No Hunt in That Dog

Tax Increases, Pension Reform, and Police Chiefs, Oh My

Thursday, April 19, 2012
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HASTA LA BASTA: I was trying to buy a quart of milk at Vons when I was set upon by two young men armed with suspiciously white teeth, impeccable personal hygiene, and two clipboards that glimmered in the high-noon sun. They wanted my signature for a statewide ballot initiative. It had something to do, they explained, with a string of worthy-sounding nouns ​— ​like schools, equality, democracy ​— ​which, when combined, induce instant brain freeze. One of the signature gatherers elaborated how their initiative would address school bullying. Instantly, I straightened up, and politely returned their clipboard. Unsigned. It’s not that I support school bullies. I just remember what worked for me when I ​— ​addled, no doubt, by soaring testosterone counts ​— ​briefly tried my hand pushing other kids around. After one of my prospective victims punched me in the nose ​— ​twice in rapid succession ​— ​I quickly found other ways to express my male dominance. There’s no shortage of crafty legislative geniuses out there, but somehow I doubt even they can figure out how to put “two shots on the kisser” into legally enforceable language.

Angry Poodle

In California’s political mythology, the initiative process was embraced by good-government reformers back in 1911 as a fail-safe weapon of last resort to be availed upon by the disenfranchised multitudes only after the greedy special interests controlling the statehouse had stymied the will of the people. All that’s since been turned upside down. Santa Barbara’s politically powerful mayor, Helene Schneider, is now collecting signatures for three ballot measures ​— ​one to increase the sales tax, one to raise business fees on bar and restaurant owners doing business in Santa Barbara’s infamously popular Drunk-and-Disorderly Zone, and another which takes a stab at “reforming” city-employee pensions. What makes this weird is that Schneider ​— ​certainly one of the more accomplished and popular political players to grace the scene in a very long time ​— ​never sought to use the power and opportunity available to her as mayor to push for any of these reforms through normal channels. Whatever merits her proposals may or may not have, no one can argue Schneider’s path has been blocked by any coterie of well-greased fat cats holding City Hall hostage. (It should be noted that under state law, Schneider had to take her sales tax increase and the booze fee bump to voters, but the same can’t be said for her pension reform.) I admit these are controversial issues. And it’s clearly the case that public-employee unions, which give candidates a whole lot of money, enjoy a ton of influence. But to argue these unions are too powerful to allow pension reform to pass via the normal process flies in the face of the facts. Last November, the three City Council candidates backed by the allegedly omnipotent police and firefighter unions lost and lost badly. For the guns-n-hoses power block, it was an unprecedented spanking. And when the cops declared an impasse with City Hall negotiators last year, six of the seven councilmembers were ready to cram a contract down the union’s throat.

Now the Police Officers Association (POA) is getting into the act, as well, via an intriguing front group of disgruntled citizen activists, former councilmembers (Iya Falcone and Michael Self), former city staff (former fire chief Warner McGrew), and a former FBI agent (Tom Parker) who’s helped expose scandalous conditions in the L.A. County Jail and has gone nose-to-nose with Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez when serving on the city’s Fire and Police Commission. They’re pushing a ballot measure that would amend the city’s constitution to give the City Council ​— ​rather than the city administrator ​— ​the authority to hire and fire the police chief. It’s no secret that Mike McGrew (son of Warner) of the POA can’t stand City Administrator Jim Armstrong, who has fought to keep police spending in check, especially during our recent deficit-riddled depression. And it’s no secret that the union regards Chief Sanchez as a stooge for not defying Armstrong and demanding more money. Supporters term the new initiative a “power-to-the-people–type thing.” Critics call it “a POA power grab.” Both sides have their arguments, but I’d rather not hear any of them. I’m sick of initiatives.

The last one I supported ​— ​Proposition 22 in 2010 ​— ​backfired badly. Prop. 22 guaranteed it would stop the state legislature from raiding the coffers of city halls and redevelopment agencies statewide. Given how the legislature “borrowed” millions from Santa Barbara’s redevelopment agency ​— ​which generates $8 million a year in discretionary dollars ​— ​in the past, I figured we needed some protection. When Governor Jerry Brown ignored Prop. 22 last year and went after the redevelopment cookie jar, the cities sued. California’s Supreme Court judges, in their ruling, hacked the baby to bits and pieces, effectively abolishing all redevelopment agencies immediately. One of the major reasons the state’s budget is perpetually out of whack ​— ​and why Brown and the legislature need to rob local governments ​— ​is because of Prop. 13, passed in 1978 to curb excessive property-tax levies that were, in fact, putting seniors out of their homes. Or maybe it’s because of the Three Strikes Law ​— ​that California voters passed by initiative ​— ​that’s given our state the biggest ​— ​and most expensive ​— ​prison population this side of Siberia. Or maybe it’s the institutional brain-drain self-inflicted by state voters when they passed the state’s term-limits law to eradicate the scourge of career politicians. Career politicians haven’t gone away; they’re just as ambitious, just meaner, more ignorant, and more impatient.

For the record, I really like Schneider and McGrew. But if you think the convoluted machinery of pensions ​— ​or government bureaucracies ​— ​can be fixed with an initiative, you ain’t been paying attention. Based on the unintended dysfunction wrought by most California initiatives, I’d wager you’d have a better chance using a jack hammer to perform circumcisions. Oh, wasn’t there going to be an anti-circumcision initiative this November? Good thing for us its supporters backed off.

This story has been amended since its original posting to correct an error regarding which measures go to voters.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Politicians only solution is to increase taxes. There is no political will to cut spending.

Botany (anonymous profile)
April 19, 2012 at 11:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)


bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
April 19, 2012 at 12:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What is the motivation for this change for hiring and firing the P.D. Chief? I know that the aryian voting block of Samarkand, San Roque and Mesa are still upset about the tazer episode of one of their own brethren at Loreto Plaza last year. But isn't this just another red-herring 'the bulb-outs are after me' thing. Are people really upset about this issue, about hiring and firing the chief.

Too bad Iya Falcone jumped on the loopy conservative crazy train. Co-sponsoring anything with Michael Self should be a red flag to anyone of waning sensibilities. I'm mean; where did all the safety first rhetoric go. I continue to hear about people of all ages getting run-over and mutilated on our city streets. Is all this carnage just unavoidable? Are our usual issues of housing, transportation, beautification and safety all resolved and so now it is on to another Self-induced petty issue or phobia.

DonMcDermott (anonymous profile)
April 19, 2012 at 8:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The cost to the taxpayer of the consumption of alcoholic beverages is not limited to the policing of the lower state street party zone, and not all of the bars down there are guilty of causing extra policing. Police are frequently and repeatedly called to domestic violence calls that are nearly one hundred percent related to alcohol consumption, many traffic incidents are as well. The best solution to this is not a fee targeting all the pubs in the lower state street area but a fee attached to all alcoholic beverages sold in the city.
Rowland Lane Anderson

andersonlane47 (anonymous profile)
April 20, 2012 at 12:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I used to sign any petition put under my nose, believing in direct democracy to sort it out once on the ballot. Now, with paid signature-gatherers everywhere and the ability of anyone with about $2 million and a tailored mailing list to get ANYthing on the ballot, I've changed my mind. At least four things need to happen:
1) No ability to use paid signature-gatherers;
2) No ability to keep putting failed measures on the ballot over and over and over again, at least without a five-year waiting period;
3) At least double the number of signatures needed to qualify something for the ballot;
4) A two-thirds majority vote required for ballot-based constitutional amendments, unless related to changing or repealing prior amendments enacted with a simple majority vote.
I'd add spending limits but, after the outrageous "Citizens United" Supreme Court fiasco, what's the use?

GregMohr (anonymous profile)
April 20, 2012 at 12:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here's what we need right away:

Total equality by creating equal misery and abject poverty for all.

We can do this quickly by immediately:
1. Taxing producers of wealth 100% and giving it to government bureaucrats.
2. Turning over all decisions about our lives to really super smart college professors and others with PhDs. They know better - all the time.
3. Never, ever allow anyone to say that anyone is more productive or makes better personal decisions than anyone else, regardless if they actually do. We're all equal - in every respect.
4. Teach our children that striving for anything other then being equally miserable is not allowed and they should be ashamed. If any child tries to better themselves, they are hurting other kids and should be thrashed immediately.
5. Use some of the 100% taxes collected to build propaganda and take over the media to recycle 1-4 incessantly.

This is what Mao did while he oversaw the slaughter of 70,000,000 of his own people in *peacetime*.

Let's do this! Social Justice will finally see its full potential!

willy88 (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2012 at 8:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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