- What do you consider the top issues facing the 8th Assembly District? Yolo County? Davis? And what are your priorities if elected to the state legislature?
Alright, well first thanks for having me on the Vanguard. I just want to give you some background on the overarching issues with the 8th Assembly District as well as the county and the City of Davis.
I think that foremost on everyone’s mind is healthcare, and also transportation and education and employment. Those are all interrelated, but those are, I think, the top four issues that that I see before us as the State grapples with some very difficult, very overarching issues. Yolo County, as one of the fifty-eight counties in California, is at the bottom of the property tax revenue retention and that has presented challenges to us as we are going forward into the twenty-first century with all of those overarching issues in play. As it relates to the City of Davis, I think the city and the county will hopefully engage in some very positive discussions as we go forward through this next General Plan process. And, we need to collaborate more and communicate more, so that we can work together on solving some of these overarching issues.
- Can you get into [discuss] some of your priorities?
My priorities are pretty specific and I can share with you some of those that I’ve already put forth into my information and literature as we’ve been moving forward. As you may know, I am a social worker by profession, so with healthcare, I am a proponent of single payer universal. So, if elected to the Legislature, I will be advocating very strongly on that issue. I also have priorities in the areas of adults, aging and disability. And, you may have seen an article in the Davis Enterprise, just this last weekend, about the Aging Summit that we just put on. It’s the first one that Yolo County has had in the area of aging, adult and disability, I think that it is a primary concern of mine, because we’re about thirty years behind in addressing some of those issues, so I’ll be focusing on that as well.
I think I also have some specific proposals about how education and the social work profession can combine and collaborate to solve some of our serious issues within the education system. I think teachers are spending so much time on addressing social problems that they’re not really free to teach. Teachers certainly are not immune to the social problems of their students. But, I think what they went into their profession for was to teach and educate and I think a lot of their time is spent on addressing some of the social problems that children bring with them to school and if we are able to merge and able to have social workers and teachers partner I think that would go a long way into alleviating some of the teaching load and workload issues that teachers face. So, I would be looking at ways of collaborating.
How can the state on the one hand deal with tight budgets while at the same time provide a high level of services to those in most need—the poor, the aging, the disabled, and the children? In short, how can we take care of those most vulnerable?
I think the State has been under funding core services for a number of years now. I think first we had sixteen years of Republican rule followed by two short of a Democratic control of the Legislature and the state house. So, I think that when you have to address sixteen years of priorities that may not be directed to the most vulnerable in our state and our society and then only have a short time to address reorienting those priorities it becomes cumulative. It’s just a cascade on mostly having to catch up. I think that we have to address in a very realistic fashion the under funding of very real core services. Now having said that, I think there are ways to address some of the spending that may not be most appropriate, or the priorities that the state has had is directing money in not the best fashion. I think we are wasting funds in some respects. For example, going back to the healthcare discussion for a moment, we spend more in emergency room services than we would if we were investing in and funding preventive care. So I think it’s not only a matter of under funding, or a matter of not having enough money. The taxpayers are tired of hearing that there is not enough money, but I think that that is part of the problem. There are under funding issues, but the other side of that, is that we have to use the funds that we have in a much smarter fashion.
- How would in your capacity as Assemblywoman, be able to assist the 8th District in bringing funding for these much needed service?
I think it is important, as the representative for this area, to clearly articulate the needs of local government. My background is in local government primarily. I’ve been in three counties and I think that we have to make sure that local priorities are articulated. I think that part of the problem has been the accusation is that when people go to Sacramento to work in the Legislature they forget where they came from – – where their roots are. I’m going to work very hard not to forget that all politics is local and all of our problems are local. If we can persuade enough of our colleagues in the Legislature, to return to the focus of how programs affect everyday people in the district, I think that is part of my commitment and my message at the state level.
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?
Well, that again goes back to my earlier answer, that is, I think that when you have more people in the Legislature that have a local government perspective that doesn’t become a “we – they” discussion, it becomes an “our” discussion. Remembering that counties are political subdivisions of the state, we’re very familiar with what the state is requiring. That’s what counties do. We are the administrative arm of the state, so it’s not as though counties are unfamiliar with what the state requirements are, but we all hear about unfunded mandates. It’s very important for state legislators that they may have the best ideas in the world about how to fix all the problems of the world, but unless they have a local government perspective, and remain close to people and see how their legislation could impact local individuals then I think they’re missing the boat. I think we need to focus our attention on how the state legislation actually affects everyday people and I think that maybe we’ve lost that communication and it’s become a “we / they” and hope is that we make it an “our” situation.
- The other day, 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?
Well, you know David; I was actually on I-80 tonight, going back and forth, to Solano County, while I’ve been out precinct walking. And, actually the drive this evening, was not too bad, but that is always a gamble. You never know what it’s going to be like on I-80. I think we have made mistakes in the past in terms of how we have cited communities, in terms of how we have grown, and we need to capitalize on the good work that the SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) Blueprint began. That did not include Solano County. That was a six county study on the other side of the Causeway including Yolo County. I think what we need to do in the 8th Assembly District, because we’re kind of a hybrid, you know, we have an affinity to Sacramento, the region, but we also have an affinity to the Bay Area, because Solano is pulled on the other side. I haven’t seen that we’ve been able to get the Bay Area and the Sacramento Region to be in even a larger regional dialogue that we already are. So, I think what we need to do too, is make sure that we are focusing on transitory development. We need to take a look at — as lofty as a goal as it is — we need to look at a commitment at some mass transit.
I’ll digress for a second here. All of the money, the spending that’s been done on the war in Iraq, if we had the money to invest in infrastructure and light rail, we probably could have built light rail from New York to San Francisco. I don’t have those exact figures, but I think our spending priorities are completely upside down. We have made mistakes. We need to stop making the same mistakes to good planning. We need to open up an even a larger dialogue between the Sacramento Region and the Bay Area, because we’re all in this together. And I think too, when we achieve a better jobs / housing balance we’ve got to make sure that people don’t have to drive so far to go to work. I see in the mornings, as I’m on my way to Woodland, going over the Richards overpass – but I avoid the underpass, because I’m going to Woodland – so I’m looping around and going to I-80 to catch 113. I see all of those cars backed up on I-80 off of Richards trying to get to the university. So, there are a lot of people working at the university that either don’t or can’t live in Davis and I think that we need to have a dialogue about that with both our city partners and our county folks and the university.
- What types of proposals would you support in order to help local business succeed in the face of the growing threat of big-box retail?
Well, you know, I was on the “no” side of the Target discussion. I was not a public figure in that, because it was what I considered to be a city vote than rather than a direct county issue. So, I want to make that clear that my opposition to the big box was no so much because I didn’t think that people shouldn’t have a choice, but because to amend the General Plan to chase sales tax revenue, is not the best reason to amend your General Plan. I think your threshold for amending your General Plan has to be a very high threshold. And, I didn’t think that chasing sales tax revenue was a very good reason to amend the General Plan, but now that we know that that ordinance has passed, that provides future opportunities for big box, I think that the Downtown Davis Business Association and the Chamber of Commerce have to work together to ensure that the shopping options for Davis residents remain attractive. We also need to look at the parking issues in downtown Davis. I know that there are a lot of concerns that I’ve heard from visitors as well as residents that parking downtown, is very difficult. So, perhaps we can make this a win / win and arrange for some kind of off site shuttle service into the downtown area. There are some downtowns that actually have some closed off streets and made them only pedestrian friendly or maybe electric vehicle friendly. Maybe we’ll use the new parking lot out at Target to arrange for shuttle service to downtown.
I’m trying to remember what the statistics were on the precinct by precinct vote, but as you know, one of my focuses, as I mentioned earlier, is on seniors and folks with disabilities. I’ve heard that, anecdotally, seniors were supportive of having Target or a Target-like store nearby, so that they didn’t have to drive so far. They didn’t have to go too far to do basic shopping. So now that it’s passed I hope that we can collaborate and make something positive out of it.
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. Do you believe that this is a wise planning practice? What steps do you believe are needed to ensure protection from flood given growing population pressures?
My record on development in the flood plains [was] probably the most clear of anyone in local government. I was the only “no” vote on a major policy related project of the old sugar mill. I was the only “no” vote on the Board of Supervisors and that “no” vote was based on the fact that I actually drove the site three times that what I felt in my heart also matched what I felt in my head. And that was, to approve development behind an uncertified levy that close to where people would be put in harms way – – I just couldn’t in good conscious do that.
I think that development has occurred already in the flood zone. And because some of those mistakes that were made in the past I think it is easy for some policy makers to say, “Well, you know…there’s just one more development we can put in, because it’s already close to the housing, the infrastructure, that’s in existence.” But at some point, you have to say, “No.” At some point you have to say that there is a principle that is involved and that is that you should stop developing behind uncertified levees or in areas in which it’s very clear that the potential for flooding is so great.
I have another hat on the Board of Supervisors, and that is that I am Emergency Services Board Liaison. Remembering the tragedies and horrors of Katrina… We saw those tragedies and horrors played out both on television and in pictorials. I’m actually haunted still by some of those pictures…particularly, the disabled who were not able to get out. I think knowing what we know now, it’s basically unconscionable to approve development behind uncertified levees.
Now, when there are flood protections that a developer or a community can demonstrate. I think that one size does not always fit all. So I want to say in balance, when a developer or a community can come up with a standard of flood protection that can be proven and can be demonstrated then I think that that merits a look. But in principle, I think right now; until we achieve some real strong flood protection for our region we should really put either a moratorium on new development behind the flood plain or in the flood plain.
- 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? How should California as a whole plan to deal with growth pressures in the coming decades?
I think if any one individual or one policy maker had the answer to that question we would have answered the question already. I think what I would want to put forth, as the answer to this question, is that it’s the approach that has to be taken rather than, how am I personally going to do it? The approach has to be one of balancing competing needs by listening carefully by listening to all points of view and not making a decision based on political expedience, or who’s yelling the loudest. I think that balancing growth and affordable housing and the environment and farmland…you almost have to do it at the same time on a policy level. You have to do it on a people level. As I said earlier in the interview, about the “one size does not always fit all,” I think that when you get good people around the table to have a rational discussion about how to balance growth, the environment, affordable housing and agriculture — ‘cause you know you need all four of those in order to make a healthy community.
California is such a complex state. From north to south, from coastal to inland, is very complex already, so I’m not sure I can say how California is going to address it. I can say how I would address it as a representative in the Legislature. I think we need to have that approach of collaborating and getting new partnerships developed, because what I see a lot, in my work at the County, as well as my interactions with the state, there’s such great polarization. Everyone seems to think that their point of view is the only point of view that is correct. And although I am a very liberal and partisan Democrat I also believe that reaching out across the isle to try to work out solutions with people who may not think exactly the way that we think, or that come from a different life experience, or may feel that they only have the right answer – we have to be able to be able to reach out across the isle to try to work out some of these intractable problems.
Social workers start where the client is. We start from the position of looking at the problem as a whole and then try to martial the resources around the problem to fix it. Again, it’s an approach rather than me saying, “I have the solution to all of these problems.” I think that the citizenry doesn’t want to hear promises from people who are running for office they want to find out whether that person has the approach that they feel is consistent with addressing some of these huge problems that we all face.
- The recent dispute between Yolo County and the City of Davis over who should determine growth on the city edges erupted into at times bitter contentiousness. What did you learn from this situation in order to avoid repeat episodes in the future? And as a member of the Assembly what approaches would you take at the state level toward local growth and control?
You know, I think that the issue of who controls growth on the city edge is based upon twenty years of history. The Pass Through Agreement was negotiated first I think in 1987 was a very good agreement, and was renegotiated just a few years ago, and it has served well. I think that the County’s position is that we would like to engage the city in a collaborative discussion.
As far as what we learned, from sometimes a contentious presentation by some of the citizens of Davis, is that we need to establish mechanisms, so that we can have those kinds of discussions before it comes to the Board. I proposed having a Yolo County Council of Governments several years ago. Unfortunately, we did not have Board concurrence to engage in that. But, what struck me about going across the river to attend SACOG meetings — Sacramento Area Council of Government meetings, and that they’re very specific, they focus really on transportation funding – but the concept of having twenty-two jurisdictions sitting around the same board chambers and discussing issues of mutual concern I thought was a wise way to approach problems. But I always wondered how it was that all of the Yolo County representatives could go across the river to sit around that table before we sat around together in Yolo County. My hope is that we will some day have that mechanism that we can sit down as elected leaders as well as have open forums with the citizens to hear each other, not just hear one side. I look at the county, as the county as a whole, although I do have the privilege of representing ¾ of the City of Davis I also represent an area outside of Davis, which is the second largest farm acreage in Yolo County and a mixture of very diverse interests and rich habitat areas. So in balance, I think that the discussion that occurred at the Board was very unnecessarily contentious. We didn’t have communication mechanisms to engage each other before it got to that point.
You know, the Board did not vote to remove the areas entirely. That vote did fail on a 2 to 3 vote. But, we did remove the areas with hope that we would engage in future discussions with the city. My hope is that we can work that out.
- And as a member of the Assembly what approaches would you take at the state level toward local growth and control?
The state does not regulate local planning decisions, so in terms of regulating where growth will go, there are certain guidelines, but local planning decisions will remain at the local level.
Well, one of the reasons I asked this question, is that there was a bill before the Assembly that died – fortunately – that would have changed the way that Housing Element updates to the General Plan were designed. And, it would have made it so that instead of a ten-year planning period it would be every five years. And so a lot of local governments became concerned that that would have been growth inducing.
I think that Dave Jones (Assemblyman) did have AB70, which not supported by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, although I did support his bill, because it included some provisions for regulating growth behind the flood plain and that we would have state and local partnership in how those decisions are made. I know most of local government opposed AB70, because they felt that it was the state trying to regulate. But I think that again, it’s that approach of partnering instead of this we / they. It’s always, we / they. I hope we can get to the problems, more of solving the problems in more of a collaborative fashion.
- At your first candidate’s debate, you supported the continuation of the two-thirds requirement for passing the state budget, has the recent budget impasse and the fact that a few members of the minority party held the budget highjacked, changed your view here?
At the first forum the question that was posed was; would you change the current way the budget was handled? Right? My view on that is that we have to preserve some aspect of the protection of the minority. What I would like to see is a two-year budget process with a sixty percent threshold. I think that when you have a two-thirds vote – at that forum the question was posed; would you preserve the current two-thirds majority? It only works to protect when the Democrats are in the majority. But I think that living with a year to year budget process can result in a tyranny of the minority, but a two-year process with a sixty percent threshold would be more fair.
- 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?
As an advocate for single payer universal it may only be achievable if we go to the ballot. I have been participating for the past 18 months on the California State Association of Counties Healthcare Reform Task Force. We have been examining all three of the proposals based on its effects on the county. And, AB8, which was put together as a merged bill from both the Senate and the House is not something that the counties can support, because of its 7.5% employer contribution threshold. In effect, that would affect us, as we are the employer of record for in home support health services providers. These are folks that are actually saving the state money, by performing the work that is needed to keep seniors and disabled individuals in their homes and in their community. So, AB8 was not the answer for us. The Governor’s proposal also, we have some concerns about.
Although, I think shared responsibility, which is part of the Governor’s proposal, is something that I personally can be supportive of, and I know that my friends out in the union community are not supporting shared responsibility, individual mandates. I think that there is a difference between shared responsibility and individual mandate. For those that cannot afford to pay for their own healthcare, counties already are responsible for indigent health. So I think that there are enough elements floating out there. Again, I think if we have the approach of collaborating and making sure that we have a shared discussion about how to solve it that’s how we’re going to get there, but I personally am a proponent of single payer, universal. That is in the context that healthcare is a right not a privilege. You know, there are still a couple of pillars in this whole discussion that need to come to the table, and that is the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. I know that this is going out there in sort of “dangerous land,” but insurance companies do their business based on that you’re paying for something you hope will not happen. I think we ought to be investing money in what should happen, which is good, preventive healthcare, not waiting until an emergency occurs and when the costs are very high. If we invest more on the front end then we save money on the back end. Also, for a certain segment of our population that have pre-existing conditions – – we have to do away with that – we have to make sure that everyone is able to get healthcare when they need it. I think that there are enough good models throughout the world as well as other places in the country. San Francisco has started and Massachusetts has a system as well, so we need to take the best of what’s already happening to see if we can hammer out a solution. Who would have thought that, here we are in October, and here we are the Legislature is still working on just two small issues; water and health. It’s a symbol that people want to get these issues dealt with. I’m not sure how it’s going to go through the rest of this year. I would rather see something good and something substantial occur rather than something based on political expedience. I think that SB840 we just need to just convert to an initiative and see what the people have to say. The polling shows that the people want universal, single payer healthcare. And also with the Presidential Primary coming in February, February 5th, that is a huge issue for all of the candidates, at least on the Democratic side. We don’t hear too much about healthcare on the Republican side. I hope we get there.
- The original gang injunction was thrown out by the courts. What do you think of efforts to renew the gang injunction—has it been improved upon? 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?
I was not supportive of the original gang injunction, because it was vague and unconstitutional. I think the courts proved that to be true. The efforts to reinstate another gang injunction I do believe is still not fair, because I think that if you are going to apply a curfew, or rights to assembly orders in a community it should apply to the whole community not just to one segment. I think that beyond that, my interest is in supporting law enforcement in balance with addressing why there is criminal activity in the first place. We have families that are stretched to the limit, because of their economic situation. We have families that are addressing decades-long issues of poverty, unemployment and sub-standard schools. We have to go to the root causes of what is motivating some people into criminal activity. I think that if you only look at the law enforcement side, and you don’t look at the root causes of what draws some people into criminal activity, then you’re not taking a balanced approach to solving the problem. But I do think that if you’re going to apply restrictions to the citizenry then they have to be applied to everyone and that’s the only way you can achieve some democracy in such an activity.
- What accomplishment on the Yolo County board of Supervisors are you most proud of?
Just one? [laugh] Well if I can give you more than one? Well I have a lot of accomplishments that I’m proud of. I think first of all our Board, and I as one member, have not been afraid to take on the big battles. So you may edit this out, because I’m only limited to one or two, but as I mentioned the other evening, when we were at The Bean Feed, our board has exhibited great courage in taking on issues like the Conway Ranch, SMUD annexation, certainly the General Plan is a very large issue. I think our Board has exhibited the courage to take on the big battles in the face of many pressures. Personal and professional accomplishments; I am very proud of working to get the In Home Supportive Services Public Authority established, working for our most vulnerable seniors and disabled residents. We were the first in the state to achieve that after the state mandate in 1999. I’m also very proud of the work we’ve done to strengthen the Aging and Adult Services Commission. It is now chaired by a member of the Board of Supervisors. It has achieved some parity with the Children and Families Commission. I’m also very proud of ensuring that our ambulance and emergency response services have been settled now for at least ten years. That is a negotiation that I led for the county in collaboration with our emergency services personnel. A lot of people don’t know what the link is between 9-1-1 and the ambulance arriving at your house. It’s actually a county related function, so we had improvements and sustainability in our emergency services. We have also done a lot of work with our Parks Master Plan, with the Grasslands Regional Park. We’re going to be hopefully concluding the acquisition and doubling the size of Grasslands Regional Park, which is in District 4. That will become probably the largest regional park near urban area in Yolo County. Many of our parks are out in the Capay Valley area further West, but Grasslands, is right across the way off of Mace Boulevard, so those are just some of the diverse issues and accomplishments I am most proud of.
- If you could accomplish one thing if elected to the Assembly, what would it be?
I think IHHS (In Home Supportive Services) reform would be at the top of my priority list, because this program already has 400,000 Californians enrolled. The eligibility has not been reviewed for decades, and we’re going to have a growing need to fill to keep people safe in their communities.
It is a program that is actually eating up our realignment dollars and is causing competition amongst social services, public health, and probation. I think that the program needs to be stand alone and I think the workers in that program – we need to take a look at how they can be engaged and blended into perhaps, our retirement system for the state. It is something that you perhaps have not thought of yet, because you’re young and still able bodied, but for silver tsunami end of the age spectrum, it is a glaring need. Actually, the dependency ratio for those of you that are still able to work, there’s going to be greater burdens upon you as the other end of the age cohort progresses it’s shift. So, it’s going to be a top priority of mine along with healthcare reform.
Thanks to my wife Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald for doing the transcription for this interview…
—Doug Paul Davis reporting