A Dinner Party Conversation Prep Guide: Local, State, and National Issues That Deserve Your Vote

This past week has seen action taken on a number of hugely consequential issues. Whatever explains the timing,  today Civinomics presents three issues – local state, and national – all explained in plain language, so that you can catch up in case you missed them and then cast your vote on these these measures. Without further ado, here is your dinner party conversation prep guide:

Let’s start with local. Last week the city of Santa Cruz considered numerous changes to code affecting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). ADUs are typically smaller, secondary structures built on the same lot as a primary residential property that can be rented out separately under specific circumstances. In Santa Cruz it is estimated that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of these units, many of which are illegal, because they weren’t built according to current health and safety requirements (for instance adhering to fire code and having proper sprinklers). As part of these code changes the city’s primary intent was to provide a pathway to legalization for illegal ADUs, while also making it easier for the development of new ones. And while many of these changes were non-controversial, such as set back requirements, consideration of one particular requirement was met with significant disagreement, the owner occupancy requirement.

As of now the property owner is required to live on site to rent out either the ADU or the main unit, with exceptions given for up to 3 years in the event of life changing circumstances. The rule is meant to prevent large numbers of absentee landlords in a city with a high proportion of renters, specifically college students, in neighborhoods zoned for single family dwellings. As expressed during the city council meeting when these changes were being considered, residents are worried that too many ADUs, especially those without a property owner on site, will jeopardize the character and integrity of neighborhoods. There are also concerns about parking availability. However, in such a dire rental shortage and affordability crisis (in Santa Cruz most renters pay a substantial portion of their income to housing costs and most qualify for some type of assistance), certain elected and community leaders feel the owner occupancy rules should be relaxed to create more available rental stock.

So what do you think of ADUs in Santa Cruz? Should the owner be required to live on site in order to rent out the property? Cast your vote here.

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Now let’s look at the state. This past week the University of California Board of Regents approved a new funding plan that will substantially raise tuition costs. The plan calls for a five percent increase in tuition every year for next five years. Currently, UC tuition stands at $12,192 per year. With these new increases, tuition will rise to $15,564 by 2019, unless the state increases the amount it ponies up to the university every year.

The plan is has come under fire from student groups, but was also opposed by Governor Jerry Brown, who advocates cost cutting measures. The ball is in his court now as he prepares his 2015/16 state budget proposal, when it will become clear how much he intends to ask the legislature to allocate to the UC. But until then where do you stand on the issue? Do these hikes go too far, or do you feel they are needed to ensure the long term stability of the University of California? Learn more about the issue and cast your vote here.

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Last but certainly not least, we look nationally to President Obama’s executive order on immigration. This past Thursday the President announced that he will take steps to dramatically increase the number of unauthorized immigrants who can receive temporary legal status to stay in the country. The bulk of these will be immigrant parents of children who were born in the States. Many reform advocates, who have been fighting for decades to see comprehensive immigration legislation passed, praised the move as a much needed step. But opponents, notably Congressional Republicans, blasted the order, saying the President has overstepped his constitutional authority. What do you think? Cast your vote here.

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Clearly there has been a lot to digest over the last week. Here’s hoping that the only thing you’ll have to stomach this week is a wonderful meal with loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

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