Sunday, June 20, 2010




In the realm of California ballot initiatives, the preliminaries are over.

Yes, some people cared deeply about the recently-passed Proposition 14 and its effort to change state government via an open primary election system. Two big companies cared enough to invest more than $70 million in their own pet initiatives, designed to feather their nests a bit more. Both lost.

But when it comes to influencing the future lives of Californians, three measures either on or about to come onto the November ballot have far greater potential than anything on the primary election ballot. These propositions do not yet have numbers, but one is an effort to legalize marijuana, another would rescind the landmark 2006 anti-greenhouse gas law known as AB32 and the third is an $11 billion water bond.

If passed, all could have major lifestyle effects. More than four months before the fall vote, the one with the least chance of success appears to be the effort to stymie AB32. But that could change because of the cash being put behind it by two major Texas oil companies which operate refineries here. They’ve spent about $1 million so far on the drive to qualify this measure for the ballot, which appears likely to succeed.

It’s impossible to say which of these measures might have the most impact. For sure, legalizing pot would affect millions of people and might have surprising and unpredictable effects on the economies of several counties. Because most of those who want to use the weed can already find all they want, it might not have much effect on automobile accident rates, academic performance or general alertness. And it might free up police to fight other crimes now back-burnered at times while cops chase pot growers.

Why does the effort to dump AB32 have the least chance of passage, at least at first glance? One reason is that voters who want to say no to AB32 will have to vote yes on this proposition. That kind of confusion never bodes well for ballot measures. Another is that while Mercury Insurance and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. outspent opponents of their pet propositions this spring by a margin of about 500-1 – and still lost – the oil companies and others who oppose limiting greenhouse gases will not be alone in the financial field.

Forces wanting to preserve AB32 and its requirement for cutting carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 have their own campaign committee, dubbed Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, co-chaired by former Secretary of State George Shultz, who often backs conservative politicians and policies. Among its members are the League of Women Voters, Google, the Audubon Society, labor unions including the Teamsters and the California Nurses Assn., Levi Strauss and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

So this will be a two-sided campaign, with one faction calling AB32 the ultimate in job-killing regulations and maintaining it has already caused many businesses to leave California and the other dubbing the anti-32 proposition the “Dirty Energy Initiative” and claiming AB32 will create far more jobs by promoting “green” energy than it will cost. One way or the other, this one will likely affect the lives of millions of Californians.

The campaign over the water bond proposition will also not be one-sided. This measure – not an initiative because the Legislature put it on the ballot – draws large-scale support from the state’s huge agriculture industry and water agencies from Sacramento south. It’s opposed by some environmental groups and by conservatives who don’t like the idea of issuing more bonds at a time of financial crisis.

The pro-water bond side says the measure recognizes today’s tight budget problems by requiring bonds to be sold slowly, with no more than half the $11 billion to be issued before the end of 2015. They argue that the well-documented water shortages of the past two years, which caused several Central California farming counties to make one list of the 20 most troubled counties in America, dictate creation of new reservoirs and dams. They also claim that without quick fixups, a Hurricane Katrina-like calamity could befall residential areas that now stand beneath levees along the Sacramento River and other mid-state waterways.

Meanwhile, opponents argue the bill creates a new state water commission made up entirely of the governor’s appointees and that conservation is the answer to water problems. Some in the North State insist the measure would inevitably lead to construction of a Peripheral Canal to bring Northern California water south around the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, something that’s anathema to many in the north.

Again, whichever way this goes, it will have a massive effect on lifestyles. If the proponents are right, and defeat leads to perpetual water rationing, lawns will change, showers will be shorter and restaurants will go back to serving water only on demand, as they did during a long drought in the 1970s.

And if it wins, there could be both new state budget troubles and more water for farms.

It’s almost as if the spring campaign was a form of spring training, with the real season for initiative politics coming right up.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit