What do you consider the top issues facing the 8th Assembly District? Yolo County? Davis?
The biggest issues for the district are the big issues in California right now. Issues with the delta and policies around water supply, floods, environmental protection, what we value in California and really the big debate about what’s happening here in our district. So the delta is really, essentially ground zero for the future of environmental sustainability and growth and development and public policy around the future of the state. And that’s right here. The 8th Assembly District doesn’t represent the whole delta, but of all the parts of California, our district is really the stewards of that place.
Issues around growth and congestion and air quality and the quality of life, how much we’re willing to put up with and what development means is a statewide issue but it’s felt in very few places more strongly than it is across the 8th Assembly District from Benicia to West Sacramento all along the I-80 Corridor.
Probably the third big issue is education. We face a gigantic gap in skills of the emerging workforce compared both to what today’s employers need, but also the kind of careers and opportunities economic and educational that we want the next generation to have access to and we’re just not keeping up. That’s an issue again, statewide, but again we’re feeling particularly strongly in a lot of communities in this district from the poorest parts of the 8th Assembly District places like parts of West Sacramento to the communities that have traditionally been very successful like Davis. So in the district those are the key issues.
Davis feels all of those in some way or another, it is not insulated from the challenges of educational opportunity and success and particularly the gap between those students that have always done well and those that we’ve never figured out how to create a quality education for. The delta, although Davis is not legally in the delta, all of the issues around farmland preservation, habitat, who gets what water, those are issues that Davis has been a statewide leader on in terms of raising those from the beginning. How do we protect the things that make California a special place to live in? And then growth and development generally that is the hallmark issue here in Davis. Just as it is in many communities across the district and the state and the legislature is going to have a lot to say about growth and development issues.
Yesterday, I was driving from Davis to Sacramento. It took me 20 minutes on I-80 to get from the highway 113 on ramp to the very far east outskirts of Davis. This region is set to grow a large amount in the coming years. How do you plan to prevent the I-80 Capitol Corridor from becoming the Congestion Corridor?
You say the Capitol Corridor and that is a big part of that strategy. The approach to dealing with congestion, and it is the same approach for dealing with air quality issues, because that’s what’s driving air pollution and a lot of the greenhouse gas emissions in our region. So we shouldn’t think about it just as a “I don’t like sitting in traffic” question, but it is also about our long term health and the environment too. Part of it is infrastructure and that is creating the alternatives for people to get out of their cars whether that means at the very local scale good bicycle or sidewalk facilities for pedestrians and cyclists all the way to the Capitol Corridor train system itself as an alternative for commuters to be able to stay off of the highway. It’s also things like the Port of Sacramento that we’ve worked really hard to take from bankruptcy to being a successful economic engine. Every time we add a new ship we are taking hundreds of trucks off Interstate 80. Trucking is now one of the biggest drivers of congestion on that highway. But the most fundamental change and it is the only one that has the potential for solving this challenge over the long range is that we have to grow differently. If we continue to sprawl with no personality, low density, McMansion subdivisions all over the place, there is no transportation system, no matter how much money you spend, that can deliver congestion free and easy mobility. It just isn’t possible. We’ve tried, other regions have tried, you can’t do it. So we have to have land use policies that the state supports that encourage and provide real meaningful alternatives that are attractive for people to live on the land differently and to be much more efficient about how we use land in our impact on the infrastructure.
You are a board member of the California Center for Regional Leadership, which encourages regionalism and discourages local governments from competing for sales tax-generating commercial development. Yet West Sacramento has encouraged large retailers such as Ikea and Wal Mart. Do you support proposals that would reduce the competition among local governments for Big Box retailers? (Examples: swap property tax for sales tax; limit the size of retailers). What did you do as mayor of West Sacramento to encourage locally owned businesses?
First you have to take a look at the actual policy assumption in our county. There isn’t a lot of sales tax competition. The cities and the county up to this point have had a very good working agreement about who does what and where major retail establishments are. And between the cities there is not a lot of fights. I can tell you in the time I’ve been mayor, the number of retail establishments we’ve competed with Davis or Woodland over could probably be counted on one hand and you wouldn’t even need all of your fingers. In the Bay Area and Sacramento County you see a lot of these kinds of fights between local governments trying to bid and provide subsidies in order to encourage businesses to bring sales tax to their communities.
For us, developing retail like Ikea and Wal Mart and Target, was about providing land use balance, it wasn’t principally about the revenues. We had virtually no retail in our city. We didn’t have even the kind of walkable downtown that Davis has. Even the Main Street that Woodland has, it just didn’t exist in West Sacramento and so there was no local places to shop. It was important, probably the number one issue in our city elections for about a decade, was attracting significant retail to the community so that people didn’t have to get into their cars and drive halfway across the region in order to shop. Both because they wanted to be proud of where they lived but also because of the environmental consequences of all of that driving. So for us it was really about that.
Having said, I do think it is important, a lot of what the state policies are around revenues and land use do drive a lot of local government who may have lost sight of what the purpose of land use planning is, which is to figure out what kind of community you want to be and a lot of them have instead tried to figure out how to make the most money off of land use and that’s not good for the economy, that’s not good for the local communities, it doesn’t help the state either. So whether it’s changing the tax policy to provide a greater weighting to property taxes than to sales taxes or changes around land use policy, that make it more possible for housing to pay for itself, and for retail to not be seen as such a big boon, those kind of state legislative policies do make a difference and are part of the equation. It’s the purpose of that Center for Regional Leadership, but I was on the speaker’s commission on regionalism several years ago and that was our principal recommendation is that the state needs to take aggressive action to deal with its own incentives towards the fiscalization of land use.
One of the big problems facing virtually every local jurisdiction that I cover on a daily basis whether it be the schools, the city, the county, or special districts is a lack of flow of money from the state to local governments, a the same time a large burden has shifted toward those local jurisdictions to meet the service needs of their constituents, how can the state do a better job of helping local government meet the funding needs of local jurisdictions?
Given the constraints of Proposition 113 on the ability of local communities to raise revenues like they used to pre-1978, one of the most important things the state can do is get out of the way. It’s all of the state’s regulatory requirements and program requirements kind of the big brother at the state level. Some legislator in Orange County says every school board ought to do this and it sounds like a great idea. But when you add up thousands of requirements, it means a place like the Davis school district can’t set its own priorities. So it has limited amount of money in the first place and then it has to spend money on stuff that it knows is not the biggest bang for its buck for kids, but it has to do it to comply with some state law. So I think kind of the immediate change that the state can do for school districts, for counties, for cities, for mosquito districts, is to pull back all of the regulatory requirements and allow all of the communities to set their own priorities with the money that they do have.
We’re past the day when local communities are going to be able to raise lots of their own revenues, but I think Davis has provided a good example when communities and residents see the power of their investment, when I see if I vote for a parcel tax I get a better school, or I get a library that’s worth going to, or I get a decent parks system, they vote for it. And more and more local governments need to do that too, and not just blame the state but take some responsibility. We’ve done that in this county. West Sacramento was the first to pass a local sales tax to support a wide variety of service improvements and amenities, Woodland and Davis followed, now it’s a state law that allows that to happen. So it’s not just a question of saying, oh whoa is us, and the state needs to save us, it’s also getting the tools we need to be able to solve our problems locally.
Concerns about flooding in California’s Central Valley exploded following the destruction of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. And yet, we continue to develop areas that are flood prone and in flood plains—this includes the city of West Sacramento under your leadership. Do you believe that this is a wise planning practice and what steps do you believe are needed to ensure protection from flood given growing population pressures?
We’ve been at this for a long time. Those of us in cities that are in deep flood plains like West Sacramento, have been paying attention to this long before Katrina. Katrina kind of raised the specter of flooding for the rest of the county, and for other folks in our region in particular, but the question about flood risk and safety has been on our minds ever since the community started.
The entire city of West Sacramento is in a flood plain. So for us, it is not a question of if we build inside the flood plain or outside of the flood plain, the state requires us to grow by certain percentages every year, and that has to occur. It is legally required that that happens in the flood plain because don’t have any other land. And all of the land around us is either underwater or in the flood plain too. So for us it has always been the question of how do we maximize the safety and how do we make sure that we’re not putting new people at unnecessary risk. So one of the debates lately is about whether or not the city should expand. The city of West Sacramento as opposed to Davis, has never annexed any land in its history. I’ve come out against proposals that would annex land that’s in deep flood plains because we can’t yet assure protection for the folks that might be moving there.
The alternatives aren’t great either. If we say no building in any flood plain, that’s the vast majority of the Sacramento region where urbanization already exists. We’d be saying, you can’t build in downtown Sacramento, you can’t build in midtown, you can’t build in Natomas, and then you’re saying you can only build in Davis or in Citrus Heights. There’s not enough room to accommodate the growth there and we don’t want to encourage people to live in the wild fire prone areas of the foothills. We don’t want to put them on habitat lands on sensitive groundwater aquifers. This is all a question of what the right balance is, making sure that everybody that’s making housing and office choices know what the risks are that we’re making sure we’re taking the right steps to solve it.
How can the 8th Assembly District balance the need for housing and jobs on one hand to accommodate huge projected growth particularly in the western part of the district with need to preserve agricultural land and environmental protection? As Mayor of West Sacramento, what have you done to promote that ideal? How should California as a whole plan to deal with growth pressures in the coming decades?
For the whole state of California, what we are doing here regionally is the right model. I chaired the regions council of cities and counties, as we developed the blueprint for the future project, we talked about this before, but that articulates what the proper strategy is. It’s not about how much growth you want to have, most of us would prefer to keep the communities the way that we have them. Some places like West Sacramento over the last ten years, have needed additional investment in order to be good places to live. It’s about dealing with the growth that is coming, because we don’t prohibit our residents from having children or their kids coming back from college from out of state. We want families to be able to stay together. So it’s not about the growth itself and we don’t have policies that encourage people to come here so we can meet some growth target. It’s where the growth is happening that is really where the whole ballgame is.
And so I think the failure of the last generation was to allow so much growth and sprawl into areas where development didn’t belong on farmland, in areas that were next to sensitive habitat and species, or were destroying places for recreation or for great inspirational vistas, the kinds of things that make this a wonderful place, while at the same time, no one was making any investments on old factory sites and brown fields and parcels that have been empty and abandoned for a generation in poor neighborhoods. There’s lots of land available for infill development and while that can’t accommodate every projected housing unit that’s needed over the next 50 years, it can accommodate a heck of a lot of it, probably most of it and so really the strategy has to be, both at the local level, at the regional level, and statewide, to drive development to those areas where we’ve already got urbanization, we already have the infrastructure, and where we need an economic shot in the arm. So that green field development becomes at best a last resort. My own view is that we never have to get there in many cases.
Everyone is for health care reform. What approach do you most advocate and more importantly, how can you get it passed in the current climate or will you be looking toward 2011 with a Democratic Governor?
The governor isn’t the issue at this stage. It really is about putting together a package and we can’t wait and particularly children cannot wait for 2011 while we wait on what might be a better governor or what might be a worse governor for health care reform. I don’t pretend to have the comprehensive answer to everything on health care reform. But I do know that we’re spending more than anyone else on the planet to provide less care to fewer people. We’re operating an extraordinarily inefficient system.
Everyone who participates in it from patients to doctors, the insurance companies, and everyone else acknowledges that there’s a lot of money wasted that if it were put back into the system, could expand care to a lot more people and provide real high quality care and preventative care that make the system function a lot more effectively. So a lot of that is about prevention, it’s about better use of technology; it’s about a lot less paperwork and bureaucracy in order to make the system work. Whether that can provide the dollars necessary to do the whole thing, I don’t know. But that’s the first step is to deal with those issues. And I think it’s pretty clear, almost everyone has made a health care proposal except for legislative Republicans who have got their head in the sand, but almost everyone else has made a proposal, all of which have their flaws but I think point to the real possibility of a meaningful comprehensive solution starting with kids.
The original gang injunction was thrown out by the courts. How does the new gang injunction improve upon the original? How can we balance and where do you balance the concerns between public safety on the one hand and the rights of the accused to have a fair trial with court representation?
This is a challenging issue, particularly for folks who don’t live in West Sacramento, who for whom it’s just an abstract political philosophy question, for the folks on the street in the community, many of whom are already dealing with issues around poverty and immigration and the gang and its threat to their families is one more insult from a society that in many cases has left them behind. Tackling the challenge of the Broderick Boys, which is a documented, verified, court-sanctioned gang in our city, has been a big priority. I don’t think its any secret that there were substantial concerns after the district attorney sought and got the injunction from the court the first time around from my self and other city leaders about the injunction and its scope.
This time around its very different and that’s because of concerns and issues that were raised after the first one was put in place, we conducted a lot of community workshops, listened a lot to civil libertarians, to public defenders, to folks in the neighborhood, to community activists and made some significant changes to it. So that where the first injunction applied to hundreds and hundreds of people, this one applies only to those individuals who have recent and serious crimes that are gang related, which narrows the scope quite dramatically. It eliminates the issues around “what color are you wearing” or “what kind of tattoo do you have,” which for me is not a sufficient justification for the raw exercise of government power. The balancing that we’re trying to accomplish I think is very important that we not have a world that’s envisioned in the “Minority Report” film, where you try to pre-guess who might commit crimes and then arrest and punish them before they’ve had a chance to do it. And on the other hand we use similar kinds of tools at something like a DUI checkpoint, where we stop everybody, there’s no attorneys, we haven’t already convicted them of anything, everybody gets stopped in order to assure that folks on the streets are safe and protected from drunk drivers. So we are for those moments, for half an hour, for forty-five minutes, detaining someone who has committed no crime in order to do that. So it’s really a question of what the right balance is, when you try to draw them in black and white, you ignore the impact that the gang is having on the community or you ignore the significance of the liberty issues that we’ve been trying to address.
What accomplishment in West Sacramento are you most proud of?
The complete transformation of the city’s sense of itself and its future. It would be easy to say, Raley Field, or Ikea, or the Waterfront redevelopment, or the turn around of our local schools, but those are really the drivers of something much more powerful which is that a decade ago, there were folks in West Sacramento that wouldn’t put the city on their return address, they would write some neighborhood name like Southport, because they were ashamed of West Sacramento. If you asked them where they lived, they didn’t want to say, there was a sense of desperation about the place, that there had been so many promises for so long, like a century that never came to a fruition, so the sense that we’re a working class town with a lot of poverty and diversity and it can’t get any better and not in a good way. Today, that’s completely different, you go to the supermarket or the post office and people are proud to be in West Sacramento, they expect things to be better, so even if you just came out of the social security line or the unemployment line, you have expectations about what the future’s going to be in West Sac. And that’s important because it’s made folks who don’t normally have expectations around the political process or around government into high expectation voters and constituents. That’s what you need to sustain change over the long run. So it’s not a building or a development project, it is now a community that has a sense of purpose about it.
If you could accomplish one thing if elected to the Assembly, what would it be?
I think the biggest issue that I want to solve is around growth and development and moving towards the smart growth principles that I think are critical for preserving the quality of life and the unique character that the small towns and mid-size communities in our district have and clean up the air and protect habitat and make it so that we don’t spend the rest of our lives in traffic, those are the bread and butter issues of the 8th Assembly District and that’s what I want to tackle in the short time I hope to have there.
What politician do you kind of wish you were most like?
There’s no single politician that I emulate. One that I work with quite a bit that I admire greatly is Darryl Steinberg in the State Senate. He approaches the work of legislating with passion, he’s totally values based, very progressive, wants to change and transform the world for the better in a very powerful way, he’s not just sitting in the seat. But he’s all about getting results. It’s not just about the press releases, it’s not just about saying that I voted the right way, but it’s about delivering real and substantial change on issues of mental health, or sprawl or fiscalization of land use, or so many of the things he’s able to marry both very strong core values with a real record of accomplishment. I try to emulate that work.