sdsu west initiative
A signature gatherer outside Petco Park tries to get support for the SDSU West initiative. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

This post originally ran in the Nov. 3 Politics Report. Get the Politics Report delivered to your inbox.

If you’re heading to the polls on Tuesday, you may be spending this weekend cursing the very existence of ballot measures that you must understand or ignore. We’ve got a lot of them: The state ballot has 11 propositions, and the 41 local measures across the county run the gamut from A to Z, literally, and AA to YY too. (There are some exceptions. More on that below.)

Here are five fast facts about California’s ballot measures.

Not every state has to deal with initiatives.

California is one of 27 states (and Washington D.C.) that allows the public to put initiatives on the ballot. Here, you can credit — or blame — all those signature-gatherers in front of Walmart in the Progressive Era, when American do-gooders really stepped up their doing of good.

About 100 years ago, anti-corruption reformers in our state convinced voters to allow recalls (sacking a public official), referendums (reversing a legislative act) and initiatives (putting a measure on the ballot via petition).

It could be worse: Try 48 measures at once.

Nothing tops 1914, when the state ballot socked voters with 48 propositions. Among other things, voters abolished a poll tax, banned prize fights and refused to ban liquor.

We loved the ‘Ham & Eggs’ giveaway.

Prop. 13, which hacked away at property taxes, is probably the most famous — and notorious — California ballot measure of all time. Other biggies allowed women to vote, banned same-sex marriage and affirmative action, and legalized pot.

Voters also refused to ban gay teachers and declined to ban the death penalty. And they just barely turned down a Depression-era “Ham and Eggs” initiative in 1938 that would have given a $30-per-week pension to everyone older than 50. San Diego County voters supported the measure, and we became a hotspot for bitter debate when the idea reappeared (and re-failed) on a 1939 ballot.

Measure F is a giant, you know, fail.

You won’t find a Measure F on any local ballot this year. “Generally, jurisdictions don’t want ‘F,’ especially schools,” said Michael Vu, the registrar of voters. Figures.

There’s no Measure I, either. “‘I’ can be confused with ‘L’ or a one,” Vu said.

There are some other quirks this year: There’s a Measure T and a Measure U, but no TT or UU (the list skips to VV). Maybe TT is too suggestive.

San Diego once asked voters about letting it all hang out.

Talk about a bare ballot. Back in 1977, the city of San Diego put Prop. D on the ballot and asked voters if nude bathers should still be allowed at Black’s Beach.

The city had allowed nudity for a few years, but moralizing critics didn’t like all those bare bits one … bit. “The anti-nude contingent bought billboard, radio and newspaper ads alleging that the beach had become ‘a disgraceful carnival,’” I wrote a few years ago. “It had also, according to the New York Times, become the city’s top tourist attraction, outdrawing even the zoo.” (We need to run that claim by San Diego Fact Check.)

By a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent, voters told the city to make bathers cover up. But cops and lifeguards had other priorities than giving tickets to people without pockets to hold them. Nudity continued, and even failed to thrill lifeguards after they got used to the sights on the job. “If you work around nudists, nudity itself becomes uninspiring,” one told us. (We’ll skip the fact check on this.)

Drop by certain parts of Black’s Beach today, and you’re still likely to see many more birthday suits than bathing suits.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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