Americans and Californians have made it through another election, with big implications for the country’s future. Western Center extends a hearty congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and California’s own, Kamala Harris, who will step into history as this country’s first Black American, Asian American, and woman to hold the office of Vice President of the United States. As a nonpartisan organization working toward racial justice in California and the United States, we cannot overstate the significance of this moment as part of the continued march toward a true representative government that reflects the population it serves.
Here in California, we voted on several important races and propositions on our 2020 ballot. Below is Western Center’s analysis of what some of those propositions mean for the future of California, and for the people we serve.
First, we must state our position that the California proposition system is incredibly flawed and fundamentally unjust. While popular vote sounds democratic, our proposition system allows wealthy interests to dictate and manipulate state law, often without full disclosure to voters, and at the expense of the most disenfranchised and marginalized people in our state and country. We believe the legislative process is the appropriate place for creating sound policy, not the proposition system.
|PROPOSITION 15: Schools and Communities First – FAILED
Western Center supported Proposition 15, widely referred to as the property tax split roll, as an attempt to make headway in the fight to make California’s tax laws more just, and to chip away at the foundation that makes the state so economically unequal. In 1978, voters approved Prop 13, which limited property taxes on all property owners — commercial and residential, by capping taxes at 1.1 percent of the value of the property at the time it was purchased. While Prop 13 is often viewed as untouchable politically, it is a major source of wealth inequality and a prime example of structural racism, because it keeps taxes permanently low for those who are long time property owners (overwhelmingly white), but imposes a higher tax on those who bought property more recently (increasingly people of color). Prop 15’s failure means the unjust tax implications of Prop 13 remain untouched, and wealth distribution in California remains lopsided. At a time when significant revenue is needed to address the affordable housing crisis, homelessness, and improved public benefits programs, this is a significant loss in the fight for a more equal California.
|PROPOSITION 16: Repeal Ban on Affirmative Action – FAILED
Western Center heartily supported this measure, and frankly, we are very disappointed with this outcome because of the unfortunate message it sends to California’s increasingly diverse population. Prop 16 would have reversed a 1996 initiative that banned affirmative action (the practice of establishing certain criteria that allows consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, public employment, and public contracting) in all forms of state and local government. In practice, affirmative action is intended to level the playing field and reduce the effects of explicit and implicit bias. California, like the rest of the United States, was formed on a foundation of explicit white supremacy and patriarchy in law and society, which means active policies are required to obtain balance. The failure of Prop 16 this year means that the fight for true racial equity is more of an uphill battle in California than this progressive state would like to believe.
|PROPOSITION 17: Right to Vote for People Who Were Formerly Incarcerated – PASSED
Western Center supported this measure, which restores the right to vote to Californians with a prior felony criminal conviction, provided they are not incarcerated. The additional punishment leveraged by state law before the passage of Prop 17 deprived 50,000 Californians of a fundamental right of all citizens. Western Center supported the measure because as we know from our work, the history of racism in our country has led to over-policing in communities of color, which means the pre-Prop 17 law unjustly dilutes their voting power.
|PROPOSITION 18: Right to register to vote at age 17 – FAILED
Western Center supported Prop 18, which would have allowed eligible 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the next November general election to vote. Western Center supported Prop 18 because studies that show that pro-voting initiatives like this one encourage greater voter participation among young people, which is crucial for engaging younger generations into the political process, and because we think people who are old enough to vote in November should have the opportunity to make the initial choice for the November ballot in the primaries, even if they’re still 17. If the historic, high level of voter turnout among young people this year tells us anything, it’s that initiatives like this are likely to come back, because young people want their voices to be heard.
|PROPOSITION 20: Restores Crimes and Limits Early Release – FAILED
Western Center opposed Prop 20, which would have reinstated certain theft crimes as felonies instead of misdemeanors, and made it harder for people convicted of felonies to be approved for parole. It also would have expanded collection of DNA samples from people charged with crimes, and from youth. The failure of this measure sends a strong statement to California policy makers that voters are satisfied with the reforms already passed, and suggests that they are ready for more. We are pleased with this outcome and know that it will lead to increased support for further criminal justice reform efforts.
|PROPOSITION 21: Reduce State Limits on Local Rent Control – FAILED
Western Center supported Prop 21, which proposed several changes to a state law known as the Costa-Hawkins Act, limiting ability of local governments to control the cost of rental housing, by allowing rent control on units older than 15 years and allowing local governments to restrict rent increases on units when a tenant moves out. Western Center has never supported Costa-Hawkins and was a major opponent to the policy for the past 25 years. A measure similar to Prop 21 failed in 2018, and since then there has been a spike in rent across California and significant increases in homelessness. With COVID-19 causing many tenants to be unable to pay the high cost of rent in California, it is necessary to pass meaningful limits on rental housing costs. The failure of this measure marks yet another setback in the fight for more affordable housing in California and to keep people housed when they are on the brink of homelessness. The Legislature must address this issue, or the state will continue to see increases in homelessness.
|PROPOSITION 22: Repeals Worker Protections for App-based Rideshare Workers – PASSED
Western Center opposed Prop 22. This proposition repeals a portion of Assembly Bill 5, which was passed by the Legislature last year to require that companies employing so called “independent contractors” instead classify workers as employees. When workers are classified as employees, companies must provide basic worker protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health coverage, minimum wage, sick pay, overtime and social security. Western Center supported AB 5 because many app-based workers are not receiving a fair wage or minimum worker protections. When they can’t work, they’re often left with nothing, and as a result, they sometimes end up on public assistance and in crisis, as the companies they work for experience record profit. Income inequality is one of the most important issues of our time; the average pay of corporate CEOs is now 321 times more than the typical worker they employ, and the use of independent contractors is accelerating that trend by allowing companies to keep money normally used to provide basic employment services for themselves.
Western Center is strongly opposed to Prop 22, and we are disheartened that it passed for a number of reasons. App-based companies leveraged a multi-million-dollar campaign to draft and pass this initiative so they don’t have to provide basic worker protections, which is money they could have used to provide those protections. Uber also used that money to defend against a lawsuit brought by drivers claiming the company coerced them into supporting the measure. The way the Prop 22 campaign played out exemplifies the deep flaws with California’s proposition system, which allows wealthy interests to dictate and manipulate state law. As long as there is money to spend, those interests can play fast and loose with their claims and campaign messages, to the detriment of people who don’t have the same means.
|PROPOSITION 24: Use of Personal Data by Private Business – PASSED
This measure, which Western Center opposed, makes changes to California law regarding how personal information collected by corporations and data firms can be used and shared. It overrides elements of a 2018 “landmark” privacy law that limited the use of data sharing. Prop 24 allows data collectors to use “neighborhood scores” in determining a person’s credit worthiness, which means a person’s credit could be lower because of the community they live in. Prop 24 also reduces the number of companies subject to the law. It takes regulation for privacy breaches away from the state Attorney General and shifts it to a newly created state agency with capped funding. Western Center was against Prop 24, along with a host of consumer organizations. We support strong consumer protections, but believe the legislative process, not the proposition process, is the appropriate forum for making changes to state law.
|PROPOSITION 25: Repeal State Law Eliminating Money Bail – FAILED
Prop 25’s failure overturns Senate Bill 10, which passed the California Legislature in 2018 and would have eliminated the use of money bail in California in determining who is detained in jail pending a trial to determine their guilt or innocence. Western Center was a co-sponsor of SB 10 because the money bail system benefits those with wealth, while people with fewer resources (again, disproportionately people of color) often languish in jail for lengthy periods of time, losing jobs, housing, family, health and sometimes life while in jail. To avoid these consequences, people will often accept a plea deal rather than fight for their innocence in order to be released.
Western Center was a strong supporter of Prop 25, and we are frustrated by its failure. We understand the very real concerns about replacing money bail with the “risk assessment” algorithm system, as there is noted bias in that system, but risk assessment tools are already used in 44 California counties in addition to money bail. What’s more, Western Center sponsored Senate Bill 36, which will be enacted in 2021, to require that any risk assessment used by a court be certified as bias-free. Independent research on Prop 25 found that it would keep thousands of people out of jail pre-trial, and would end the collection of $6 Billion in bail bonds from Californians with little to no wealth. Prop 25 also would have eliminated the bail bonds lobby, which contributes to pro-incarceration measures like Prop 20. The California Supreme Court is currently deliberating two cases in which the plaintiffs claim that the state and federal constitutions prohibit a trial court from setting bail in amounts that criminal defendants are unable to pay. We hope the Court will require lower courts to prevent incarceration of someone pending their trial simply because they can’t afford bail.