Ballot Language for Cars-First Prop L is Misleadingly Vague

The ballot’s description of Prop L leaves much specificity to be desired.

Voters returning from the polls today have pointed out the painfully vague ballot language used to describe Proposition L, the advisory measure to enshrine free parking and more driving as high priority in city policy.

All voters see on the ballot is the question, “Shall it be City policy to change parking and transportation priorities?”

Change parking and transportation priorities… to what? The ballot doesn’t say.

It’s concerning that, even for a measure which had made its priorities clear, the ballot doesn’t make any effort to list those priorities. Sure, the ballot language is supposed to be concise, but in this case it seems like some might vote for Prop L without realizing what it entails.

We’ll see the results in a matter of hours.

  • Mario Tanev

    Wow, that’s awful. How can this be allowed? Who decides the language? Was there nobody there to object?

  • Luckily, when people don’t understand what a ballot measure means they tend to vote NO.

  • Gezellig

    A few friends of mine who are not particularly attuned to transit news said that very thing upon seeing their sample ballots. “WTF. Vague. No.” With no further research needed. Hopefully others came to the same conclusion.

  • Bruce

    Good news so far. The early returns (vote-by-mail ballots only) show Prop L losing 59% to 41%. Prop A is passing with 69% of the vote, above the 66% threshold it needs, and Prop B has 60% (it only needs a bare majority).

    But it’s still early.

  • Rob

    I only went to the polls today so I could vote NO on this proposition.

  • murphstahoe

    Can you hear that Mr. Anderson? That … is the sound of inevitability.

  • Bruce

    As of 10:28 PM, with 97.99% of precincts reporting, Prop L is losing 62.33% to 37.67%. Prop A looks like it will pass, with 71.27% in favor, and Prop B has 61.15%.

    A really good day at the polls for sustainable transportation.

  • Bruce

    Not the best metaphor because Mr. Anderson wins that fight.

  • jd_x

    Exactly what I thought. I couldn’t wait to vote no on L, but was blown away when I saw the text. If I didn’t know better, I would have been like, “Yes, I would like to see parking and transportation policies change … so that they prioritize walking, cycling, and public transit over private automobiles.” Meanwhile, one of the supporters of L would be like, “Yes, I would like to see parking and transportation policies change … so that they prioritize the car over all else.” Anything this vague should patently not be allowed on a ballot. This is a mockery of democracy.

    In fact, I think the whole concept of propositions is a mockery of democracy. The average person should not be trying to decide the nuances of running a government. This is what we pay lawmakers and politicians for! Few of us have the time to understand and research the nuances of each measure, and we certainly don’t have the insider information to understand the consequences of choosing yes or no. For example, you could put a proposition on the ballot that says, “Should veterans get better healthcare”, and of course people would be like, “Yes, absolutely!”. But what if I told you that it would come at the expense of better healthcare for children? There are constantly trade-offs, and it’s the job of the lawmakers (since their job description requires they hear all sides of the story) to debate amongst themselves on what policy should be. This whole proposition thing has gotten way out of control.

    Another example: a doctor could ask the populace: “Should I perform this surgical procedure or this other surgical procedure?” And clearly, everybody’s reaction would be, “Seriously? Why are you asking us? We don’t know anything about medicine. We can’t possible make the right choice without any experience in the field.” Yet, somehow when politicians shirk their own professional duty by forcing the voters to debate and decide their issues, we think this is perfectly acceptable.

    Democracy is about electing a person who then goes and does all the dirty work to figure out the best policy. It’s not supposed to be about the uneducated (because we have day jobs) populace doing their jobs for them.

  • jd_x

    But he loses in the long-run.

  • Bruce

    In this metaphor, are we the evil AI with sunglasses? Cause I don’t want to be the evil AI with sunglasses.

  • Gezellig

    “L No.” –SF

    Great news on A and B, too!

  • Bruce

    It’s (almost) official! Ding, dong, the witch is dead!

  • Gezellig

    And now it looks like apparently a majority of people thankfully had this very same reaction when reading the “description” for L:

    L NO. Good riddance.

  • Here’s the official video describing what L stands for:

  • Alicia

    In fact, I think the whole concept of propositions is a mockery of democracy. The average person should not be trying to decide the nuances of running a government.

    You do know what the word “democracy” means, right?

  • jd_x

    We have an indirect democracy, which means we elect representatives who then, as the very name implies, represent us. Do you know what “represent” means? That means that we don’t hold their hand and tell them what to do micro-managing them. Instead, they make a pitch to us (campaigning) and we decide who most represents us, elect them, then let them do their thing and stay out of the way until the next “check-in’ time (elections) where we judge their performance.

    Ballot initiatives/referendums/propositions are a recent phenomena that are a distortion of this and have grown out of gridlock in our politics, i.e. politicians dumping their own incompetence and stubbornness off on the populace Propositions have never been a good way of creating solutions for the reasons I outlined in my previous post. It’s much better to let the representatives do their job rather than pull a bunch of citizens in who have no idea what is going on (especially with the utter nonsense that is the vaguely worded crap that is … er, was! … prop L).

  • bobster855

    A crushing defeat for the automobile lobby. I hope this now backfires and we become even more active in pushing for sustainable transportation. The people have spoken.

  • murphstahoe

    Ironically across the country there were many examples of major ballot measures that went overwhelmingly opposite of what the policies favored by the representatives the same voters elected. Example Arkansas pushed through a minimum wage hike and elected a GOP senator.

  • By a margin of nearly 2:1, the citizens of San Francisco have decided that Sean Parker, Sebra Leaves, SFParkRipOff and Rob Anderson should go and live in Texas.

  • I weep for the glut of free stored cars on every single street of SF

  • gneiss

    The defeat of this proposition shows our politicians is that the shrill and small groups that appear at public meetings and consistently attempt to derail livable streets and transportation measures in the city are simply not a potent political force. For every voter who complains about parking spaces lost in their neighborhoods, there are 2 others who are saying to SFMTA – keep it coming. Let’s stop pussyfooting around with important streetscape changes that make the lives of those walking, taking transit, and biking better, and just get them done.

  • Alicia

    Here in Michigan, I’m satisfied with the results of ballot initiatives – both the statewide (referendums on instituting a wolf hunting season) and local (referendums on funding for public services in my county) measures.

    On the other hand, I’m not especially happy about the other races.

  • p_chazz

    Actually, ballot initiative in California were a progressive reform that came into existencein the 1910’s at a time when the legislature was controlled by large corporate interests. While corporate interests have, to an extent taken control of the initiative process as well, it remains a useful tool for when legislators are unwilling to take on a hot button issue.

  • Alex

    Couldn’t believe it when I saw it on the ballot but it made perfect sense for such a deceptive measure. Glad it went down in flames and I have a smile on my face today knowing that the majority of SF voters won’t be fooled into voting against their interest by supporting vague measures and outdated and unsustainable transit policies!

  • gardnr

    Who writes the language?

  • the_greasybear

    Ol’ Sweatpants had always dared Streetsblog commentators to put our agenda on the ballot, predicting we would lose. Yet it turns out the cars-first, cars-only contingent put *their* agenda on the ballot–and lost decisively.

  • coolbabybookworm

    I know it won’t stop everyone who is anti bike/transit/ped, etc. but I do wonder how Save Polk, ENUFF, Rob Anderson, etc. are going to explain this to themselves or if they’ll take a little break from trying to stop every project.

  • Gezellig

    There’s likely some perception bias going on with the All-Cars-All-The-Time crowd. Since *they* and those in their circles can’t imagine wanting it any other way it’s easy to falsely conclude that’s how the majority feels.

    This perception bias is not unique to SF. For example, there are 1.5 million transit boardings *daily* in the city of LA:
    LA Metro Red Line

    These roughly 1.5 million transit boardings occur *every day* in a city of roughly 3.8 million people. ( And by the way that number only counts systemwide boardings within LA Metro, not other regional transit options such as Metrolink/Amtrak commuter-and-beyond rail.

    Yet it’s unquestioned conventional wisdom in some LA circles that “no one walks/takes transit in LA.” Since people in these circles tend to hang out with likeminded people, they see little reason to believe otherwise.

    Yet the numbers paint quite a different picture (anecdotally, almost every time I took the subway or bus while living in LA it was crowded–often standing-room only).

    Prop L supporters and their ilk (Save Polk, anyone?) may need to reevaluate their belief in this mystical Silent Majority of “Real” San Franciscans Who Drive Everywhere All The Time And Want To Continue Doing So.

    That’s just not…a thing.

  • After all of Sebra Leaves comments about letting voters decide, maybe we should start a betting pool on why the election didn’t go her way.

    Low voter turn out? L wasn’t necessary because she already got free parking? Prop A & B was actually a vote against transit and for cars because… BIKE LOBBY! Maybe the electorate is suddenly just wrong and shouldn’t be trusted to vote on these things in the first place.

  • voltairesmistress

    All good points. But I think even people who drive frequently in San Francisco realize that today’s congestion is not going to be solved by putting more cars on the road. Even without wishing to stop driving themselves, these drivers hope others will take transit, walk, or bike, so they support expanding alternatives to driving. It’s interesting, however, that even friends who prefer to drive, are starting to take the occasional transit/walk/Uber alternative, because those modes are improving, becoming faster, etc. So in the end, even drivers supporting transit become transit users themselves.

  • Yes, that pernicious Bike Lobby — all 94,572 of us, if the polls are to be believed. Of course, we’re so powerful we almost certainly rigged this election with our super secret stealth tactics: Truth and Reason.

  • Well, interesting that we have heard from any of them, as they are most certainly reading these comments. Let’s see if this gets them out of the woodwork:

    A motorist walks into a bar. “Why the long face?” ask the bartender…

    Rob, Sebra? Care to finish the joke? It’s on you, you know.

  • @the_greasybear – He seems to be immune to reality. I’ve pointed out to him before that 1999 Prop E qualifies as voter endorsement of transit-first, bikes and pedestrians included, but he’s argued that the bikes and pedestrians were snuck in (when in fact they were flogged endlessly by Prop E’s opponents).

    Later, 2007 Prop H was put on the ballot by a billionaire who paid signature-gatherers to lie (sound familiar?), in an attempt to scuttle 2007 Prop A’s loosening of parking minimums. Voters went Yes on A and No on H, sorry Don Fisher.

    So, rejection of 2014 Prop L is the third voter affirmation of transit first, not cars first.

  • @Upright Biker – Well, it’s time to get the All-Powerful Agenda 21 War on Cars underway. Prop L was the only thing stopping us, you know. Time to build those bulbouts on Masonic, which are really only there to land our fleet of black helicopters.

  • Roger that, Comrade Dyer! Let’s unseal the attack plans!

    Now, where did we leave them?

  • Sigh… now you’re just going to be insufferable: reason, truth, and now you’re probably going to start claiming you represent the majority view!

    A majority view based on nothing more than studies, surveys and a majority vote on just about every transit/bike ballot measure that’s been put up for a vote.

  • the_greasybear

    The third time is the charm…

  • Kris

    Exactly. I can’t tell you how stressed I get every time there’s an election and I’m compelled to do all this research (that I don’t have time to do, or necessarily know what the best resources are to check) in order to figure out what the hell I am specifically voting for.

  • davistrain

    I was in SF the weekend before Election Day, and was well aware of the “L? NO!” spirit among the transit oriented folks. I didn’t vote on the matter, because I live in LA County, but it looks like the people of The City had their priorities straight. Our big fight was in 2008, when Measure R was passed by a bit over 67% (meeting the 66.66% requirement for a tax increase), allowing us go move forward with a number of major transit projects.

  • mike_napolis_beard

    Sebra Bereaves.


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