Newly elected Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry sat down with Leanna Sweha of the Davis Vanguard for an interview on a variety of topics. The former Mayor of Winters discussed a variety of issues of interest to Vanguard readers ranging from the $15 minimum wage to farm worker OT, to environmental laws, education and pensions.
As a small business owner, you have expressed concern over the impact of the $15 per hour minimum wage law. You state that the law should have taken into account regional economic differences. What would you have proposed?
Take for instance the small crafts business in Lake County that told me straight out they will not be able to afford a single employee once the full wage law goes into effect. Many businesses are only adding part-time employees now as it is to avoid benefit costs.
I’m not sure that the legislators who crafted the law really considered all of the costs of running a business – workers’ comp, regulatory costs, for example. And most members come from the bay area and SoCal, where yes the cost of living is higher, but also customers are better able to absorb price increases than in Lake County. So perhaps we could have phased in the increases regionally.
Do you have similar concerns about the new farm labor overtime law?
Most farmers want to pay their employees well. On our 80-acre walnut farm, we view our employee as family. The problem again is the failure to consider all the costs of farming. As a farmer I get it. At a recent ag event, some farm workers spoke about how they were afraid their incomes would decrease because farmers may simply cut hours to avoid overtime. Perhaps we could have considered easing some of the regulatory burdens on agriculture in exchange for extending the overtime law.
Are there other state regulations impacting agriculture and small business that you think need revisiting?
Yes, Air Resources Board and pesticide regulations. I’ve already been approached by the grape and olive producers on these issues. I want to meet with farmers to better understand what is and what is not working. I’m also concerned about the impact of proposed methane and ammonia regulations on dairies that have already caused some smaller dairies to close.
With the democrats holding a supermajority in both houses, an increase in the gas tax seems all but certain – What would you support?
I am developing my position on this issue and will be speaking with the author of one proposal, Assembly Member Jim Frazier. Right now, everyone is wondering if with President-elect Trump’s talk of a large infrastructure plan will materialize – if so, there may be great opportunities to get more “bang for the buck” out of state funds.
I will always ask on every proposed tax measure, how will it affect rural business and seniors?
Also, it’s important to be at the table when a pot of money becomes available – it’s harder for smaller cities to get a hold of this kind of money because of small staff and time constraints.
In addition, CalTrans must change – we need to better understand why there are so many cost overruns and time delays. For example, why did a stoplight cost $1million to install in downtown Winters? I understand there’s also lots of turnover and some district offices are run better than others. Maybe we need another state audit.
You have stated that you support new storage projects like Sites Reservoir, but that you do not support CalFix (the Delta Tunnels plan). We know that action needs to be taken to protect the delta and to ensure water supply. What do you support?
Fixing the water supply problem goes back to education and outreach. For example, when I worked on the Freeport Regional Water Project, a $1 billion plan, we had extensive public outreach resulting in almost 100 percent support for the project.
Some of my new colleagues have identified me as a water expert, so I am taking advantage of this by organizing “Water 101” lunches for my colleagues at which groups like the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) will participate and where we will discuss issues affecting regions and industries.
I think this will help us to fully understand the issues. I know I will better understand Southern California’s water needs and then be better able to advocate for a particular alternative to the tunnels. Congressman Garamendi has an alternative plan that is an option. I would also look at the Endangered Species Act to make sure it is working in a way that is reasonable and fair.
You have stated that we need to once again make California’s public education system the envy of the nation. Aside from improved broadband technology for schools, which you have been heavily involved with, what else would you support?
The California Constitution guarantees a public education for all children, but not every kid fits in the same box.
I support more vocational education. The world has changed – there are many jobs for which a four degree is not needed, and there are frankly some people who should not be in a four year program. This would include workforce development programs with community colleges and internships.
On the other hand we need to make a four year degree more accessible for those who want to pursue it. For example, Solano Community College will soon begin to offer four year degree programs. Public charter schools are another option.
The City of Davis just learned that its pension liability will likely grow by almost $5 million per year more compared to previous projections. This does not even take into account the increases coming due to CalPERS decreasing its investment earnings rate. What are your thoughts on this issue?
I’ve had my eye on unfunded pension liability in Winters for six years. As a council member,I would ask other council members why the item was not on the official ledgers. Then the accounting rules changed and it appeared and got more attention. In Winters, we reduced pension costs through cutting salaries and reducing new hires. Yes, we still have pension liability, but we worked hard and city staff sacrificed.
I was advised to not talk about unfunded pension liability on the campaign, but I decided that someone needs to be a watchdog on this issue, so I did bring it up. People seemed to think this made me a conservative, but what I am is a realist. There is a real need for reform, but we also need to keep the promises made as we reform the system.