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Election Initiatives: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Unnecessary and the "What did you say, I can't hear you?"

It is time, again, to descend into that pit of unrepresentative democracy known as the California ballot. To vote on laws drafted not by thoughtful citizen-legislators trying their best to balance competing interests and concerns in the furtherance of the public good, but instead by people who have only one-sided coins in their pockets. (But enough coins to hire lots of signature-gatherers and pay for lots of air time.)

I usually wait until Monday night before the election to make my decisions, but the editor says I can have a special column on the propositions if I hurry and form some opinions.

It's hard to gather information. Couldn't there be a cable channel that just ran all the political commercials back to back? But please, nothing longer than 30 seconds or I'll be confused.

I have not made my mind up about all the propositions, but here are some thoughts about those that most directly affect Santa Monica.

Props. Y and 39, or, "What are two nice propositions like these doing on a ballot like this?"

These are the good ones -- two propositions that each in its own way tries to address the mess that Prop. 13 and its successors made of California public school finance.

"Y" is, of course, completely local. Every parcel in Santa Monica and Malibu will be assessed $98 and the schools get another $3.1 million, which they will put to good use educating the children who will grow up and be productive enough to pay for their parents' social security.

What does the taxpayer get? A school system that is so good, (i) the drop-out rate at Samohi is next to nothing, and (ii) the taxpayer's parcel is worth tens of thousands of dollars more than it would be worth if the school system was not so good.

Prop. 39 is the statewide measure that reduces the super-majority needed to pass school bonds to 55% from two-thirds. Santa Monica and Malibu should be proud that our last school bond, Prop. X, passed with 80% of the vote, but this kind of support for the schools is the exception, not the rule, in California. It is next to impossible to persuade two-thirds of the voters to agree on anything, let alone how to spend money, yet the physical plant of schools throughout the state is a disgrace.

Until public school buildings are the same quality as private school buildings, and as uncrowded, we have not given public school children (and teachers) the same chance to succeed.

Vote yes on both Y and 39.

Prop 38 (School Vouchers), or "Let God help those who help themselves."

I have an idea. Crime is a problem. Some people believe our streets are not safe and have moved into gated communities. My idea is to reimburse them for the cost of their private security forces. For that matter, let's pay for their walls and gates. After all, their private police and walls and gates are expensive.

Another idea. The transit system (outside Santa Monica) is not too good. The buses are overcrowded and slow. The trains are fast but don't have many destinations. Let's take the money we're spending on buses and trains, divide it up by the number of people who use the system, and then give that much money to everyone who owns a car already! If you don't have a car, we'll give you a down payment. Don't worry, though, about public transit. The MTA and the Blue Bus (we'll take away their money, too, even though they do a good job) will improve their service because they will have to compete with ... with all the new cars congesting our streets!

Sometimes I use Federal Express instead of the Post Office. Can I get a subsidy for that, too?

Prop. 38, the Voucher Initiative, is in the great American tradition of "let's spend public money for private benefits." Behind it, generically speaking, are the same people who brought us Prop. 13 and starved the public school system in the first place. Now they want to take what public money there is for education and give it to people who have opted out of the system, without any regard to whether these people need the money.

Prop. 38 does not create educational choice for low-income parents or in any way provide that they will have better schools for their children. But it would assuredly be a nail in the coffin of public education.

Bad, bad, bad. Please vote NO.

Prop. KK, or "How stupid are we?"

Prop. KK is God's way of telling the hotels they're making too much money.

Spend a million dollars on this ugly, shameful, useless proposition and then change your minds?

Wow. Is this a great country or what?

By now, because you read The Lookout you know that the hotels that backed Prop. KK have backed down and withdrawn their support after having had lunch with Ken Genser and Mike Feinstein at Izzy's Deli.

What Mike Feinstein found to eat at Izzy's Deli I can't imagine.

Nor do I know what was said at the meeting. The hotel people say the meeting was "cordial." Feinstein says the representatives from the hotel were "mellow." I assume they requested separate checks.

Apparently the hotels spent a million dollars -- plus lunch at Izzy's -- to get just what they always had: a public dialogue about how to craft a living wage proposal.

Prop. KK may now be the orphan of this election, but it still deserves condemnation. KK is ugly and shameful because it is a trick. It was premised on the hotels' guess that Santa Monicans are such knee-jerk liberals that they would vote "yes" for anything labeled "living wage."

Knee-jerk, maybe. Stupid, no.

Prop. LL, or Idle Hands Make the Devil's Work.

If you vote for Prop. LL you vote for the proposition that "the use or disposition of public assets are often tainted by conflicts of interest among local public officials."

Is this true? Is it true in Santa Monica?

I don't think so. I don't think anyone has ever creditably alleged such conflicts of interest in Santa Monica. Local and state laws already require officials to recuse themselves if they have conflicts of interest and certainly prohibit them from making decisions under the influence of the anticipation of future gain.

And what of campaign contributions? Under the First Amendment, don't we have the right to contribute to the campaigns of people with whom we agree?

I'll say something else. If LL passes, anyone would be a fool for taking any elective or appointive position with the city. Goodbye volunteer commissioners. Section 2206(c) of the law allows any resident of the city to take a civil action against a public official to enforce the law. While a successful plaintiff is entitled to 10% of any award against a guilty public official, there is no protection for the public official who is innocent. He or she must bear the cost of defending the suit, and there is no provision to penalize an overzealous or vindictive plaintiff.

The philosophy behind LL is that politics is bad. I don't believe that.

Another reason to vote against LL is that its proponents called it "The Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000." I oppose all propositions that use the word "taxpayer" in the title. LL has nothing to do with taxpayers (as opposed to any other citizens) and its title is just the kind of trick that gives politics a bad name.

Shame on Ralph Nader and Harvey Rosenfeld and the Oaks Project. Maybe they need to find something more productive to do with their time.

Prop. MM, or $500 doesn't buy what it used to.


Lastly, a word about those other elections, the ones with flesh and blood candidates who will actually have to make the hard decisions on the City Council and our two school boards. This year you will not receive any help from me. I am too new at this columnist job to presume to tell you the differences between the candidates or who I am voting for (as if I knew). Hopefully by next election you will know me well enough "to consider the source," and I won't be so shy.

In the meantime, good luck to all the candidates. Hey: "Politicians -- can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

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