Bee Opinionated: What you need to know about California propositions + Homeless death toll

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Hi and hello from Robin Epley with The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board.

Last week I spotlighted some of our endorsements for various races in the upcoming general election, but this week I want to talk about some of the propositions you’ll see on the ballot in November.


Propositions and local ballot measures often don’t get the splashy headlines that candidates do — but they’re vitally important and reshape our laws. Voters should have at least some idea of what they’re about before ballots arrive in the mail.

This November, California voters will decide yes or no on seven state propositions — the lowest number in more than a century — on issues ranging from climate change and abortion to school funding and dialysis regulations. (Yes, we need to talk about kidneys for the third time in the last decade.)

Here’s what our board said about four of this year’s propositions:

Prop 1: “California often prides itself on being a bastion of liberal ideals, but you don’t need to be a progressive to support reproductive rights for all. … California voters say it is their No. 1 issue in the election this fall. With this proposition, California can ensure that pregnant people — and the rights of pregnant people traveling here — are protected from the kind of political and judicial games that have threatened those rights on a national level.”

Props 26 and 27: “...two of this year’s measures — Propositions 26 and 27, both concerning sports gambling — involve enough warring lobbies, filthy lucre and sheer confusion to make up for a whole ballot’s worth of California-style direct democracy...

“The dueling propositions reflect not just the shortcomings of the state’s special-interest-dominated initiative process but also the failure of legislators to sort through the mess and arrive at a coherent, balanced, public-spirited proposal. Voters should demand that they do so by rejecting both.”

Prop. 28: “Prop. 28 requires that California allocate at least 1% of its school funding under Proposition 98 for arts and music education. … Schools with a high number of low-income students will get more funding, and districts will be required to spend at least 80% of these funds on arts and music instructors. They will also be required to publish annual reports on how the money was spent…. What do opponents say? Nothing. There’s no organized opposition to Prop. 28.”

Stay tuned to the Bee’s opinion pages and our special Elections site for endorsements on the remaining propositions, which will publish online before ballots arrive later this month.

Election assistant David Quiel sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Sacramento County Voter Registration and Elections Office in November 2020.
Election assistant David Quiel sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Sacramento County Voter Registration and Elections Office in November 2020.

America, The Xenophobic

Metro Columnist Melinda Henneberger wrote about a new Ken Burns documentary that exposes America’s racist and xenophobic past, while simultaneously ringing the alarm on eerily similar-sounding modern-day rhetoric.

“The U.S. and the Holocaust” shows how America’s xenophobic 1924 law imposing new immigration quotas “that favored the white and the Protestant — and tragically, made no exception for refugees — delighted Hitler,” she wrote.

“I can’t guarantee that you will be able to listen to Atlantic Monthly editor Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s 1895 anti-immigrant poem, “Unguarded Gates,” — “O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well/To leave the gates unguarded?” — without also hearing Donald Trump,” Henneberger wrote,who himself believes that it was the way he talked about and treated Mexicans and Muslims that won him the White House.”

Death in the Streets

A new report from the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness suggests that the homeless death toll in 2021 was even higher than previously reported, bringing the total number of unhoused deaths up to a staggering 227 people.

At least eight of those deaths were due to freezing temperatures during the winter season — many around the holidays — representing the highest number of hypothermia deaths in Sacramento County in two decades.

These homeless deaths are directly attributable to the lack of action by our city and county government officials to get people sheltered indoors in freezing weather, despite having budgeted millions of dollars to do so, I wrote on behalf of our board in an editorial last week.

“Until they do, more unnecessary deaths are bound to happen — like that of Kenneth Steele, 41, who died of hypothermia in January 2021, while sleeping outdoors next to a south Sacramento elementary school; or Kenneth Donnelson, 61, who died of hypothermia near Arden Fair mall, sleeping between two banks just days before Christmas; or John Lain, who died at 63 of probable hypothermia at Cesar Chavez Plaza, just across the street from City Hall, in February 2021.”

Opinion of the Week

“Since 79-year-old Biden was apparently there when the system was designed, he may not need to hear this news bulletin from 54-year-old Newsom.” — Henneberger on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s claim to MSNBC’s Alex Wagner that President Joe Biden is “hardwired for a different world” and that Biden’s “world is gone.”

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That’s all, folks,

Robin Epley