This fall’s California ballot contains definite head-scratchers: Two repeat propositions that – based on their 2018 showings – probably did not deserve a rerun nearly this soon.
Just two years ago, voters opted by almost identical margins of 61-39 percent and 62-38 percent to reject the 2018 Propositions 8 and 10, one mandating significant increases in staffing at dialysis centers that preserve the lives of more than 80,000 patients with end-stage kidney disease, the other allowing rent controls everywhere in California.
It’s not unusual for initiative sponsors to bring their ideas to the ballot repeatedly, despite the multi-million-dollar costs of petition signature drives and the campaign ads required later on. Only very occasionally does a rerun succeed. The last significant one was the landmark 1978 Proposition 13 property tax limit measure, which was an outgrowth, but not a replica, of another initiative that failed earlier, in a 1973 special election staged by order of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.
Today’s reruns are not quite as far reaching as that one, and their original versions lost by much larger margins than the original try at limiting property taxes.
This fall, Propositions 21 and 23 are almost identical to their losing predecessors.
Prop. 21, again sponsored by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is slightly tougher than its defeated forebear. It would limit rent increases to 5 percent per year, plus the local rate of inflation in locales which now have no rent control. Existing rent controls would continue in places like Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Glendale, Cotati, San Francisco and a few other cities.
For what it’s worth, those controls have not ended the housing affordability crisis anywhere; some of the highest-priced rentals in America exist in Santa Monica and San Francisco, both with strict controls for decades.
These are also among the densest areas in California, scores of new apartment buildings having risen in recent years to replace older, smaller ones. Most city rent control laws exempt new construction, usually defined as less than 15 years old but extending back to 1978 in some cities. So it pays for developers to buy up older buildings, evict longtime tenants and build newer units where they can charge market rates, which have climbed steadily for many years.
A new state law passed in 2019 aims to mitigate this somewhat by making evictions of paid-up renters more difficult. And no one yet knows the long-term effects of coronavirus eviction limits.
The arguments on both sides here are the same as they were two years ago, meaning the real question is whether the political climate has changed in California and how far left any such changes may have swung the state.
The Prop. 23 dialysis proposition, another big loser two years ago, is at least as flawed as its predecessor. It essentially interferes with the medical care of persons often too weak or debilitated to advocate for their own interests.
(Full disclosure: Columnist Elias has had a kidney transplant since 1997. He underwent regular dialysis treatments for many months prior to his transplant.)
Sponsored mainly by the powerful Service Employees International Union, this measure would force the more than 550 dialysis clinics which clean the blood of patients in all parts of California to add more staff at the same time it forbids clinics from charging insurance companies for the work of physician medical directors vital to maintaining quality medical care.
If this discourages clinic visits by nephrologists and spurs some to stop making rounds there at all, it would severely interfere with medical treatment.
The main funding for opposition to this measure comes from two multinational companies – the German-based Fresenius Medical Care and Denver-based DaVita Corp. Together, these firms operate about 70 percent of California dialysis clinics. Besides owning clinics, Fresenius is among the largest makers of dialysis machines.
Both Fresenius and DaVita contend, as they did in 2018, that passage of Prop. 23 would force them to close many clinics, especially in rural areas, thus forcing already disabled patients to travel long distances for vital treatments.
Neither of these measures is back by popular demand. Both deserve to lose at least as badly as they did before.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].