Ranked-Choice Voting Repeal Blocked 

The signature-gathering effort stalls, and there aren't enough votes for it on the Oakland City Council.

It looks as if the effort to repeal ranked-choice voting in Oakland has unraveled already. A group with close ties to ex-state Senator Don Perata's campaign manager admitted to the Oakland Tribune that it won't be able to gather the 20,000 signatures needed to qualify its proposal for the November ballot. And an alternative plan by Oakland Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, a longtime close friend and ally of Perata's, to ask the city council to place the measure directly on the ballot does not have the necessary votes.

De La Fuente, who plans to run for mayor this fall if there's a recall election, has been a longtime opponent of ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting. He worked with Perata in 2010 in an attempt to block Oakland from using it, even though 69 percent of city voters had approved the voting system. Perata later blamed ranked-choice voting for his loss in the 2010 mayor's race to Jean Quan. Perata received more first-place votes than Quan did, but she garnered far more seconds and thirds, enabling her to win.

Earlier this month, Melquis Naveo, an employee of Perata's 2010 campaign manager, Larry Tramutola, told the Express that his group was forging ahead with a signature-gathering effort to qualify the anti-ranked-choice measure for the November election. But then the Trib reported Naveo saying that his group instead had decided to depend on De La Fuente to take it to the council. Naveo acknowledged that his group, which was originally launched by Tramutola, was not going to be able to gather the necessary signatures.

But De La Fuente's plan quickly failed because he couldn't muster five votes. In addition to himself, Councilmembers Larry Reid, Desley Brooks, and Jane Brunner have expressed opposition to ranked-choice voting in the past. But Councilwomen Rebecca Kaplan and Nancy Nadel have strongly supported the voting system. In addition, Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who won election in 2010 when ranked-choice voting was used for the first time in Oakland, told the Express that she would not vote to put the measure on the ballot.

De La Fuente's one hope was Councilwoman Pat Kernighan. Although Kernighan has supported ranked-choice voting previously, she had been considering De La Fuente's proposal as an alternative to what she thought was going to be a controversial petition-gathering drive, the Trib reported. But once it became clear that Naveo's group had failed, Kernighan said she would not back De La Fuente's plan.

The Trib, meanwhile, also reported that Brunner plans to bring to the council a separate ballot measure being pushed by Naveo's group that would establish term limits for city councilmembers. This proposal, however, is much less controversial — although Reid said he would oppose it.

It also should be noted that Tramutola had a financial interest in seeing both ballot measures pass. If ranked-choice voting were to be repealed, then Oakland would go back to having June primaries in addition to November runoffs, which means there would be more elections — and thus more campaigns — for Tramutola to work on. Also, term limits would result in more competitive council races, which would provide him with additional opportunities to be hired as a campaign manager.

With that in mind, Kaplan, Kernighan, Nadel, and Schaaf made the right decision to oppose De La Fuente's plan. More than two-thirds of Oakland voters approved ranked-choice voting the last time it was on the ballot. And so if it is to be repealed, then it's up to Tramutola and his employees to do the hard work of gathering signatures — and not for De La Fuente to do an end-run around the democratic process.

Score One for Big Oil

The power and influence that Big Oil and Gas wield in California were on display once again last week in Sacramento. Lobbyists for large oil and gas conglomerates forced East Bay Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski to water down legislation he wrote that seeks to regulate fracking in the state, the LA Times reported.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the controversial practice of shooting toxic chemicals and water into the earth to release otherwise hard-to-extract natural gas and oil. Fracking has led to a boom in natural gas production in the United States, and has sparked a backlash from environmentalists and consumer advocates over concerns about groundwater contamination and other pollution problems.

Wieckowski's bill originally sought to require oil and gas companies to disclose exactly which chemicals they use in their fracking wells. But his legislation stalled last year when lobbyists convinced enough legislators in the state capital to block it. The companies, which also are among the biggest campaign donors in state politics, said they didn't want to reveal their "trade secrets." As a result, Wieckowski, who is from Fremont, has weakened his bill to the point that it would allow oil and gas companies to not disclose the chemicals they pump into the earth if they file a "trade secrets" claim with state regulators.

In the event of an emergency, state officials could compel the companies to reveal which chemicals they use, but only if state officials promise not to disclose the information to the public. Although Wieckowski's bill represents an improvement over the current nonexistent regulations governing fracking because it would require oil and gas companies to disclose the locations of their fracking wells, the weakness of the amended legislation serves as another reminder of the juice Big Oil and Gas continues to enjoy even in blue states like California.

Bay Guardian to be Sold

The owners of the San Francisco Examiner are close to buying the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Bay Area's oldest alt-weekly. Bay Guardian Executive Editor Tim Redmond told the Express last week that he's "very optimistic" the deal would be inked soon. "I think we'll probably sign a deal, but it's not yet done," he said.

Earlier, two sources had told the Express that deal was done. But Redmond said that while the sale is close to being finalized, it's not yet complete. "We're in negotiations, and we're very optimistic," he said.

The Bay Guardian was founded in 1966 and has been a vociferous defender of progressive politics for several decades. The Examiner, originally founded by the Hearst family and later owned by right-wing billionaire Philip Anschutz, was recently purchased by a group of investors under the moniker San Francisco Newspaper Company LLC.

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