Edie Irons has been making voter guides for about 15 years, and teaming up with her mom, Janet Cox, to produce this guide for the last several. We each do our own research, look at other endorsements, have some insider knowledge from 15-50 years of local political involvement, and host a ballot party with friends and neighbors to talk it all through.
Our recommendations are also informed by our work. Edie is the Communications Director at TransForm, a trusted Bay Area nonprofit working on climate and equity through the lens of transportation and land use. Janet worked on environmental and water policy in California (among other things) for a few decades; the last few years she’s focused on fossil fuel/pension finance policy, and led legislative lobbying teams for Fossil Free California and 350 Silicon Valley. She has two significant legislative victories under her belt — SB 185 and SB 964.
This voter guide will contain:
- Federal candidates
- State candidates
- State Propositions
- Alameda County and Special Districts
- Oakland Candidates
- Oakland Measures
- City of Alameda
- Berkeley Candidates (coming soon)
- Berkeley Measures (coming soon)
President/Vice President: Biden/Harris
No explanation seems needed here.
US House of Representations: Barbara Lee
She still speaks for me (us)!
State Senate District 9 – Nancy Skinner
We’ll miss her when she’s termed out — she is a climate warrior, strong on housing and criminal justice, and a very savvy legislator overall.
Assembly District 15 – Buffy Wicks
Janet has Buffy’s ear on climate and the environment, and sees her working hard and making some progress. (Her opponent is not a serious candidate, but her manifesto is worth a read… crude and provocative, but not too far off the mark as far as Edie is concerned.)
Assembly District 18 – Rob Bonta
Running against a Republican, Bonta authored some good bills on a range of important issues, is a reliable progressive advocate in Sacramento, and has been doing a great job keeping constituents informed about the pandemic.
Assembly District 16 – Rebecca Bauer-Kahan is the incumbent Democrat running against a Republican.
NO on Prop 14 – Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative
Back in 2004 after the Bush administration banned federal funding of human-embryonic stem cell research, California passed a $3 billion bond, Prop 71, to give this promising field a shot in the arm. Now the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, established back in 2004, has run through nearly all that money, and this initiative would replenish CIRM’s budget to the tune of $5.5 billion in new bonds.
We believe in spending public money on medical research and development, but this LA Times editorial convinced us that this is not the time or the way. There is plenty of other money for stem cell research now, and more likely to come if Biden wins; and CIRM has governance issues that should be addressed. California has other pressing needs for taxpayer dollars, beyond paying debt service on these bonds.
YES on Prop 15 – Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative
We’ve waited years for this! Prop 15 is arguably the most important state proposition on the ballot this year. It’s a golden opportunity to bring billions of dollars to cash-strapped local communities, schools, and public agencies throughout the state. Prop 15 would end Prop 13’s tax loophole for big businesses that own properties worth $3 million or more, which has been impoverishing schools and other public services in California since the 1970s. It’s also fun to look up how much Prop 15 would bring to your county.
YES on Prop 16 – Repeal Prop 209 to Support Racial and Gender Equality
People of color and women are routinely discriminated against in hiring, education, the workplace, and beyond, but California is one of just a handful of states that bans affirmative action as a tool to combat discrimination. For example, since Prop 209 passed in 1996, the Black student enrollment in the UC system has decreased by 50 percent. Structural racism and sexism are not problems that will just fix themselves. It’ll take effort and intentional anti-racist policymaking, and Prop 16 is a good start.
YES on Prop 17 – Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment
The California constitution currently prohibits people who are in prison or on parole from voting; yet people in county jail or on county-supervised probation can vote. Passage of this proposition would allow persons on parole to vote. People who have “paid their debt to society” should be treated as full community members. In fact, we’d also support allowing people who are currently incarcerated to vote! Revoking rights of citizenship for prisoners has its roots in the Black Codes of the Reconstruction Era and doesn’t even make sense. 19 other states allow people on parole to vote, let’s join them.
In case you’re wondering about the difference between parole and probation: Parole is a period of supervision, with conditions, designed to re-acclimate a former inmate to society. Persons convicted of non-violent crimes may be eligible for parole after completing half their sentence. Counties are responsible for supervising paroled felons convicted of certain crimes defined in law as non-serious, or non-violent. Currently there are approximately 50,000 people on parole in California. Parole should not be confused with probation, which is part of a sentence imposed by a court when a person is convicted of a crime.
YES on Prop 18 – Primary Voting for 17-year-olds Amendment
This proposition takes a couple of baby steps toward full voting rights for 17-year-olds. It allows 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the next general election to vote in primaries and special elections. We support this one partly for reasons similar to Prop 17: Voting is an essential part of responsible citizenship, and voting in a primary is important preparation for voting in a general election. Our youth, more and more aware and mobilized, need to be able to vote their principles and have a say in their own fates. Plus, studies show that voting is habit-forming! 18 other states allow 17-year-olds to vote.
NO on Prop 19 – Property Tax Transfers, Exemptions, and Revenue for Wildfire Agencies and Counties Amendment
This is a tax giveaway to the rich, and a way to tinker with and therefore prop up Prop 13’s very problematic residential provisions. It was proposed by the California Association of Realtors and although many prominent Democrats support it, many progressive organizations and a few wise editorial boards do not. Would be great if the current property tax transfer provision was extended to all counties. But this is just way too many potentially huge tax breaks for rich people, who should be paying more when the state is in need, not less.
So what does it do? A mix of good and bad tax changes. Currently, 10 California counties allow residents who are over 55 or disabled to downsize and transfer their old property tax bill to a new home of equal or lesser value in any one of the other 9 counties. Prop 19 would expand this program to the entire state, remove the home value limitation, and allow three such transfers — that’s the bad part, as it cuts taxes for people who likely need it least (wealthy homeowners). It would also close a loophole that allows family members who inherit property to also inherit a very low property tax rate (thanks to Prop 13), unless the inheritor will make the home their principal residence — that’s good because it will raise taxes for people who likely own multiple homes, but it’s bad because it still advantages wealthier homeowners and families. Increased state revenue due to this law would be partially dedicated to firefighting, but that’s just a crowd-pleaser to get folks to vote for this inequity-expanding measure.
NO on Prop 20 – Criminal Sentencing, Parole, and DNA Collection Initiative
This horrible and racist initiative would massively expand incarceration in CA by rolling back three criminal justice reform measures passed in the last decade. It redefines 51 crimes as “violent” and thus ineligible for parole. It makes it harder for an inmate convicted of a non-violent crime to qualify for parole, allowing prosecutors and victims’ families to participate in parole review. It eliminates funding for mental health and rehabilitation programs in prison! And then it throws in a DNA collection requirement, even for misdemeanors. Former Gov. Jerry Brown summed it up well: “Prop 20 wants to basically eliminate all hope in prison.”
YES on Prop 21 – Rental Affordability Act
Prop 21 would allow local governments more power to expand rent control and implement tenant protections to prevent displacement and make housing more affordable for everyone in California. In 2018 we supported Prop 10, which would have repealed the highly problematic Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Prop 21 would instead replace Costa-Hawkins. New rules would allow local governments to establish rent control on properties over 15 years old, with rent increases of up to 15 percent over the three years after a vacancy, and exempt owners of 1-2 properties from new rent control policies resulting from this proposition. These moderating changes seem to have won broader support for Prop 21, and they will be wise compromises if they can get us to a win. Learn more about Yes on Prop 21.
No on Prop 22 – App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative
This measure was put on the ballot by Uber, DoorDash, and Lyft (with help from Postmates and Instacart) to overturn key provisions of AB 5, the 2019 law that requires them to classify their drivers as employees instead of independent contractors and guarantee benefits such as health care, minimum wage and overtime, and the ability to unionize. Working at TransForm, Edie knows new mobility technology can be a force for racial and economic justice, but only if its workforce is doing well. It would also take 7/8 of the legislature to change any aspect of the initiative, like for workers to gain collective bargaining rights. For more info, see TransForm’s blog post on the issue.
This is shaping up to be the most expensive initiative campaign in the state’s history: The companies that put this on the ballot have spent over $180 million so far. Most progressives, unions, and leaders we trust also oppose it.
NO on Prop 23 – Dialysis Clinic Requirements Initiative
Yet another kidney dialysis measure! Like Proposition 8 two years ago, Prop 23 was put on the ballot by SEIU to put pressure on the two companies that run most private dialysis clinics… and are blocking unionization of their workforces. SEIU can spend $2 million to put a measure on the ballot that would curb profits of the dialysis companies, forcing them to spend $111 million to beat it in 2018, and $80 million and counting this time. Still, these expenditures are unlikely to break or even slow down the vastly profitable companies.
The ballot is not the place for this brawl, and there doesn’t seem to be much medical benefit to the hurdles Prop 23 would put up. In fact, the physician-on-the-premises requirement smacks of restrictive abortion laws that require hospital privileges — and just like those heinous laws, it has more to do with politics than health care. So voting NO is something of a protest vote. There is also the possibility that passage of the bill would increase the cost of dialysis services, which is largely paid by Medicare and Medical.
NO on Prop 24 – Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative
This initiative would establish a new California Privacy Protection Agency… but mostly it protects businesses that buy or sell personal data and requires consumers to opt out of data collection practices, one by one. With no net neutrality in sight, it’s also possible that customers who opt out of data collection could expect worse connections, slower downloads, and more pop-up ads. Lots of sources we trust are coming out against this one. And when in doubt and it’s messy or unclear, we lean towards no.
Prop 24 has another annoying backstory: One deep-pocketed advocate, Alistair McTaggart, qualified an initiative for the ballot in 2018 but withdrew it after negotiations with lawmakers. Those negotiations yielded the Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, which Jerry Brown signed into law. But now McTaggart is back with Prop 24, because this time the legislature couldn’t make it go away.
YES on Prop 25 – Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments
Voters are being asked to approve or reject SB 10, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017. The bill replaced regressive cash bail with a risk assessment system that would allow a detained suspect to be released before trial if that person is deemed to have a low risk of failing to appear at trial, and a low risk to public safety. But SB 10 never took effect, because the day after Brown signed the bill the American Bail Coalition, a trade association of bail bond business owners, filed the veto referendum.
Cash bail is institutionalized wealth discrimination. Whether someone is released pretrial should be due to their risk of flight/crime, not their wealth. Even someone eventually found not guilty—or not even charged—can be left with a huge debt to a bail bond holder. It sounds like the new risk-assessment system isn’t perfect, but we’d rather the legislature improve it in the future than go back to cash bail.
Alameda County and Special Districts
YES on Alameda County Measure W – ½ percent sales tax increase
This measure would add a half cent to the county sales and use tax for 10 years in order to go to homelessness prevention and supportive services for people experiencing homelessness. We were worried that the funds go to the county general fund and could actually be spent on whatever, but the measure will create a citizen oversight committee to review and report on expenditures every year. There has been a months-long collaborative planning process around this, and advocates will be watching that it is honored. Basically every housing advocacy org in the county is supporting Measure W. This oversight structure is a way to get around the 2/3 voting requirement for a measure that formally dedicates funds to a specific purpose. This way, Measure W only needs a simple majority to pass. (The City of Berkeley did the same with its soda tax, and are hoping to do it again with Measure GG this year.)
We hate to see a new regressive sales tax during a pandemic, and our sales tax rate is getting way up there, but at least it’s going where it’s needed. We also wish the County would instead shift funds away from the Sheriff and/or Santa Rita Jail to fund these services — the Board of Supervisors approved $318 million extra for Santa Rita jail just this May… but defeating this measure won’t make that happen (if you know what will, please get in touch).
YES on Alameda County Measure V – Extend Utility Users’ Tax for Unincorporated Alameda County
This extends an existing tax that residents of unincorporated areas of the county (places like Castro Valley, San Lorenzo, Sunol, etc. that are not cities) pay to cover county services they receive. Not a problem.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge – Elena Condes
Judge races are tricky because candidates can’t take positions on issues. So we look at endorsements, read what the candidates have to say, and talk to trusted friends with more knowledge of the courts. In this case, both Condes and Fickes look quite good, though Condes has more endorsements from folks we trust. All other things being equal, Edie in inclined to choose the queer woman of color over the white man (though he is gay too).
Alameda County Supervisor District 1 (Tri-Valley + Fremont area) – Vinnie Bacon
We know and like Vinnie from our time on the Alameda County Democratic Party’s Central Committee several years back. He’s a progressive who opposed sprawl development and highway widening projects and fought to preserve open space in the South Bay even before serving on the Fremont City Council. Vinnie beat state Senator Bob Wieckowski in the primary. His opponent in the general, the mayor of Dublin, seems much more conservative.
Peralta Community College District 1 – Jeff Heyman
The Peralta Community College Board needs strong fiscal oversight and advocates for students and teaching staff — the majority of whom work part-time for little pay, while administrators seem overpaid and the district’s finances are never in great shape. Josh Heyman worked at the district for many years as a public information officer, and was actually a whistleblower. He has been endorsed by the Peralta Federation of Teachers and other relevant unions, as well as other groups and people we trust. The longtime incumbent, Bill Withrow, is a rubber stamp for the administration who is not providing meaningful oversight.
AC Transit Director Ward 1 – Ben Fong
Ben Fong is a daily bus rider and transit advocate, sat on the Berkeley Planning Commission, and is focused on avoiding the impending 30% service cuts facing AC Transit. His answers to questionnaires we’ve seen are thoughtful, principled, and well-informed. Several people we trust on transit issues are supporting Ben. Joe Wallace has held this seat for 20 years and is not super effective.
Jovanka Beckles is a favorite of labor and Edie agrees with many of her statements about transit justice, but she was not focused on transit at all during her recent bid for the State Assembly and this is likely a stepping stone for her. Especially when transit is in crisis because of COVID, we want AC Transit’s directors to be steeped in transportation issues more than in politics.
AC Transit Director Ward 2 – Jean Walsh
Jean is another transportation nerd who would bring fresh energy to a seat that an incumbent has held for twenty years. Harper is not a friend of the unions associated with AC Transit, and that’s something we look for in a transit board director — especially when their workers are on the frontlines of a deadly global pandemic. Anyway, Jean would be a great addition to the board.
AC Transit Director At Large – H.E. Christian (Chris) Peeples
Chris Peeples was the President of the AC Transit Board for years; he’s been on since 1997. He is one of the most devoted elected officials we know. He has an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of transit and all its intersections, he’s a friend of transit unions and riders, and he shows up and is known throughout his massive district. Especially since we hope to see some other new faces on the AC Transit board, Chris’s experience, leadership, and institutional knowledge will be important. He’s mentored many young people running for office and will do the same for new board members.
Chris’s main opponent, Victoria Fierce is an energetic transit and housing advocate and she should run for Joel Young’s at-large seat in two years. Dollene Jones runs every chance she gets but never makes a strong showing.
BART Director District 1 – Jamie Salcido
The incumbent (Debora Allen) has been terrible on the Board, reflexively supports police and impugns their critics, and votes wrong on transit-oriented development and affordable housing, maintenance and operations, and more. Jamie Salcido is a smart, decent, progressive person, serving on the Walnut Creek transportation commission. Emmy Akin, who’s still on the ballot, withdrew and endorsed Jamie.
BART Director District 5 – John McPartland
McPartland has gotten more progressive over the years and now votes with the progressives on the BART Board most of the time. As a retired firefighter, he brings a different perspective to the board, picks up on things that nobody else does, asks questions nobody else would. McPartland isn’t perfect, but he’s the best option on the ballot for District 5. His main challenger, Mike Wallace, cut from a similar cloth as the D1 incumbent in his policy views, would set the board way back if he gets elected. The other candidate is not mounting a viable campaign.
East Bay Regional Park District Ward 1 – Norman LaForce
For the parks board, we’re trusting the endorsement of the Sierra Club and the East Bay League of Conservation Voters over the local political establishment. Norman is a conservationist and environmentalist with a long history advocating for East Bay Regional Parks. As with other special districts in this section, we like to support people who live and breathe these issues when possible. Elizabeth Echols has been in on the local political scene longer than we have and this seems like a stepping stone for her.
A note: At the municipal level, we’re motivated by the need to move money from policing to more supportive community-based services, and by the need to safely and affordably house our residents. The intersecting crises of racial injustice, the pandemic, and economic inequality are killing our neighbors, and call for bold solutions. Moving money from police budgets to other vital public services is the best way for cities to do right by their residents in 2021 and beyond. If you say Black Lives Matter, please vote like it.
Ranked-Choice Voting is great when you like multiple candidates, but where only one Oakland or Berkeley candidate is listed, we don’t recommend a second choice.
Oakland Council At-Large – Rebecca Kaplan
Rebecca Kaplan is generally a reliable vote for progressive causes in Oakland. She has led on lots of important issues like climate and transit; she’s to the left of the Mayor on policing and affordable housing. She has attempted to tax ride-hailing companies to pay for transportation infrastructure, and consequently Lyft has put $100,000 into her opponent’s campaign.
Derreck Johnson, that opponent, seems much more moderate and much less savvy on matters of public policy. He says he wants to “eradicate homelessness” but doesn’t have any specifics for how to realistically do that, talks vaguely about “public/private partnerships.” He is moderate by Oakland standards when it comes to moving money away from the police. Most damning though is the fact that he claims to be a small businessman, but he actually lost his restaurant to bankruptcy in 2017, “grossly mismanaged” the business, improperly took money out of it for himself, and failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and worker’s compensation payments. Sound familiar?
Rebecca isn’t perfect, but we shouldn’t replace a progressive with a failed businessman who’s new to politics.
Oakland Council District 1 – Dan Kalb
We know Dan Kalb well, and he has served admirably on the council. He’s an affable policy wonk, very progressive, and we agree with almost all of his votes. He’s probably the strongest policymaker on the council, having led on police accountability, tenant protections and affordable housing, public safety, climate change, and lots more. There’s no good reason to kick him out, and nothing sufficient to recommend his main challenger, Steph Walton.
Oakland Council District 3 – Carroll Fife
Carroll Fife is a fierce progressive champion and organizer running to replace a continually disappointing incumbent who is not a leader on the council. Carroll was behind the inspiring and brilliant Moms4Housing action, managed Cat Brooks’s mayoral campaign, and organizes for tenants’ rights and worker rights in her day job. She’ll be another bold progressive leader on the council pushing for the big solutions we need. She has earned tons of endorsements from a who’s who of community-based orgs, labor, progressive leaders in Oakland.
Oakland Council District 5 – #1 Richard Santos Raya, #2 Zoe Lopez-Meraz
Richard is an energetic and smart young progressive running to replace Noel Gallo, who has been very disappointing on policing and homelessness in 2020. Richard (the son of progressive political parents, who we know), would be a progressive and independent voice on the council and has an impressive set of detailed policy proposals on his website. We know less about Zoe Lopez-Meraz, but she seems strong in similar ways and she and Richard are pairing up for ranked-choice voting (asking their supporters to put the other as #2).
Oakland Council District 7 – Treva Reid
These are the candidates we knew the least about, but Edie read through the very detailed candidate questionnaires collected by The Oaklandside, took a look at endorsements, and talked to a few friends. Treva Reid stands out on all counts. Not thrilled to see a political dynasty shaping up (her father has held this seat for a very long time), but she seems to be her own very capable and progressive person.
Oakland City Attorney – Barbara Parker
Edie knows and likes Barbara Parker, worked on her re-election campaign in 2016. Parker has stood up to slumlords, traffickers, the fossil fuel industry, and the Trump Administration. She expanded and strengthened the neighborhood law court that deals with public nuisances and tenants’ rights. She defended the coal export ban, though that issue could come up again and we might have reason to worry if her opponent held the job. However, a lawyer friend who follows the Oakland Police Commission closely tells us that Parker defends the police, slow-rolled the Commission, and regularly obstructs progressive legislation passed by the City Council.
Eli Ferran, on the other hand, seems like a much worse choice. He’s endorsed by a lot of Oakland leaders we disagree with (and some we like), but most importantly his former coworkers inside the City Attorney’s office voted 21 to 2 NOT to endorse him through their union, citing his poor performance during his 12 years in the office.
A note about Oakland Unified School District races:
This year NONE of the incumbents on the Oakland School Board are running for re-election… perhaps because they don’t want to answer for the extreme dysfunction in the district. To fill the void, teachers’ unions and billionaire-funded charter school interests are waging a proxy war. Oakland has a higher proportion of charter schools than any other school district in the state. Charter schools can be a mixed bag, but too many of them are privatizing and profiting off education, and all of them siphon resources from public schools, with less transparency and accountability. So we’re endorsing candidates who are NOT endorsed by the charter lobby, and leaning on the good work of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club’s Education Committee, questionnaires from Families in Action for Quality Education, and the Oakland Education Association to make these recommendations.
OUSD District 1 – #1 Sam Davis, #2 Stacy Thomas
OUSD District 3 – #1 VanCedric Williams, #2 Cherisse Gash
OUSD District 5 – Mike Hutchinson
OUSD District 7 – #1 Ben “Coach” Tapscott, #2 Victor Valerio
YES on Measure Y – OUSD Bond Measure
We will reluctantly vote yes on Measure Y, despite the chronic financial mismanagement and general mismanagement of OUSD. It does have the usual citizen oversight committee, and apparently this bond only meets about a fifth of the actual need for facilities and equipment upgrades at Oakland’s schools (but that’s all the district is allowed to add to their debt). It will add $50-60 per $100k of assessed value on homeowners’ property taxes, and debt service (interest) will apparently almost double the cost over the course of repayment. Not nothing!
YES on Measure QQ – Youth voting for OUSD elections
This measure would permit the Oakland City Council to pass an ordinance allowing 16-year-olds to vote for Oakland School Board directors. In addition to all the usual reasons why we support extending the franchise to younger people (see Prop 18 above)—we really like the idea of bringing school board campaigns inside the schools. Requiring school board candidates to engage with students and teachers sounds to us like great teaching moments, all around.
YES on Measure RR – Eliminate $1000 cap on fines
Currently, the Oakland City Charter limits fines for violations of ordinances of the Oakland Municipal Code to $1,000, an amount set in 1968, which upped the previous 1911 limit of $500. Every 50 years, time for a raise, right?
This measure removes that cap from the charter and places the responsibility for setting fines with the City Council, which provides an opportunity for public input. The challenging code violations addressed include unsafe and unsanitary housing, illegal dumping, graffiti, vacant buildings and unlawful construction. Part of the problem is well-off violators who would rather pay the relatively paltry fine instead of the greater costs associated with compliance. On the other hand, there is concern that the burden would fall mostly on low-income people and people of color — the majority of dumping is done by Oakland residents, and most is occurring in neighborhoods south of I-580. However, this opens the door to reforms to make enforcement fairer and eliminate policies that reinforce poverty, especially given the City Council make-up. At any rate, discouraging the wealthier offenders makes this worthwhile.
YES on Measure S1 – Amending powers of police commission
S1 strengthens the independent Police Commission and the Community Police Review Agency and establishes a professional Inspector General under the Commission. It also allows the CPRA to hire their own attorneys outside the City Attorney’s office, which represents OPD, and requires the City Council to act on Police Commission policy and procedure recommendations within 120 days—or the recommendations become final. These seem like necessary and meaningful improvements to empower citizen oversight of OPD, and lord knows we need all of that we can get.
City of Alameda
YES on City of Alameda Measure Z: Repeals Citywide Apartment Ban
Measure Z will repeal the City of Alameda’s racist and exclusionary ban on multi-family housing. That policy exacerbates our housing crisis, keeps people with lower incomes from making their homes on the island, and restricts the city from complying with state requirements on housing production.
Alameda City Council – Jim Oddie and Malia Vella
Whatever you do, don’t vote for Trish Spencer.
Berkeley Mayor – Jesse Arreguin
Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board:
There’s always a pro-tenant slate, and candidates put up by landlords and realtors. We support the tenant slate!
More coming very soon!