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The Greater Good

“In 1978, Proposition 13 passed with almost 65% of those who voted in favor and with the participation of nearly 70% of registered voters. After passage, Proposition 13 became article XIII A of the California Constitution.” Wikipedia

We’ve been picking up our neighbor’s Press Democrat while he is away in Idaho hunting elk. The headline article of the Sunday edition is about the shortage of rental properties in Mendocino and all over California and America due to so many people choosing to go the Air B&B route with their rental units rather than rent long term to locals.

What does that have to do with the famous Proposition 13? In my view, the Airbnb phenomenon is the grandchild of Proposition 13, and the election of Donald Trump is a sibling of Airbnb.

There once was a concept known as the Greater Good, otherwise known as our community. Before the passage of Proposition 13, California had excellent schools, universities, parks, healthcare, mental healthcare, and public libraries, along with many other public goodies, too. Ten years later, those public systems were collapsing as the wealthy fled the public sector for private systems only they could afford—to hell with the middle and lower classes.

I recently fell into conversation with a woman who, upon finding out I owned a house in Mendocino, asked if I had a cottage to rent? “Or even a garage that doesn’t leak?”

She was expensively dressed and driving a new BMW, so I doubted she was looking to rent something diminutive for herself. “We decided to go Air B&B with our cottage,” she explained. “So now we have to kick our renter out and I’m hoping she can find another place around here so she doesn’t have to relocate. She’s the greatest person. I hate to do it, but we need the money. She’s paying twelve hundred a month. We can make five thousand a month doing the Air B&B thing.”

“Lot of work,” I said, smiling wanly. “Sheets to wash, cleaning up after…”

“With the money we’ll be making, we’ll get someone else to do that,” she said, shrugging. “Really hurts. She’s the best renter we’ve ever had.”

Yes, for some people doing the Air B&B thing is a necessity, but for many people doing the Air B&B thing is simply a way to make more money than they were previously making. And making more money at the expense of a vibrant community and great people is precisely what people did when they passed Proposition 13. In the short term, property owners got to keep more of their money for themselves. In the long term, they wrecked our society.

The great appeal of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton and the Georges Bush and Ronald Reagan, who might be called the Uncle of Proposition 13, was the message: you affluent folks can have anything you want and need not worry about the less fortunate people we destroy here and abroad so you can have your anything.

The appeal of Bernie Sanders was that he reminded people who remembered or had heard about that Other Time, the time of The Greater Good. And he suggested we could have another such time if we designed our systems of governance and taxation so everyone paid their fair share of the cost of a system benefiting everyone.

Alas, too much time had passed since the days of fair taxation, since the days of banks being banks instead of gambling dens, since the days of stock markets reflecting the actual worth of companies and commodities, since the days of high school graduates knowing how to read and write, since the days of superb public libraries, since the days when, truly, there were no homeless people—so in this last election most of those who voted opted for a continuation of privatization, voted for continuing to deny what is really happening to our world and our society, voted for a fantasy that capitalism can bring prosperity to more than a fraction of the population.

Now there is a movement afoot to recount the votes from the Presidential election and prove, some people hope, Trump didn’t win and Hillary did. And I marvel at the outpouring of money and support for this ultimately futile process, as if the system as it is now constituted would allow for a reversal of a national process predicated on the fantasy of fairness.

Fantasy. My hobby of monitoring movie trailers and ensuing box office results show that the most successful movies of the last two decades are fantasies about wizards and super heroes and invulnerable strong people (mostly men) battling the forces of evil. The public can’t seem to get enough of Harry Potter and the aftershocks of that pre-adolescent fantasy of kids using magical powers to conquer the nasty meanies of life, magical powers gained not through practice and wisdom and insight, but just because, you know, wizards are, like, granted magical powers because, you know, because they’re, like, chosen.

This pre-adolescent fantasy stuff is profoundly related to the election of Trump, for if we grow up believing important things only happen because of magic (luck) and not through clear intentions and hard work, we cannot possibly understand how things actually happen in this reality, nor do we know how to make things happen. And we grow up believing wizards or Super People will save us, save society, make things better.

I think we, the people, are now so passive and misinformed and entrained to stare at screens projecting fantasies, the spectacle of Trump versus Hillary was the best we could hope for. Bernie Sanders was too down to earth (and I don’t mean Middle Earth) and what he envisioned would have required us to share, to be part of a larger community, a society of equals. No wizards. No waving of wands for the easy fix. Just us working together and sacrificing together for the greater good.

(Todd Walton’s website is


  1. Harvey Reading December 8, 2016

    CA voters in recent years got rid of the law that allowed a minority of one-third in the legislature to block passage of the state budget. It could do the same with the section of Article XIII a) that allows the same one-third minority to block passage of revenue bills that raise taxes.

    Bad laws can be changed, by the people if the legislature balks. Too bad that cannot happen at the federal level, since the Constitution has no provision for recall, initiative, or referendum.

    • Rick Weddle December 8, 2016

      re: no Constitutional provision for recall, initiative, or referendum…

      It may be that the U.S. Constitution has no specific wording providing guidance in circumstances like the current evacuation from OUR government offices of their Lawful authority. So, nowhere does it spell out what we can do if OUR Legislature disappears beneath the toxic sludge of corruption, and OUR Executive goes out of our Lawful control, overpowered and overpowering, and OUR Court follows the Artificial Creature (the Corporation) around, compliant and obedient as a balloon on a string. However, Amendment IX adequately acknowledges us (We, the People) as THE sole authority to determine for ourselves, among ourselves how to create something prudent and functional for the purpose. If we intend to do something along these lines, we need to start acting like it, within the next day or so.

      • Harvey Reading December 8, 2016


    • BB Grace December 8, 2016

      If you follow fake news Mr. Reading, secession is possible. The following is from Wikipedia:

      California: This was discussed by involved grassroots movement parties and small activist groups calling for the state to secede from the union, they met in a pro-secessionist meeting in Sacramento on April 15, 2010, to discuss advancing the matter.[78] In 2015, a Political Action Committee called the Yes California Independence Committee formed to advocate California’s independence from the United States.[79] On January 8, 2016, the California Secretary of State’s office confirmed that a political body called the California National Party filed the appropriate paperwork to begin qualifying as a political party.[80][81] The California National Party, whose primary objective is California independence, ran a candidate for State Assembly in the June 7, 2016 primary.[82] On November 9, 2016, after Donald Trump’s win in the presidential election, residents of the state caused #calexit to trend on Twitter, wanting out of the country due to his win; they argue that they have the 6th largest economy in the world, and more residents than any other state in the nation.[83]

      January 20th DUMP TRUMP Calexit Party is in SF. Secession is possible by consent, agreement from the other 49 states. I can see it happening. CA says DUMP TRUMP while the US says DUMP CA. Looks to be a win-win to me.

      • Harvey Reading December 8, 2016

        I don’t ‘do’ fake nooze. It appears to me that Calexit people are nuttier than even the ‘state of Jefferson’ folks (complete with slavery, I assume, since the third prez REALLY liked slaves).

        Besides, what’s CA gonna do on its own? A: get absorbed by some other country.

        • BB Grace December 8, 2016

          What CA gonna do?

          The powerful and mighty Obamas are moving to CA, while the most beloved Clinton (who Jill Stein worked harder for than her own supporters) could be the president to not only make CA great again, but make the vast majority of the CA population very happy to have the president they want.

          Or why not become a state of China? China already owns CA.

          • Harvey Reading December 8, 2016

            More likely Mexico. Viva la Raza.

            Sometimes it’s difficult for me to tell when you’re being serious and when you’re being sarcastic.

  2. Mark Richey December 10, 2016

    Don’t forget that nearly all the tax saving from Prop 13 did not go to homeowners, since properties reassess when they change hands.

    Commercial property gets the lion’s share of the tax reductions, since that rarely changes hands given the sort of corporate shenanigans that goes on, especially with LARGE commercial property.

    For individual homeowners, a huge tax burden falls on young people, and other first timers in the market. Only we few who have been able to stay in the same home since Prop 13 get any real benefit among individual homeowners.

  3. Mark Richey December 10, 2016

    NB And even the slight benefit long term individual homeowners receive from Prop 13 has largely been canceled by the endless ‘parcel taxes’ we are blackmailed into supporting if we want streets without potholes, BART service, public school renovations…Either vote for these disguised property taxes, or else, that’s the message.

    More and more of the public money in the US goes to war; individuals are obliged to fund most public services by these regressive ‘parcel’ taxes, the burden of which falls only on individual homeowners.

    • izzy December 14, 2016

      Indeed. The recently imposed “Fire Fee”, levied according to number of residences rather than acreage, is an example. Somehow MRC, with their vast holdings of largely empty timber land and plenty of potential for fire, pays next to nothing.

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