Every year, the League of Women Voters of San Francisco interviews our state legislators. This is an opportunity for legislators to share their priorities with League members and to learn about League positions and priorities. League of Women Voters of San Francisco members can learn more about how some state legislative actions are going to affect their communities.
Question: Redistricting, State and Local
Would you support a bill to require local governments that have district representation to establish independent redistricting commissions that would use a transparent process and fair criteria similar to the State, including safeguards against discriminating against any political party?
Democracy has been challenged for the last two years and I feel that it is imperative to defend our right to vote. I am proud that California has established an independent commission for drawing state redistricting lines. The lines drawn are based on the Voting Rights Act.
I am open to a state law requiring oversight at the local level and a more transparent process. I have concerns that lawsuits might be filed over unfairness concerns
Question: Public Education in California – Closing the Achievement Gap
For years closing the achievement and opportunity gaps has been both a clear state and local priority. We join with the researchers in asking a different and equally important question: “Are there ways to avoid the gaps in the first place?" As a legislator, what are your thoughts about the findings of Getting Down to Facts II? What action(s) would you support to further these goals?
I do not think that California is doing as well with K-12. Forty percent of the general fund goes to K-12 so there is a gap. It’s worth taking a look at whether we are paying enough for education. California relies on the middle and working classes for taxes. We need to know how to raise more revenue without taxing the people who are already feeling the pinch. The top 20% are doing pretty well whereas the rest of the population is not doing as well and that is the group that benefits most from public education.
We need to deal with social issues that are more prevalent in schools and we need people to provide those services. Spend more on kids and less on prisons.
The State Assembly is keen on preschool and has been spending more but we are still making up from the cuts of 2008.
One of the challenges facing preschool education is finding facilities. Public schools do not know how to integrate preschool where many of the preschool slots are designated. For example, schools need different equipment for preschool, such as smaller desks. We need to provide capital to help the public schools that are integrating preschools.
Another important need is to have full day kindergarten, as many schools are still half day.
The Assembly does champion/support the funding for preschool. Only recently has the Assembly been able to ensure transparency to determine whether the schools are doing what they are supposed to do. School districts know best what to do so the Legislature does not tell them what to do and that makes sense. Now that the spending has been stabilized, the Legislature needs to take a larger look at what schools need.
In terms of measuring success, we need to look at measurements in addition to testing, such as truancy, absenteeism, and how well students are moving through the system.
Question: Water Resources
What ideas to you have for addressing the needs of your own constituency while advancing water management planning that benefits all Californians?
Water is one of the most challenging issues that people don’t talk about. It is one of the best-managed resources, but there are complex issues.
Drought calls to attention on how we conserve but no matter how much we conserve, we cannot make up the difference for what agriculture uses. Conservation is something that everyone needs to pay attention to and find new ways of managing water. The Twin Tunnels project is controversial. I am in favor of improving/managing the infrastructure. The Twin Tunnels is about moving water and not infrastructure.
Most bills are about water management and not so much water supply. Water storage is a key issue in getting a bond measure on the ballot. The number one priority for agriculture is storage. Twin Tunnels has more of an impact on Alameda and Contra Costa counties as these counties get their water from the Delta.
Trying to figure out how to raise more money to clean water is another issue as several places in California have compromised tap water quality. Water is basic to survival and if you can’t drink it, it has a huge impact on our lives. One possible solution is raising fees. I recommend the League look into water quality.
What other major issues do you think the Legislature must deal with in 2019? What are your personal priorities?
Clean Energy/Climate Change
A clean energy economy is key to fighting climate change and maintaining a strong economy.
The biggest threat to the climate comes from transportation emissions. There needs to be more incentives to clean cars – 0 emissions. The Assembly didn’t get this passed last year. We did get a bill to study how to clean cars. I encourage the League to get into transportation. We need to change our behavior to get car manufacturers to make electric cars or cars that use hydrogen fuel cells. Protera in Burlingame is making electric buses.
We need to bring back a bill on gun violence restraints which expands the number of people, such as principals and teachers, who can request gun restraints on other people. Governor Brown vetoed such a bill twice. San Diego has provided money to go around the state publicizing this.
The challenge with mental health and gun violence is that there are mental health resources but there are so many different types of mental health issues in addition to the fact that people don’t want to talk about mental health.
I am pushing legislation for accessory lots housing that would not be used for tourists. This is the fastest way to build houses.
I am looking into a bill on asking retailers to make e-receipts the default as the receipt paper is coated with BPA so that the ink can stick to it. Receipts are not compostable and cannot be recycled.
The budget is 200 billion.
o Governor Newsom has a proposal that I need to look into.
o A housing tax credit would create better incentives for cities to create more affordable housing and shelters.
o We need to figure out how to build faster.
o More money is needed for homeless public health.
The first issue, which really doesn't affect San Francisco, is the redistricting issue. How would you feel about state legislation to require local districts, counties and cities to have independent commissions?
● I’m open to it.
● In San Francisco, our system of a redistricting Commission with various bodies has worked; I haven’t heard complaints here locally.
● Statewide, the Independent Commission idea has worked very well.
● I’m open to anything to improve democratic governance.
Question: Water Resources
The second question is much thornier and that's about water resources. Different parts of the state and different cities are coming at this very differently. What ideas do you have for addressing the needs of San Francisco while still acknowledging the needs of other areas?
● Our state could do a better job on conservation on a variety of fronts; we need to invest in conservation infrastructure.
● What Governor Newsom has announced around having one tunnel as opposed to the twin tunnels is the right direction. I’ve always had concerns about the twin tunnel proposal from an environmental standpoint.
● San Francisco has a particular responsibility on water given our management of the Hetch Hetchy and SFPUC system; it's important for us to be fair and invest for the long haul.
● As SF Supervisor, I legislated incentives for major commercial buildings to be better stewards of water. Commercial buildings are equivalent to cities of 5,000- 6,000 people.
● We created incentives here in San Francisco for new commercial building development to implement systems so that water is more efficiently used, conserved and converted to clean potable water. In our building codes, we need to be smart in how we move forward and how we manage our water.
What about more treatment plants? Doesn't it seem like we should explore that a little more?
● There are a lot of new technologies that could help convert gray waters and other waters to potable water; we need to explore all of that.
● I've always been intrigued by desalination, but know that, at the moment, it is expensive and the technology is not as efficient as we have hoped it to be. But, it's something we need to consider.
Question: Public Education in California – Closing the Achievement Gap
Our third question is in regards to early childhood education, specifically about the disproportionate achievement gap between children moving into kindergarten based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other factors. Are there ways to avoid these achievement gaps in the first place? And what actions would you take to close the achievement gap?
● This is a very personal question for me as a father of a 2 year old about to be a 3 year old. All of us who are parents see how critical investing in early childhood education is. I think it's 85% of brain development happens by the time a child turns 3, which for my son is going to be next week. So, it’s something I think about a lot.
● It's one thing to focus on K through 12, but we need to start earlier. We know that so many indicators of a person's success are set by the time you're 5 and are really shaped at the age of 2 3 & 4.
● We should put our money where our mouth is and invest in our childcare system, in our pre-K system, in our nursery school system, and in the workforce for early childhood education. Early childhood educators are woefully underpaid, woefully understaffed, under incredible demands; we just have to do a better job of supporting that entire infrastructure.
● I'm a joint author of three major bills to advance this vision of early childhood education this year.
And how are the types of bills that you're presenting different from ones in the past?
● The difference is the level of detail, the level of the commitment, the aspiration; the vision is just bigger, broader, deeper, more detailed. We've had an aspiration to provide universal preschool, but now we finally have a governor who is willing to potentially support it.
● We can't immediately today fund free universal childcare and preschool, but the bills do a number of things.
● I’m starting to focus on particularly lower-income kids from diverse communities who are the ones that are lacking access to those educational opportunities, as well as, investing in the infrastructure where this care happens.
● One of the biggest challenges for cities like San Francisco is the expense of real estate and not having sites for childcare facilities. I’ve been pretty outspoken about making sure that as we develop and build cities and communities that we include spaces for children to be raised. That's something that needs to change and is evolving right now. And that's what's one of the bills is around. How do we invest more in the infrastructure for this care?
LWVSF Priorities: We've been working on a policing practices program, essentially looking at how the SFPD is responding to the reforms they started a couple years ago based on the DOJ report. This includes observing police community meetings, police commission meetings, conducting stakeholder interviews, and producing an FAQ guide for people who want to understand who their police are and how to contact them and what the districts are. We started this program last year and we are going to be continuing this coming year.
There's also an interest in local support of Prop 13 reform that is scheduled to come up on the 2020 ballot.
● I'm a big supporter of Prop 13 reform.
The last question is what other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2019 and what are your personal priorities?
I'm the chair of the Housing Committee and put our statewide housing crisis at the top of the list of issues that our state needs to tackle. The lack of housing for everyday people, our homeless crisis, our tenant and eviction crisis; they're all part and parcel of the fact that we have we do not have enough housing for our residents. California is the fifth largest economy in the world with the highest poverty rate in the country, that poverty rate being driven by the lack of housing (though our salaries may be higher than in other states, they are not high enough to support our housing costs).
When people say “give me one word to describe the overarching policy challenge of the day,” I don't actually say housing; I say Inequality. It’s manifested through the housing crisis, through the lack of health insurance that millions of Californians still don't have access to, the lack of access to clean water, the lack of access to education opportunities, etc. All of the policy challenges that we're talking about are manifestations of the fact that our state has become a state of very wealthy people, a lot of really poor people and a middle class that's hollowing out. '
There wouldn't be a need for state conversation about housing if local cities and counties were building enough housing. But they have not, and they have made deliberate decisions over many decades to not build housing. And what do we have because of that? We have hepatitis outbreaks in San Diego. We have typhus outbreaks in Southern California. We've had E. Coli outbreaks in the Delta the Sacramento Delta. We have a 140,000 homeless people exposed to the elements every single night. Because of this failure we have kids who are living four or five people to a room two miles from here. So, there is a statewide interest in making sure that we're building enough housing to meet the public safety, public health and community needs.
There are a lot of things that we need to do on this topic:
● how do we fund more affordable housing?
● how do we hold cities and counties accountable to building housing?
● how do we increase the workforce to physically build that housing?
● how do we streamline the process to build housing?
● how do we protect tenants from being displaced as we're building that housing?
● how do we put rooms over the heads of people who are homeless on the streets?
Those are tall orders, but I am working with my colleagues to move forward policies in all those areas to hopefully make some real headway in 2019.
Transportation and Congestion
● A top priority for me
● Need to make sure that we have a well-functioning transportation system, particularly in dense urban environments like San Francisco,
● Really means investing in a public transit system that works.
Protecting the rights and values of Californians
● Particularly our civil rights when it comes to what a certain occupant of the White House is trying to do to us.
● I've always prioritized immigrant rights, LGBT rights.
● I have authored some significant bills in the area of women's rights particularly around reproductive rights and making sure that the rights that we have often taken for granted in California are actually protected.
Protecting the environment
● California has led, but needs to continue to lead, when it comes to protecting our environment and doing everything we can, from land use policies to water to how we stop pollution of our air to the impact of the environment on our health.
● These are all important things and I will be having a couple bills in this area as well.
● I will be announcing, in the coming weeks, a significant gun safety bill.
● I'll also be introducing a significant bill around civil rights having to do with poor people and policies that are in place that impact low-income Californians unnecessarily.
● Students are being gouged by predatory lending industries and the for-profit colleges; you may be hearing something for me on that.