Why I’m usually happy when iniatives fail

San Francisco’s anti-Airbnb measure (F) went down last night. So did another ballot measure (I) that would have put a moratorium on the construction of new housing in the Mission. The commentators on KQED this morning were calling it a failure for the progressives and a win for Airbnb, which spent millions to stop F.

Eh, maybe. I like to think of it as perhaps the electorate realizing that in general ballot measures are blunt tools that tend to offer simple (and wrong) answers to complex problems. Sometimes those answers directly benefit the individuals or organizations that sponsored the measure, at the expense of everyone else.

I’m not saying that the housing situation in SF is great and does not need to be addressed. It does, but I don’t think I know how to address it, and those measures certainly were half-cooked. I’m not even opposed to trying out half-cooked ideas when a situation is dire. But I’d like to see those experiments tried out by city councils and state legislatures that can, you know, augment, amplify, or reverse them as results come in.

Of course, legislative bodies often don’t act fast enough or decisively enough for many of us. It’s worth taxonomizing why that might be:

  • the legislators do not care
  • the legislators are bought off by bad guys
  • the legislators think other issues must take precedence
  • the legislators do not understand an issue well enough to craft a solution (note: they have staffs and experts at their disposal. What do you know that they do not?)
  • legislators believe that something you think is a problem is not actually a problem
  • legislators consider factors about which you don’t care
  • none of the proposed solutions could garner a majority

We could go on, but I guess my point is that the initiative process was designed to deal with a legislature that seemed to be at odds with the electorate. Seemed is a strong word. There was good evidence it was so. But more often, I think some of those other explanations are in play, and vote accordingly.

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