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What the 2020 California Proposition Results Mean for Philanthropy

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

This year, California’s state ballot included many propositions covering a broad range of issues, including rent control, business property taxes, cash bail, and more. The SCG Policy Team has provided a breakdown of the ballot measures results and the potential implications these results will have on California and the communities our sector serves. 

Regardless of the ballot results, there will be many opportunities for philanthropy to work with our public leaders and institutions to address the most pressing systemic issues affecting our communities. The SCG Policy Team looks forward to monitoring these ballot measures as they take into effect next year and providing the SCG network with further opportunities for civic engagement. 


Proposition 15: Commercial Property Tax – FAILED 

Proposition 15 failed to pass by a margin of over 4 percent. This proposition would have generated up to $11.5 billion in revenue for K-14 schools and local governments by amending the businesses' tax code. Proposition 15 was placed on the California ballot by a coalition of civil rights and community groups. Foundations such as the Liberty Hill Foundation and the California Community Foundation also supported Proposition 15. 

With the looming economic crises brought on by the pandemic, Proposition 15’s failure means that California will inevitably need to balance school budgets through deferrals and deep cuts to statewide school funding and additional social services. The philanthropic sector will likely be looked upon to “fill in” the gaps in public financing for critical social safety net programs and education. 


Proposition 16: Affirmative Action – FAILED 

Californians disappointed proponents of affirmative action who wanted to test the state’s readiness for racial equity and systems change by voting down Proposition 16. This measure would have restored affirmative action in hiring, spending, and admission decisions at government offices and state universities. 

Stakeholders invested in racial equity and access will need to continue advocating for equal opportunities for all Californians, especially those who have been historically excluded and underrepresented from our institutions. 


Proposition 17: Parolee Voting Rights – PASSED

California’s philanthropy sector has spent the past several years working to ensure that our state has a more complete and engaged electorate. Now, California has joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing individuals on parole the right to vote. This proposition expands voting rights to nearly 50,000 Californians and guarantees their ability to fully participate in local, state, and federal office and elections.  


Proposition 18: 17-Year-Old Voters – FAILED 

Despite the increase in youth organizing and participation in pivotal social justice movements, such as the March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter, California’s young leaders will have to wait until they are of official legal age to vote. Proposition 17 would have allowed 17-year-old minors to vote in special and primary elections if they would be turning 18 before the general election. 

Proposition 17’s failure will require our sector to continue sustaining integrated voter engagement strategies to ensure that young voters — a voting bloc with historically low voting rates — remain informed and prepared to participate in upcoming elections. 


Proposition 20: Expanding Criminal Felonies – FAILED   

Proposition 20 would change the categorization of petty and low-level misdemeanors, like shoplifting, into felony charges in addition to requiring DNA collection for specific misdemeanors. Supporters of Proposition 20 claimed that this ballot measure would have perpetuated the criminalization of black and brown Californians. Opponents have argued that this proposition would have undone years of criminal justice reform. This was concerning to activists and community leaders given the existing policing and sentencing disparities amongst black and brown communities, for example when Latinx Californians are more likely to be charged with felonies than misdemeanors than their white counterparts.   The failure of Proposition 20 reinforces the growing “care first, jail last” approach towards criminal justice reinvestments, pioneered by the Alternatives to Incarceration framework in Los Angeles County. 


Proposition 25: End Cash Bail – FAILED 

Proposition 25, which would have replaced court-determined cash bail with a risk-algorithm, failed to pass this November, keeping our state’s current bail system intact. Without achieving structural change first, opponents of Proposition 25 argued that this motion would have had a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities. 

Funders interested in justice reinvestment and inequitable bail amounts should continue to watch for further developments on reforming the cash bail system. 


Measure J: Reimagine LA - PASSED 

Voters in Los Angeles County made their demands for racial justice clear this election. Measure J also referred to as Reimagine LA,  passed the November ballot with 57 percent of the vote. This regional measure redirects 10 percent of the county’s unrestricted funds in the general budget to community investments and alternatives to incarceration, championing the “care first, jail last” approach. This permanent amendment to the county charter ensures reinvestments in historically and disproportionately divested communities through job training, youth development, housing, and restorative justice programs. 

Amid the backdrop of systemic racial injustices and police brutality, as well as local and national movements demanding structural change, the success of Measure J illustrates how to translate the values of equity and racial justice into systemic change. 

The Reimagine LA coalition, chaired by Eunisses Hernandez and Isaac Brown, included over 100 community organizations, including SCG members United Way of Greater Los Angeles and Liberty Hill Foundation, participating in the coalition’s steering committee. 



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