California's 5 Worst Ballot Initiatives

California's 5 Worst Ballot Initiatives

Happy Election Day!

Could you even sleep last night? Do you view your local polling place like a 5-year-old views a Christmas tree on Christmas morning? Can you not wait one more minute to vote the bastards out?

Well, before you go get your teabag on, take a gander at bad initiatives that have gone before California voters in elections past.

California's 5 Worst Ballot Initiatives

Official name: the People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation

When approved by California voters: June 6, 1978

Margin of victory: 4,280,689 (64.8%) votes in favor to 2,326,167 (35.2%) votes against

What it did: Capped tax rate on real property to 1% of the full cash value of such property, rolled back property values to their 1975 value and restricted annual increases in assessed value of real property to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2% per year. It also prohibited reassessment of a new base year value except upon (a) change in ownership or (b) completion of new construction.

Why it sucks: By decreasing the taxation rate, the constitutional amendment decreased the revenue that funded public libararies, police and fire services, and--most significantly--public education (among several other services and programs).

It has created a disincentive for longtime owners to sell homes and an incentive for longtime renters to remain in rental housing. It has created a shortage of affordable housing. It has been unequally assessed and applied, hitting minorities and immigrants hardest and the rich and elite the lightest. It's also been a boon for corporations over people.

Why else: It has caused local and state governments to create new new sales taxes, fees and special assessment districts to fill in funding gaps.

California's 5 Worst Ballot Initiatives


Official name: California Marriage Protection Act

When approved: Nov. 4, 2008

Margin of victory: 7,001,084 (52.24%) votes for to 6,401,482 (47.76%) against

What it did: Added a new provision, Declaration of Rights Section 7.5 to the California Constitution, providing that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." This overturned the California Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

Why it sucks: It legitimizes unequal rights in a state Constitution that is supposed to guarantee freedom for all.

Why else: As the law stands now, it also legitimizes unequal rights among California

same-sex couples

. Those who married after the state Supremes ruled they could but before Prop 8 passed are now legally recognized as married couples while, say, the lesbian couple across the street can't marry here.

California's 5 Worst Ballot Initiatives
Photo of Bong Rip by Jennie Warren/OC Weekly


Official name: the Compassionate Use Act of 1996

When approved: Nov. 5, 1996

Margin of victory: 5,382,915 (55.6%) votes in favor to 4,301,960 (44.4%) against

What it did: Allowed patients with a valid doctor's recommendation, and the patient's designated Primary Caregivers, to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use. It has since been expanded to protect a growing system of collective and cooperative distribution.

Why it sucks: The inherent conflict with federal law, which forbids possession and cultivation of marijuana with or without a note from a doctor, has never been resolved. So, Californians who believe they are following state law are subject to prosecution in federal courts. Worse, some judges have not allowed those on trial to use Prop 215 as a defense--or to even mention it in front of juries. Other gray areas in the law have created more confusion than illumination, leading to a chain of events that could have Californians voting to legalize weed--or . . . gulp . . . against it--today.

Why else: Potheads and pot dealers exploit the law every day. So do cops and cities.

California's 5 Worst Ballot Initiatives
Illustration by Mark Dancey


Official name: Save Our State (SOS) initiative

When approved: Nov. 8, 1994

Margin of victory: 5,063,537 (58.93%) votes in favor to 3,529,432 (41.07%) votes against

When defeated: July 1999, when then-Governor Gray Davis stopped appeals to preserve the law, effectively killing it.

What it was supposed to do: Create a state-run citizenship screening system to prohibit illegal immigrants from using health care, public education and other social services in California.

Why that would have sucked: Besides the obvious xenophobia toward Latino immigrants, it would have been unruly to enforce, leading to uneven applications of the law, which the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently frowned upon. (Or, at least it used to.) It had the potential to negatively effect the foreign-born parents of children who were legal U.S.-born citizens under the U.S. Constitution. Federal agencies were poised to withhold millions bound for California if Prop 187 stood.

Why else: Mexico was calling out California as being full of haters, and other U.S. states were threatening to boycott us like we were 2010 Arizona.

California's 5 Worst Ballot Initiatives


Official name: Taxpayers Right to Vote Act

When defeated: June 8, 2010

Margin of defeat: 2,820,135 (52.75%) votes against to 2,526,544 (47.25%) votes for

What it was supposed to do:  Require support of two-thirds of the electorate before cities, districts or councils could create public-backed power corporations.

Why it blew: Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and other companies that provide power to 70% of Californians are private. Noticing that some communities, like Anaheim and Sacramento, have had success (and lower user costs) through public-owned utilities, Bay Area residents feeling gouged by PG&E explored going public as well. Fearing a trend--and competition--PG&E bankrolled, with millions of dollars, Prop 16, which would have created a tough hurdle for public-backers to clear, and ensuring private ownership of utilities would remain even more of a lock than it is already.

Why else: Much of PG&Ey's spending went into television ads that tried to hoodwink voters across the state into believing Prop 16 would preserve their voting rights--instead of taking away a choice they already have.


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