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Measures as diverse as the cities they come from

Ballot proposals would fund sand for beaches in Encinitas and name a sewage plant for Bush in San Francisco.

October 26, 2008|Steve Chawkins | Chawkins is a Times staff writer.

In Encinitas, residents are being asked to supply sand for the beach. In Oakland, they are being urged to boost teachers' salaries -- over the teachers' objections. In San Francisco, voters might legalize prostitution. In San Diego, they may approve construction of a huge concrete deck for a football stadium or a convention center -- or something -- four stories above a busy shipping terminal.

While sound-alike ballot measures throughout the state ask taxpayers to spend billions on new schools, hospitals and highways, the more distinctive local proposals on Nov. 4 ballots vary as wildly as the communities that generated them.

In the City by the Bay, a group that grandly calls itself the Presidential Memorial Commission is advancing a measure sure to draw worldwide comment if it passes. It would rename the Oceanside Treatment Plant in honor of the president.

Conceived over beers by a few friends who went on to gather some 12,000 signatures, the George W. Bush Sewage Plant would be "a fitting memorial for a truly outstanding Commander-in-Chief," according to the group's tongue-in-cheek ballot argument.

Opponents say it would only provide grist for talk-radio diatribes about Left Coast crazies.

"I see it as disrespectful to families of the soldiers who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Colin Gallagher, a Republican attorney in San Francisco, who added that he's no fan of the sitting president.

"It would speak better of San Franciscans if they remained civil," he said.

San Franciscans -- for the 12th time since the 1920s -- also are being asked to pave the way for a public takeover of the city's power system. Under Measure H, the city -- not the private Pacific Gas & Electric Co. -- would provide power. More than half of the city's electricity would come from renewable sources by 2017, and all of it by 2040.

Eight of San Francisco's 11 supervisors have endorsed the idea, while Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, oppose it.

Voters there also will grapple with a measure spearheaded by the Erotic Service Providers Union.

Supporters say that decriminalizing prostitution would be safer for both the prostitutes and their clients. Legal sex workers would be more likely to file police reports when assaulted by their customers or pimps, proponents say. And they would be more likely to carry condoms, which police under current law sometimes use as evidence to charge them with prostitution, according to the measure's advocates.

Opponents say legalization would draw more prostitutes to the city and hamstring police efforts to stop sex-trafficking rings.

Berkeley voters, famous for their progressive stands, defeated a similar proposal by a 63-point margin four years ago.

In one of the stranger electoral twists this season, teachers in the cash-strapped Oakland school district are spurning an effort to increase their pay with a new parcel tax.

Both the Oakland Education Assn. -- the teachers' union -- and the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools oppose the $120-million idea, contending that state officials rushed it onto the ballot without enough local consultation.

Under the measure, 15% of the money would be directed to charter schools, which most unions oppose.

"You can't help all Oakland's public schools and students by letting charter schools drain away more funding," said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the teachers union. "And you can't keep asking taxpayers to make the investment in our schools that Sacramento should be making."

The Oakland measure is one of more than 50 school funding proposals on ballots around the state. Even in bad economic times, voters approve most education spending measures, according to the California School Boards Assn., but as the economy totters, they might think twice.

"We're in uncharted waters," said Rick Pratt, the association's assistant director. "In the past, we haven't seen anything like the conditions we'll be facing this November."

At the Port of San Diego, a big-ticket idea has generated big-ticket opposition. U.S. Navy Secretary Donald Winter, San Diego County's congressional delegation, the State Lands Commission and numerous local officials have come out against a proposed $600-million, 40-foot-tall concrete structure that would loom over a busy shipping terminal. The 96-acre deck would be topped with some sort of splashy development -- perhaps a football stadium, a shopping center, an aquarium or hotels.

Critics include the San Diego Union-Tribune, which described the project as a "gargantuan concrete hulk." They say it would interfere with port operations, destroy high-paying waterfront jobs and require public funding, despite the developers' stated plans.

Up the coast in Encinitas, officials hope to restore sand on the city's eroding beaches with a tax on short-term summer home rentals. A similar measure was narrowly defeated in June -- evidence, according to the measure's critics, that the city needs no new taxes.

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