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My California ballot, 2020

Every election year, the Bay Area rationalists put together a slate to help each other vote. This year the coronavirus made it hard to come together as a whole community, so I'm drawing off the work of the Valinor group house in Oakland in particular. When I say "we" in this post, I mean the ~10 residents of Valinor - though this is my ballot and not theirs, I disagreed with them at a few points, and all views expressed are ultimately my own. I've changed a few things after the fact based on readers' arguments, so this does not perfectly reflect my actual votes.
This will be more relevant to Oaklanders and Californians than to anyone else. We are mostly center-left-libertarianish YIMBYs, and we trust endorsements from YIMBY Action and aligned local politicians like London Breed, Buffy Wicks, and Libby Schaaf. The less you agree with that political package, the less relevant this will probably be for you.
We put a few hours into this and weren't able to give every issue the attention and seriousness it deserved. For a more complete voting guide for the same area, see this one by Zachary Reiss-Davis, and the recommendations by YIMBY Action and SPUR.

California Ballot Measures

California propositions are a way for voters to go over the legislature's head and pass their own laws. Direct democracy is good in principle, but sometimes voters don't know what they're doing, and legislators can't repeal or amend a proposition that goes badly. Most famously, Proposition 13 was a Reagan-era initiative which hard-coded low property taxes into the state's constitution. This is good for homeowners, bad for everyone else (the state just makes up the difference with really high income taxes), and overall creates a weird system of epicycles and perverse incentives.
Hard-coding a law against the wishes of the legislature is a big deal, so we start with a strong (but overcome-able) presumption of "no" on propositions. The exception is propositions requested by the legislature to overturn previous propositions, or for other arcane reasons that require the legislature to request propositions.
Prop 14: Yes?
Prop 14 issues $5 billion in state bonds and gives the money to stem cell research.
This is pretty weird - the state government already has a research budget, and presumably already decided how much money to give stem cells compared to other things. There is not some kind of catastrophic stem-cell related emergency that requires the electorate to rise up and demand the state invent a completely new budgeting process just to fund stem cell research.
I think what's going on is - in 2004, stem cell therapy was new and super-exciting. The Bush administration banned federal funding for religious reasons, this was in the middle of the atheism-religion culture wars, and so liberal California decided to strike a blow for scientific freedom. They passed Prop 71, which gave $3 billion to stem cell research and made California a world leader in the developing field. After 15 years, they've run through the Prop 71 money and need more, so they figured they'd try the same thing again. But the Prop 71 stem cell research was mostly based on hype, which has since receded.
I originally urged voting "NO" on this, based on these considerations. I got push back from a stem cell scientist in the comments, but of course stem cell scientists would support this. But I also heard from some people at the Open Philanthropy Project that they have researched this super-in-depth, talked to various experts, and believe that the specific stem cell research being funded here is incredibly promising, so promising that we should set aside our presumption against ballot box funding and support it. On the strength of Open Phil's recommendation, I am changing my recommendation to yes.
Prop 15: Yes
This weakens Prop 13. Prop 13 originally restricted property taxes on a variety of properties. This repeals it for commercial and industrial properties worth more than $3 million, ie big business. I don't think we need a hard-coded super-law saying we can't tax big businesses.
Our presumption is to support propositions repealing other propositions, and this seems like an especially good one. Support. But see this discussion for the alternative perspective.
Prop 16: No
This is the nationally-newsworthy one that repeals the part of the California constitution banning racial discrimination and makes affirmative action legal again.
You all know my opinion on this sort of thing. Maybe I'm too emotional on this issue, but California institutions already seem pretty Orwellian. If you want to get a tenure track position at some California universities, you have to write a "diversity oath" where you swear that you support diversity and talk about everything you've done to promote it; applicants' oaths get graded, and only the ones that seem most heartfelt are allowed to enter the normal process where anyone even considers how good a professor or researcher you are. How many of history's most important thinkers would have had their careers snuffed out if this process had existed in their own time? I don't trust the sort of people who come up with this kind of thing enough to remove constitutional safeguards against them. Even if you're okay with discriminating for college admissions (the most likely use case), you would also have to be okay with the next form of legalized racial discrimination people will think up, and the one after that.
Possibly there's an argument for accelerationism here - the more obvious it is that college admissions aren't based on merit, the less employers will obsess over who has degrees from what college, and the more chance we have of breaking the stranglehold that $200K-tuition colleges and their lacrosse-obsessed admissions committees currently have on public life. But I would have to be more confident in this argument before actually voting based on it.
The California constitution's current ban on discrimination was itself passed by proposition in the 1996 election. That means there is no particular presumption against this, and maybe a presumption for it. I nevertheless oppose.
Prop 17: Yes
Felons are currently banned from voting in California. This proposition says they are allowed to vote after they complete their prison term. I'm not sure it's ethical or democratic to prevent people from voting just because they committed a felony sometime long ago. If you complete a prison term, you've paid your debt to society and should be in the clear. Also, I expect these people will have interesting things to say about prison reform once they're allowed to have a voice.
Although our presumption is usually to oppose propositions amending the constitution, this overcomes that presumption. Amending the constitution to give disenfranchised people the right to vote seems in keeping with the inherent solemnity of the constitutional amendment process, and isn't the kind of thing we hate where you legislate every little change in tax policy directly into the constitution just because you can. Support.
Prop 18: Yes
This gives 17 year-olds the right to vote in primaries if they will be adults during the associated general election. Sure, sounds reasonable, whatever.
Although our presumption is usually blah blah blah see above.
Prop 19: Yes?
This changes Prop 13 tax regulations (you may be noticing a theme). Currently, the government cannot raise your property taxes very much while you live in a house, even if the house increases in value. Once you sell the house to someone else, the government can raise the property taxes to market value. According to the current Prop 13 law, a child inheriting a house from their parents does not count as a sale; so if your grandparents lived in a house and leave it to you when they die, you will still pay however much tax your grandparents did (maybe an amount corresponding to the value of the home 50 years ago). Part A of this proposition says you can only do this for one property at a time. If you inherit twenty houses from your super-rich parents, you will have to pay normal-person taxes on nineteen of them.
Part B says that various sympathetic groups of people (elderly, disabled, disaster victims) can switch houses and keep their low taxes. Suppose you are an elderly person who raised a family in a big house in the city. Now your family is gone/dead and you want to move to a smaller house in a quiet suburb. If you got your current house 40 years ago, Prop 13 guarantees you will be taxed at its 40-years-ago value, ie very low, but if you get a new house it will be taxed at its current level, ie very high, and maybe you won't be able to afford it. This is a market inefficiency, since it incentivizes a single person to live in a very large house instead of giving it to others who could make better use of the space, so it effectively exacerbates the housing shortage. Current law already mostly addresses this by saying people in these sympathetic groups can move once. This law increases it to three times.
Last election cycle's Prop 5 was just Part B of this current proposition. It was sponsored by real estate companies, who are naturally very excited about solving market inefficiencies that prevent people from selling their houses and buying new ones. Lots of people opposed it because they were annoyed that it gave even more rights to homeowners chasing unnaturally low taxes. I abstained, because I couldn't decide how to balance the market-inefficiency-solving (good!) with the unfair-privilege-expanding (bad!). Overall voters rejected it soundly.
This proposition is the real estate industry trying again. They argue Part B will still solve a market inefficiency (and make them lots of money), but Part A will roll back another kind of unfair tax privilege we give homeowners, so the balance is more obviously good. The state budget people say that overall it will cause the state to have more money, so the real estate industry's claim that this tightens tax loopholes on net seems fair.
We had some disagreements on how to apply our presumption against ballot propositions, leading to the rest of us voting no on this. My position is that this should be considered only an amendment to an existing constitutional amendment, not a new one. So I see it as having a weaker presumption against it, and as managing to overcome that presumption. I support.
Prop 20: No
This makes California's criminal justice system stricter in various ways.
Existing law says nonviolent criminals can get out early on parole, but violent criminals can't. There is some controversy over the current list of which crimes are violent - for example, it seems like some rape and sexual offenses don't always qualify. Part A of this proposition replaces the old, supposedly-too-short list of 23 violent crimes with a new list of 51 violent crimes. The new list includes classics like "murder" and "assault", but also more questionable choices like "sodomy" and "mayhem". I'm going to give these people the benefit of the doubt and assume that sodomy here means nonconsensual violent sodomy, and that mayhem is a real crime of some sort somehow. I didn't get far enough into the weeds to determine whether this list is better or worse than status quo.
Part B of this proposition redefines some misdemeanors and "wobblers" (crimes that can be either misdemeanor or felony) as definitely felonies. These include firearm theft, car theft, and (most notably), shoplifting things between $250 and $950 (I think more than $950 is already a felony).
Part C says more kinds of criminals have to submit DNA samples to the state database.
This is a response to various past ballot propositions that have made California's criminal justice system more lenient in various ways, under the banner of "criminal justice reform" or "prison reform". It seems to be a joint effort between victim's rights groups who are angry that their abusers/assailants/whatever are getting out of prison too quickly, and retail groups who are angry that people keep shoplifting from them and mostly getting away with it. I have a few patients in retail, and they broadly back this up - they say people steal from them all the time, it really hurts their already-tenuous ability to stay in business, they see it happening, but they feel like nobody cares and there's nothing they can legally do about it. It sounds really unpleasant.
On the other hand, spending years in prison because you shoplifted a $250 fleece or something also sounds really unpleasant, California prisons are already overcrowded, and it seems especially worth worrying about this in the middle of a coronavirus epidemic.
My philosophy of criminal justice (which I think is supported by the evidence, but I'm too lazy to find and cite it right now) is that punishment should be swift, certain, and minor. A world where every shoplifter gets caught and immediately has to spend three days in jail is safer and fairer than one where 1% of shoplifters get caught and have to spend three years there. I don't think reclassifying minor shoplifting crimes as felonies is in the spirit of that, and I have a strong presumption against anything that increases the prison population.
I'm not sure how this fits into the presumption against ballot initiatives, since it's responding to previous initiatives, but still, oppose. See here for a somewhat different perspective from someone with retail experience.
Prop 21: No
The Costa-Hawkins Act was a 1995 California state law that limited cities' ability to pass rent control laws (though some types of rent control are still legal and common). Ever since then there have been various propositions trying to overturn it, most recently last cycle's failed Proposition 10. This time around there's Proposition 21, which is supposedly different because it exempts properties under 15 years old.
I am against rent control, because 95% of economists say it is bad for the poor and reduces the availability of affordable housing. But I'm also against the state government telling cities what they can and can't do. If you're a libertarian who's against regulation, how do you think about the electorate trying to regulate the legislature's trying to regulate cities' trying to regulate landlords' ability to set prices? Do you just count whether the sentence contains the word "regulate" an even or odd number of times? Last year I decided it was a tie and abstained. This year it's still a tie, but in honor of our general presumption against ballot initiatives, I'll just go with no.
Prop 22: Yes?
Last year California passed AB5, a law which reclassified most gig workers as employees. The intended targets were Uber and Lyft, who famously classify their drivers as gig workers rather than employees, exempting them from lots of labor regulations. The unintended targets were everyone else; for example, the state may have accidentally banned freelance journalism, photography, etc.
Uber and Lyft made some cosmetic changes and claimed the law didn't apply to them; California said it definitely did; it escalated to a point where Uber and Lyft threatened to suspend service in California; and finally it got tied up in court, with Uber and Lyft allowed to continue employing gig workers until a final decision comes down sometime next year. Prop 22 is backed by Uber and Lyft, and lets them ignore AB5.
I really hate AB5. It enshrines all the worst parts of the modern economy - inflexibility, you have to have exactly one employer who controls your entire life, health insurance is tied to employment, nobody can choose their own hours or working conditions. It throws independent professionals under the bus in favor of everyone having to be a corporate drone of the exact same government-approved kind.
And there's the libertarian aspect - it bans people from making mutually beneficial contracts on whatever terms they want, in favor of having to do things the exact government-approved way. If you look at any literature from before the 1970s, it shows that almost any able-bodied person who wanted a job could get one within a few days just by asking around and walking into the first place that wanted them. I don't know all the changes that led to our current dystopia of endless resumes, applications, and disappointments, but I suspect it was the government transforming employment from "sure, let this person do some work for you for a while" to "oh, you employed this person? now you have two thousand different obligations to them that you can never get out of". The government has tried to create a faux social services net funded by people's employers, but it turns out businesses are happy to have workers but less happy to have social service dependees. The solution is for the government to fund its own damn social services and stop hanging more and more things on the employer-employee relationship.
But Uber and Lyft are great. Some of my mentally-ill patients who could never get an official employee job at a fast food place or something now have jobs with Uber and Lyft that they can feel really proud of and use to support themselves or supplement support from the government or their family. Anyone who's taken an Uber or Lyft knows that they're the first destination for new immigrants who get excluded from traditional employment. Or you've probably also met the single mothers who say they were never able to have a job before because they needed to be home at X, Y, and Z time for child care, but now that they're gig workers who can choose their own hours it's let them get back into the workforce and help support their families. It really feels like the same sort of situation you read about in pre-1970 books - a place where anyone, even if they're poor or disadvantaged or foreign, can get a job and earn an honest living for themselves in a way that the rest of the economy has completely dropped the ball on. I want to support these people, and the only polling I know of suggests most ride share drivers support Prop 22.
And Uber and Lyft have also really earned my trust and respect. Five years ago I worked in a clinic that wasn't on any of the public bus routes. Some of my poorer patients didn't have cars, and it would take them hours to get to my office, and sometimes they would miss some crucial public transportation step and not be able to make their appointments at all. Sometimes if they were desperate they would take a taxi, which would charge them through the nose and take its sweet time getting there. This was right when Uber and Lyft were expanding to Michigan, I was usually the first person to tell them about it, and it changed some of these people's lives. It's really easy for privileged people who own their own transportation to dismiss ride-sharing as a luxury, but if you don't have a car, you used to have severely limited mobility. Now you can get anywhere in town for a quick $5 Uber ride.
In a world of quickly-closing opportunities, Uber and Lyft are this rare bright spot, where uncredentialled blue-collar workers excluded from most positions can get flexible jobs with whatever hours they want, and where poor people who were previously locked out of most of the world can get anywhere they need to be for cheap. So of course California is trying to destroy them. It's the most California thing ever to California.
So I should support something like Prop 22. But the proposition itself is pretty bad. Uber and Lyft carve out exceptions for themselves while leaving most of AB 5 intact. This is a pretty naked power grab by ride share companies that does nothing to help all the other groups affected by this bill, and some commenters are suspicious they'll find ways to use it to quash competition (though I'm not clear how). Although it solves part of the immediate problem and appropriately humiliates the California legislature, it's also a cynical ploy by Uber and Lyft to trick Californians into giving them what they want while leaving everyone else to rot. If it passes, the legislature might give up and repeal AB5, but the proposition might also just placate the only powerful AB5 opponents (ride shares), making any further opposition to AB5 impossible. Maybe the most important thing a yes vote here could do would be prevent other states from trying the same thing.
Presumption should probably be against, although I feel like letting the voters explicitly veto an unpopular law is less inappropriate than random interest groups making random new regulations by ballot box. I did vote yes on this, but after reading the comments here I'm no longer sure of anything, except that I hate everyone involved and would totally understand either choice. See here for another argument against.
Prop 23: No
This proposition places extra regulations on dialysis clinics, for example forces them to have a doctor or NP present at all times. I am generally suspicious of regulations to increase cost of and decrease ability to provide medical services, and a lot of these "doctor has to be present" things end with some heavily-credentialed doctor drawing a salary to do crossword puzzles while the nurses who actually know what's going on do the real work.
A previous version of this guide assumed this was a cash grab by medical guilds, but I owe them an apology - the California doctor's associations are against this - which actually says a lot, since they stand to profit. Patient associations and nurses' associations also oppose. It's unclear who does support this - all I can find is a big service employees' union, but I'm not sure what their interest is.
And there's our presumption against ballot initiatives again. California already has medical regulators, and they didn't see fit to enact this. The federal government has regulators and they didn't see fit to enact this. Why should dialysis regulations go before 40 million Californians who probably have only the vaguest idea what a kidney is or why having one fail is bad? Oppose.
Prop 24: No
This "amends consumer privacy laws" to "permit consumers to prevent businesses from sharing personal information".
I have a strong presumption against consumer privacy laws after the disasters that were HIPAA and GDPR. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the privacy watchdog I trust most, doesn't support this one. Oppose.
Prop 25: Yes!
This replaces California's money bail system with a system based on trying to predict flight risk, like Washington DC successfully uses. Money bail systems keep lots of innocent poor people in jail (and some guilty poor people in jail longer than necessary). It also causes some people who would otherwise be found innocent to plea bargain in order to get out of jail before various disasters befall their job or family. Flight risk prediction systems have been shown to avoid these problems without causing a noticeable uptick in criminals who escape justice. See this blog post I previously wrote on the topic. Some people I know in the effective altruism movement are pretty in support of this.
The legislature has already passed this, but the bail industry somehow got it on the ballot instead. This proposition affirms the decision of the legislature, rather than overturning it, and so the presumption should be in favor, which is convenient because I'm in favor of this. I put an exclamation point at the end of this one because I think it's probably the most important measure on this year's ballot; if you only take my advice on one of these, make it this.

Oakland/Alameda County Ballot Measures

Measure Y: No
This issues $735 million in bonds for schools. Oakland's school district already spends above the national and state average per student, and has a reputation for mismanaging funds. These funds would mostly go to repairing administrative buildings, the least sympathetic category of school budgetary problem. Also, I kind of want to destroy the entire modern educational system for complicated reasons. Although I realize rejecting Oakland school bonds is at best a minor victory in this crusade, it's probably better than supporting them.
Measure QQ: Yes
This lets children age 16 and up vote for school-related officials; currently it's 18 and up. As with Proposition 17, I support letting incarcerated people vote in ways that might let them do something about the system incarcerating them, so yes. Also, who names these things? QQ? Really?
Measure RR: Abstain?
Currently fines for ordinance and code violations are capped at $1000; this measure lets the city increase that. This affects both minor "street crimes" like littering and graffiti, and more building-y crimes like not keeping things up to code.
I previously said "no", on the grounds that I am against "tough-on-crime" style bills that try to increase fines poor people who already don't have the money to pay existing fines. But ZRD's guide argues this is supposed to punish big polluters who can't be effectively punished under the current system. I can't find anything in the proposition itself to indicate this, so until I learn more I'm going to abstain.
Measure S1: Yes
How come this one has a 1 after it? How come the measures go Y, QQ, RR, and S1, in that order? Is the Oakland city council trying to communicate with us in some kind of deranged code? Anyway, this slightly rearranges the way an independent monitoring body monitors Oakland's police force.
The city recently had a close call with defunding the police, but as far as I know this isn't really related to that effort. This is related to a law passed a few years ago, during the Ferguson fallout, saying there would be an independent commission monitoring the police. Apparently the law was poorly specified and confusing, and this measure is supposed to be a common-sense clarification of how it works. It is "supported by all eight city council members", and my usual sites that list arguments pro- and con- are unable to find anyone willing to write the con side of this one. Maybe if we ever cracked the code of Oakland ballot numbers we would get the secret case against Measure S1. Until then, support.
Measure V: Yes
This renews an existing utility tax on unincorporated areas, to fund the utilities of unincorporated areas. This seems fair and everyone I check seems to support it, so sure, whatever.
Measure W: Yes
This increases sales tax by 0.5% to fund social services for sympathetic groups, especially homeless people. There are a lot of homeless people in Oakland, they clearly need help, and studies show supporting homeless people tends to save money in the long run (though if this were true, wouldn't this measure be a tax cut rather than a tax increase? Hmmmmmm). Oakland has no particular record of catastrophically mismanaging pro-homeless funds. And I've already rejected other tax increases this election, so I feel like in order to maintain the cosmic balance I should support this one. Support.

National Races

US President: Biden
I'm against Trump for the same reasons I was last time, plus everything that's happened in the past four years - of which the worst of a bad lot was the bungled response to the coronavirus. Trump also refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, which should be disqualifying in itself even aside from everything else.
California isn't a swing state, so I considered voting Jo Jorgenson as a gesture symbolizing I hate the two-party system. But I decided instead to vote Biden as a gesture symbolizing I really hate Donald Trump. I'll vote Libertarian on some irrelevant downballot race to make up for it.
13th Congressional District Representative: Lee
Barbara Lee is the incumbent. We disagree with her on many things, but in 2001 she was the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against invading Afghanistan. We appreciate this kind of prescience and willingness to defy the mob, so we have instituted a presumption that she gets our vote for life unless there is some super-strong counterbalancing consideration.
Her opponent, Nikka Piterman, doesn't seem very serious - unsurprising since serious people don't run as Republicans in the Bay. But let's take a moment to appreciate his website, including proposals to split California into two states, implement the metric system, and create a spaceport in the center of San Francisco Bay. Also, he's pretty hot. If I batted for the other side and didn't already have a committed voting relationship with Barbara Lee, who knows?

State And Local Races

15th State Assembly District: Wicks
Buffy Wicks is the Democrat and the incumbent (which in the Bay Area are kind of the same thing). She's an Obama admin veteran, and a YIMBY advocate who briefly made national news for appearing postpartum with her newborn to vote on housing on the California Assembly floor after they wouldn't let her vote remotely. We continue to support her and appreciate her vampire-slaying work.
Sara Brink (independent) is the challenger. Her webpage begins "This race does not matter", which is a bold opening move. It says that "We live in a trash democracy and a bullshit two party system" so she has abandoned all hope of winning the race, and instead of voting for her we should start working on prepping to resist an upcoming wave of violent white nationalist repression. I appreciate the reminder that this is still the Bay Area and I still live here for some reason, but overall I pick the friendly Democrat with the cute baby.
9th State Senate District: Dluzak?
Nancy Skinner (D) is the incumbent. She gets good scores from YIMBY Action and we generally like her. She is broadly popular and a shoo-in to win re-election.
Her challenger Jamie Dluzak is a Libertarian; the GOP didn't even bother with this one. His website is unreadably bad, and boasts of deliberately having the world's ugliest political bumper sticker, because "they say that to try to fail is the underpinnings of success" (who says that? why?). He is a little unclear on what policies he supports, though his site suggests he is broadly in favor of black people, and I assume he is libertarian in some way.
I said I would symbolically vote Libertarian in a meaningless down-ballot race, and this one is my chance, so Dluzak it is! Your preferences may differ.
Oakland City Council Member At Large: 1 Sidebotham, 2 Kaplan, 3 Johnson
Rebecca Kaplan is the incumbent. YIMBY groups have mixed feelings about her, not exactly denouncing her but liking her opponents better. She's also a pretty strong opponent of Uber and Lyft. And I get the impression she is some kind of nemesis of Mayor Libby Schaaf, who we like. Meh.
Derreck Johnson superficially looks better. He has full support from YIMBY groups, is endorsed by the local politicians we like (Libby Schaaf, London Breed, Buffy Wicks), has the (extremely generous) support of Uber and Lyft, and boasts an inspiring story as a small business owner who founded a beloved local restaurant, hired formerly incarcerated people to work there, and navigated it through the COVID crisis. Unfortunately, a recent expose reveals that he does not in fact own the restaurant. He lost it in 2017 for financial malfeasance issues, including taking some of the restaurant's money for himself. All his claims to have owned the restaurant after that time have been lies. Seems really sketchy.
Nancy Sidebotham is an outsider with an extremely 90s website. It's unclear what she supports besides being outraged, a goal she has accomplished reliably over a sixty year career of being vaguely adjacent to civic life. She could charitably be described as a protest candidate, but luckily for her, I really feel like protesting these people!
My ranked choice voting is 1 Sidebotham, 2 Kaplan, 3 Johnson.
Oakland City Council District I: 1 Kalb, 2 Walton, 3 Ngo
Dan Kalb is the incumbent. I start out with vaguely negative feelings to him because he sends me junk mail flyers, but the rest of us have vaguely positive feelings because he was instrumental in getting bike lanes on our local roads. According to his website, Oakland Magazine named him the “most effective member of the eight-person Council", and East Bay Express named him "Good Government Politician Of The Year". He has endorsements from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.
Steph Walton is the main challenger, but fails to distinguish herself. Her website says she likes good things, like equity and is against bad things, like homelessness, but her proposed policies and plans seem like the same vaguely leftie ideas everyone around here has about everything. She does hit all the right notes about housing, and has endorsements from Buffy Wicks and YIMBY Action.
Tri Ngo seems like a protest candidate, though his website is actually quite good. His most unusual issue seems to be government transparency, including "an online voting system that enables residents to propose and vote on council measures...with kiosks in post offices and libraries".
Some of us are voting Walton based on her endorsements, but I don't feel like she was able to overcome my presumption for voting for Kalb as an unusually successful and widely-liked incumbent.
Alameda County Transit Director At-Large: Peeples
The Mercury News suggests reelecting all current transit directors, because they seem to be doing a good job, and also the coronavirus has been a disaster for public transit and they need experienced hands to guide them through financially. So I'll start with a presumption of reelecting incumbents unless I see a good reason otherwise.
The incumbent here is H.E. Christian Peeples. I want to take a second to appreciate his amazing name and its combined monarchist/theocrat/populist vibe. I can't find a campaign website, but all the newspapers endorse him, say he has done a good job, call him a financial wizard. Articles about him use the word "competent" like it's going out of style, and praise his role in an apparently revolutionary environmental initiative to run buses off fuel cells.
Dollene Jones is running to become the first transit worker to serve on the transit board - she's a former bus driver. This is her sixth attempt. She is inspiring and sympathetic, but East Bay Times warns that she sees "district issues strictly from a labor perspective and her role, if elected, as an advocate for the drivers". Given that the Bay needs better public transportation and the unions are part of the challenge that has to be overcome, I'm ruling her out.
Victoria Fierce is the most interesting candidate, and has a great website with cute graphics and excitingly wonky plans to improve transit in various ways. She's a YIMBY, and she's clearly thought a lot about the transit system and identified the most important and solvable problems, like the lack of comprehensible transit maps, and the need for a good Trans-Bay service. She seems probably closest to me in terms of tribal affiliation, and she might be the only person on this whole ballot who I predict I would like in a "would enjoy a conversation with her" way as opposed to a "has an inspiring backstory" way. On the other hand, she describes herself as a "radical socialist" and seems to think part of a public transit's department job is destroying individualism. In general her oeuvre makes me kind of worried that if she ever gained office she would identify me as a counterrevolutionary and arrange to have me get hit by a public bus, or whatever else power-mad transit directors do.
Like the people of 1930s Spain, Oakland transit voters are faced with a choice between monarchist-theocratic-populism and radical socialism. In this case, I don't think the challengers manage to overcome my presumption in favor of the incumbent, so I'm going with Peeples.
Alameda County Transit Director, Ward 2: Harper
Harper is the boring incumbent who nobody has anything particularly against. Daily Californian says he "has served on the AC Transit Board fairly well for 16 years".
Jean Walsh is the challenger. Her website supports the usual things about how she wants transit to be better, but fails to differentiate herself from Standard Candidate #X in any particular way.
I don't see anything to overcome my presumption in favor of the incumbent, so Harper.
I’m reaching the Reddit character limit, so I’ve stuck BART director, school board, Superior Court Judge, and City Attorney in a followup comment.
submitted by ScottAlexander to slatestarcodex

Director wants me to have more "structure" in my schedule

I'm running at wits end right now, and honestly just need to rant more than anything right now.
I've been working for the same department at a university for about 6 years now. I'm the sole IT guy for 12 faculty, each with their own lab. It's about 180 people and 300 machines total. No one here understands IT, they just know they need me, and that I make sure everything just works. I've always picked my schedule and given free reign to do whatever I feel is more important. Which keeps me well over 50-60 hours a week despite being salary. I've never been asked to work over the weekend, but if it's easier for me that way I don't mind coming in. If something is broke, no one argues with me about budgets, they just let me handle it. Overall it has been the perfect job for me. I simply get to run around doing exactly what I love to do and making up my own rules on how to do it.
Then COVID-19 hit. The university came right out and told everyone to stay home. If they can work remotely then they should, but the entire campus shut down. A few people were given essential employee status so they could come in, and I requested that I was one of those people. At first I was coming in as needed, maybe once a week at most. Still at my own discretion.
Then at the beginning of September the university was allowed to partially open back up. The director of my department jumped on that and wanted everyone back to 100% instantly. Everyone from the administrative assistants who only place orders, to the event planners. This was very clearly a partial reopening, with tons of restrictions we needed to follow. The only non-academic staff who should have been returning was myself. I had already bought all of the staff everything they needed to work from home, so they had both a full workstation at home and in the office. Just to make it easier for them to work part time in both places without needing to constantly move equipment around. This was also the same time students from all around the globe were coming back to campus for the new semester.
I tried to voice concern about this, that I didn't feel safe, and how several things were clearly a contradiction from what the university put out. Literally no one stopped to take pause, and just nodded in agreement with the directors demands. So, when a survey came in from HR asking how our department was handling the transition back, I answered it as honestly as I could. I don't know what I was thinking, because that survey wasn't fucking anonymous. Not even a day later HR reached out asking for clarification on my answers, then a week later the staff were able to resume their work 100% remotely. Except me. No big deal, I wasn't planning to be 100% remote anyway.
The director then decides that I need to be on site, every single weekday from 2-5pm, regardless of what I'm working on. I tried to explain that most of my work can be done remotely plus interrupting my days like this is counterintuitive and in some cases it will complete restrict me from doing specific tasks that take up my whole day. He completely disagreed and wouldn't even allow me to elaborate.
According to him, I need a schedule with structure. Never the fuck mind that IT is a constant stream of chaos, he wants me to have "structure" in my schedule. I think I just stared at him dumbfounded for a solid minute. How do you respond to that? Should I go place post-it notes on everything telling them when they are allowed to fail? I don't care if you don't understand what is included in my job, all you really need to understand that "I FIX BROKEN SHIT"! Nothing fucking breaks on a god damn schedule! Literally WTF?
After a month of this 2-5 bullshit, he's mad because I'm never in my office. To him I must not be coming in at 2pm like I was told. No other logical reason! I guess he has been walking by my office and seeing it empty and this upsets him. Didn't even ask me where I was, just straight up assumed I wasn't coming in. Trying to explain that I have to leave my office and physically visit the broken things doesn't make any sense. I must be lying to him. So, I pulled out my phone and showed him my GPS log. I've been coming in at 12:30-1pm every fucking day like he wanted for the past month. He changed the subject real quick, then came right back not even 10 minutes later saying the same thing. I'm not in my office when I'm at work. So now, for the past two weeks I've had to check in with him at 2pm and have a quick little meeting (that can last up to an hour) about my day and what I'm working on.
So, you know what, fuck it. He wants me in my office from 2-5pm? That's where I'll be. All that free overtime I've been putting in too? I'm taking that shit back. Weekends? I'm not sure what normal people do, but I'm going to find out. A whole hour for lunch? Fuck! I might take a nap now!! He wants to give my schedule structure, he's going to do it with only the 40 hours I'm required to work. Except now, it's actually more like 30 hours because of his extra bullshit. These 2pm check-ins are another hour every day lost. I don't drive, and having to commute in the middle of the day is now on his time not mine, so that's another hour lost. Technically the 3-5pm block where I'm confined to my office isn't very useful, but it's still part of the 30 hours he has left all so I can have "structure" now. I have about 4 hours a day now in the morning to get any work done now.
I have no idea how long before this will implode. But it's the other faculty that will be the ones that might end up getting burned from all this. He's two years away from retirement and still stuck in the 1980's on how he runs his lab. USB hard drives with no backups litter the lab benches. I can't convince him to buy a NAS to help him out too, because they're a lot of money. Despite him spending over $15,000 last month for the new Apple Pro Display and a computer powerful enough to run it, because "it's brighter" and in the late afternoon there is a glare on his monitor. The other faculty have nearly petabyte of network storage between them. Dozens of computational machines. Linux everywhere with no one knowing how to use a terminal. Over half a dozen desktop systems with quad RTX 2080Ti's for GPU computation. Several servers with hundreds of cores each. And this director that wants me to prioritize getting him the newest iPhone over all that.
One time he called me to his office because he claimed Microsoft Word was broken. When I got there he opened a new document, changed the view to 100%, then held up a sheet of paper and told me that 100% isn't actual size. I don't know what I was thinking, but started to explain it's based off of 72ppi only to have him interrupt and demand I fix it. After telling him I couldn't, he wanted me to call Apple. Again, my brain was a little slow, I remind him that Microsoft makes Word, only to have him immediately snap back that I should call them too. Then went off on a rant how this can't be legal and we should sue Apple for misrepresentation.
Last year while I was on vacation he clicked an "upgrade flash" pop-up and it blew up in his face. From what I was told, it went full screen and then played a loud siren screaming "Warning" on repeat. He panicked and tried to call me, but didn't know I was on vacation. Eventually he called Apple and they managed to help him get everything fixed. When I returned, he blamed me. Claimed that if I had warned him about this one very specific malware, he would have never clicked on it. His solution? Now I have to write a monthly newsletter informing the entire department about IT news. We aren't an IT department, and each of our dozen labs don't use the same equipment. I'm already sharing everything I need to, but don't send everything to everyone like a lunatic.
Last week our hourly meetings were writing this newsletter, since he wasn't happy I had only written about 5 or 6 in the last year. I've told my other boss that acts as a liaison half of the time that I am swamped and have larger priorities than this newsletter. Apparently the newsletter is of the highest priority and fuck everything else! Fuck that RAID 6 with two failing drives! Fuck the computational cluster with 28 RTX 2080Ti's that keeps shutting down on its own for unknown reasons. Fuck the half a million dollar microscope that just got quarantined from the internet. Fuck the $30k 144 core server that can't be patched because the university stopped paying for RHEL. Fuck all the other faculty. Write a newsletter about IT to people that don't know fuck all about IT!
Helping me write this cursed thing, he wanted me to introduce myself to everyone in the department. The same department that I've been working in for 6 years and know everyone on a first name basis. Then he had me layout exactly what IT services I provide, but not any of the services I suggested. Some shit like "Onboarding" and "Keyboard repair". First, they know I manage the onboarding. How fuck do you think they were added to the mailing list? Second, the only keyboard repair I handle includes a trash can and Amazon. It's a fucking keyboard!
He has no idea what I do. He's not happy when he can't find me, so we can gossip about what Apple is doing. He doesn't care about any of the other shit I do as long as his needs are met. He's an ivy league educated big shot professor who is used to getting his own way. He doesn't need an IT guy. He needs a personal shopper. Which in my opinion, the only reason he wants me available from 2-5pm everyday is just in case he sees a new shiny toy from Apple. Just fuck everyone else, as long as he has all the latest Apple shit.
I can't get him to see reason, and feel like allowing him to change my hours like this is going to affect everyone else but him. I tried explaining some of the critical projects that I need to be working on and he either dismissed them or told me flat out that I'm not doing them. Explained that I need to change out a power supply in a piece of lab equipment for a professor and he outright told me that it's not my responsibility. Who the fuck else here is able to do that? I doubt anyone else even has a screwdriver!
This is all one huge kick in the face about how IT is valued here, on top of the complete disregard to everyone's safety during COVID. But you want to know what makes that even worse? We're a biology department with a biosafety level 2 lab. Some of the scientists have to take a special covid test from the rest of the university because they are working with inactive samples of COVID-19 that can cause a false positive. All this money being thrown at Apple comes from the NIH and NSF. If there is anyone who should understand how contagious shit is right now, it should be the people working here. Several of the faculty are refusing to come in and it's pissing the director off. He's repeatedly mentioned that COVID has stalled all scientific research globally, and the research should be treated with a higher priority. I'm only assuming he means it's more important than human life. Despite that he still holds all his meetings in person, where the other faculty use Zoom. Anytime the director gets his hand slapped he goes over the university policy and finds a way to read between the lines another way. The only solace I have around him is knowing he is 2 years away from retirement. Providing this place doesn't end up killing me.
submitted by GeekChimp to sysadmin

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