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Assassin's Creed Valhalla - Review Thread
Game InformationGame Title: Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Genre: Action-adventure, role-playing, open world, Vikings
Platforms: Playstation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, Stadia
Media: - Opening Hours Gameplay | Norse Mythology
Cinematic TV Spot
Post Launch & Season Pass Trailer
New Gameplay Walkthrough | Deep Dive Trailer
Official Soundtrack Cinematic Trailer | Eivor’s Fate - Character Trailer
Gameplay Overview Trailer | UbiFWD July 2020 | Official 30 Minute Gameplay Walkthrough | UbiFWD July 2020NA
First Look Gameplay Trailer
Cinematic World Premiere Trailer
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Info
Price: Standard - $59.99 USD (contains microtransactions)
Gold - $99.99 contents
Ultimate - $119.99 contents
Release Date: November 10, 2020
PS5 - November 12, 2020
More Info: /assassinscreed | Wikipedia Page
OpenCritic - 84 | 92% Recommended [Cross-Platform] Score Distribution
MetaCritic - [PS5]
MetaCritic - 85 [XBSX]
MetaCritic - 85 [PC]
MetaCritic - 82 [PS4]
MetaCritic - 82 [XB1]
Viciously arbitrary compilation of main games in the Assassin's Creed series -
|Entry||Score Platform, Year, # of Critics|
|Assassin's Creed||81 X360, 2007, 77 critics|
|Assassin's Creed II||90 X360, 2009, 82 critics|
|Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood||89 X360, 2010, 81 critics|
|Assassin's Creed: Revelations||80 X360, 2011, 77 critics|
|Assassin's Creed III||84 X360, 2012, 61 critics|
|Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag||88 PS3, 2013, 36 critics|
|Assassin's Creed Rogue||72 PS3, 2014, 53 critics|
|Assassin's Creed Unity||72 XB1, 2014, 59 critics|
|Assassin's Creed Syndicate||76 PS4, 2015, 86 critics|
|Assassin's Creed Origins||81 PS4, 2017, 63 critics|
|Assassin's Creed Odyssey||83 PS4, 2018, 86 critics|
|Website/Author||Aggregates' Score ~ Critic's Score||Quote||Platform|
|Kotaku - Zack Zwiezen||Unscored ~ Unscored||Overall, it feels a lot of care and thought went into making Valhalla feel less like a checklist of things to do and more like a world to organically experience.|
|Polygon - Nicole Carpenter||Unscored ~ Unscored||Valhalla’s most intriguing story is one about faith, honor, and family, but it’s buried inside this massive, massive world stuffed with combat and side quests. That balance is not always ideal, but I’m glad, at least, that it forces me to spend more time seeking out interesting things in the game’s world.||XB1|
|Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Alice Bell||Unscored ~ Unscored||For fans of the series it’s really entertaining. It might not set the world on fire, but you can set some virtual bits on fire yourself if you want.||PC|
|IGN India - Shunal Doke||Unscored ~ Unscored||Its new skill system promotes experimentation with different builds, and gear has been streamlined in a way where you’re not constantly chasing bigger numbers every single moment. Level grinding has all but disappeared, and the new setting just oozes atmosphere and theme. Boring protagonist aside, Valhalla is definitely the strongest of the new Assassin’s Creed RPG trilogy.|
|ACG - Jeremy Penter||Unscored ~ Wait for Sale||Some amazing changes to the way the game is presented, all for the better, can't get out of the way from somewhat weightless combat, bugs and other issues.||PC, XB1, XBSX|
|Eurogamer - Tom Phillips||Unscored ~ Recommended||Valhalla is another enormous Assassin's Creed saga, lavishly designed, with its sights set on story direction over narrative choice.||XBSX|
|Daily Star - Tom Hutchison||100 ~ 5 / 5 stars||Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is another success in the series.||PS4|
|PowerUp! - Leo Stevenson||96 ~ 9.6 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is the best Assassin's Creed ever. Fully embracing its new genre and giving players so much choice and freedom has paid off handsomely. There's not really much more to say. You simply have to experience it for yourself.||XBSX|
|Gamers Heroes - Blaine Smith||95 ~ 95 / 100||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is the best tale the franchise has ever told, featuring the most varied and rewarding gameplay the series has seen in years. Valhalla will forever dine in Odin's Hall as one of the greatest RPGs of this generation.||PS4|
|Vamers - Edward Swardt||95 ~ 95 / 100||It is, undoubtedly, the best Ubisoft has to offer at this stage in time, and will forever be regarded as one of the greats in the Assassin's Creed franchise.||XBSX|
|Game Informer - Joe Juba||93 ~ 9.3 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is full of interesting stories and fun interlocking systems, making it an engrossing world you can easily get lost in||XBSX|
|Impulsegamer - Stephen Heller||92 ~ 4.6 / 5||A intriguing change of pace that gives the Assassin's Creed series the breathing room it has so desperately needed for eons, without making any compromises on content. Well worth you time to enter the gates of Valhalla.|
|PC Gamer - Steven Messner||92 ~ 92 / 100||Bloody and captivating, Valhalla is Assassin's Creed at its best.||PC|
|Critical Hit - Darryn Bonthuys||90 ~ 9 / 10||A saga for the ages, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a breathtaking journey of discovery that has a cold charm to it. It is both serious and ludicrous in equal measure, an RPG that has added more than it has removed from its core experience while delivering a game that feels familiar and completely new at the same time. Skal!||XBSX|
|Digitally Downloaded - Matt Sainsbury||90 ~ 4.5 / 5 stars||That being said, as far as the gameplay is concerned, this series is going nowhere interesting at this point there while there will be more, and I really implore Ubisoft to take a good, hard look at the bloat and consider whether a more streamlined approach that doesn't get in the way of the best feature (the history and narrative) would not be wiser next time around.||PS4|
|DualShockers - Cameron Hawkins||90 ~ 9 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a combination of everything that made the series great up to this point while cementing all that it needs moving forward.||XB1|
|Game Rant - Joshua Duckworth||90 ~ 4.5 / 5 stars||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a love letter to fans of the classic action-adventure titles as well as the newer role-playing mechanics.||XB1|
|GameZone - Mike Splechta||90 ~ 9 / 10||As an Assassin's Creed fan who has stuck by the series through its high points, and was certainly disappointed by many of its low points, I can confidently say that what Ubisoft has crafted here was not only crafted with an immense amount of love and respect for the series, but for its fans as well. Assassin's Creed Valhalla is one Viking adventure you certainly don't want to miss.||PS4|
|Gamer Escape - Eliot Lefebvre||90 ~ 9 / 10||Like I said at the beginning, you kind of want these games at some point to stop working, but… Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla really works. It works in all the ways it wants to work. It takes the bones of its predecessor and improves the overall gameplay significantly, giving players plenty to do, characters to invest in, and a satisfying core gameplay loop that’s been refined down to a careful formula at this point.||PS4|
|GamesRadar+ - Louise Blain||90 ~ 4.5 / 5 stars||With a sprawling world to conquer and gory combat but also the chance to use that iconic hidden blade, Assassin's Creed Valhalla brings a triumphant balance to the series.||XBSX|
|GamingBolt - Shubhankar Parijat||90 ~ 9 / 10||Assassin's Creed's third crack at the massive open world RPG formula is also its most confident, making for a streamlined yet sprawling adventure that ranks as one of the best the series has delivered since its inception over a decade ago.||XB1|
|Glitched Africa - Marco Cocomello||90 ~ 9 / 10||Assassin's Creed: Valhalla may be an even further step away from the traditional Assassin's Creed recipe but it is still a great game. Besides the addictive combat and fantastic skill tree, I loved how it fixed the pacing issues from Odyssey. I had a purpose this time around and knew where I was going and what I was doing. The Viking setting is refreshing too and delivers some decent tales to experience while exploring a breathtaking world.||PS4|
|Noisy Pixel - Azario Lopez||90 ~ 9 / 10||Assassin’s Creed Valhalla takes the advancements of the series found in Odyssey and applies it to a whole new setting. As brutal as the period of Vikings is, there’s something beautiful about this adventure. Every action is rewarded with some great moments of storytelling, and aside from a few narrative roadblocks tied to the player’s level, there’s an amazing world here just waiting to be discovered.||PS4|
|Press Start - James Mitchell||90 ~ 9 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla blends old and new to create a unique experience and one of the best Assassin's Creed experiences yet. It combines series-best combat, a compelling story, and mesmerizing locales to dually offer a definitive Viking and assassin experience.||XBSX|
|Pure Playstation - Chris Harding||90 ~ 9 / 10||Ubisoft delivers another open-world epic, but this time it's a focused and streamlined affair. The graphical overhaul works to announce the end of one era and the beginning of another as Assassin's Creed continues its ongoing evolution as an accessible action-adventure for the long-time fans, while still offering a deep RPG experience for those introduced via Origins and Odyssey.||PS4, XB1|
|Rocket Chainsaw - David Latham||90 ~ 4.5 / 5 stars||It’s hard to find flaws in Valhalla unless you’re a die-hard Assassin’s Creed fan.||XB1|
|Stevivor - Ben Salter||90 ~ 9 / 10||Like Origins, Valhalla benefits from a year off with a fresh audience. It doesn’t reboot this time, but instead improves upon the duo it’s following, introducing proven elements from some of the best in the business.||XBSX|
|TechRaptor - Nirav Gandhi||90 ~ 9 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla streamlines the best parts of Origins and Odyssey while trimming the fat, though is hampered consistently by bugs and technical problems. Still, it's a journey well worth taking.||PC|
|Video Game Sophistry - Andy Borkowski||90 ~ 9 / 10||This is not a tactical assassination simulator - it's a complicated, crafted and nearly perfect open world experience that (if you give it a chance) it will win you over|
|WellPlayed - Adam Ryan||90 ~ 9 / 10||Valhalla brilliantly mixes brutal combat with satisfying stealth to offer up a package that ticks many open-world boxes that are so often missed||PS4|
|Sirus Gaming - Jarren Navarrete||85 ~ 8.5 / 10||Eivor's tale is an interesting story to experience and the gameplay that comes along the journey is liberating without being repetitive. With that, we recommend the game fully. It's not without its flaws. Even under the shadow of its predecessors, Valhalla is certainly a game that stands on its own.||PS4|
|Wccftech - Francesco De Meo||85 ~ 8.5 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a definite step up for the series, thanks to the many tweaks made to the RPG mechanics that powered the previous two entries in the series, better storytelling, great atmosphere, and meaningful side-content. Even with the tweaks, however, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is still an Assassin's Creed game at heart, so those who are not into the Ubisoft open-world game design will hardly change their opinion with the game.||PC|
|Cubed3 - Drew Hurley||80 ~ 8 / 10||Fans of the series are going to adore Assassin's Creed Valhalla. Origins and Odyssey felt like Ubisoft trying something new, stretching out and seeing what worked, and Valhalla takes what was learned there and expands upon it. Some things, like the combat, don't feel quite there yet, still, but other elements absolutely have evolved for the better. There's a lot to love here, and not just in the frankly absurd amount of content available. The story is fantastically enjoyable, with Eivor really shining throughout (play Female for what feels the canon story!) - they are truly deserving of standing alongside the icons of this long-running series. This is a legendary tale and an addition to the franchise that is good enough for the gods.||PS4|
|GameSkinny - Jordan Baranowski||80 ~ 8 / 10 stars||Assassin's Creed: Valhalla builds its world around a familiar formula, but with a compelling story and plenty of things to do, it's a game series fans will find inviting.||PC|
|GameSpot - Jordan Ramée||80 ~ 8 / 10||Though its campaign takes time to get going, Assassin's Creed Valhalla brings a satisfying finish to the current saga of the franchise.||XBSX|
|Hardcore Gamer - Chris Shive||80 ~ 4 / 5||Assassin's Creed Valhalla brings quality of life improvements to the new Assassin's Creed model but doesn't stray too far from familiar territory.||PS4|
|IGN - Brandin Tyrrel||80 ~ 8 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a massive, beautiful open-world fueled by brutal living and the dirty work of conquerors. It's a lot buggier than it should be but also impressive on multiple levels.||XBSX|
|PlayStation Universe - Michael Harradence||80 ~ 8 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is everything I hoped it would be, and more. It sells the Viking fantasy flawlessly, is brimming gorgeous locations, vistas and interesting characters, and will keep you busy for 100 or so hours if you want to grab everything on offer. It's buggy in places, and the grinding is overwhelming at times to the point where it spoils the feeling of exploration and progression. However, these shortcomings can be overlooked if you're willing to stick with it. And you should, because Eivor's journey is one worth soaking up.||PS4|
|Shacknews - Bill Lavoy||80 ~ 8 / 10||Ubisoft is known for their fun open worlds, but it appears that experience and previous stumbles have seen them take big steps forward, making Valhalla one of their best Assassin's Creed games in recent memory.||PC|
|The Digital Fix - Seb Hawden||80 ~ 8 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is fun, with its many activities and a rewarding gameplay loop. There is nothing better than rocking up to a monastery with your raucous crew and robbing them blind.||PS4|
|Windows Central - Jennifer Locke||80 ~ 4 / 5 stars||Assassin's Creed Valhalla provides a gorgeous playground to explore with excellent combat. Though the story seems unnecessarily long, it's a fun Viking tale mixed with the series' own flare and sci-fi elements.||XB1|
|Screen Rant - Rob Gordon||70 ~ 3.5 / 5 stars||Enjoyable, but struggles with scope.||PS4|
|USgamer - Reid McCarter||70 ~ 3.5 / 5 stars||Assassin's Creed Valhalla's vision of ninth-century England is a beautiful place to explore, populated with a great cast of characters who make up for the bland new protagonist, Eivor. Nevertheless, the tired overarching story of Templars and Assassins, and a design ethos that overstuffs the setting with side activities, add unnecessary bloat and distractions to the experience. Valhalla's a solid action-adventure game that does well to capture the turmoil of its historical era, but it's weighed down by the increasingly ponderous legacy of the series it represents.||XB1|
|Destructoid - Brett Makedonski||65 ~ 6.5 / 10||But I also found myself making excuses for Assassin's Creed Valhalla until I couldn't any longer. It mimics the Odyssey formula but takes a step backward in almost every way. It sacrifices story for scale. It's designed to discourage stealth in favor of epic battles. It's true to the Viking experience, but it isn't true to the Assassin's Creed experience. That's why it comes off feeling like the least essential game in the whole series. Impressive in some of its accomplishments, but inessential all the same.||XB1|
|Worth Playing - Chris "Atom" DeAngelus||65 ~ 6.5 / 10||Assassin's Creed: Valhalla is a mostly solid, if somewhat unambitious, Assassin's Creed game that is dragged down by a shockingly poor PS4 release. I look forward to seeing how it runs on a PS5, but the last-gen version is hard to recommend due to the sheer amount of issues that I encountered while playing through the game. If you discount those issues, Valhalla would be a comfortable 8.0, but one can't just ignore those issues. Fans looking to continue the franchise's story should wait until Valhalla receives a series of patches or until they can pick up a next-gen version.||PS4|
|Gadgets 360 - Akhil Arora||60 ~ 6 / 10||Assassin's Creed Valhalla is too much of the same thing, and it's not nearly engaging enough.||XB1|
|Game Revolution - Michael Leri||50 ~ 2.5 / 5 stars||Obsessing over playtime and Content™ at the cost of innovation and depth puts Valhalla‘s ability to actually get into Valhalla in question, as it doesn’t quite earn the kind of glory that only the best Vikings achieve.||PS4|
Thanks OpenCritic for the review export
My California ballot, 2020
This will be more relevant to Oaklanders and Californians than to anyone else. We are mostly center-left-libertarianish YIMBYs, and we trust endorsements from YIMBY Action and aligned local politicians like London Breed, Buffy Wicks, and Libby Schaaf. The less you agree with that political package, the less relevant this will probably be for you.
We put a few hours into this and weren't able to give every issue the attention and seriousness it deserved. For a more complete voting guide for the same area, see this one by Zachary Reiss-Davis, and the recommendations by YIMBY Action and SPUR.
California Ballot MeasuresCalifornia propositions are a way for voters to go over the legislature's head and pass their own laws. Direct democracy is good in principle, but sometimes voters don't know what they're doing, and legislators can't repeal or amend a proposition that goes badly. Most famously, Proposition 13 was a Reagan-era initiative which hard-coded low property taxes into the state's constitution. This is good for homeowners, bad for everyone else (the state just makes up the difference with really high income taxes), and overall creates a weird system of epicycles and perverse incentives.
Hard-coding a law against the wishes of the legislature is a big deal, so we start with a strong (but overcome-able) presumption of "no" on propositions. The exception is propositions requested by the legislature to overturn previous propositions, or for other arcane reasons that require the legislature to request propositions.
Prop 14: Yes?
Prop 14 issues $5 billion in state bonds and gives the money to stem cell research.
This is pretty weird - the state government already has a research budget, and presumably already decided how much money to give stem cells compared to other things. There is not some kind of catastrophic stem-cell related emergency that requires the electorate to rise up and demand the state invent a completely new budgeting process just to fund stem cell research.
I think what's going on is - in 2004, stem cell therapy was new and super-exciting. The Bush administration banned federal funding for religious reasons, this was in the middle of the atheism-religion culture wars, and so liberal California decided to strike a blow for scientific freedom. They passed Prop 71, which gave $3 billion to stem cell research and made California a world leader in the developing field. After 15 years, they've run through the Prop 71 money and need more, so they figured they'd try the same thing again. But the Prop 71 stem cell research was mostly based on hype, which has since receded.
I originally urged voting "NO" on this, based on these considerations. I got push back from a stem cell scientist in the comments, but of course stem cell scientists would support this. But I also heard from some people at the Open Philanthropy Project that they have researched this super-in-depth, talked to various experts, and believe that the specific stem cell research being funded here is incredibly promising, so promising that we should set aside our presumption against ballot box funding and support it. On the strength of Open Phil's recommendation, I am changing my recommendation to yes.
Prop 15: Yes
This weakens Prop 13. Prop 13 originally restricted property taxes on a variety of properties. This repeals it for commercial and industrial properties worth more than $3 million, ie big business. I don't think we need a hard-coded super-law saying we can't tax big businesses.
Our presumption is to support propositions repealing other propositions, and this seems like an especially good one. Support. But see this discussion for the alternative perspective.
Prop 16: No
This is the nationally-newsworthy one that repeals the part of the California constitution banning racial discrimination and makes affirmative action legal again.
You all know my opinion on this sort of thing. Maybe I'm too emotional on this issue, but California institutions already seem pretty Orwellian. If you want to get a tenure track position at some California universities, you have to write a "diversity oath" where you swear that you support diversity and talk about everything you've done to promote it; applicants' oaths get graded, and only the ones that seem most heartfelt are allowed to enter the normal process where anyone even considers how good a professor or researcher you are. How many of history's most important thinkers would have had their careers snuffed out if this process had existed in their own time? I don't trust the sort of people who come up with this kind of thing enough to remove constitutional safeguards against them. Even if you're okay with discriminating for college admissions (the most likely use case), you would also have to be okay with the next form of legalized racial discrimination people will think up, and the one after that.
Possibly there's an argument for accelerationism here - the more obvious it is that college admissions aren't based on merit, the less employers will obsess over who has degrees from what college, and the more chance we have of breaking the stranglehold that $200K-tuition colleges and their lacrosse-obsessed admissions committees currently have on public life. But I would have to be more confident in this argument before actually voting based on it.
The California constitution's current ban on discrimination was itself passed by proposition in the 1996 election. That means there is no particular presumption against this, and maybe a presumption for it. I nevertheless oppose.
Prop 17: Yes
Felons are currently banned from voting in California. This proposition says they are allowed to vote after they complete their prison term. I'm not sure it's ethical or democratic to prevent people from voting just because they committed a felony sometime long ago. If you complete a prison term, you've paid your debt to society and should be in the clear. Also, I expect these people will have interesting things to say about prison reform once they're allowed to have a voice.
Although our presumption is usually to oppose propositions amending the constitution, this overcomes that presumption. Amending the constitution to give disenfranchised people the right to vote seems in keeping with the inherent solemnity of the constitutional amendment process, and isn't the kind of thing we hate where you legislate every little change in tax policy directly into the constitution just because you can. Support.
Prop 18: Yes
This gives 17 year-olds the right to vote in primaries if they will be adults during the associated general election. Sure, sounds reasonable, whatever.
Although our presumption is usually blah blah blah see above.
Prop 19: Yes?
This changes Prop 13 tax regulations (you may be noticing a theme). Currently, the government cannot raise your property taxes very much while you live in a house, even if the house increases in value. Once you sell the house to someone else, the government can raise the property taxes to market value. According to the current Prop 13 law, a child inheriting a house from their parents does not count as a sale; so if your grandparents lived in a house and leave it to you when they die, you will still pay however much tax your grandparents did (maybe an amount corresponding to the value of the home 50 years ago). Part A of this proposition says you can only do this for one property at a time. If you inherit twenty houses from your super-rich parents, you will have to pay normal-person taxes on nineteen of them.
Part B says that various sympathetic groups of people (elderly, disabled, disaster victims) can switch houses and keep their low taxes. Suppose you are an elderly person who raised a family in a big house in the city. Now your family is gone/dead and you want to move to a smaller house in a quiet suburb. If you got your current house 40 years ago, Prop 13 guarantees you will be taxed at its 40-years-ago value, ie very low, but if you get a new house it will be taxed at its current level, ie very high, and maybe you won't be able to afford it. This is a market inefficiency, since it incentivizes a single person to live in a very large house instead of giving it to others who could make better use of the space, so it effectively exacerbates the housing shortage. Current law already mostly addresses this by saying people in these sympathetic groups can move once. This law increases it to three times.
Last election cycle's Prop 5 was just Part B of this current proposition. It was sponsored by real estate companies, who are naturally very excited about solving market inefficiencies that prevent people from selling their houses and buying new ones. Lots of people opposed it because they were annoyed that it gave even more rights to homeowners chasing unnaturally low taxes. I abstained, because I couldn't decide how to balance the market-inefficiency-solving (good!) with the unfair-privilege-expanding (bad!). Overall voters rejected it soundly.
This proposition is the real estate industry trying again. They argue Part B will still solve a market inefficiency (and make them lots of money), but Part A will roll back another kind of unfair tax privilege we give homeowners, so the balance is more obviously good. The state budget people say that overall it will cause the state to have more money, so the real estate industry's claim that this tightens tax loopholes on net seems fair.
We had some disagreements on how to apply our presumption against ballot propositions, leading to the rest of us voting no on this. My position is that this should be considered only an amendment to an existing constitutional amendment, not a new one. So I see it as having a weaker presumption against it, and as managing to overcome that presumption. I support.
Prop 20: No
This makes California's criminal justice system stricter in various ways.
Existing law says nonviolent criminals can get out early on parole, but violent criminals can't. There is some controversy over the current list of which crimes are violent - for example, it seems like some rape and sexual offenses don't always qualify. Part A of this proposition replaces the old, supposedly-too-short list of 23 violent crimes with a new list of 51 violent crimes. The new list includes classics like "murder" and "assault", but also more questionable choices like "sodomy" and "mayhem". I'm going to give these people the benefit of the doubt and assume that sodomy here means nonconsensual violent sodomy, and that mayhem is a real crime of some sort somehow. I didn't get far enough into the weeds to determine whether this list is better or worse than status quo.
Part B of this proposition redefines some misdemeanors and "wobblers" (crimes that can be either misdemeanor or felony) as definitely felonies. These include firearm theft, car theft, and (most notably), shoplifting things between $250 and $950 (I think more than $950 is already a felony).
Part C says more kinds of criminals have to submit DNA samples to the state database.
This is a response to various past ballot propositions that have made California's criminal justice system more lenient in various ways, under the banner of "criminal justice reform" or "prison reform". It seems to be a joint effort between victim's rights groups who are angry that their abusers/assailants/whatever are getting out of prison too quickly, and retail groups who are angry that people keep shoplifting from them and mostly getting away with it. I have a few patients in retail, and they broadly back this up - they say people steal from them all the time, it really hurts their already-tenuous ability to stay in business, they see it happening, but they feel like nobody cares and there's nothing they can legally do about it. It sounds really unpleasant.
On the other hand, spending years in prison because you shoplifted a $250 fleece or something also sounds really unpleasant, California prisons are already overcrowded, and it seems especially worth worrying about this in the middle of a coronavirus epidemic.
My philosophy of criminal justice (which I think is supported by the evidence, but I'm too lazy to find and cite it right now) is that punishment should be swift, certain, and minor. A world where every shoplifter gets caught and immediately has to spend three days in jail is safer and fairer than one where 1% of shoplifters get caught and have to spend three years there. I don't think reclassifying minor shoplifting crimes as felonies is in the spirit of that, and I have a strong presumption against anything that increases the prison population.
I'm not sure how this fits into the presumption against ballot initiatives, since it's responding to previous initiatives, but still, oppose. See here for a somewhat different perspective from someone with retail experience.
Prop 21: No
The Costa-Hawkins Act was a 1995 California state law that limited cities' ability to pass rent control laws (though some types of rent control are still legal and common). Ever since then there have been various propositions trying to overturn it, most recently last cycle's failed Proposition 10. This time around there's Proposition 21, which is supposedly different because it exempts properties under 15 years old.
I am against rent control, because 95% of economists say it is bad for the poor and reduces the availability of affordable housing. But I'm also against the state government telling cities what they can and can't do. If you're a libertarian who's against regulation, how do you think about the electorate trying to regulate the legislature's trying to regulate cities' trying to regulate landlords' ability to set prices? Do you just count whether the sentence contains the word "regulate" an even or odd number of times? Last year I decided it was a tie and abstained. This year it's still a tie, but in honor of our general presumption against ballot initiatives, I'll just go with no.
Prop 22: Yes?
Last year California passed AB5, a law which reclassified most gig workers as employees. The intended targets were Uber and Lyft, who famously classify their drivers as gig workers rather than employees, exempting them from lots of labor regulations. The unintended targets were everyone else; for example, the state may have accidentally banned freelance journalism, photography, etc.
Uber and Lyft made some cosmetic changes and claimed the law didn't apply to them; California said it definitely did; it escalated to a point where Uber and Lyft threatened to suspend service in California; and finally it got tied up in court, with Uber and Lyft allowed to continue employing gig workers until a final decision comes down sometime next year. Prop 22 is backed by Uber and Lyft, and lets them ignore AB5.
I really hate AB5. It enshrines all the worst parts of the modern economy - inflexibility, you have to have exactly one employer who controls your entire life, health insurance is tied to employment, nobody can choose their own hours or working conditions. It throws independent professionals under the bus in favor of everyone having to be a corporate drone of the exact same government-approved kind.
And there's the libertarian aspect - it bans people from making mutually beneficial contracts on whatever terms they want, in favor of having to do things the exact government-approved way. If you look at any literature from before the 1970s, it shows that almost any able-bodied person who wanted a job could get one within a few days just by asking around and walking into the first place that wanted them. I don't know all the changes that led to our current dystopia of endless resumes, applications, and disappointments, but I suspect it was the government transforming employment from "sure, let this person do some work for you for a while" to "oh, you employed this person? now you have two thousand different obligations to them that you can never get out of". The government has tried to create a faux social services net funded by people's employers, but it turns out businesses are happy to have workers but less happy to have social service dependees. The solution is for the government to fund its own damn social services and stop hanging more and more things on the employer-employee relationship.
But Uber and Lyft are great. Some of my mentally-ill patients who could never get an official employee job at a fast food place or something now have jobs with Uber and Lyft that they can feel really proud of and use to support themselves or supplement support from the government or their family. Anyone who's taken an Uber or Lyft knows that they're the first destination for new immigrants who get excluded from traditional employment. Or you've probably also met the single mothers who say they were never able to have a job before because they needed to be home at X, Y, and Z time for child care, but now that they're gig workers who can choose their own hours it's let them get back into the workforce and help support their families. It really feels like the same sort of situation you read about in pre-1970 books - a place where anyone, even if they're poor or disadvantaged or foreign, can get a job and earn an honest living for themselves in a way that the rest of the economy has completely dropped the ball on. I want to support these people, and the only polling I know of suggests most ride share drivers support Prop 22.
And Uber and Lyft have also really earned my trust and respect. Five years ago I worked in a clinic that wasn't on any of the public bus routes. Some of my poorer patients didn't have cars, and it would take them hours to get to my office, and sometimes they would miss some crucial public transportation step and not be able to make their appointments at all. Sometimes if they were desperate they would take a taxi, which would charge them through the nose and take its sweet time getting there. This was right when Uber and Lyft were expanding to Michigan, I was usually the first person to tell them about it, and it changed some of these people's lives. It's really easy for privileged people who own their own transportation to dismiss ride-sharing as a luxury, but if you don't have a car, you used to have severely limited mobility. Now you can get anywhere in town for a quick $5 Uber ride.
In a world of quickly-closing opportunities, Uber and Lyft are this rare bright spot, where uncredentialled blue-collar workers excluded from most positions can get flexible jobs with whatever hours they want, and where poor people who were previously locked out of most of the world can get anywhere they need to be for cheap. So of course California is trying to destroy them. It's the most California thing ever to California.
So I should support something like Prop 22. But the proposition itself is pretty bad. Uber and Lyft carve out exceptions for themselves while leaving most of AB 5 intact. This is a pretty naked power grab by ride share companies that does nothing to help all the other groups affected by this bill, and some commenters are suspicious they'll find ways to use it to quash competition (though I'm not clear how). Although it solves part of the immediate problem and appropriately humiliates the California legislature, it's also a cynical ploy by Uber and Lyft to trick Californians into giving them what they want while leaving everyone else to rot. If it passes, the legislature might give up and repeal AB5, but the proposition might also just placate the only powerful AB5 opponents (ride shares), making any further opposition to AB5 impossible. Maybe the most important thing a yes vote here could do would be prevent other states from trying the same thing.
Presumption should probably be against, although I feel like letting the voters explicitly veto an unpopular law is less inappropriate than random interest groups making random new regulations by ballot box. I did vote yes on this, but after reading the comments here I'm no longer sure of anything, except that I hate everyone involved and would totally understand either choice. See here for another argument against.
Prop 23: No
This proposition places extra regulations on dialysis clinics, for example forces them to have a doctor or NP present at all times. I am generally suspicious of regulations to increase cost of and decrease ability to provide medical services, and a lot of these "doctor has to be present" things end with some heavily-credentialed doctor drawing a salary to do crossword puzzles while the nurses who actually know what's going on do the real work.
A previous version of this guide assumed this was a cash grab by medical guilds, but I owe them an apology - the California doctor's associations are against this - which actually says a lot, since they stand to profit. Patient associations and nurses' associations also oppose. It's unclear who does support this - all I can find is a big service employees' union, but I'm not sure what their interest is.
And there's our presumption against ballot initiatives again. California already has medical regulators, and they didn't see fit to enact this. The federal government has regulators and they didn't see fit to enact this. Why should dialysis regulations go before 40 million Californians who probably have only the vaguest idea what a kidney is or why having one fail is bad? Oppose.
Prop 24: No
This "amends consumer privacy laws" to "permit consumers to prevent businesses from sharing personal information".
I have a strong presumption against consumer privacy laws after the disasters that were HIPAA and GDPR. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the privacy watchdog I trust most, doesn't support this one. Oppose.
Prop 25: Yes!
This replaces California's money bail system with a system based on trying to predict flight risk, like Washington DC successfully uses. Money bail systems keep lots of innocent poor people in jail (and some guilty poor people in jail longer than necessary). It also causes some people who would otherwise be found innocent to plea bargain in order to get out of jail before various disasters befall their job or family. Flight risk prediction systems have been shown to avoid these problems without causing a noticeable uptick in criminals who escape justice. See this blog post I previously wrote on the topic. Some people I know in the effective altruism movement are pretty in support of this.
The legislature has already passed this, but the bail industry somehow got it on the ballot instead. This proposition affirms the decision of the legislature, rather than overturning it, and so the presumption should be in favor, which is convenient because I'm in favor of this. I put an exclamation point at the end of this one because I think it's probably the most important measure on this year's ballot; if you only take my advice on one of these, make it this.
Oakland/Alameda County Ballot MeasuresMeasure Y: No
This issues $735 million in bonds for schools. Oakland's school district already spends above the national and state average per student, and has a reputation for mismanaging funds. These funds would mostly go to repairing administrative buildings, the least sympathetic category of school budgetary problem. Also, I kind of want to destroy the entire modern educational system for complicated reasons. Although I realize rejecting Oakland school bonds is at best a minor victory in this crusade, it's probably better than supporting them.
Measure QQ: Yes
This lets children age 16 and up vote for school-related officials; currently it's 18 and up. As with Proposition 17, I support letting incarcerated people vote in ways that might let them do something about the system incarcerating them, so yes. Also, who names these things? QQ? Really?
Measure RR: Abstain?
Currently fines for ordinance and code violations are capped at $1000; this measure lets the city increase that. This affects both minor "street crimes" like littering and graffiti, and more building-y crimes like not keeping things up to code.
I previously said "no", on the grounds that I am against "tough-on-crime" style bills that try to increase fines poor people who already don't have the money to pay existing fines. But ZRD's guide argues this is supposed to punish big polluters who can't be effectively punished under the current system. I can't find anything in the proposition itself to indicate this, so until I learn more I'm going to abstain.
Measure S1: Yes
How come this one has a 1 after it? How come the measures go Y, QQ, RR, and S1, in that order? Is the Oakland city council trying to communicate with us in some kind of deranged code? Anyway, this slightly rearranges the way an independent monitoring body monitors Oakland's police force.
The city recently had a close call with defunding the police, but as far as I know this isn't really related to that effort. This is related to a law passed a few years ago, during the Ferguson fallout, saying there would be an independent commission monitoring the police. Apparently the law was poorly specified and confusing, and this measure is supposed to be a common-sense clarification of how it works. It is "supported by all eight city council members", and my usual sites that list arguments pro- and con- are unable to find anyone willing to write the con side of this one. Maybe if we ever cracked the code of Oakland ballot numbers we would get the secret case against Measure S1. Until then, support.
Measure V: Yes
This renews an existing utility tax on unincorporated areas, to fund the utilities of unincorporated areas. This seems fair and everyone I check seems to support it, so sure, whatever.
Measure W: Yes
This increases sales tax by 0.5% to fund social services for sympathetic groups, especially homeless people. There are a lot of homeless people in Oakland, they clearly need help, and studies show supporting homeless people tends to save money in the long run (though if this were true, wouldn't this measure be a tax cut rather than a tax increase? Hmmmmmm). Oakland has no particular record of catastrophically mismanaging pro-homeless funds. And I've already rejected other tax increases this election, so I feel like in order to maintain the cosmic balance I should support this one. Support.
National RacesUS President: Biden
I'm against Trump for the same reasons I was last time, plus everything that's happened in the past four years - of which the worst of a bad lot was the bungled response to the coronavirus. Trump also refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, which should be disqualifying in itself even aside from everything else.
California isn't a swing state, so I considered voting Jo Jorgenson as a gesture symbolizing I hate the two-party system. But I decided instead to vote Biden as a gesture symbolizing I really hate Donald Trump. I'll vote Libertarian on some irrelevant downballot race to make up for it.
13th Congressional District Representative: Lee
Barbara Lee is the incumbent. We disagree with her on many things, but in 2001 she was the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against invading Afghanistan. We appreciate this kind of prescience and willingness to defy the mob, so we have instituted a presumption that she gets our vote for life unless there is some super-strong counterbalancing consideration.
Her opponent, Nikka Piterman, doesn't seem very serious - unsurprising since serious people don't run as Republicans in the Bay. But let's take a moment to appreciate his website, including proposals to split California into two states, implement the metric system, and create a spaceport in the center of San Francisco Bay. Also, he's pretty hot. If I batted for the other side and didn't already have a committed voting relationship with Barbara Lee, who knows?
State And Local Races15th State Assembly District: Wicks
Buffy Wicks is the Democrat and the incumbent (which in the Bay Area are kind of the same thing). She's an Obama admin veteran, and a YIMBY advocate who briefly made national news for appearing postpartum with her newborn to vote on housing on the California Assembly floor after they wouldn't let her vote remotely. We continue to support her and appreciate her vampire-slaying work.
Sara Brink (independent) is the challenger. Her webpage begins "This race does not matter", which is a bold opening move. It says that "We live in a trash democracy and a bullshit two party system" so she has abandoned all hope of winning the race, and instead of voting for her we should start working on prepping to resist an upcoming wave of violent white nationalist repression. I appreciate the reminder that this is still the Bay Area and I still live here for some reason, but overall I pick the friendly Democrat with the cute baby.
9th State Senate District: Dluzak?
Nancy Skinner (D) is the incumbent. She gets good scores from YIMBY Action and we generally like her. She is broadly popular and a shoo-in to win re-election.
Her challenger Jamie Dluzak is a Libertarian; the GOP didn't even bother with this one. His website is unreadably bad, and boasts of deliberately having the world's ugliest political bumper sticker, because "they say that to try to fail is the underpinnings of success" (who says that? why?). He is a little unclear on what policies he supports, though his site suggests he is broadly in favor of black people, and I assume he is libertarian in some way.
I said I would symbolically vote Libertarian in a meaningless down-ballot race, and this one is my chance, so Dluzak it is! Your preferences may differ.
Oakland City Council Member At Large: 1 Sidebotham, 2 Kaplan, 3 Johnson
Rebecca Kaplan is the incumbent. YIMBY groups have mixed feelings about her, not exactly denouncing her but liking her opponents better. She's also a pretty strong opponent of Uber and Lyft. And I get the impression she is some kind of nemesis of Mayor Libby Schaaf, who we like. Meh.
Derreck Johnson superficially looks better. He has full support from YIMBY groups, is endorsed by the local politicians we like (Libby Schaaf, London Breed, Buffy Wicks), has the (extremely generous) support of Uber and Lyft, and boasts an inspiring story as a small business owner who founded a beloved local restaurant, hired formerly incarcerated people to work there, and navigated it through the COVID crisis. Unfortunately, a recent expose reveals that he does not in fact own the restaurant. He lost it in 2017 for financial malfeasance issues, including taking some of the restaurant's money for himself. All his claims to have owned the restaurant after that time have been lies. Seems really sketchy.
Nancy Sidebotham is an outsider with an extremely 90s website. It's unclear what she supports besides being outraged, a goal she has accomplished reliably over a sixty year career of being vaguely adjacent to civic life. She could charitably be described as a protest candidate, but luckily for her, I really feel like protesting these people!
My ranked choice voting is 1 Sidebotham, 2 Kaplan, 3 Johnson.
Oakland City Council District I: 1 Kalb, 2 Walton, 3 Ngo
Dan Kalb is the incumbent. I start out with vaguely negative feelings to him because he sends me junk mail flyers, but the rest of us have vaguely positive feelings because he was instrumental in getting bike lanes on our local roads. According to his website, Oakland Magazine named him the “most effective member of the eight-person Council", and East Bay Express named him "Good Government Politician Of The Year". He has endorsements from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.
Steph Walton is the main challenger, but fails to distinguish herself. Her website says she likes good things, like equity and is against bad things, like homelessness, but her proposed policies and plans seem like the same vaguely leftie ideas everyone around here has about everything. She does hit all the right notes about housing, and has endorsements from Buffy Wicks and YIMBY Action.
Tri Ngo seems like a protest candidate, though his website is actually quite good. His most unusual issue seems to be government transparency, including "an online voting system that enables residents to propose and vote on council measures...with kiosks in post offices and libraries".
Some of us are voting Walton based on her endorsements, but I don't feel like she was able to overcome my presumption for voting for Kalb as an unusually successful and widely-liked incumbent.
Alameda County Transit Director At-Large: Peeples
The Mercury News suggests reelecting all current transit directors, because they seem to be doing a good job, and also the coronavirus has been a disaster for public transit and they need experienced hands to guide them through financially. So I'll start with a presumption of reelecting incumbents unless I see a good reason otherwise.
The incumbent here is H.E. Christian Peeples. I want to take a second to appreciate his amazing name and its combined monarchist/theocrat/populist vibe. I can't find a campaign website, but all the newspapers endorse him, say he has done a good job, call him a financial wizard. Articles about him use the word "competent" like it's going out of style, and praise his role in an apparently revolutionary environmental initiative to run buses off fuel cells.
Dollene Jones is running to become the first transit worker to serve on the transit board - she's a former bus driver. This is her sixth attempt. She is inspiring and sympathetic, but East Bay Times warns that she sees "district issues strictly from a labor perspective and her role, if elected, as an advocate for the drivers". Given that the Bay needs better public transportation and the unions are part of the challenge that has to be overcome, I'm ruling her out.
Victoria Fierce is the most interesting candidate, and has a great website with cute graphics and excitingly wonky plans to improve transit in various ways. She's a YIMBY, and she's clearly thought a lot about the transit system and identified the most important and solvable problems, like the lack of comprehensible transit maps, and the need for a good Trans-Bay service. She seems probably closest to me in terms of tribal affiliation, and she might be the only person on this whole ballot who I predict I would like in a "would enjoy a conversation with her" way as opposed to a "has an inspiring backstory" way. On the other hand, she describes herself as a "radical socialist" and seems to think part of a public transit's department job is destroying individualism. In general her oeuvre makes me kind of worried that if she ever gained office she would identify me as a counterrevolutionary and arrange to have me get hit by a public bus, or whatever else power-mad transit directors do.
Like the people of 1930s Spain, Oakland transit voters are faced with a choice between monarchist-theocratic-populism and radical socialism. In this case, I don't think the challengers manage to overcome my presumption in favor of the incumbent, so I'm going with Peeples.
Alameda County Transit Director, Ward 2: Harper
Harper is the boring incumbent who nobody has anything particularly against. Daily Californian says he "has served on the AC Transit Board fairly well for 16 years".
Jean Walsh is the challenger. Her website supports the usual things about how she wants transit to be better, but fails to differentiate herself from Standard Candidate #X in any particular way.
I don't see anything to overcome my presumption in favor of the incumbent, so Harper.
I’m reaching the Reddit character limit, so I’ve stuck BART director, school board, Superior Court Judge, and City Attorney in a followup comment.