California’s Prop. 16 asks voters to decide on affirmative action

California voters will have a choice in November as to whether California should allow affirmative action. Supporters of Prop 16 hope to reverse a 1996 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution that banned any discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, effectively becoming the nation's first state to ban affirmative action.

Friday night at Lake Merritt in Oakland, college students prepared for a Yes on Prop 16 rally, saying the state should once again allow affirmative action in public schools, employment, and government contracts.

"It's simply allowing institutions like these the option to use affirmative action. It's not forcing them to use it," said Mike Cooper, a Merritt College student.

Others gathered in San Jose as part of a statewide Yes on Prop 16 day of action.

Opponents of Prop 16 also staged rallies Friday. At an event in Walnut Creek Civic Park, Glynn Custred was a speaker. Custred is a former professor at Cal State East Bay, was a co-author of Prop 209, which would be struck from the state constitution if Prop 16 passes.

"There's certain people who strive to get ahead and are going to be told they have to go to the back of the bus because they're not the right race or ethnic background," said Custred.

Opponents brought No on 16 signs and had a socially distanced car caravan through the streets.

A statewide survey in September by the Public Policy Institute of California shows Prop 16 struggling to gain support.

In the survey, 31% of likely voters said yes to Prop 16 and affirmative action, while 47% said no on 16, and 22% said they didn't know.

The survey prompted San Francisco's Chamber of Commerce to speak out in favor of Prop 16.

The Chamber's public policy director Jay Cheng says Prop 16 would help level the playing field.

"It allows treatment in public contracting which allows minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, small businesses preferential contracting. This is a critical leg up for our communities of color to succeed when fighting for those public contracts," said Cheng.

Some Prop 16 opponents say there are other ways to ensure equality.

"You say to this student, I'll let you in because you're a member of this race, you're necessarily telling somebody else, you're not going to get in because you're not of this race,"

Tom Campbell, Honorary co-chair of the No on 16 campaign and a former dean of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business from 2002-2009, says they were able to rank high for diversity without affirmative action.

'You couldn't use race, you couldn't use gender, but you could and we did consider individual stories and ended up being sixth best in the entire country," said Campbell, saying the university got praise for its efforts.

Both sides are planning more events to try and sway undecided Californians to their side.

CA Secretary of State Prop 16 website

Yes on 16

No on 16

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana.