeanor, often you can get the DA to come around and drop the charges if you demand a jury trial. But [the reduced penalty] would give me more time to work on the more serious cases. I'll be happy if we get all of these itty bitty cases out of the system."

Prop. 5 extends beyond pot offenses. It also lightens the punishment and shortens the parole time for certain other drug and non-violent, lesser offenses, and lengthens the parole time for violent or other serious felonies. It diverts low-level offenders into rehab. The initiative creates a three-track system for determining each offender's punishment and parole. It creates a new board to administer the parole and rehab programs, and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would be restructured.

According to a legislative analyst, Prop. 5 would cost the state about $1 billion annually to expand the treatment programs, and it would save the state more than $1 billion in corrections operations by reducing the number of inmates.

Those for it say: It unclogs jails and prisons, overrun with nonviolent drug offenders, and gets them the medical help they need. Those against it say: It looses thieves, drug dealers, drunk drivers, and spouse abusers back onto the streets to hurt again, if their addiction is given as the reason for the crime and if they promise to go to rehab.

Prop. 6, on the other hand, would result in new prison and jail construction and a slew of new crime categories and penalties related mostly to gang activity and serious drug offenses such as cooking meth. It would mandate that $965 million a year -- $365 million more than allotted in the 2007-2008 budget -- be shifted from the state General Fund into local law enforcement, jails and adult and juvenile probation programs. It could cost an initial $500 million or more to build the new facilities needed to house the increase in prisoners that the new crimes and longer sentences would generate. Also, undocumented people charged with violent or gang-related crimes would be held without bail until trial; more juveniles would be tried in adult court; and the state would have to follow felony sex offenders around for the rest of their lives with a satellite tracking device.

Those for it say: It gets tough on gangs and will make neighborhoods safer. Those against it say: It's an expensive duplication of a system that's already working, and in some cases it eliminates drug and mental health treatment.

Prop. 9 would make it a constitutional right for victims of violent or serious crimes to be kept informed during every step of a perp's trip through the system, from bail decisions to sentencing to parole; to have their safety be a main consideration in bail and parole decisions; and to gain restitution from the offender. And it would stop the practice of releasing criminals early to relieve prison overcrowding.

Those for it say: It puts victims' rights before criminals' rights. Those against it say: It's redundant of existing laws such as the Three Strikes law and the Crime Victims Bill of Rights.

Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos is against Props 5 and 9 -- they’re redundant, he says. "And I’ve gone back and forth on Proposition 6," he says. "But ... I will be voting for it." He says the injection of money would help him get the staffing levels and resources he needs. "The county pays for 19 public defense attorneys, and there are 16 in the DA’s office, including me. At a minimum, we should have parity."

-- Heidi Walters

Props. 7 and 10: Green Around the Gills

With the words "renewable energy" right there in the titles, Props. 7 and 10 posit themselves as progressive steps toward planet-pleasing go-go-juice. But local and state environmental advocates say that if you scratch beneath the verdant surface of these initiatives you'll find dirt.

Prop. 7 would require all electric utility companies to shift from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources like wind, waves and the sun. It ups the ante on current state law by including government-owned utilities, which are currently exempt, and by setting higher goals -- half our electricity from renewable sources by 2025, as opposed to the mere 20-percent-by-2010 target already in place.

"We think that's pretty modest given the planetary crisis," said Prop. 7 spokesman Steve Hopcraft. The initiative seems by all accounts to be a well-intentioned planet-saving effort from Peter Sperling, son of the billionaire who founded the University of Phoenix. (He was reportedly inspired by Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth.") Who would oppose such a measure?

"Everybody," Hopcraft said ruefully. The voluminous list of opponents includes such unlikely bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the Teamsters; Hispanic groups and Baptists; and both the Republican and Democratic parties, to name but a few. Hopcraft believes they've all been duped by the nearly $30 million smear campaign unleashed by PG&E. He dismissed the "No on 7" campaign's claims as "myths," "lies" and "lawyer bullshit."

"Prop 7 on its surface seems very appealing," admits Redwood Coast Energy Authority Executive Director David Boyd. But he said the initiative places an unwise cap on renewable energy, cedes oversight from local to state agencies and (perhaps inadvertently) disenfranchises companies that produce less than 30 megawatts. Plus, any future changes to the bill would require a two-thirds legislative majority. "That's enough to sour it for me," Boyd said.

Prop. 10 he called "misguided," which is downright friendly compared to the terms used by the San Francisco Chronicle ("boondoggle") and the L.A. Times ("reprehensible scam"). Widely viewed as a $10 billion swindle courtesy of Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, Prop 10 would require $5 billion in taxpayer bonds, most of which would go toward subsidizing vehicles powered by natural gas. Is it coincidence that Pickens' own company, Clean Energy Fuels Corp., operates natural gas fueling stations throughout the U.S. and Canada? You, voter, must decide.

As far as Boyd is concerned, local green energy endeavors, including a wind energy plant on Bear River Ridge and a number of possible wave energy projects, would be better served if 7 and 10 fail and better legislation follows in their wake.

-- Ryan Burns

Prop. 11: To the Drawing Board

The 2010 Census draws closer every year, and with it the decennial legislative fiesta known as "redistricting." In California, redistricting is the moment that state party bosses get out their maps and come together around the big table, drawing lines with the aim of making every single seat in the state or federal legislature an absolute lock for the incumbent party. There have been attempts to change this. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's solution, which was to put the power in the hands of retired judges, went down in flames in the 2005 special election. Now comes Prop. 11, the "Voters FIRST Act," a state constitutional amendment.

On paper, the proposed new regime is about as inoffensive as possible. Rather than California legislators drawing their own Senate and Assembly districts when the time rolls around, the work would be handed off to a committee of citizen volunteers, who would be picked partially by bureaucrats, partially by the legislature and partially by chance. (The state legislature would continue to draw lines for the federal House of Representatives.) It is backed by the League of Women Voters, about as clean and nonpartisan a good-government group as you are likely to find.

But the eternal fear, at least among some area Democrats, is that a new redistricting regime might conceivably sever us from liberal-enough Santa Rosa and instead tie us to the only other available population center of any significant size: Republican Redding. This would be Doomsday for the political establishment. And not just for the establishment: The county's citizenry undeniably leans further to the left these days, and a Redding-centered polity would effectively leave our county's political majority without a voice in Sacramento.

Any chance of that happening if Prop. 11 passes? Hard to say, but something dramatic would happen. The new system would mandate that boundaries should be drawn such that two contiguous Assembly districts make up one Senate district. This would mean that our Senate district would have to either reach further down into the Bay Area or else over the dreaded hills. Prop. 11 offers Humboldt County a choice -- stick with the laughably rigged current system, in which the concept of an "election" is stretched past the breaking point, or head off into the unknown.

-- Hank Sims

Prop. 12: Houses for Servicemen

Back in 1922, California voters authorized the first Veterans' Bond Act, providing military vets with state-funded, low-interest loans to buy homes and farms. Since then, voters have deemed it a practice worth repeating -- 26 times, to the tune of about $8.4 billion in general obligation bonds. According to proponents, roughly 420,000 vets have been helped by the program since World War I. As of July, the Cal-Vet piggy bank had dwindled to just $102 million.

Prop 12 would authorize the state to sell another $900 mil in bonds, providing enough coin for at least 3,600 noble servicemen and -women to buy the conventional, manufactured or mobile home of their dreams. With the housing market in a shambles, that number could conceivably be much higher.

The only opposition voiced in the official state voting guide comes courtesy of Gary Wesley, an attorney down Mountain View way who frequently writes dissenting ballot measure arguments. He complains that these bonds rob the taxpayers, in a roundabout way, because the loans are tax-exempt and foreclosures fall in our collective lap. In a seemingly unrelated argument, Wesley also complains that only veterans who served in combat should qualify for these bonds; the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs says that soldiers shouldn't be punished if the military decided that their talents were best utilized outside the combat arena.

-- Ryan Burns

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