California's Citizens Redistricting Commission, and the standards they are required to follow, represent the gold standard for independent nonpartisan redistricting. For the 2021 redistricting cycle, the legislature adopted some groundbreaking reforms for for local redististricting, establishing requirements for public outreach and ranked criteria to be used for city and county redistricting. What changes, if any, would you support for the next redistricting cycle in 2031?
I support independent redistricting commissions. I actually think that San Francisco's model is better than the State’s in many ways. I think we've been lucky to have high-quality commissioners in 2011 and 2021, but I worry that it might not always turn out that way. The lottery system that California uses makes me a little nervous in terms of the personalities who could become commissioners. The state ballot measure that created the method for determining the independent commission basically prohibits legislators from being involved. I understand that the purpose is to allow regular citizens to control the process, not legislators, and I agree with that. However, we were elected to represent our communities and it is our job to know them. Trust has been placed in us. Yet we are not allowed to testify or even send a letter. The commissions may not know these communities as well as their legislators do, and mistakes can be made and problems can be created. Communities with similar interests may get inadvertently torn apart. Also, there have been situations where sitting legislators’ districts were redrawn to overlap by as little as one block, and now those representatives are unnecessarily forced to campaign against each other, when each are likely to have been elected by as many as a million people. There is nothing manipulative or controlling in at least allowing legislators to provide public and transparent feedback to the process. I would be in favor of making some adjustments to the process that would allow at least some feedback from elected legislators who could provide helpful information that redistricting commissioners may simply be unaware of.
Another issue is the trend toward district elections. I generally support this in large cities, but in smaller cities of, say, 20,000 people, it may not be so effective to carve them into districts. By doing so, for example, you may have a city council member representing only 4,000 people, and you may only have a small number–say 800–people voting. There are downsides to representing such a small number of people and to electing representatives by such a small fraction of the community.
Finally, I'd like the law to be more explicit that the interests of the LGBTQ community need to be taken into account. Both the 2011 and 2021 commissions have done that, but they weren't required to do it by law.
Scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate that the overwhelming majority of the impacts of climate change will be connected to water – drought, floods, unreliable water supplies, poor water quality, and ecosystem devastation. Historically, in the U.S., low-income communities and communities of color, both urban and rural, have experienced the greatest harm, although global warming affects everyone. Do you see ways that California can help these communities while dealing with the water effects of climate change on the state? How do we move toward equity and sustainability?
Water and climate change are definitely a priority for the State. We've made some increased investments in these areas in the last few years. We need a big climate bond, and water management needs to be a key part of it. I think that we should immediately invest part of our current large budget surplus in addressing some of our massive climate-related infrastructure needs. Unfortunately, we have the Gann Limit, which stipulates that two years of revenue above the spending limit must be spent on K-12 schools, community colleges and refunds to taxpayers. While rebates to taxpayers are a political winner, we have such pressing needs for climate-resilient infrastructure, including water management, the surplus would be better spent making those investments now. One exception to the Gann Limit is infrastructure, so this is possible. We have many communities struggling with water and we need to work on this now, perhaps through actions such as more water reuse, merging smaller water districts with larger ones, and so forth.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing problems related to the mental health of California’s children and youth, and the ensuing crisis disproportionately impacts under-resourced communities. California's new Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, which allocates $4.4 billion over five years to address these issues, may help reform our overburdened system. The challenges, however, are significant and there have been recommendations made for further legislative action to ensure success. We know that this is an area of focus for you, given that you chair the Senate Mental Health Caucus and have worked on recent legislation in this area. What more needs to be done to address the mental health needs of California’s children and youth? Do you anticipate proposing or supporting any legislation to confront the growing problem?
Yes, youth mental health is a huge problem that urgently needs to be addressed. About half of mental health issues arise by the age of 14, and about 75% by the age of 24. So, if we're not focusing on the mental health needs of our high school and college-age students, then we're failing the entire system. If we can intervene quickly and decisively when a young person is starting to manifest signs of mental health issues, we have a much better chance of getting them healthy and on track, and avoid lifelong mental health problems. Once they have a crisis, it becomes harder to get them healthy and to heal their brain chemistry. We did make a $4 billion investment in the budget last year on youth mental health, which is the most ever. I'm watching how it gets rolled out. We want to do it in a community setting, but we have to get more mental health support at schools, because that's where the kids spend much of their time. It also helps avoid parents having to make time to take kids to appointments.
We have more work to do, but I think we're off to a good start. We’ve also authored various bills to make sure that people (including young people) who have insurance are able to access it for mental health needs. This year, we're working on some significant legislation that has not yet been announced around expanding the mental health workforce.
When legislation passes, you have to monitor its implementation and push hard. We need to be proactive about making sure it's getting rolled out correctly.
On a typical day, the San Francisco Police Department responds to 179 homelessness-related calls for service (65,000 calls per year). These “C-level” (non-criminal, non-medical, non-emergency) calls result in move-along orders, citations, and destruction of property. Policing exacerbates biases against people of color, people who are disabled, and people experiencing poverty. This approach systematically limits homeless people’s access to services, housing, and jobs, while damaging their health, safety, and well-being. Policing is a costly, ineffective and punitive response to homelessness.
LWVSF is an active member of the campaign for the Compassionate Alternative Response Team, or CART. The CART program emerged in January of 2019 when the San Francisco Police Commission endorsed developing a non-police response to homelessness. CART is a community-led, government-funded response that holds those who are on the margins of our community at the center of proper systems of care that result in community building — instead of criminalization. CART will address the social and behavioral health needs and conflicts of unhoused people in public spaces while uplifting them. Unfortunately, CART has faced significant challenges in funding and implementation. Are there ways you can help implement CART? How do we move toward a non-police response to homelessness calls for service? Please tell us about both proposed and potential legislation and funding sources.
The mayor is committed to expanding non-police responses, although one can't eliminate the need for police in certain situations. I think alternative, non-police responses are better for everyone involved, when possible. It's not the best use of our police officers’ time when an issue could be handled by a health professional. It’s also becoming a priority at the State level to create more funding support for these outreach alternatives.
Are there any personal priorities that you'd like to share with us?
Yes, we have a number of bills in the works and making their way forward. Our Climate Corporate Accountability Act, SB-260, passed out of the Senate, despite a massive wall of opposition. It's a really game-changing kind of bill. It would be the first law in the country to require U.S.-based companies doing business in California and generating over $1 billion in gross annual revenue, to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions to the California Secretary of State’s office. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) will analyze this data and create a report for the Secretary of State to publish online. This legislation will create more climate transparency and accountability from major corporations and hold them accountable for their emissions, significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near- and long-term, and help California stay a national leader in the fight against climate change.
We’ve also authored SB-379, which would require cities to move towards automated online permitting of solar and storage systems, so that we can more quickly roll out solar and storage.
SB-834 is another one we’ve introduced. It would end tax-exempt status for nonprofits that engage in or encourage insurrection or overthrowing elections. We're working with tax lawyers and constitutional experts now on this. It's outrageous that some of these groups are continuing to get tax-exempt status.
We also have several bills trying to hold the health insurance industry accountable to actually make sure people have access to their health care.
We will be rolling out several significant housing bills that are not announced yet.
There is also the Safe Consumption Site bill that would authorize San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles to pilot such sites, which have been a proven effective strategy in other countries for about 30 years now. They have proven to reduce overdose deaths and helped people get treatment, and we should pilot them here.
Our Psychedelics Decriminalization bill, SB-519 is intended to stop arresting and imprisoning people for possessing or using psychedelics. In addition to being one step toward ending the war on drugs, we know that psychedelics have been shown to be really beneficial for a lot of people in terms of mental health and addiction treatment.