Money. Money. Money. Election time is just around the corner, and money has emerged as a dominant theme of this year’s ballot. It was the late, bigger-than-life Jesse Unruh, California’s “Big Daddy” assembly speaker throughout the 1960s, who is best remembered for his maxim, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”
That certainly seems to be the case with the innocuous-sounding Measure I in the upcoming March 3 election, for which voting by mail-in ballots is already underway. Measure I asks Marin and Sonoma voters to renew until 2059 an existing quarter-cent sales tax to keep the SMART train operating. The eye-popper is that over $2.4 million has been contributed to the Measure I campaign, split almost evenly between the proponent and opponent campaigns. Even more intriguing is that $2.2 million of that largesse has come from just two sources.
A member of a wealthy developer family in Sonoma has individually chucked in something in the neighborhood of $1.2 million to the No on I side. In response, the Graton Rancheria Indian tribe came up with a cool $1 million to help the Yes on I folks (yes, the same Graton Rancheria that runs a gambling casino in Rohnert Park). Together, the investment from these two contributors alone equates to just about precisely $5 per registered voter in the two counties that will vote on Measure I (and that’s going to buy a lot of slick mailers to clog up our mailboxes).
Money’s also on the table in a big way at the state level in the form of a $15 billion bond issue to fund long overdue school construction and repairs throughout California, from preschools to universities. It is designated Proposition 13 on your ballot, and we endorse a Yes vote.
Let’s dive into the other details of this election, which is bookended by the presidential primary at the national level and a truly bizarre initiative measure about the San Geronimo Golf Course at the local level.
Heading the ballot are some elective offices, but the outcomes of all those races are pretty much foregone conclusions. Jared Huffman, for one, is a shoo-in for re-election as our District 2 congressional representative, and it’s an honor to once again recommend a vote for Jared. He has been a reliable supporter of a host of issues important to West Marin, most notably the Coast Guard housing.
Another candidate with a clear shot at re-election is our assembly member Marc Levine. I’ve never been a fan of his, but he’s held the seat long enough that he seems to have a lock on it (at least until he gets termed out). I was actually softening toward him in recent months. I liked especially his leadership on the issues swirling around the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge woes, but just this past week he pulled one of those bonehead moves that make me wonder what drives the guy. He proposed headline-grabbing legislation to require that all registered voters in California have to vote—not all eligible voters, mind you, just those who have registered.
Most experts agree that the voting problem is less a matter of registered voters not voting than it is with eligible voters not registering in the first place. If this proposal had originated in, say, Ohio or Alabama, I’d be suspicious that it was part of a voter suppression effort aimed at discouraging people from registering. Nonetheless, none of Levine’s opponents have much better going for them, so he gets my grudging endorsement.
The only other office on the ballot is our Fourth District county supervisor. Incumbent Dennis Rodoni is running for a second term, against perennial (and never yet successful) candidate Alex Easton-Brown. It’s easy to explain why my support goes wholeheartedly to Rodoni: It’s a mockery of our entire system of governance that we have to endure the intemperate, angry white male in the White House, so we vigorously oppose anointing someone who seems cut from similar cloth to represent us at the Civic Center. In addition to his penchant for vitriol-laced public statements (check out his candidate statement in the voter pamphlet), Easton-Brown hasn’t shown much appreciable grasp of what the role of supervisor entails, as his campaign so far has focused virtually exclusively on the golf course. That’s not surprising, because he was recruited to run for supervisor by the same realtor interests that sponsored the misbegotten campaign to bamboozle the golf course measure onto the ballot.
The golf course initiative, Measure D, is a countywide vote that, if successful, would erect a string of vaguely defined and legally tenuous roadblocks in the way of any proposal to use any of the 157 acres of the former (and long-since closed) golf course for anything other than golf. Moreover, if a proposal manages to clear all the hurdles, it then has to be submitted to a vote by the entire county. It’s distressing to read the number of letters to the editor in the Marin Independent-Journal from people who have bought into the wishful thinking that passing Measure D will make golf suddenly reappear in the San Geronimo Valley. That’s never going to happen. Instead, what will surely follow if Measure D passes is that any future use of the property will be tied up in the courts for years, perhaps even decades (read the impartial legal analysis of Measure D in your voter pamphlet). I urgently advise a No vote on the dangerously misconceived Measure D.
On the other hand, I fully support Measure C, which will approve a tax levy to support the recently established Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority. The M.W.P.A. is a consortium of 17 agencies in Marin with jurisdiction over fire protection, including, importantly, all of our West Marin fire districts. We know what happened in counties north of us when wildfires raged out of control and consumed entire communities. Marin’s fire agencies have come together with a coordinated, comprehensive plan to fire-harden the county and protect our communities from a devastating wildfire scenario. It is essential to approve Measure C, which will distinguish Marin as the first county in the state to put together a unified approach to making all of our jurisdictions as fire-safe as possible. YES ON C!
Finally, we come to Measure I’s 30-year sales tax renewal to keep the SMART train chugging. As somewhat of a train buff, I’m probably one of the few West Marin residents who has actually ridden the train end-to-end (before the extension from San Rafael to Larkspur opened). The train does little for West Marin other than that we get to help pay for it with our sales tax pennies. There is of course the “greater good” argument that encourages us to support anything reasonable that improves mass transit. But there’s also the boding reality that Measure I is highly unlikely to come anywhere near getting the two-thirds majority it needs.
Its problems are myriad. The 30-year renewal is for a current tax that doesn’t even expire until 2029. SMART wants the long-term renewal now to improve its chances of securing cheaper financing and government grants. The train’s passage through downtown San Rafael is causing blocks-long traffic jams and impeding traffic flows on local thoroughfares, which seems quite counterproductive for a system that was supposedly going to reduce congestion (which it hasn’t done on 101, importantly). The new Larkspur station is nearly a half-mile walk to and from the ferry terminal. The train itself, though sleek and comfortable, is a diesel dinosaur out of a bygone era, not an ecologically appropriate, electrically operated light rail carriage. And, ultimately, it’s taking a lot of hopeful spin to justify SMART’s low ridership numbers after two years of operation. Sadly, the SMART train was never well thought out to begin with (it was conceived and orchestrated in Sacramento, not in the two counties where it operates). You can vote yes or no as you wish on this one; I don’t believe our votes in West Marin are going to make any difference on a measure that isn’t resonating well enough to convince two-thirds of the electorate.
Wade Holland has been active in West Marin issues since settling his family into Inverness 50 years ago this month.