Written by Skyler Shipp (News Writer)
With wildfires ravaging over four million acres and a pandemic threatening many lives as well as the economy, our state is grappling with many issues. This year’s propositions seek to address some of the most pressing issues facing our state, including soaring rent, voting rights for those on parole, and overcrowded prisons, with 10 prisons at over 137% of their design capacity. But are these propositions really viable solutions for our state’s problems?
One of the most long standing problems in California is the lack of affordable housing, and many look to rent control as a solution. The battle between supporters and opponents of rent control has reached this year’s ballot in the form of Proposition 21 which would allow local governments to enact rent control on housing that was first occupied over 15 years ago, with an exception for landlords who own no more than two homes with distinct titles or subdivided interests.
Most rent control policies in place are more accurately described as “rent stabilization” instead of capping the price at a specific point, rent stabilization limits the rate at which landlords can increase their rent. California approved a statewide rent stabilization bill earlier this year, which made it illegal for residential landlords to raise rent more than 5% a year plus the rate of inflation (LA Curbed). Proposition 21 would allow local governments to set their own rent control or stabilization policies on more types of rentals than before. This regulation of rent remains controversial, with some saying that it is necessary for our cities while others say that it will actually end up hurting renters.
Rent control policies have caused some landlords to demolish their older rent-controlled apartments in favor of building newer ones exempt from rent control, or choosing to sell their housing at full price rather than rent at a controlled price. Overall in San Francisco, Rent control has benefitted long time residents who managed to secure rent stabilized housing, and disadvantaged newer residents who are forced to shop on the open market where prices are higher because of the decreasing number of rentals caused by these rent policies. While the wealthy can afford the higher costs for the new rentals, the poor and middle class often have to look elsewhere for housing, leading to rapid gentrification of San Francisco. Prop 21 would allow municipalities to put more housing under rent control, which, if the San Francisco’s rent control laws are a good indicator, will make it more difficult for new renters and landlords, while benefiting those who manage are living in or have gotten rent controlled housing. This could affect Santa Cruz and maybe even SLV renters whose landlords meet the new criteria and if Santa Cruz adopts rent control by either creating more stable rent or by causing them to lose housing if their landlord decides to stop renting. Governor Gavin Newsom, who signed our state’s universal rent control bill, is a notable opponent of this proposition.
There is a wide range of initiatives on the ballot this year. Another one of significance is Proposition 20. This proposition would allow certain crimes that were previously charged as misdemeanors be charged as felonies and allow DNA collection for certain misdemeanors. This would reverse some of the previous reforms put in place during the last eight years. A few of these reforms include Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016. These propositions helped reduce the incarceration rate among Californians from 431 inmates per 100,000 residents in 2011 to 332 in 2017 (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation). But Proposition 47 lowered criminal sentences for drug possession, theft, shoplifting, identity theft, receiving stolen property, writing bad checks, and check forgery from felonies that can bring prison terms to misdemeanors that often bring minimal jail sentences (AP News). While these acts lead to less overcrowding in prisons and reduced costs, they also caused an increase in theft, with larcenies increasing by 9% after Proposition 47 was passed according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Prop 20 would allow prosecutors the option to charge some theft-related misdemeanors as felonies and make it harder for those committing non-violent crimes to get parole. This would make it far easier for businesses to prosecute those who have committed theft, after the threshold for felony theft was raised to $950 from $450 (NBC San Diego). Opponents of Prop 21 feel that there needs to be more lenient sentencing to reduce California’s Prison population. Supporters think that the prison reforms of the last eight years have gone too far, allowing people to get away with crimes with little punishment. This proposition will not only be a referendum on criminal sentencing, but a referendum on the reforms passed over the last eight years. This could affect how businesses in the valley prosecute shoplifting and other crimes as well as increase the population of our county jail.
Lastly, voting for felons on parole is on the ballot this year. With elections becoming more and more polarized, voting rights for those on parole has been a contentious issue, with some saying that voting for those on parole makes convicts less likely to commit another crime, while others argue that parole is still part of the prison sentence, and voting shouldn’t occur before the sentence is over. California is in about the “low middle of the pack” when it comes to voting rights, according to Government and History teacher Cindy Martinez, “We have more rights than other states and fewer than others…Basically in the 25-50% group with the top group being no loss of voting rights.” Prop 17 seeks to expand voting rights in California. A yes vote would allow those on parole for felony convictions to vote, while a no vote would continue to not allow those on parole for felony convictions to vote.
There are many more propositions than these on the ballot, and they all will affect the future of our state. When voting on these propositions, it is important to do research and look at all the pros and cons, and make a balanced decision. Our mock election at SLV gave important insight into many of the current measures, and if you can vote in the actual election, please vote and make your voice heard.