Time Stands Still

By Ashley Loza

Managing Editor

We had to switch our clocks forward this week, and between the lost hour of sleep and the incessant wail of “Didn’t we vote to change that?!” I have a splitting headache.

The truth is, we only sort of voted to change that.

What we actually voted for was giving permission to the California State Legislature to give it the good old college try through Congress.

Right now, the federal government allows states to opt out of Daylight Saving Time (DST) without congressional approval. However, if a state wants to adopt permanent DST, it must receive congressional approval and a signature from the President.

We gave the Legislature permission to move forward with the idea of permanent DST, something that isn’t going to happen unless Congress decides to address it.

With all that’s going on at our federal level, I’m not entirely confident that allowing us to adopt a permanent, unprecedented time change is at the top of their list of priorities.

The arguments for keeping a permanent time change are understandable ones. Studies have shown that risks of heart attacks, strokes and car accidents increase after a time change, and there are some estimates out there that show a major loss of productivity in the work force every spring.

I’m typing this with half-open eyes right now, in fact.

I’m a fierce proponent of 8-hour sleeps, so I’m all for getting rid of a semi-annual tradition that doesn’t really do us any good anymore.
But the way we’ve gone about this seems wrong.

Year-long standard time is allowable under federal law. If we wanted to stop changing our clocks, my understanding is that all California voters had to do was approve to repeal the Daylight Saving Time Act that we adopted in 1949.

(Since we voted it in, we had to vote it out. Legislature is not allowed to change what we’ve voted for by initiative unless we give them permission.)

But what we did instead was repeal that and then approve, via initiative, the ability of the State Legislature, by two-thirds vote, to create an unprecedented time change that would only go into effect if passed by Congress.

That sounds like an awful lot of work, time, money and general gymnastics. The SF Gate reported that even former Governor Jerry Brown referred to it as “circuitous.”

Here’s the rub. The way the ballot measure was worded was that we would allow the Legislature to make changes to DST as long as it complied with federal law, and absent any legislative changes, we would continue to keep our current DST schedule.

So, the translation is that we handed our ability to affect direct change over to the State, as well as the option of reverting to standard time.

We are either along for the permanent DST ride, or we will keep jerking our clocks around.

As far as I understand the California government (which isn’t much sometimes) we are capable of voting down any changes to this that the Legislature might bring us, except now, an absence of legislative action means an absence of change to our current schedule.

So we can vote down a referendum all day long…we’ll still be stuck changing our clocks back and forth until we agree, and Congress agrees, that permanent DST is a go.

The reason I’m so frustrated with it is that it feels disingenuous at worst and rushed at best. As far as I can research, it looks like Assemblyman Kansen Chu, the champion of this change, spoke to constituents about their preference and was overwhelmingly told that DST was what people wanted.

I can’t find any reports that don’t place this squarely on the shoulders of youth sports leagues, and I’m curious why their voices were the loudest. The same kids that would be playing sports in the afternoon sun would still be walking to school in the dark.

Even so, I feel that this was presented more as, “Hey, how would you like to stop changing your clocks?” and less as, “How would you like the government to ditch your options and only affect change via a literal act of Congress?”

The number of times I’ve heard “didn’t we vote to change that” this week leads me to believe that most people thought they were simply doing just that.

If we can’t fix it via another measure, maybe we can at least start mailing Starbucks receipts to the capitol for reimbursement every spring.