Thursday, October 23, 2014

San Diego’s Crapid Transit

Mourning the Wanton Murder of the #15 Bus Line


Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

On October 11, I said goodbye to my father. He had died two months earlier in the San Francisco Bay Area, and his widow (they had been married 53 years; he and my mom had broken up when I was 1 ½) had arranged what she called a “gravesite visit” and invited family members and friends for an informal memorial. That night, as I took the bus from the airport and then made a connection downtown to return me to my home in North Park, I said another goodbye — not to a person, but to a bus line. The #15, which started downtown and ran up the 163 freeway to Hillcrest, then turned onto El Cajon Boulevard and followed it to San Diego State University, was running for the last time before, in one of the many stupid and infuriating decisions made by the people running San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), it was shut down and replaced by a so-called “Rapid” #215.
I had been riding the #15 since I got to San Diego in 1980. At first my then-girlfriend Cat and I lived in Golden Hill and would walk down to Broadway and ride it either to the College area or all the way out to El Cajon — it ran longer in those days — mainly to buy LP records at stores like Off the Record and Blue Meannie Records. (Blue Meannie closed in 2008 — a victim of what in these pages I’ve called “the Interblob,” the way the Internet has largely taken over business after business and abolished the experience of in-person browsing — but Off the Record still exists, though it moved first to Hillcrest and then to North Park, where it holds out in a much smaller space and I still occasionally buy CD’s and used LP’s.) More recently, for the last year and a half I have been doing home care for clients who lived downtown, and I had used the #15 as my quickest and most reliable way to get to work.
But, beginning a little over a year ago, I was warned that the ill-informed idiots who ran MTS would not be letting me do that much longer. The key clue was when construction crews started building these elaborate metal objects on the sidewalk along El Cajon Boulevard and on other parts of the bus lines, including an island smack in the middle of Park Boulevard just north of University. The constructions got in the way of the existing bus stops, and frequently I would leave the house unsure of just where my beloved #15 was going to stop and how much farther than normal I’d have to walk to get there. Then the signs went up, announcing that a new “Rapid” bus line was going to be running along that route and these new, highly decorated bus stops were being built to accommodate it. It took a while to complete these projects — indeed, the morning service started on the “Rapid” #215 a crew was still hosing down the newly built stop where you were supposed to pick it up — but eventually the dark day came when the #15 would be no more and what I’ve come to call the “Crapid” would replace it.
I decided to be fair and give it a try. That lasted two days. On Monday, October 13 — the morning they were still hosing down the bus stop at El Cajon and Texas Street that “Crapid” riders were supposed to use to get on it — I wasn’t sure whether it was going to stop at the elaborate new stop they were hosing down or the old stop across the street. It stopped at the new stop and the sidewalk was still wet from the last-minute cleaning job as I boarded the “Crapid.” It took the “Crapid” just as long to make it down Park Boulevard as it did the old #7 bus, which (blessedly) still exists and which for years has run from Broadway up Park Boulevard, turned east on University Avenue and (depending on which one you get on) goes to 54th and University, College and University, or all the way to La Mesa. What’s more, while the #7 and the old #15 stopped at several locations on Broadway — including one just a block and a half away from my client lives — the “Crapid” only makes three downtown stops: the City College trolley station, Horton Plaza and the America Plaza trolley station. That means a longer walk once I get off the bus — and an irritated client who quite rightly wonders why it’s now so much harder for me to get to work on time.
The wanton destruction of the #15 and its replacement with the “Crapid” is just the latest in a series of bizarre moves by the people running the Metropolitan Transit System (the “Metropolitan Transit Sewer,” as I used to call it until a fellow bus rider sitting with me at a stop on Sunday evening said, “You’re being unfair to sewers — at least they run on Sundays”). For decades both the #7 and #15 ran all the way down to the end of Broadway — until the idiots running MTS decided to short-circuit the runs and end them at First, then shortened them again to end at Third, all of which makes it difficult to get to the Office Depot store at the end of Broadway where I shop often. What’s more, they’ve adopted a stupid plan that’s supposed to make the overall system faster and more efficient, but which anyone who actually rode San Diego’s buses regularly could have told them would be stupid and counterproductive.
It’s called “Limited Stops,” and it’s based on the dumb idea that the reason more San Diegans don’t use public transit is that the buses stop too often. I remember when the two trunk lines serving University Avenue, the #7 and the #10, both stopped at every stop along University. Now only the #7 does; the #10 (which starts at the Old Town Transit Center, snakes up Washington Street to Mission Hills and Hillcrest, and continues down University Avenue — except on weekends, when it abruptly stops at the 40th Street station on a bridge over the freeway) stops at just a few places along the route. The #15 was also subjected to a “limited stops” routine so that it made only one stop (at 33rd Street) on the long stretch of El Cajon Boulevard between 30th and 40th. When the “limited stops” nonsense was introduced at first even the bus drivers were confused — they no longer knew where they were still supposed to stop and where they weren’t, and sometimes they stopped where they weren’t supposed to (and thus made the system much easier on riders) until they learned which stops were still kosher and which were verboten.
A true express bus — one that bypasses surface streets and spends a lot of its route on the freeways, like a car — is considerably faster than one that stays on the surface streets and makes frequent stops. But a “Limited Stops” bus that runs on city streets isn’t any faster than a bus that makes all the stops. Why not? In two words: traffic lights. Any time the driver may be saving by not having to stop at all the indicated stops is going to be lost anyway by all the red lights he or she (and many of the best MTS drivers, both in terms of efficiency and friendliness to riders, are women) will have to stop at. This was a problem when the #10 was shifted to “Limited Stops” status — and it’s also why the #215 “Crapid” isn’t any faster than the #7. It still has to run down Park Boulevard, and even though part of the way it runs on a newly (and expensively) constructed dedicated lane, it still has to stop whenever there is a red light.
I mentioned this to a fellow rider at the #15 stop at Texas and El Cajon a few days before the #15 was killed and replaced with the “Crapid,” and he said that that wouldn’t be a problem because the new buses on the #215 would be equipped with radio signals that would broadcast to the traffic lights and cue them to turn green so the bus could pass. This seemed a bit dubious to me, but he swore that he’d seen this work in Cleveland. From years of bitter experience as a San Diegan, I replied, “There are plenty of things that work in other cities that get screwed up when they’re tried in San Diego.” After I decided to give up on the “Crapid” after two days and start taking the #7 to work, I mentioned this to a middle-aged woman bus driver who said those radio devices that are supposed to make the lights on Park Boulevard go green for the #215 to pass do indeed exist — but they’re not automatic. The bus drivers have to activate them as they approach each light, she said, and most of them aren’t bothering.
The “Limited Stops” nonsense and the wanton destruction of the #15 line to replace it with yet another slow, crappy bus that runs on city streets and gets delayed by red lights are just two examples of the thinly veiled contempt the people who run MTS have for the people who use it. A decade ago I interviewed San Diego environmental activist Carolyn Chase, and something she said in our interview has stayed with me ever since: “San Diego will never have a great public transit system as long as the people running it still think of it as a welfare program.” Genuinely cosmopolitan cities like London, Paris, New York or San Francisco see public transit as part of the urban experience; places like San Diego regard their transit systems as bones they throw to the people too old, too poor or too ignorant to drive.
Limiting the number of stops doesn’t make the buses any faster; it just means that transit users have to walk farther at both ends of their trips. Anyone who actually rode buses regularly would have been able to tell that to the majordomos at MTS, but no one did. Someone who’s seen the MTS offices at 12th and Imperial has told me about all the big, fancy cars in their parking lot, many of them chauffeur-driven, with which MTS’s decision-makers get their sorry carcasses to work so they can make decisions that make MTS slower, less efficient and harder to use. Replacing the #15 with the “Crapid” #215 is a doubling-down on the “Limited Stops” strategy that has actually made San Diego’s bus service worse, not better.
It’s long been a pet theory of mine — at least until I was told that a lot of MTS’s top staff people don’t actually drive themselves to work, but make enough money they can hire other people to do it — that everyone who works for MTS should be required to surrender their driver’s license for the duration of their employment there so they would have to use public transit and therefore experience the results of their decisions in the real world. The middle-aged woman driver I met on the #7 (who told me she’s retiring soon, which will be good for her but a loss for the system) had a similar but less drastic idea: everyone at MTS should spend two years driving a bus on the system before they get to be decision-makers. Either would ensure that the people making decisions for San Diego’s bus riders would be conversant with the people who use public transit, and would help keep them from coming up with cool-sounding ideas like “Limited Stops” and the “Crapid” that any bus rider could have told them wouldn’t work on the ground.
There are other problems with the “Crapid” #215, including the decision to set up a special stop for its eastbound run on Sixth and Broadway instead of having it use the same regular stops all other buses that run down Broadway use. This is yet another dumb MTS idea; by staggering the stops you make it impossible for passengers to play one bus line against another and get on the one that arrives soonest and will still get them where they’re going. No, if you want to get from downtown to North Park you have to decide in advance whether you’re going to take the #7 or the “Crapid” — and it’ll take you a long walk out of your way if you change your mind. It also doesn’t help that some of the stops are on dedicated lanes in the middle of the street — including the one outside the Grace Towers senior citizens’ building at Park and University — meaning that seniors and people with disabilities are going to have to make a potentially dangerous street crossing just to get to the bus stop instead of conveniently picking the bus up on the sidewalk in front of their building.
The “Crapid” was introduced with a major public-relations campaign that included a press conference at the Park and University stop and a cool logo with their advertising slogan, “One Sweet Ride.” It’s actually one more bitter pill shoved down the throats of San Diego’s public transit users by an insensitive and ignorant bureaucracy which knows little — and cares less — about the problems faced by people who actually depend on public transit to work and shop.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Proposal to Name School for Kehoe Runs Into Opposition

School Volunteers, Community Members Say They Were Blindsided


Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Christine Kehoe (file photo)

Moises Aguirre

Nicole Murray Ramirez

Chris Ward

Kevin Beiser (file photo)

Richard Barrera

Jackie Bacon McGlish

Karen Holtzman

Nicole Blazie

Bruce Abrams

A proposal to rename Florence Elementary School, on First Avenue between University and Washington in Hillcrest, after Christine Kehoe, the first openly Queer person to win elective office in San Diego, ran into unexpected community opposition at a meeting at the school Wednesday, October 8. Ironically, the meeting began with a  presentation by Moises Aguirre, executive director of district relations for the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), that described a broadly inclusive process for renaming a public school — but that’s exactly what community members, including parents with children at Florence Elementary as well as adults who volunteer there, said wasn’t happening.
“We have a process when we receive a request for changing the name of a school, and we want to involve all the stakeholders,” Aguirre said at the beginning of the meeting. “The first step is receiving a proposal, not necessarily in writing. After that step, there are a number of stakeholder involvement steps, including gauging the interest of the school staff and the community. There will be other community meetings. We will need letters of support from the school principal and staff.”
The proposal originally came from a group calling itself the San Diego LGBT History Task Force, though it’s being strongly pushed by SDUSD board member Kevin Beiser. The presentation on behalf of the Task Force was made by city commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, a long-time San Diego Queer activist who ironically supported Kehoe’s straight opponent, Evonne Schulze, in Kehoe’s pioneering run for the San Diego City Council in 1993. Ramirez identified himself, Beiser, Chris Ward, Susan Jester and Lambda Archives of San Diego staff member Maureen Steiner as the members of the Task Force, and gave the opening presentation on its behalf.
Despite having opposed Kehoe in her initial election bid, Ramirez said “I have worked with her for years” and strongly supported the name change as a way of giving role models to young Queer San Diegans just coming to grips with their sexual identity. “When I was a child in the 1950’s and 1960’s no one on signs or stamps was anything like me,” he said. “You can imagine my joy when things were named for Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, César Chávez, Dolores Huerta and Harvey Milk. Once being a woman or a person of color meant being invisible, but now we are recognizing diverse communities.” He called Kehoe “an historic San Diego citizen who has helped make this America’s finest city.”
Ward added that, though Kehoe’s reputation stems mainly from breaking the glass ceiling and becoming the first openly Queer person elected to office in San Diego, she was involved in other issues as well. “Many of you may not know Chris Kehoe’s achievements in education,” he said. “She spearheaded the schools for trees program and reached out to promote essay contests for local schools. She sponsored the 6 to 6 program as both a City Councilmember and a State Assemblymember. She was honored for her work in reducing class sizes and getting schools to teach the basics.”
Though Beiser and fellow SDUSD board member Richard Barrera were the only elected officials there in person, a long string of political staff members came to the microphone to read letters by their bosses supporting the name change. Jester read a letter from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer backing it. Evan Ballinger represented San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts. Jessica Mayer spoke on behalf of Congressmember Susan Davis.
Kehoe’s two successors on the San Diego City Council, current Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and current City Council President Todd Gloria, both chimed in through their staff members, Tori Dawn and Adriana Martinez, respectively. Gloria’s letter, read by Martinez, called Kehoe “San Diego’s Harvey Milk.” Atkins was so eager to express her support of renaming Florence after Kehoe, Atkins’ political mentor, that she hadn’t completed the letter but had Dawn read her draft from a smartphone.
Jen Morse, president of the Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA) — a group representing businesses either owned by Queers or marketing primarily to Queer customers — also supported the name change. Rebecca Holt, public policy director of the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, read a letter from Center director Dr. Delores Jacobs backing it. Representatives of DOD FED GLOBE, an organization aimed at safeguarding the rights of Queer employees of the Department of Defense, and the Hillcrest Business Association also supported the name change.
The impressive list of supporters from both the public and private sectors left Florence Elementary’s own community — school staff members, volunteers and parents of children who attend it — feeling overwhelmed. Aguirre’s decision to call speakers representing elected officials and business groups before he heard from any parents or school volunteers just added insult to injury. They claimed that instead of the inclusive process Aguirre’s opening remarks had promised, supporters of the name change were blindsiding them and presenting it as a virtual fait accompli without giving them the hearing school district policy demands.
“I have been part of the Florence community,” said Jackie Bacon McGlish. “I had students here until 2013. My husband served on the school advisory committee. I’m a lifelong Democrat, but I have concerns about the name change because it’s been forced through without a plan to involve the volunteer community.” She compared the way the “Christine Kehoe Elementary School” name was being pushed with the recent long-term process to rename the school’s library after veteran educator and school staff member Robert Vaughan. McGlish also argued that if the district is going to name a school after Kehoe, it should be a middle or high school instead of an elementary school because discussions of the two key issues in which Kehoe was involved — Queer rights and the environment — would be more appropriate in schools that serve older students.
“I live in the neighborhood, I teach at UCSD, and my son goes to Florence,” said Karen Holtzman. “I’m sure Chris Kehoe is a lovely woman and deserves honors, but this process has not included community members at all. I hope the lip service being paid to involving the community comes to fruition.”
“I have volunteered at Florence Elementary for four years and lived on Dove Street [in Mission Hills, six blocks from the school] for 10 years,” said Nicole Blazie. “I apologize for not having a prepared speech because I didn’t know about this meeting until 2 p.m. today, when a friend of mine e-mailed me a link. I would feel a lot better if there had been an effort to involve the community.”
Blazie particularly bristled at SDUSD board member Barrera’s suggestion that as part of the name change, Florence adopt a new logo and replace its school mascot, the Falcons, with “The Trailblazers.” “Florence is a low-income school,” she said. “The kids wear uniforms and the kids cannot afford new T-shirts. You’re going about this all wrong. If you want the support of the community, you have to involve the community, get us on board, acknowledge that this school is low-income and the parents need help.”
The ferocity of the opposition from Florence’s parents and volunteers took supporters of the name change aback. “I’m an uncle, I’ve had three kids and I’ve had to support all these schools,” said community philanthropist and fundraiser Bruce Abrams. “We as a community would love to help you support the school and support the low income kids. I’ve known Chris Kehoe for 30 years, but it’s important that you know we want to help.”
“I want to apologize to the parents,” said Ramirez after he asked for — and got — special permission to speak at the close of the meeting. “I’m very disturbed because we were told you were involved and this was the beginning of the process. I think it is being pushed on you, and I’m so glad the parents have come forward. Our community and Task Force have been involved in Easter egg hunts for 700 students. We provide school supplies and scholarships. Chris Kehoe has met with your principal, and she had the same concerns. This process has to stop because you’ve been disrespected, and we’ve heard that loud and clear.”
“There’s still a lot of conversation that needs to happen,” said Aguirre as he brought the hour-long meeting to a close. “By no means is this the be-all and end-all of this process. We need to reach out to parents and also school staff, including classified [non-teaching] staff. We hear the community as a whole, and it is diverse. Hopefully as a community we can come forward and support the process. It’s about how do we handle the communities and build a real community.” He asked everyone in the audience who hadn’t put their names and e-mail addresses on the sign-in sheets at the start of the meeting to do so before they left “so we can keep in touch with all the stakeholders. That’s what we do in San Diego: we work as a community.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Queer Democrats Stay Neutral on Prop. 46


Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • Used by permission

For Prop. 46: Kathy Olsen

Against Prop. 46: Jay Hansen

Remember those episodes of the original 1960’s Star Trek in which the Enterprise crew members destroyed seemingly all-powerful computers by feeding them tons of inconsistent and illogical information? That’s pretty much what the predominantly Queer San Diego Democrats for Equality went through at their September 25 meeting when they tried — and failed — to come to a position on Proposition 46 on California’s November 4 election ballot.
Proposition 46’s official title, “Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors; Medical Negligence Lawsuits,” indicates that it’s a smorgasbord of provisions relating to health care in general and protecting people from medical malpractice in particular. The description of the proposition in the California voters’ guide has five bullet points, three of which relate to the measure’s requirement that all doctors with hospital admitting privileges must submit to drug and alcohol tests and, if they test positive, their medical licenses will be suspended pending an investigation. It also requires doctors suspecting other doctors of drug or alcohol abuse to report them to the state medical board.
The measure also requires that before they can prescribe certain controlled substances — mostly potentially addictive painkillers like morphine, Valium or Oxycontin — doctors will have to check a database called Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, or CURES for short. The idea is to prevent patients from abusing these drugs through so-called “doctor-shopping,” which means seeing several different doctors to obtain quantities of these drugs far larger than what they would need for legitimate medical uses. Under current law doctors can register to use CURES, but they don’t have to. If Prop. 46 passes, however, they will have to as of January 1, 2016 — though, according to the legislative analyst’s official ballot description, “providers will not be required to check the database prior to prescribing or dispensing drugs.”
But the nub of Proposition 46 is its proposed changes to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), passed by the California legislature in 1975. MICRA was passed in response to complaints from doctors and hospitals that they could no longer afford medical malpractice insurance because of lawsuits resulting in high jury awards to victims. So the bill set a $250,000 cap on so-called “non-economic damages” from medical malpractice, including losing limbs, sight, hearing, or the ability to walk. The bill did not index the cap to inflation, so it remains at $250,000 even though the buying power of that sum has dropped dramatically since 1975. Prop. 46 would raise the cap to $1.1 million and index it to inflation.
Supporters of Prop. 46 claim the cap is so low many medical malpractice victims — particularly children and retired people, who can’t prove economic damages because they weren’t part of the workforce when they were hurt — can’t sue at all because they can’t find attorneys willing to take their cases for just one-third of $250,000. Opponents say lifting the cap will lead to vastly increased health care costs, as exploitative trial lawyers look for big paydays for themselves and their clients and malpractice insurance premiums go through the roof again.
The people who spoke for Prop. 46 at the Democrats for Equality September 25, legislative staff member Chris Ward and patient advocate Kathy Olsen, started with a dramatic story aimed straight at the heartstrings. “I’m the mother of Stephen Olsen, who was two years old when he was injured,” Kathy Olsen said. “He suffered from catastrophic injuries, is totally blind and has had many surgeries. We were lucky enough to get an attorney to take his case to court. The defense did not want my son in court because they thought he was a minor and that might sway people. The jury said we were entitled to $7 million, but the defense invoked MICRA and it was reduced to $250,000, $4,000 for each year of my son’s life expectancy.”
Ms. Olsen said that, thanks to MICRA, medical malpractice is the only area of liability law where there’s an absolute cap on judgments. “It’s not doctors versus lawyers,” she said. “It’s patients against insurance companies. Insurance companies have spent so much money against this because they don’t want to have to pay. Medical errors are the third most common cause of death in the U.S., behind cancer and heart disease. Four hundred thousand people per year are affected by this.”
The case against Prop. 46 was presented by Jay Hansen, chief strategic officer for the California Medical Association. “If this measure were just about the MICRA cap, we’d be having a different conversation,” he said. “But the measure has a lot of things, including drug and alcohol testing for doctors and using the CURES database, which is not supposed to work in real time. The Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and Planned Parenthood are all opposed. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party also voted to oppose it, as did the LGBT [Queer] Caucus of the California Democratic Party, because we’re concerned about the [lack of] privacy of the CURES database.”
Like the ubiquitous TV commercials against Prop. 46, Hansen portrayed the measure as an attempt by sinister trial lawyers to milk the system for scads of money by filing medical malpractice suits without the MICRA cap to restrain them. “The California School Boards Association estimated the cost to them would be $2 million per year,” he said. He also accused the proponents of eliminating a requirement in the first draft of their initiative that nurses would have to report doctors apparently under the influence of alcohol or drugs so the California Nurses’ Association would endorse the initiative. As it stands, he said, “the only people who are drug- or alcohol-tested are doctors who have hospital privileges, not all doctors.”
Hansen also said that changes to laws like MICRA should be made by state legislators and the governor, not at the ballot box through an initiative — which provoked angry comments from supporters to the effect that legislators are so dependent on campaign contributions from insurance companies they won’t even consider raising MICRA. This provoked Hansen to tell a story about how, when former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was speaker of the California Assembly, “the CMA agreed to raise [the MICRA cap] to $500,000, but the trial lawyers demanded $1 million.” He also said that current Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins was against Prop. 46.
That provoked former Democrats for Equality president Craig Roberts to text Atkins to see if she had really taken a position on the measure. She texted that she hadn’t, but later sent an e-mail to another club member stating that, though she had no official position on the rest of the proposition, her experience as former director of the now-defunct Womancare women’s health clinic and former board member of Planned Parenthood — both of which, she said, “couldn’t get malpractice insurance until MICRA” — had made her dead-set against raising the MICRA cap at all.
“You have a great deal of antipathy towards lawyers,” club member Kelli King said to Hansen. “Who’s on the other side? Insurance companies. There are scumbag lawyers, but there are also scumbag insurance companies. Lawyers at least potentially represent the little guys against the insurance companies.”
“This wouldn’t be in front of us if the trial lawyers hadn’t raised $8 million to put it on the ballot,” Hansen responded. “It’s important with any ballot measure to see who’s paying for it. All the money came from attorneys. I know the trial lawyers’ lobbyists and I work with them. I also know what their motives are.” Hansen added that while there were three insurance companies contributing to No on 46, “they aren’t health insurance companies,” and in answer to another audience question he said drug companies weren’t giving to No on 46 either.
“It is the insurance companies fronting the money” to defeat 46, said Karen Olson. “They have millions of dollars to fight this. The reason they’ve put so much money into [No on 46] is they get to keep 45 percent of all malpractice premium payments, the highest percentage of any type of insurance. The doctors should be on our side.”

The Other Provisions

While the MICRA cap received the lion’s share of attention from panelists and club members alike, the other provisions of Prop. 46 — the requirement that doctors be tested for alcohol and drugs and the mandate for doctors to register for the CURES database also came up in the discussion. The California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposes Prop. 46 because, according to its Web site (, “The initiative would require physicians to submit to random, suspicionless drug testing, which is an unwarranted intrusion into their right to privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution. Random, suspicionless drug testing fails to deter drug use and is unnecessarily intrusive, particularly given the less-intrusive alternative approach of testing individuals only when there is individualized suspicion of impairment or another particularized reason to do so.”
 The panelists also disagreed over whether the CURES database, on which the initiative relies to identify prescription drug abusers who are “doctor-shopping” for painkillers and other commonly abused drugs, is ready for prime time. Hansen’s argument that CURES is “not supposed to work in real time” referenced the fact that CURES was originally set up as an aid to long-term investigations and prosecutions of doctors who were enabling prescription drug abusers. It wasn’t, he said, supposed to work the way Prop. 46 wants to use it: to identify patients seeing more than one doctor for controlled substances and shut off their access to those drugs. He also questioned whether CURES would be safe from hackers and others out to steal confidential patient information.
“The legislature has been working really hard since 2009 to make sure CURES is working and will be secure,” said Chris Ward, who’s on the staff of State Senator Marty Block — though he was speaking for himself and not as Block’s representative. “We anticipate the database will be available on January 1, 2015. I believe the privacy concerns are unfounded. The encryption and security are the tightest available.”
“It’s a law enforcement database, not a medical database,” Hansen snapped back. “Initiatives become effective the day they are passed. The CMA supports making CURES operational, and it’s being paid for by a surcharge on doctors’ medical license fees, but it won’t be operational until July 2016.”
There was also a debate over whether Proposition 46 violated the single-subject rule — the provision of the California Constitution that says, “An initiative measure embracing more than one subject may not be submitted to the electors or have any effect.” The California ACLU claimed that Prop. 46 does too many things to meet the single-subject requirement. “Here, voters may well support some parts of this initiative but oppose other parts of it,” the ACLU’s Web site stated. “Californians should be able to vote their conscience separately on each of these individual provisions.”
Proponents of Prop. 46 argue that their initiative does deal with just one subject: protecting California patients from medical abuses, whether caused by alcohol- or drug-using doctors, prescription drug abuse or medical malpractice. But several club members expressed precisely the sort of frustration the ACLU was complaining about; people who might be inclined to support the drug- and alcohol-testing requirements on physicians might oppose changing the MICRA cap, or vice versa.
Club member and attorney Bryan Wildenthal said Prop. 46 “packages together four separate things, including the invasion of privacy, MICRA and CURES.” He acknowledged the concern of Prop. 46’s supporters “that professionals don’t police themselves,” but questioned whether it was appropriate for an initiative to mandate that people use a particular database and said the smorgasbord of issues crammed into Prop. 46 was “liable to have us debating at cross-purposes.”
“I was actually inclined to vote for this until tonight’s forum,” said former club president Roberts in explaining why he was making a motion for the club to take no position on it. “I respect Toni’s opinion. I’ve known her 20 years and her heart is still in the right place.”
David Warmoth, current president of the Democrats for Equality, said he would vote against Roberts’ motion because “we have a legislature that on these particular issues is bombarded with lots of money and lots of competing lobbying that will prevent them from acting on any of these issues.” Eventually, however, the club passed Roberts’ “no position” motion by a voice vote; though no one asked for a roll call, the club seemed to be about 2-1 in favor of it.