The second in my series giving some opinions on California's election.
For California's ballot initiatives, see part 1.
Part 2: California Voter-Nominated Offices
United States Senator: Feinstein
Policy-wise, it's a wash; both are party-line Democrats, pushing environmental
issues, women's rights, and opposing Trump.
The question is, who do you want as your senator?
Feinstein is the incumbent; she's facing a challenge from the left by Kevin de Léon,
a new Democrat of the AOC
school. Like many of his type, he's pushing a
agenda that emphasizes conflict, and unworkable policies like "Medicare-for-all",
an unaffordable plan with zero chance of passage, given its politics.
I also admire how Feinstein conducts herself as a Senator. During the Kavanaugh
confirmation, Sen. Harris was
shouting and walking out;
Feinstein let things run their course. Note that both got to the same place—a
vote against—but Feinstein got there while upholding the dignity of the
Senate, while Harris insisted on theatrics. My HOA work has given me an even
greater appreciation of the need for civility in politics; it's rare.
Governor of California: Toss-up
This is a hard one.
Newsom is an artful dodger; a stuffed-shirt politician without substance. He
says he supports "housing reform", but won't get specific on where he stands
on controversial issues like Prop 13. His campaign reeks of arrogance and
privilege—refusing the Cox campaign's requests for debate, declining to
put a statement in the Voter Guide—the not-so-subtle message is, "We've
got this thing locked up; on to bigger and better things".
I really want to vote for Cox, except he's a climate denier whose policies
hew a little too close to Trump's. He also wants to roll back gas taxes, a step
away from the settled economic consensus, and growing popular consensus, that
we should tax carbon.
Realistically, Newsom's going to win; I think I'll vote for Cox just to
show that victory is no sure thing.
Lieutenant Governor of California: Hernandez
Not much difference overall. I think Hernandez is slightly more qualified and care
about his issues (chiefly immigration reform) more than hers. Hernandez is also
more of a known quantity.
Objectively speaking, the CA Secretary of State is doing a poor job:
inaccurate voter rolls,
non-functional software, exorbitant filing fees. Have you been to the DMV
recently? Should the minimum franchise tax be $800?
I also like that Meuser is well-read, as the link above shows. I don't like the
nativist tone of his voter registration efforts but overall I think some change
here could be a good thing.
The Controller’s office doesn’t think you pay enough taxes. They want to tax your
doctor’s visit, childcare, home and vehicle repairs, haircut, you name it they want
to tax it. The result, you will pay hundreds if not thousands more a year in taxes.
No on a Service and Labor Tax. We can’t afford it. As Controller, I will fight to
make California affordable, not seeking new ways to tax you.
Roditis can't do a thing here. He's running for Controller, the executive agency
responsible for policies set in the legislature. He doesn't set policy; he does
what the legislature tells him to do.
Both are qualified. Fiona Ma seems to have done a good job in her last term. Conlon
wants to focus on unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities, a ticking time bomb
that never gets the attention it deserves (look at Illinois
to see how that story ends)
Attorney General: Bailey
As I've written before, the Bay Area has a serious problem with crime.
Bailey seems like the candidate who will be a little tougher on crime, so he
gets my vote. I don't want the AG wasting time "fighting predatory for-profit
colleges that steal from our students"—the real crime is the cost of college
in general, and if someone can figure out how to get rich educating people, all
Insurance Commissioner: Poizner
Better-qualified (second term, great education), more specific proposals on what
he'll do, and good track record of fighting insurance fraud. Also endorsed by the
He's running as an independent, which is baller.
District 2 Board of Equalization: No preference
Flip a coin. Malia Cohen is going to win because she's a Democrat, with her hard-left
agenda of "people's interests before special interests", being a "fearless advocate
of working people", and "championing the $15 minimum wage".
I would vote for Burns but he's a hardcore prop 13 supporter which I can't do. He
also has zero chance of winning in California 13, a district with a D+40
Superintendent of Instruction: Marshall Tuck
Public schools are an utter joke. OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) was plauged
by an accounting scandal that led to a resignation
earlier this year and now they're in hot water after being accused of
violating Title IX
after they cut a bunch of athletic programs. I don't know what it will take to get
public schools back on track but I'd prefer we don't do more of the same.
The priority needs to be students and educational outcomes, not entrenched bureaucracy
and unions; Tuck seems less in hock to them overall.
Part 3: Oakland Propositions
This is easy; most of these are absurd.
Measure V: Yes
Under Oakland's existing laws, medical cannabis companies face a 5 percent tax on
their gross receipts, and those selling weed for recreation have to pay 10 percent.
These tax rates are locked in by a previous ballot measure and can only be changed
This seems reasonable but it's the textbook example
of why the tax code shouldn't be set by ballot measure.
Measure W: Strong no
Housing shortage? Sure, let's impose a new tax of $3K-$6K when someone
wants to keep their unit empty for whatever reason.
Yet another reason why we need a clean repeal of Prop 13; people paying
$10K/year in property tax (which I am) don't let their place sit empty.
This is a punitive, outrageous new tax that does nothing other than punish
owners unlucky enough to own rental property in Oakland. Just like CA Prop 10,
stuff like this scares the hell out of those who'd otherwise invest in (aka build)
new housing in Oakland.
There is no evidence this will do anything to alleviate homelessness or housing
problems, but it's guaranteed to raise the cost of doing business, owning, or renting
property in Oakland. There's no statutory requirement on how the estimated $200
million in new taxes will be used, which is even worse. This initiative is plainly
about class warfare and punishing "the rich", without regard to whether the
solution will work at all, let alone if it's fair.
Oakland already has every conceivable kind of tax, including sales, transient
occupancy, real estate transfer, business gross receipts, and all kinds of parcel
taxes; let's not add yet another, especially one so big that's not proven to solve
Measure X: No
Leave the transfer tax alone. It's bad enough that Oakland charges 1.5% of value
any time property is bought or sold; that's a $22.5K tax just for the privilege of
buying or selling a $1.5 million property, on top of agent commissions, escrow fees,
title insurance, and everything else. There's no need for this to be higher; advocates
claim the tax should be "progressive"—it already is because smaller properties
are taxed less (by virtue of the tax being pegged to value), we don't need to double it
by making the rate lower on top of the lower sale amount.
Measure Y: No
It's hard enough to be a small property owner in Oakland. Don't make it harder.
Small property owners are the bread and butter of the low-end market. They are
the very people who rent out the most affordable units to the lowest end of the
market. Passing this measure will make it even more likely these people will exit
the market entirely, adding to the problem of housing affordability.
The only solution is more supply, not more taxes, fees, and regulations.
Measure Z: Strong no
No way this belongs as a ballot measure; it's way too specific and technical.
This should be done through legislation.
Measure AA: No
Oakland's tax base is already $1.5 billion, up $500 million in the last 5 years.
That's $7K/year for Caroline and I. I should be living in a country club for that
kind of money.
I generally oppose ballot initiatives as a matter of principle; they're too hard to change
and make compromise difficult. Some thoughts
I strongly reject identity politics; I care about policy, issues, and ideas more than
who's in favor of, or opposed to, an idea
I consider myself a fiscal moderate; I think California could use less public spending,
but would rather see a working government with fully-funded pensions than one that
treats tax minimization as an explicit goal.
Having said that, here are my thoughts on the issues (first in a series).
Part I: California Propositions
Proposition 1: Yes
Narrow, simple initiative supporting a $4 billion housing bond,
including $1.8 billion for multifamily, $450 million of transit-oriented
development, and $1.0 billion for veterans.
Legislative analyst estimates the annual cashflow required to service
this debt will be $170 million. Debt service occurs via the general fund,
a $120 billion fund whose revenue derives
from income and sales (not property) tax; I prefer this because it spreads
the obligation broadly across California taxpayers. A $170 million annual
obligation expands the general fund by only 0.1%, which isn't much. Put
differently, the bond's $170 million annual cost is only $4/capita given
California's almost 40 million people. It will take a while to repay but
it's a small cost to house veterans, farmworkers, and others using approaches
endorsed by experts like SPUR.
It's also a very straightforward measure that raises money for a defined
purpose and doesn't create long-term legal complexity, or entanglements.
Proposition 2: No
Too complicated; divided expert opinion.
The initiative purports to build housing for the homeless by diverting funds
raised by 2004's Prop 63, to issue new housing bonds. The key issues seem to
be whether diverting funds is legal, whether fees and interest will take too
much money away from program expenses, and whether local (county) control is
better than centralized state administration.
NAMI Contra Costa, Contra
Costa's branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, opposes the measure,
in part because it fails to address local legal barriers to supportive housing,
including zoning that blocks construction of homeless shelters.
The proposition authorizes an $8.9 billion (!) bond issue, at annual cost of
$430 million to the general fund, to pay for "water projects".
Per the voter's guide:
These funds fall into six broad categories, as summarized in Figure 1. Within these
broad categories, the proposition includes around 100 subcategories for how certain
amounts must be spent, including for particular regions of the state or on specific
This scheme was devised as an initiative that is being funded, in part, by individuals
and entities that are going to be receiving a share of the bond money. The pay-to-play
aspect in itself should give voters ample reason to reject Prop. 3.
Proposition 4: No
Small, well-targeted, but better done via legislation.
Sidenote: all the hand-wringing about property taxes around this is
idiotic; California's General Fund is not funded by property taxes,
as anyone can find out with a 5-second Google search.
Proposition 5: Strong No
This is a terrible ballot initiative that's funded by realtors trying to get
more people to buy and sell their houses (and thus generate more commissions).
Prop 13, one of the worst things ever to happen to California
created a situation where those who have been in their houses a long time (20-30 years)
pay a fraction of what new people pay in property taxes—as much as 80% to 90% less
than what newer arrivals pay.
This initiative tries to "fix" things by permanently entrenching the tax break longtime
residents get, by letting them take it with them, when they move. So even if they're
in a $1 million house getting assessed as if it was a $100K house, if they move to a
different $1 million place, they'll still get assessed as if they're in a $100K place.
It's absolutely nuts. Nowhere else does this and nothing about this is even remotely fair.
Please don't vote for this. It further entrenches longtime property owners at the
expense of the young and new arrivals. It further entrenches a two-tiered tax system
while ensuring the burden of funding local governments, including police protection,
fire departments, roads, and other necessary municipal services are concentrated on
the newest arrivals to an area. That is totally unfair, and is opposed by everyone
from affordable housing advocates, to local service providers (nurses, firefighters,
This is one of the few ballot initiatives I consider unconscionably outrageous.
Proposition 6: No
California's constitution already encourages an unbalanced budget by requiring
a simple majority to spend but a 2/3 supermajority to raise revenue (tax); this
initiative makes it even worse by further handcuffing the legislature's power to
Low taxes are good, but balanced budgets are even better. Passing this makes
a repeat of the 2008 budget crisis
Proposition 7: No
A ballot initiative to change time zones? Is this a joke?
Pass a law.
Proposition 8: No
Massively complex initiative that requires detailed analysis of company operations;
legislative analyst has no idea what it will cost to enforce, it will make healthcare
harder to deliver, and it sets "revenue limits" to control healthcare costs? No way.
We need cheaper healthcare, but complex, hard-to-enforce price controls won't get
us there—they'll just push suppliers out of the market. The ACA is a great example:
the people who passed it talked a big game about healthcare costs, but since it's passed,
the Wall Street Journal reported 50% of US counties have
only one insurer in their exchange.
Best-case scenario, this will make medical billing even more complex, and clinics
will hire an army of "revenue analysts" to find the inevitable loopholes.
In the end, the only people who win are the companies selling software and services to
"optimize billing" (perhaps not such a bad business to get into…).
This was Steve Draper's crazy plan to break up California. I would've loved to see
a debate on this, but the courts shut it down.
Proposition 10: Strong no
The path to greater housing affordability is more construction,
not more regulation and control.
Oakland vs. San Francisco is a good example. Oakland has remained affordable, and built,
as San Francisco spirals further out of control, largely because of San Francisco's much
more aggressive rent control.
Initiatives like this scare developers; would you want to build here if you can't be
sure something crazy won't happen?
It's also complex. A clean repeal of Costa-Hawkins would be better, if that's what
Proposition 11: No
Work rules in a ballot initiative?
At the same time, however, the measure requires that meal breaks (1) not be during
the first or last hour of a shift, and (2) be spaced at least two hours apart. The
measure requires ambulance companies to operate enough ambulances to meet these meal
You want this carved into stone for the next 100 years, when we have autonomous
ambulances, flying cars, and the job of being an EMT completely changes? Please, vote no.
Proposition 12: No
Again…animal confinement rules in a ballot initiative? We want to carve
this into stone until it gets changed in another initiative?
This is insane.
That shouldn't even be in a statute (law), it should be decided by an executive
authority like the FCC or FTC charged with enforcing a law. No way this should
be decided by initiative.
Calf raised for veal: Must be able to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully
extend their limbs. 43 square feet of floor space required.
43 square feet…until we pass another initiative making it 44.
CEO's I've met collect data. They are efficient listeners which seems different than good. Limited time is available so listen to maximize feedback. All models are wrong. Some are useful if you keep testing them. Good directors are humble enough to know the need to validate.
That's my father-in-law, Dr. Ed Souza. We don't live in the same town so a lot
of our interaction happens over Twitter.
I've gotten to know the family I married into better since the wedding, and I really
lucked out. Patrick is a great friend and coworker, and Caroline's parents are
pretty great, too. I'm sure we'll fight a little but on the whole I feel I ended up
with much better than I deserve.
Which got me thinking—"marrying well"—it's a phrase more traditionally
associated with marriage to a man, connoting socioeconomic standing, class, and privilege.
So I can't help wondering: what is "marrying well" when one marries a woman?
I haven't fully worked it out yet, but it seems family is a big part. And maybe
men can get rich through marriage, too: after all, that's part of the
founding story: Samuel Sachs, partner to his father-in-law, Marcus Goldman.
Preferred and common stock are not the same thing.
When investors buy shares in an early-stage company, they typically negotiate
intended to limit their downside. I am not going to get into why these provisions
are necessary, or whether they're fair—opinions range from "must-have"
to "tool of oppression"—the point is that most venture term sheets have
them. That's no accident; they're there because the protections they provide are valuable.
Common shares don't have these protections; common shares end up buried behind huge
without the pro rata, drag-along, or information rights typical of preferred, and
definitely without the ratchets.
I usually treat common as worth 1/3 to 1/2 as much as preferred. The gap is bigger
very early on, when there's a lot of risk, or a huge liquidation preference. It gets
smaller as things stabilize and the company's value (hopefully) grows well beyond any
Surprisingly, when people talk about this stuff, the difference between common and preferred
often gets lost in the noise. That's a huge mistake.
Situation #1 where I see the distinction lost: reporting about new financing. Say a company
has 1 million shares outstanding and investors agree to purchase 100,000 new shares. The
shares have a bunch of protective provisions and investors pay $5/share. The press often
imputes the preferred share value to the entire business, calling this a "$5 million
company"—wrong. Fair-market value of common is only 1/2 to 1/3 as much as preferred,
maybe $2/share. So the true value of the business is closer to $2 million than $5 million
(quite the difference).
Another way this gets twisted: "we're giving you a $150K equity grant over four years".
OK, 30K shares, but at $5—is that $5 the preferred price, or the common? Because
the grant is probably on common. "Don't worry about it, they're the same". No they aren't.
You're getting the basic model (common) but paying the premium price. That isn't right.
Don't fall for this stuff. Get educated and understand the difference.
I've been watching Deep Space 9 and can't help but think they should really
rename it "Deep Space Condominium". Any group living situation will be at least
a little bit like DS9 (a show about life on a space station), but it's especially
relevant to my building, in Oakland Chinatown:
Both have understaffed maintenance teams working through huge deferred maintenance
backlogs, and residents who dislike waiting their turn
Both feature several cultures living in close proximity who think each others'
food is gross and generally don't trust each other
Both have tons of rumors and gossip
Life at both has had its ups and downs, but the new administrations in both places
are headed in the right direction
(The title of this post comes from the name of my building, 中山大厦)
I have a standing policy of voting "No" on almost every California
ballot initiative. I do this for everything—state, county, city.
I have two reasons.
For one, ballot initiatives are too hard to change. Prop 13 capped California
property taxes at 1%  in the late '70s because of Prop 13, and there's not a
thing the legislature can do about it. I don't know whether 1% is fair or not—maybe
it is—but I am pretty sure my opinion could change. As it stands, the legislature
is powerless to change things without another statewide referendum. That's nuts. I could
perhaps get behind something so permanent for a landmark civil rights issue, but not
Second, ballot initiatives hamper compromise. And that's what government is, really:
and endless series of compromises. You get your road, I get my park. Unfunded mandates
are the worst: "You must spend $X every year. We don't know who's going to pay for it,
whether it's necessary or produces results, whether it's fair, or whether there's a
recession or other legislative priorities. Just spend it, every year, from now to eternity."
This isn't how we should govern. It's how we get disasters like
Prop 13 (real estate) and
Prop 8 (marriage equality).
 Technically just the ad valorem
(value-based) portion. We still have plenty of parcel taxes in Oakland of the form,
"$300 for violence prevention", but they have to be a fixed amount that isn't tied to value.
I had to go to the hospital today for some pre-travel vaccinations.
Every time I go to the hospital, or any medical facility, I think about
usability. I'm fortunate enough not to spend much time in the hospital,
so it's always a beginner experience when I do. Typically, I stumble around
like an idiot trying to find the right floor, and that's assuming I'm
even in the right building (not a given).
Whenever I get lost in a hospital, I think of how it's the opposite of
a video game.
Nobody likes going to the hospital; we go there because we need something,
often quite badly. But a hospital visit is a purely instrumental task: there
is a because.
Video games have no because—in fact, many people wish they could play
less of them, but they're so darn fun. Without any "purpose", they are the
ultimate test of usability: is this so fun, I would waste time playing it?
That's a really high bar.
A corollary might be that if you have something people need, your users/customers
will put up with a lot of nonsense to get it.
But there are few things we need as badly as what's in a hospital, forcing most
of us to do better that medical facilities, usability-wise.
"If programming languages were countries, which country would each language represent?"
My answer on
C: Ancient Rome. Widely studied, still the "lingua franca" of developers on whiteboards.
Source of much modern culture, influenced everything, many great works of our trade
found there/written in it. Primitive, somewhat barbaric worldview.
Just like Latin in its day, all
teach C. It's the go-to for any new operating system, device driver, or
language runtime (MRI, CPython, v8, CLR, JVM). Just like Latin, it's a "dead
language" to some extent (though operating systems people might disagree),
but its universality makes it the standard way algorithms are published and discussed.
But C is headed the way of assembly. Yes, everyone learned it, and no,
nothing will take its place. But the real action today is in algorithms
and data, not bit-slinging. Old-school "systems programming" is becoming
more and more niche, with fewer and fewer people doing it.
Silicon Valley has taken a turn away from "programming" and toward true
computer science. We've traded buffers, memory management, and bit-twiddling
for data, algorithms, and math—and C for Python.
Python because, even though it's slow and synchronous, it has a great standard
library, strong support for numerical computation, and reasonable automatic
memory management. The innvation has shifted from bits and bytes to lane tracking,
LSTM, and hidden Markov models.
I remember walking down 2nd Street in San Francisco, there was a whiteboard
just south of Market St. that had been turned around, its back facing out the
window. I walked by that office often and saw fragments of coding interviews.
In 2010, I would've bet the language was a "brace language" (C, or one of its
Today, my money would be on Python, doubly so if it was a "data" role.
The company recently remodeled the existing warehouse with an automated system created in partnership with
Daifuku, a provider of material handling systems. Now that the system is running, the company revealed
during a walkthrough of the new facility, Uniqlo has been able to cut staff at the warehouse by 90%.
The warehouse can now also operate 24 hours a day.
- Uniqlo replaced 90% of staff at its newly automated warehouse with robots(Quartz)
People sleep; robots don't. That's a big change.
One immediate consequence: a "slower" robot that can work 24/7 may be faster than
a person, who has to go home at night. I first thought about that when reading about SAM:
But I think work throughput is just the tip of the iceberg; a lot of life runs
on human cycles, and I wonder whether any of the following will change, as robots
become more widely used:
Will daily electricity use shift, if fewer buildings are occupied by people?
Will daily commute patterns change?
Will "construction season" (a big deal in the Midwest) last longer?
Will crop harvest patterns change?
Sometimes the second- and third-order effects of major changes are the most surprising.