Changing My Mind on Proposition 35

Last month, I wrote that I was supporting Proposition 35. But now, after speaking with others working in the field of preventing human trafficking, I have changed my mind. The polls on Proposition 35 show almost 90 percent of the people will vote for it. Who wouldn’t vote for a ballot measure that increases fines and penalties for human traffickers? Proposition 35 seeks to alter current state laws regarding human trafficking by expanding the definition and increasing the punishment for those convicted of human trafficking crimes. On the face that sounds like a great way to increase the penalties for terrible crimes against youth and adults forced into prostitution or slavery. However, the devil is in the details. 

As with all new ballot measures that seek to codify changes in the law, this ballot initiative could have unintended consequences. The ambiguous language and broad definition of “human trafficker” could include a neighbor who helps another neighbor’s teenager with a safe place to stay for the night; or an18-year-old boyfriend of a 17-year-old minor could be charged with human trafficking. A strong voice against Proposition 35 is John Vanek, a retired Lieutenant from SJPD who managed the human trafficking task force.

The nonprofit agency that is currently taking a lead on efforts to combat human trafficking, Community Solutions, has also come out against Proposition 35. The CEO makes some strong arguments against supporting the measure.

Fortunately, there are other alternatives. There are currently bills working their way through the State Legislature that would add penalties and fines to human trafficking. Also, California Attorney General Kamala Harris convened a State Human Trafficking Work Group that is set to issue a report with recommendations this fall. I now think that Proposition 35 should not be supported and we should wait for the legislative process to work.

Here are a few more details about Prop 35 from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California’s nonpartisan fiscal policy advisor, and the League of Women Voters of California, which lists the pros and cons.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.


  1. Congratulations Sparky!,
    This is a minor miracle. A voter actually analyzing an issue and resisting the impulse to cast a “feel good” vote.
    Alas. If only this phenomenon would take hold amongst the general population and voters would actually consider the unintended consequences of re-electing a socialist as President of the United States.

  2. John Galt, you can glorify Measure B all you want, but the fact remains that it is almost guaranteed to be illegal, ignored the nature of the free and highly competitive market that exists in the public safety industry, and – particularly in how it treats employees injured while working for the city – is grossly unfair to employees. By advocating and extolling the virtues of Measure B, you blithely ignore the fact that,Measure B creates a two-option condition for retirement planning and basically imposes a draconian penalty for sticking with the existence system as a stick to force employees into the lower cost alternative but that the low cost alternative does not exist and will almost certainly not exist in the meaningful future. Other jurisdictions have attempted to create alternative pension systems, and their efforts have been held up by the IRS for a minimum of several years. And so, for a top step officer, the practical outcome is that he is faced with a decision: leave SJPD or figure out how to live on $39,000 net income per year. Who can do that? And, the financial picture is even more bleak for officers at the lower end of the pay scale.

    You also ignore the practical outcome which SJPD is already suffering: massive attrition. Over 90 positions are unfilled, either because of vacancies (about 60) or because the remainder are on disability leave. Another dozen +/- are due to leave for other agencies or have already done so since SJI published it’s article on the Public Safety. Furthermore, I recently was advised that the SJPOA had processed background packets for an additional 160 +/- SJPD officers who have applied for positions with other agencies.

    If all those officers leave, San Jose will be policed by fewer than 900 officers, or roughly the staffing level from 30+ years ago and in a city which has about doubled its size in that time. Although I can’t provide a factual basis for my next statement, I believe that, should even a modest fraction of those additional officers leave, it will precipitate such a radical deterioration in public safety services, that it will take years, or more, to recover.

    You can make all your comments about employee greed, shady contract deals, etc. but the fact remains that public safety is a competitive market and we are seeing the results of being far less than competitive. But, it’s not just about the money, if that were so, we might still have the reserves we once did. At one point, we had 200 reserve officers available. As of PLO’s piece on ‘Unshakling the Reserves’, we had just over 80, but now, less than a month later, I read that SJPD now has 55 reserves, and that the S/O is actively recruiting reserves away from SJPD. Few, if any, reserves have any economic skin in the game. They don’t derive their income or depend on a pension from the hours they volunteer as reserve officers.

    I believe their decision to leave stems from the lack of respect from City Hall, the increasingly toxic and dangerous working conditions, and the broad lack of respect among citizens which was precipitated by Chuck Reed in his deceptive, slanderous and disrespectful campaign against employees and in favor of Measure B. Even now, he perpetuates the same easily disprovable lies at every opportunity, acting as though attrition/resignations are not the massive and ongoing problem that they are.

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