Where was the media?

The Citizens Initiative Review – the best proven way we have to evaluate ballot initiatives around the world – held a California pilot in Sacramento at the end of last month. And the state political media wasn’t there.

What gives? Media folks like to point out the flaws in the initiative process, but then miss an opportunity to see a method that has worked in Massachusetts, Oregon, and other Western states. 

Too bad. The process brings together an independent panel of 20 California voters, through a process that uses random selection of registered voters and then is anonymously balanced to reflect the electorate. Then they hear testimony and ask questions about one ballot measure, and write a brief summary and arguments for or against.

Maybe the media absence resulted from embarrassment. The citizens did a better job of describing the measure they studied in the pilot – Prop 10 – than many media ballot measure guides do.

Here is what the group came up with. It’s important to remember that no one has final approval or oversight over this citizens’ jury.  This is what the members of the panel come up with themselves.

These findings were ranked by citizen panelists, starting with the most important for voters to know. 

The panel also produces statements in favor and against each proposition. Here is what they said in support of Prop 10

We find these to be the strongest reasons to vote for the proposition. 

Finding: Prop 10 allows local communities to address predatory housing practices, such as price gouging and unreasonable rent increases, by allowing the creation of stronger local rent control policies. 

This is important because: Without restrictions or guidelines created by rent control policies, higher rents will become more prevalent. This may lead to an increase in homelessness and unsafe living conditions. 

Finding: According to the Principal of Planning for Sustainable Communities, Prop 10 protects renters by limiting rent hikes, and ultimately keeping families in their homes and communities.
This is important because: Rent control would promote stability and prevent displacement, allowing communities to grow and flourish. 

Finding: By limiting rent increases, tenants will have a greater share of disposable income available to spend. This could contribute to the growth of a more vibrant local economy.
This is important because: A majority of California renters spend more than thirty percent of their income on rent. Limiting rent increases helps citizens to meet basic needs and improves quality of life. 

The affordable housing supply in California is not sufficient to meet the demands of our growing state. This drives up rental prices, putting renters of all income levels at risk for displacement, eviction, and/or homelessness. Local governments would be allowed to set rent control policies that meet the needs of their communities. 

And here is what they said against it:

We find these to be the strongest reasons to vote against the proposition. 

This is important because: The lack of safe housing is a serious concern for many communities and could cause neighborhood decline. This may reduce property values. 

Repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act may create more government agencies, adding administrative costs that could be passed on to renters and taxpayers. Rent control has been associated with a slowing of new construction, a reduced supply of rental units, and rent increases. 

California’s initiative process desperately needs more actual voters in the process. Citizens Initiative Review is one way to do it. Similar citizens juries could be used for ballot labels and even to provide a non-monetary way to decide whether a measure belongs on the ballot.

The fact that much of institutional Sacramento and media can’t be bothered to make the short walk to observe something so effective speaks volumes. It’s time for an outsider legislator or an initiative sponsor to back CIR, and return the process to the people.