Now That the Election Is Over, Lets Talk Dollars and Sense
By Ryan Smith
Most of the straggling election results have finally worked themselves out, so now it’s time to take a look at how our local and state votes will really impact our pockets. A lot happened at the ballot boxes all over the country and across the state. The Republican Party sustained quite a beating in the first referendum on Trump. While big-ticket items were grabbing the attention, a lot happened in California’s direct democracy, locally and statewide. Here’s a quick rundown of what that means for the economy, your jobs and your wallets.
Hands-down, the two biggest Election Day propositions were in housing and Berkeley’s 2050 Vision advisory measure. The Bay also saw a series of propositions pushing for increased taxes on the growing marijuana industry. These measures will set the tone, economically and socially, for the Bay Area for years to come.
In the housing arena, San Francisco passed Proposition C, establishing a modest business tax to pay for increased services and housing for San Francisco’s homeless citizens. There are many, including Mayor London Breed, who argued that increased taxes will make the city even less welcoming to big investors. These arguments are nothing more than self-serving hot air. Economically speaking, San Francisco’s homeless population has been a major drag on tourism, hitting San Francisco’s already precarious hospitality workers and small business owners squarely in the bank account. Socially speaking, the living conditions forced on homeless San Franciscans, condemned to life on the streets under the nightsticks of Sit-Lie, are so atrocious the United Nations has condemned the city’s entire homeless policy as a “violation of human rights.” Big business can easily afford to pay their share for cleaning up a mess they helped make.
Berkeley went further, passing bond measures funding public housing for low-income citizens, the elderly and students. Building more affordable housing means low-income renters have less soaked up by rent, freeing up more to spend everywhere else. Any concerns over cost ignore the term benefits of making Berkeley more livable for its most vulnerable residents, particularly communities of color and queer youth, making the city better for everyone. Other Bay Area communities should be watching this program very closely to see how it plays out, what works and how they can implement similar programs throughout the region.
The legalization of cannabis in 2016 is also bearing fruit for local governments. San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward and Contra Costa County all passed measures increasing the taxes paid by cannabis growers and sellers, creating a new pool of revenue for funding local projects. Green is definitely making green for many in the Bay. That said, this isn’t good for everyone.
Federal laws banning banks from handling weed money mean these new taxes will also impose additional costs on smaller operators. Making this market more accessible for everyone will stabilize the booming industry, providing more money for critical city projects. One solid, local solution to the bank problem is pushing the ambitious public banking proposals currently under consideration in Oakland and San Francisco. Among many other benefits, these banks could hold cannabis industry money and use those deposits to fund loans for city projects.
Hands-down the biggest local proposition, as far as the economy is concerned, is Measure R, also known as Berkeley’s 2050 Vision for climate change. This calls on the city to investigate what will be needed for Berkeley to adapt to the impact of, as of the release of the latest IPCC report, easily the biggest problem facing the Bay and humanity. Though this proposition is only advisory, any additional pressure from citizens to implement any findings would lead to a huge potential windfall for the people of Berkeley. Required action through essential public works projects, like seawalls and overhauling electrical infrastructure, and support for green energy would attract new investment in Berkeley. It also sends a clear signal to green energy that Berkeley is the place to go, bringing more jobs to the Bay Area.
At the state level, there’s good news and bad news when it comes to housing. On the plus side, Propositions 1 and 2 approved funding for public housing for low-income and mentally ill Californians. Like the Berkeley measure, these propositions provide cheap, affordable homes close to work and that’s a net positive for everyone. As is the case at the local level, when you’ve got people paying less in rent, they will have more to spend everywhere else.
Unfortunately these victories were offset by the bruising defeat of Proposition 10, a measure that would’ve allowed cities and counties to implement their own rent control laws. With how incredibly expensive housing already is in California, this measure’s demise makes the Golden State less livable for entirely too many people already teetering on the brink. While rent control alone isn’t enough to solve California’s housing crisis, it certainly would’ve been a big step in the right direction. Proposition 10’s defeat will undermine any potential gains made by Props 1 and 2.
The housing measures stand in contrast to Proposition 12, which requires farmers to give more space for chickens, calves and breeding pigs. Though this is a well-intentioned measure, especially with how incredibly wasteful, environmentally destructive and inhumane factory farming currently is for animals and agricultural workers, it doesn’t go far enough. Factory farms, known in the industry as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs, are massive sources of both emissions and pollution before even touching on how unhealthy the meat they produce is for consumers.
Some may, at this point, object both on the grounds of government meddling and increased cost for agribusiness that would be passed on to consumers. What these objections ignore are examples, such as the United Kingdom and France, where stricter livestock and farming regulations deliver better quality food in equal quantity and equivalent cost to more wastefully-produced, unhealthy CAFO meat. The added benefit is that by reducing emissions and use of antibiotics in the food supply, climate change goals are easier to reach. If anything, Prop 12 needs to be followed up by a sustained campaign to completely transition Californian agriculture away from all forms of factory farming.
Adding it Up
The propositions and measures on the ballot this past election will have considerable economic impact on life in the Bay Area. The tentative steps toward more public housing, both statewide and in Berkeley, will provide some relief for lower-income communities who have been suffering under the growing cost of housing. The new efforts for helping homeless in San Francisco, along with being morally justified, will help lift people out of poverty and give struggling local businesses a shot in the arm through renewed tourism. These measures, regardless of their costs, have numerous economic benefits for residents with new revenue to support such programs available from the growing marijuana industry.
That said, more needs to happen to truly unlock the economic potential hinted at in these measures. The failure of Proposition 10 means public housing, while a step in the right direction, will have limited impact on solving the growing housing crisis. Similarly, the cannabis industry taxes, while beneficial for Bay Area communities, will only be of limited benefit as long as the wider challenges facing these businesses remain unresolved. More visionary efforts, like Measure R and Proposition 12, are steps in the right direction but they both need to be supported by further action to ensure any potential rising tide will truly lift all boats.