Monday, October 10, 2022





        There’s something nearly missing from this fall’s general election ballot, a seeming staple of every November vote of the last dozen years: This ballot contains just one referendum, an attempt by tobacco companies to cancel a 2020 state law banning flavored tobacco.


        But not to worry. More referenda are coming up in 2024, and with plenty of money behind at least one of them.


        Referenda are attempts to cancel laws passed by the state Legislature; two originally planned for this fall fizzled when sponsors realized they could not gather enough petition signatures to win a shot at a popular vote.


        Backers of the effort to repeal the 2021 laws best known as SB 9 and SB 10, which effectively ended single family (R-1) zoning in California, say they’ll be back next year with a new drive to kill the two laws. The measures also allow replacement of single homes with as many as six new dwelling units each.


        The success of that drive is uncertain at best, given the sponsors’ failure last year.


        No such uncertainty afflicts the effort by Burger King, Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burgers, Jack in the Box and others to kill a newly-signed law raising the minimum wage for fast-food franchise workers to as much as $22 per hour next year. The same law also sets up a new state-operated council to regulate working conditions in the fast food industry.


        Known in the Legislature as AB 257, this law barely passed the state Senate, but Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it with a big grin on Labor Day. It takes effect Jan. 1 unless restaurant groups opposing it gather 623,000 valid voter signatures against it. If that happens, the law won’t take effect until or unless voters ratify it two years from now.


        This is one initiative campaign that’s not the least bit deceptive, unlike several drives for initiatives like Propositions 27 and 30 this fall.


        Far more money will be raised for the fast-food petition campaign than homeowner groups managed to gather for their putative effort to dump SB 9 and SB 10. Since petition carriers generally are paid by the signature, the more money a referendum or initiative campaign raises, the better its chances.


        There’s never a guarantee that any referendum will pass, even if it makes the ballot. Yet, their success rate is remarkable.


        Most recently, the 2020 Proposition 25 passed easily, killing a controversial law ending cash bail statewide. That one succeeded because of a big-money campaign funded by bail bondsmen, whose very survival was threatened by the no-cash-bail law.


        Another referendum in 2016 killed several compacts signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown that would have allowed construction of several off-reservation Indian casinos. That cancellation passed by a 60-40 percent margin.


        And in 2018, a referendum known as Proposition 58 threw out a state law fully restoring bilingual education in public schools. It aimed to end a 20-year-old requirement that most English-learner children be taught exclusively in English.


        This history demonstrates that the most critical part of any campaign to wipe out laws legislators have passed is the petition drive to put it on the ballot.


        That also is why it appears the fast food workers law has little chance of ultimate survival. For one thing, the campaign will emphasize that California’s minimum wage, which becomes $15.50 per hour on Jan. 1, is already the highest in the nation. Raise it another $6.50 in fast food emporiums and you’ll probably kill the dollar menus offered by some operators, the ads will say.


        One estimate from UC Riverside forecasters has pegged likely price increases for burgers and burritos at about 7 percent if the law remains, a figure questioned by other experts, who predict likely price increases of less than 3 percent.


        The same prognosticators also disagree on whether many jobs will be lost from outfits like McDonald’s. These franchises, some say, already run with bare-bones staffing. But the new council governing working conditions might mandate higher staffing – and that could cause even more price increases.


        Those will be the stakes in this likely upcoming referendum, voters essentially deciding if worker welfare is worth paying an extra dollar or two for lunch.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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