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Opinion

Olive Avenue Confidential

The good news first: Last week I had the great fortune to be offered a reporting gig here at the Times Community News chain. As you read this, I’ll be breaking in a new beat at the Foothill Boulevard offices of the Leader’s sister paper, the La Cañada Valley Sun.

Now, the bad news: Perhaps for good, or maybe only for a while, this means an end to my column here. In addition to myriad La Cañada Flintridge issues, I’ll also be covering issues of regional importance. To not blur the lines of reporter and opinion writer, I’m going to have to step back for now and see how things play out.

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Learning so much about Burbank and its residents has been a gift, and being able to throw my 2-cents-worth into city affairs has been a unique privilege.

But rather than revisit recent explorations of issues spanning the realms of public health, law enforcement, housing affordability, environmental protection, good government, support for the arts, economic stimulus and general quality of life, I want to use this space to add one more to that list: civic engagement — the most basic right and responsibility of which is voting.

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Though I don’t see all that many people turning out for routine city-council meetings, Burbank benefits from a number of residents who volunteer their time to city commissions, get involved with public schools and otherwise make good things happen here.

If participation is the key to city progress, voting is the lifeblood of the political process, so I want to encourage everyone not only to vote, but also to do a little reading and thinking beforehand.

State ballot initiatives are a good place to start. They affect Burbank as much as anywhere else in California, but are often overlooked in favor of the horse races for political offices, so let’s get started with a few of them.

Proposition 21 would tack on $18 in fees to non-commercial vehicle-license-renewal costs in order to raise approximately $500 million to preserve and operate badly underfunded state parks, 18 of which are located in Los Angeles County, including our own Verdugo Mountains.

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I say, go for it. Passage of the measure would free up general-fund parks spending to address other concerns, like education, or help plug deficits. As an extra benefit, vehicles subject to the new fees get free admission to all state parks — so think of this as less a tax and more a chance to buy an all-access state-parks pass on the cheap for inexpensive family getaways.

For anyone who appreciates the outdoors or breathing clean air, Proposition 23 — which would mainly benefit Big Oil and other polluters by suspending state air-pollution and greenhouse-gas controls — is a definite no-go.

We haven’t heard all that much about Proposition 25, but it’s hugely important.

California’s a mess largely because the Legislature historically can’t manage to reach the state’s unusual two-thirds requirement to pass a budget — Sacramento’s only been on-time five of the past 30 years, according to the state Secretary of State’s Office.

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Proposition 25 would reduce the two-thirds requirement to a simple majority, which promises to restore a bit of sanity to the process.

Proposition 26 sounds at first like a good counterbalance to Proposition 25 — if it’s easier for legislators to pass a budget, maybe it should be harder for them to increase fees — but in the end, it’s just another giveaway to Big Oil and Big Tobacco.

The measure would redefine corporate payments for environmental damage and other impacts on public health as taxes, which, like the budget today, require two-thirds legislative approval.

We all know how that’ll turn out: Taxpayers like you and I will wind up paying billions for environmental cleanups instead of those who did the damage in the first place.

And that’s why every vote counts.

JOE PIASECKI is an Annenberg Fellow with USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a contributing editor for the Pasadena Weekly. He can be reached at piasecki@usc.edu.


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