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What’s the best way to grab a lawmaker’s attention? In lieu of a substantial donation, the answer might be to let them know their votes are being closely tracked, packaged and shared with the public.
At least that’s the idea behind a first-of-its-kind food policy report tracking bills that made their through the California Assembly in 2013. The Report on California Food and Farming Legislation analyzed 27 “high-priority” bills that would impact the state’s food system reform efforts, and winnowed them down to five that were passed and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The report was produced by the California Food Policy Council – a group of 19 food policy groups spread throughout the state. Oakland-based Roots of Change staffed and funded the report.
Curious how San Diego Assmeblywoman Lorena Gonzalez voted on urban agriculture incentive zones (AB 551)? (She was in favor.) Or how Assemblyman Brian Maienschein voted on AB 191, which would increase food access through CalFresh? (He was opposed.)
The votes on those bills and three others are there for a looksee, and include San Diego lawmakers Toni Atkins, Shirley Weber, Marty Block, Ben Hueso and more.
Unlike Food Policy Action, a national advocacy group that scores members of Congress based on how they voted on food policy legislation, Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, said his group isn’t ready to issue grades just yet.
“There are more conservative counties and more progressive counties,” said Dimock. “There are still differences around exactly what kind of policies we want to purse as a group. When you start grading, you create more controversy with the legislators. The more ag-focused regions of the state didn’t feel comfortable with coming out of the block with grades.”
California is home to over 80,500 farms and ranches. We provide half of all U.S.-grown fruit, vegetables and nuts. San Diego County itself is surprisingly ag-based. We’re the 18th largest agricultural county in the U.S., and have the largest number of organic farmers (350 of them) producing over 150 crops.
JuliAnna Arnett with Community Health Improvement Partners and the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative, and California Food Policy Council steering committee member said there’s a lot in the new report that should matter to San Diegans.
“It does something really unique,” she said. “The counties can now talk to each other about common issues we’re seeing like water and labor. Instead of Northern California versus Southern California – we can work out issues that bring us together as a state and solve the root cause of the issue, rather than putting it off to be solved in future years when it becomes a crisis,” said Arnett.
But Dimock believes the report will have broader implications.
“Real change at the federal level won’t come until powerful states, like California, change their policies,” said Dimock. “It’s very hard to change federal policy until you get states – and their lawmakers – to buy in.”