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November Election Is Critical For Safe and Healthy Cities

Regular readers of Western City know that in July the magazine launched a new six-month series on “Healthy and Safe Cities.” The series examines the various ways that cities are working to address the needs of residents to live healthy and safe lives.


I was thinking about this series recently as I took my regular walk through my neighborhood in Pinole. The walk is one of my commitments to improve my health by not only eating more nutritious food but also including exercise in my daily life. It’s a great way to balance the many hours I spend at my job and -- like many elected officials -- sitting through evening and weekend meetings where I work to represent my city and community.
I realized that the reason my daily walk is so satisfying and pleasant is because of the work our city has done to create safe, attractive neighborhoods, parks and public spaces that draw us out of our offices, homes and cars, and encourage us to meet our neighbors. This is a win-win for any city. People get an opportunity to engage in a healthier lifestyle, as well as enjoy the public safety and environmental benefits for the community.
The public safety benefits are many. People are more aware of what’s happening in their neighborhoods when they experience them on foot or on a bike. They can spotgraffiti or litter problems, and then work with their city to correct them. They can pay better attention to kids who may be loitering and in need of more after-school programs. They can see cars speeding or running a stop sign and ask the Police Department to step up enforcement.
The environmental benefits are less easily observed but just as significant. We now know that reducing global warming and air pollution must be a priority for all of us. As individuals, we can make small but important contributions -- and one of them is getting out of our cars to walk or bike whenever possible. As city officials, we can support the desires of our residents to live healthier lives by building the neighborhoods, bike lanes, parks and other amenities that make it possible for people to engage in lifestyle choices that are better for them and our environment.
Building the Healthy and Safe City: Infrastructure Funding Is Essential
Cities’ ability to build this kind of infrastructure could be dramatically improved if voters support passage of the package of infrastructure bonds and the Proposition 42 transportation “fix” (Prop. 1A) on the November statewide ballot.
The League and our members workedvery hard to get these measures on the ballot. The League board of directors established as a key goal for 2006 the need to work for funding to address the state’s urgent need for new infrastructure, including transportation, housing, schools, flood protection, parks and many other areas. As an organization, we worked hard earlier this year to encourage legislators and Governor Schwarzenegger to reach agreement on a package of bonds. League Executive Director Chris McKenzie served as chair of the California Infrastructure Coalition (CIC), a coalition of business, labor and local government organizations committed to securing the state funding needed to respond to these urgent infrastructure needs.
When the political pundits argued that it would be impossible to put a package together in an election year, the CIC ran full-page ads in the Sacramento Bee, encouraging state leaders to pass an infrastructure package before the deadline to get a measure on the June ballot. Some of you participated in press conferences that League communications and regional staff helped organize around the state, highlighting the “clock is ticking” theme.
Legislators and the governor responded. Stalled legislative efforts to pass a package suddenly picked up steam. Ultimately, these efforts paid off when legislative leaders and the governor set aside politics to pass the package that is now on the November ballot (see “Infrastructure Bonds on the November 2006 Ballot: Funding That Will Make a Difference in Your City” ).
Housing Bond Needs Our Support
Clearly, all of these measures are very important to California cities. A recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll found 50 percent or more voters support four of the infrastructure bond measures (Propositions 1B-1E). The poll also reflected voter support of 57 percent for Prop. 1C, the $2.85 billion housing bond -- the smallest of these infrastructure bonds.
This is very encouraging because the bond would provide funding that cities urgently need to pay for infill housing infrastructure projects, parks and other housing-related infrastructure issues. In fact, cities would arguably be the biggest beneficiaries of this bond. Out of the total $2.85 billion that Prop. 1C would raise, cities would receive $1.35 billion,
including:
  • Infill Housing Construction. $850 million in grants for development of public infrastructure projects that facilitate or support infill housing construction. Projects could include water, sewer and transportation improvements, traffic mitigation and brownfield cleanup.
  • Urban, Suburban and Rural Parks. $200 million for parks.
  • Transit-Oriented Development.$300 million to develop and construct housing and infrastructure projects close to transit stations.
It is critical for cities to support all the infrastructure bonds. City officials are urged to examine how Prop. 1C and all the infrastructure measures could benefit your city’s efforts to address housing and related infrastructure problems, and educate your community about those benefits.
Prop. 90 Would Undermine Infrastructure Restoration
Casting a large, dark shadow on our hope of infrastructure improvements, however, is the threat posed by Prop. 90, a measure we refer to as the “Taxpayer Trap.” Proponents say this measure is about eminent domain reform. But that’s just the bait. The trap is hidden within the fine print of the measure -- far-reaching provisions that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
Prop. 90 would authorize lawsuits for any government action that someone claims will result in economic loss to property, no matter how unreasonable that claim. This trap will severely and negatively impact state and local governments’ ability to build new infrastructure and to enact and enforce environmental, land use, consumer protection and housing laws and regulations.
As Jacqueline Jacobberger, president of the League of Women Voters of California, put it, “Prop. 90 would fundamentally change our system of representative democracy and put the interests of a few above the well-being of all Californians.”
Healthy and Safe Cities: Worth Fighting For
The League will work hard right up to Election Day to build support for Prop.1A and the infrastructure bonds, and to educate voters about the great harm that Prop. 90 will do to all our efforts to create healthy and safe cities. We urgently need city officials to join us in these efforts. We ask that your cities support the entire infrastructure package, and that local elected officials -- working on their own time and without using any public resources — work to educate neighborhood, business, environmental and other groups in your community about the trap in Prop. 90. You can learn more about all of these measures by visiting the ballot measure page on the League website (www.cacities.org/ballotmeasuresor www.noProp90.com).  
We all share the goal of healthy and safe cities, and we have different issues to work on to achieve that goal. But we all know that what happens with this November’s election will have a profound effect on our efforts for years to come.
That fact makes it worth our while to get engaged now. Let’s do this together!