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State's local ballot items include the symbolic, surreal

November 04, 2006|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Two cities known as leftist strongholds will weigh in Tuesday on their desire for a Bush/Cheney impeachment, while another votes on a symbolic call to bring the troops home from Iraq.

In counties north and south, contentious growth battles pitting development against open space preservation take center stage, including one in which a proposed butterfly preserve aims to soften the blow of big-box retail. And, from wooded Trinity County to the Central Valley's agricultural belt, strapped rural hospitals beg voters for financial help.

Up and down the Golden State, local measures on Tuesday's ballot offer a glimpse of the strange (an Arcata anti-fluoridation campaign attacks the additive to the public water supply as "mass drugging") and the surreal (family members of Mendocino County's recently deceased district attorney are campaigning aggressively on his behalf).

But the initiatives also offer local twists on issues of concern to voters across the state and country: property rights versus public land planning, healthcare and higher wages for the less advantaged, and a growing discontent as the war in Iraq stretches into its fourth year.

The call by San Francisco and Berkeley for impeaching President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney may seem futile: San Franciscans voted overwhelmingly in 2004 for an end to the war (Mendocino voters will cast ballots on a similar measure Tuesday) and in 2005 to block military recruiting in schools.

A lone critic writes in San Francisco ballot arguments against the "ROSEMARY'S BABY" impeachment resolution, stating in all caps that Islamic terrorists will be "AMUSED AND ENCOURAGED" by it.

But proponents -- six of San Francisco's 11 county supervisors -- insist that the measure matters at a time when dissatisfaction with the Iraq war is growing and could sway congressional elections.

"It may seem frivolous to some. But when it gets to desperate times and trying to reconcile why we're involved in a war that the majority doesn't want, then this is a fitting response," said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

Critics of Berkeley's measure groused that its leaders should focus on neighborhood crime and economic decline. But backers -- including Berkeley's mayor and assemblywoman -- note that the city led the nation with the Free Speech Movement 40 years ago and could do so again with this issue.

Besides, they say, federal agents have spied on nonviolent UC Berkeley antiwar activists, bringing the issue home.

Up the coast in Mendocino County, an untimely death has thrown the district attorney's race into chaos. Libertarian Norman Vroman's support for both medical marijuana and the right to carry concealed weapons had enabled the onetime federal tax scofflaw to keep office since 1998 with the backing of a "hippie-redneck coalition."

But Vroman was in the fight of his political life when he was felled by a massive heart attack Sept. 21. His name remains on the ballot, along with challenger Meredith Lintott. Should he win, the Board of Supervisors would appoint his successor. Dissatisfied with that prospect, however, the prosecutor named to fill the slot temporarily went to court to seek a special election instead.

As relatives mount an emotional television and radio reelection campaign on Vroman's behalf, voters are growing increasingly confused, and that won't change by election day: This week, the Court of Appeal ordered the county registrar to seal the vote count until the legal issues are settled.

Lintott, a Fort Bragg attorney who had campaigned against Vroman's "personal and political" filing decisions and promised a more egalitarian approach, has found herself running against a ghost.

In economics issues, the fate of low-wage workers comes before voters in San Francisco, where the city could become the nation's first to require all employers to provide paid sick leave -- including to part-time and temporary help. Businesses say the measure could ruin them.

There is a similar outcry in Santa Cruz against a ballot measure that would increase the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour -- following successful "living wage" campaigns in San Francisco; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Washington, D.C. Though those cities may be large enough to handle the increase, opponents of the Santa Cruz measure say businesses in the college town would flee to neighboring cities.

With disappearing farm and ranchland an issue statewide, county measures that permit or curtail development have ignited passions.

San Luis Obispo County's proposed Dalidio Ranch project has earned accolades from some for appealing to voters with an organic farm, farmers market, butterfly preserve and other environmentally friendly features. But critics condemn the trimmings as a "greenwash" of an unneeded commercial development on precious farmland.

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