Obama, SF Supes, East Bay Parks bond among Chapter election successes
The Sierra Club Bay Chapter was involved and successful in the 2008 elections at an unprecedented level. Our candidates and positions won in over 90% of the races where we took positions, sometimes even in the face of immense spending by special interests.
We helped elect Obama president, kept environmentally friendly candidates in control of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, elected a Democrat to a Republican-held Assembly seat, displaced an unfair Republican judge with a Democrat, and strengthened the environmental voice on several city councils. We lost a clean-energy measure to a $10 million campaign of deception by PG&E, but won several other important ballot measures.
Our volunteers were active in numerous campaigns, taking part in phone banks five nights a week in multiple counties and in precinct walks every weekend for two months. For November we printed 460,000 Environmental Voter Guides, more than ever before. Between the June primaries and the November general elections, we had 27 Chapter interns involved in campaigning. We were able to educate these energetic young people in campaign skills, and they in turn enabled us to contact over 1,000 people door-to-door, 8,000 by phone, and 20,000 with flyers.
Special districts - preserving park funding
Our most important East Bay victory was Measure WW in the East Bay Regional Park District. Despite the difficult economic times, 71.7% of voters - well more than the required 2/3 - approved the renewal of this essential funding for park land acquisition and capital improvements in the regional parks for the coming decades. This is a ringing public endorsement of the East Bay's premier park system. In a particular local consequence, it improves the chances that Richmond's new general plan will include good protections for the North Richmond shoreline, since money will be available for purchasing lands there.
We were disappointed that Chapter chair Norman La Force did not win election to the Park District's Board, but his successful opponent, Whitney Dotson, is a long-term activist for protection of the Richmond shoreline, and we can look forward to working effectively with him.
The other key special-district ballot measure was AC Transit's VV. By a wide margin voters approved this parcel tax, which will play a key role in keeping up bus service and allowing service improvements. The success of VV, along with the resounding defeat of the anti-transit Measure KK in Berkeley (76.9% voting `no'), offer good prospects for AC Transit to move forward on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). KK would have required a ballot measure to approve closure of any street lanes in Berkeley, and was designed as an obstacle to AC's BRT plans.
San Francisco - keeping Board majority
The Chapter's other most important success was keeping an environmental majority on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Mostly, our first-choice candidates won: Eric Mar in District 1, Ross Mirkarimi in 5, Sean Elsbernd in 7, and John Avalos in 11. In District 3 our second choice, David Chiu, won. In Districts 1, 3, and 11 our candidates headed off aggressive negative campaigns financed largely by realtors and downtown special interests. Mar won by only 347 votes; our work in District 1 was probably decisive.
Only in District 9 did our endorsee, Mark Sanchez, not win. Fortunately, any of the major canidates in District 9 would have made great supervisors, and we expect David Campos, the winning candidate, to be a strong ally on the Board. With District 6 incumbent Chris Daly, whose seat was not up for election this year, we can expect a consistent majority for the environment.
In San Francisco we had our most disappointing loss, that of Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act. We were outspent an estimated 100 - 1 by an unprecedented $10 million expenditure by PG&E, largely for deceptive ads, push polls, and a smear campaign against the Sierra Club. This was more than double the previous spending record and amounted to around $50 for each vote cast against the measure. (For perspective, the record-setting statewide spending on Prop 8 came to less than $11 per yes vote.) Affordable-housing Measure B was also defeated by big Republican money.
Our other ballot-measure endorsements were successful. Notable was the passage of Measure N doubling the real-estate transfer tax for buildings over $5 million. This will yield several tens of millions of dollars for the general fund, part going to subsidize solar power.
Club endorsee Gerardo Sandoval, one of the termed-out supervisors, was successful in ousting a Republican incumbent in the race for Superior Court.
Contra Costa - strengthening environmental voice in Richmond
In Richmond we had a stunning success with the narrow passage of Measure of T to require the Chevron refinery to pay a fair share of taxes to the city. We won despite Chevron's spending over $350,000 to defeat the measure. The Chapter worked actively in a very diverse campaign that brought together a wide range of the city's ethnic communities.
In addition, two of our endorsed candidates won election to the Richmond City Council: incumbent Tom Butt and newcomer Jeff Ritterman, who came in first, ahead of four incumbents. Along with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin this gives a three-vote environmentalist bloc on the seven-member Council. Other councilmembers are likely to be supportive on many of our issues, especially those involving environmental justice. Our other endorsed candidate, first-timer Jovanka Beckles, finished just a few hundred votes behind, and is likely to be a viable candidate again in two years. Beckles was seen as a front-runner and consequently had more hit pieces printed against her than other candidates. The strong environmental Council contingent will be especially important as the Council considers revisions to the general plan, including protection for the North Richmond shoreline.
Vital at the county level was the re-election of Supervisor Federal Glover, a firm supporter of the Urban Limit Line, in a surprisingly tight race.
A big disappointment was the defeat in Moraga of Measure K, the Moraga Open Space Ordinance 2008, with only 44% of the vote, but the developer's countermeasure J was defeated devastatingly with only 13.5%. With the victory of our endorsed Town Council candidate Karen Mendonca, Moraga can count on her solid voice for open-space protection and the environment on the Council for the next four years."
Our other Contra Costa candidates all won, including a sweep of all three available seats in El Cerrito, and the victory of Don Kuehne, who won election to Hercules City Council by just 26 votes - another race where the Sierra Club endorsement may well have made the difference.
In Berkeley all our endorsees were successful, including Jesse Arreguin in a bitterly contested race for City Council in District 4, an open seat created by the death of long-time environmentalist Councilmember Dona Spring. In this progressive-leaning district, pro-development interests threw their support behind Terry Doran, a candidate who is sympathetic to their goals. But just as similar efforts were defeated two years ago in Spring's final race, strong support from the Sierra Club - and a tremendous grassroots on-the-ground activist effort - brought Arreguin a solid win over Doran and his pro-development backing. Arreguin's vision of a green, livable city resonated strongly with District 4 residents, as opposed to Doran's support for reckless growth and development. Arreguin was one of four Club activists serving on the city's Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee in its two-year downtown-plan development process. The four were supporters of the compromise plan that DAPAC has now passed on to the City Council; Doran was an opponent of the environmentalists' plan; and so Arreguin's victory strengthens the likelihood of passing the plan unscathed through the City Council. As noted above, the defeat of Measure KK greatly improves the prospects for Bus Rapid Transit, as well.
In Albany we preserved a 3 - 2 majority on the City Council by re-electing Bob Lieber, but our other two candidates lost. This majority will be crucial for strong protections for the city's shoreline.
In Oakland, Rebecca Kaplan, whom we endorsed both in the June election and in the November run-off, won the City Council's at-large seat with 62.4% of the vote.
All our other candidates in Alameda County won, with one exception, Club activist and first-time candidate Vinnie Bacon in Fremont. Vinnie came in a quite respectable third (out of 10 candidates for two seats), however, and can be expected to be a strong voice now in Fremont politics, with a good chance in the 2010 election.
State and federal races
With Obama topping the ticket, the Sierra Club's endorsed candidates and ballot measures enjoyed overwhelming success in the Golden State. San Francisco has the honor of being the county in California with the highest-percentage vote for Obama: 84%.
Not just in the Bay Area but throughout Northern California, all of the Club's endorsed candidates for Congress and for state Senate and Assembly were successful. Most were incumbents and longtime environmental stalwarts in safe districts, but a few were of special note.
Jerry McNerney, who two years ago, with major support from the environmental community, had almost miraculously ousted longtime anti-environmentalist Richard Pombo from what was previously considered a solid Republican district, won re-election to Congress with 55.5% of the vote. McNerney has turned out to be not just a shiny new face and a vigorous supporter of the environment, especially alternative energy, but also a skilful politician.
Democrat Joan Buchanan won election in the 15th Assembly District, to replace termed-out Republican Guy Houston. This was one of only three Assembly districts around the state to change parties.
In Senate District 9 Loni Hancock easily won election in November, but in June she had fought a very tough primary race, and the Bay Chapter had worked very actively to support her, contacting over 4,000 voters for her.
Nancy Skinner won election to Assembly District 14 without November opposition, but the Sierra Club endorsement was helpful to her June primary victory over three opponents.
All of the Club's endorsements on state ballot measures were successful. The passage of Proposition 1A should accelerate planning and construction of High-Speed Rail between northern and southern California. More generally, California voters showed themselves ready to extend public transportation: in accord with Club endorsements they passed AC Transit Measure VV, defeated Berkeley Measure KK, and passed the Los Angeles transportation sales-tax Measure R. In Marin and Sonoma Counties they also passed Measure Q approving the SMART rail system, on which the Club had no position, and in the Santa Clara Valley Transportation District they narrowly passed Measure B, which the Club opposed, for a transportation sales tax to allow the extension of BART from Fremont to San Jose.
Two expensive energy initiatives, Propositions 7 and 10, used the language of renewable electricity and alternative-fuel vehicles but engendered the opposition of the environmental community and newspaper editorial boards because in practice they would have set back clean energy. The Sierra Club, working with our consumer allies, led the environmental opposition to Prop 10, defeating it 60 - 40 despite being outspent by an unprecedented 130 - 1. Prop 7 lost by an even wider margin. Voters demonstrated that they will not fall for green-sounding measures that fail the test of sound policy.
Voters showed great concern for clean energy. A nationwide poll conducted for the Sierra Club on Nov. 3 and 4 showed that 50% of voters said that energy issues were personally important in deciding whom to vote for for president this year. Voters thought 49% - 35% that Obama has a better plan for investing in clean energy to create jobs. "With energy playing such an important role for so many voters, it is clear that President-elect Obama has the mandate he needs to move forward with his plans for the clean-energy future that will rebuild our economy," said Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club political director. "Obama pledged to promote clean energy to create jobs, secure energy independence, and fight global warming, and Americans clearly want him to keep that promise."