Editorial: Voting Sensibly on Ballot Measures

By Becky O’Malley
Friday October 13, 2006



Mayor: Zelda Bronstein 

District 1: No endorsement 

District 4: Dona Spring 

District 6: Kriss Worthington 

District 8: Jason Overman 

Measure A: Yes 

Measure I: No 

Measure J: Yes 

More to come... 


A lot of requests have come in from people on both sides of two hotly contested Berkeley ballot measures, Measure A and Measure I, for the Planet to endorse one side or other. Proponents and opponents of ballot measures are traditionally offered many column inches of space in this publication to put forward facts and figures supporting their points of view. We also provide an impartial review of most ballot measures in our news columns, so there’s really no excuse for going to the polls (or marking your paper vote-at-home ballot) uninformed.  

But even with the best factual information, making a decision can be hard for the voter who isn’t really involved with the issue at hand. Measure I, for example, is about allowing rental properties to be sold as condominiums. For the voter who already owns a personal home but is not a landlord, the decision has to be mostly a matter of principle, an academic decision on which vote would be better for someone else. Similarly, voters who have no kids to send to the Berkeley public schools and whose share of property taxes is disguised as rent might think that Measure A is really not their problem. But both of these measures should be analyzed at a higher level by everyone who’s eligible to vote. We should all try to figure out what kind of decision would be best for the social fabric and mark our ballots accordingly, even if we have no personal stake in the outcome. A few simple points should help most voters make up their minds on measures which don’t directly affect them.  

First, let’s tackle the question of school taxes. We’ve had a lot of letters and comments over the years from well-meaning public-spirited people who think that voting against school tax measures is the right way to express your opinion on how well the local public schools are performing. That’s just plain wrong, bad reasoning.  

There’s no need to once again recount the statistics which are well known to most Berkeley voters: California schools spend much too little per pupil as compared to other states. Mississipi? Alabama? Which impoverished and benighted state spends less? It doesn’t matter, California spends too little. Period. Few would disagree.  

Some argue that Berkeley has raised more extra money to supplement the meager state allowance than some other cities. So? Is it more than is needed? Few would argue that Berkeley public schools students are frolicking in luxurious environments unknown to the poor wretches in, for example, Palo Alto. If you think that, visit a local school site some day. Overall, no one can seriously argue that per pupil spending in Berkeley is excessive. 

But maybe the priorities are wrong? Administrators paid too much, teachers too little…high school baseball instead of elementary school soccer…gourmet meals instead of basic nutrition…too many computers, too few pencils…too little toilet paper in the bathrooms. Lots of points to argue here, all irrelevant. The way to address school management or mismanagement questions is not cutting funds by voting against ballot measures. Measure A simply continues past funding levels—it doesn’t even increase them.  

The school directors, popularly called the school board, are supposed to make sure that the always inadequate pie is divided up as well as possible, and if they don’t do their job right they should be replaced. If it looks like no one is in charge at BUSD, that means you are. If you don’t like any of the candidates, you should be running yourself, not voting to cut revenues.  

And what about Measure I? Measure I would just make it easier for rental property owners to cash out, but it wouldn’t be good for everyone else. This is a city that needs more affordable rental housing, not less, particularly since the University of California continues to underpay its service workers to a shocking degree. Most of them have to commute long distances to their jobs because they can’t afford to live here, adding to the automobile traffic burden on our city streets. Condominiums as “investments” are out of the reach of the working poor, and they’re bad investments for most people in that their re-sale value is dicey. Many disabled and elderly tenants who couldn’t afford to purchase their own units would face eviction if Measure I passes. The Berkeley City Council has just passed a condo conversion ordinance which isn’t perfect, but which solves a number of problems and protects many vulnerable tenants. Further refinements are possible. All of the council has come out against Measure I except Olds and Wozniak, the two most conservative council members, and Wozniak’s progressive opponent Jason Overman has also come out again the measure. We too think you should vote no. 

Endorsements by elected officials aren’t the only basis for making decisions on measures, however. In the last analysis voters have to make up their own minds. But it is worth noting nevertheless that absolutely no local officials or organizations have come out against Measure A. Even the uber-con chamber of commerce, which takes no position on Measure I and opposes Measure J, endorses Measure A. As do we.