Important ballot issues
by Quentin Kopp
Dr. Charles Krauthammer, an extraordinary man who trained as a psychiatrist and became a political commentator who became a paraplegic, observed in May 1982: “If we insist that public life be reserved for those whose personal history is pristine, we are not going to get paragons of virtue running our affairs. We will get the very rich, who contract out the messy things in life; the very dull, who have nothing to hide and nothing to show; and the very devious, expert at covering their tracks and ambitious enough to risk their discovery.”
I thought of that in connection with the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy of Sacramento, who was the best protector of the First Amendment since Justice Louis Brandeis.
Last month, I mentioned the self-congratulatory dedication of the Transbay Terminal, another San Francisco project years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars more expensive than represented to taxpayers for more than a decade. I noted with approval SF Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s astute observation that without Caltrain or California high-speed rail using the terminal, it’ll be the most costly bus terminal in California history.
Subsequently, we learned that under the administration of an unqualified executive director, the Transbay Terminal Authority approved a contract with the builder of the sinking Millennium Tower, requiring the Transbay Terminal Authority to pay the legal fees of the wealthy Millennial Tower builder in lawsuits by condominium purchasers whose property value is adversely affected by the leaning structure – and, no, it’s not in Pisa!
Millions of dollars of attorneys’ fees will be borne by taxpayers, not the owners of Transbay Terminal’s adjacent structures, such as Salesforce. Ineptitude and deceit of taxpayers emblemize this sorry saga about such a real estate project which will never honor the promise to taxpayers that tracks would be extended 1.3 miles from Fourth and King streets to the terminal. Finally, on Sept. 25, those transportation wastrels closed the bus terminal completely because of cracked beams.
Last month, Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. signed a dangerous bill which effectively eliminates California’s bail system for accused criminals. A defendant’s right to bail is guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, sections 12 and 28(e), of the California Constitution.
Gov. Brown has now eliminated bail in favor of relying upon pretrial assessments of an accused’s propensity to threaten public safety and alleged victims and appear at all required criminal court hearings, using a flawed algorithm from a wealthy Texas foundation of a man who garnered billions from the Enron collapse.
The legislation was so drastically amended that prior supporters, like the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, opposed it, along with the Alliance of California Judges and California District Attorneys Association. The proponents typically know nothing about criminal court practices.
Since I was a SF Board of Supervisors member in the ’70s, San Francisco’s Superior Court has operated a pretrial diversion program, evaluating an accused likelihood of law-breaking and fleeing before trial for purposes of release without bail, usually subject to reporting by telephone every 24 or 48 hours to that office.
The same system exists in 45 other counties. Judges conduct hearings every day, receiving sworn testimony from defendants, family members and friends, as well as reviewing prior records of arrest and convictions, plus information about residency and employment in San Francisco or the Bay Area. The defendants’ court-appointed or privately-employed attorneys and prosecutors can argue about bail amounts or release without bail before trial.
So-called “bail reform” advocates are mostly amateurs who don’t appear in criminal court every day like lawyers and judges. Moreover, Brown’s action will require millions of dollars of taxpayer money to implement.
Since I am precluded by Ethics Commission rules from furnishing opinions about city ballot measures or candidates, I express recommendations for state measures and candidates only.
I’ll vote “Yes” on Propositions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 12.
Propositions 1 and 2 represent bonds to facilitate housing construction. Propositions 3, 4 and 8 address health, namely a safe water supply, hospital care for children and kidney dialysis for Californians. Proposition 5 ensures protection for grandparents and parents in transferring residences to children without incurring exorbitant property tax increases.
Proposition 6 repeals the 2017 distorted 12-cents-pergallon gas tax increase of the legislature, which foolishly enables the money to be used for activities other than building and maintaining highways, roads and city streets. It’s not the money which motivates my Proposition 6 endorsement; it’s misuse of the money we would pay as motorists.
Proposition 7 authorizes maintenance of daylight saving time in California. Proposition 10 merits defeat. It ends more than 25 years of rational rules controlling rent upon a tenant’s departure, thus permitting San Francisco landlords to charge “market” rent upon a lease’s end. Propositions 11 and 12 enhance human life by assuring availability of ambulance service at all hours and guaranteeing animal protection.
Quentin Kopp is a former city supervisor and state senator, retired judge and current member of the SF Ethics Commission.