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San Diego, the second-largest city in California, doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention from statewide officials. Gov. Jerry Brown and both of our U.S. senators mostly drop in only during campaign season. Yet Secretary of State Alex Padilla is here what seems like once a month. This week, he was in town to preside over a naturalization ceremony at Golden Hall, where he helped swear in hundreds of new U.S. citizens.

On top of visiting San Diego often, Padilla has partnered regularly with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher on bills to expand voter access. Their latest effort is a $450 million bond to modernize the state’s voting equipment. If passed, it would go before voters in 2018.

Padilla stopped by VOSD to talk about that effort, and San Diego’s recent efforts to force local races to a November runoff.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

VOSD: One issue I know you’ve been working on, even this week you had a press conference, is your voter modernization bond that you’re working on with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. Can you tell me about that bill and why it’s necessary?

Padilla: I think the integrity of our elections is much more on the forefront of people’s mind these days than they’ve been in a long, long time. Whether it’s how we vote, or Russian involvement in last year’s elections and everything in between. Probably the biggest threat or the biggest worry to how we conduct elections is just the fact that we have old equipment.

The last time there was a significant investment in voting systems in California was about 15 years ago. … And so it’s time for a new round of investment. We know technology has come a long way. We know public policy has come a long way. We have a lot of exciting reforms that have been adopted in California. Things like same-day registration or more vote-by-mail or being able to vote early. Imagine being able to vote anywhere in your county and not just the precinct place or the polling place closest to where you live. We have that now authorized. We need the new systems to help deploy those reforms that make it more convenient for voters by maintaining a secure election.

VOSD: You were really aggressive in pushing back against some of Donald Trump’s claims about election fraud, particularly in California. Is there an issue with outdated voting equipment? Are we more susceptible to fraud, is that one of the threats?

Padilla: Look, first and foremost you know, myself working in partnership with the county elections officials across the state of California, I stand by the 2016 elections and the previous elections to that. But I think the threats or the worry, the danger of aging equipment is if it starts to break down. …

People deserve to have confidence in how well the elections are run, the accuracy of the votes and the results. … In addition to the reforms that have been adopted, it’s contingent upon new equipment that facilitates that. I think being able to vote anywhere in your county is going to be hugely empowering for a lot of especially working-class families. You know San Diego is not unfamiliar with traffic, so getting home from work in town to get the kids from school, dinner on the table and then stand in line at the polling place before 8 o’clock can be a challenge. But if you had the flexibility to vote closer to work, or where you drop your kids off at school, or at the shopping mall or the grocery store, to vote the week before or over the weekend, that’s hugely powerful. But that’s only enabled when we have things like ballot on-demand, electronic poll books, some of those things that cost money. The state and the counties need to work in partnership to finance that investment. It’s better for election administrators. More importantly, it’s better for voters.

VOSD: Let’s talk about something a little closer to San Diego. In November, San Diego voted to change the way it holds elections, in terms of you can no longer win outright in a citywide election during a primary. Assemblyman Todd Gloria has now put a bill forward that would do the same thing for countywide elections. What’s your take on this change? And do you buy into this argument that votes should be held when the most amount of people are voting?

Padilla: I think it’s a very good thing, and consistent with other reforms I’ve seen across the state of California.

The other sort of popular debate that’s growing right now is when we hold our local elections. A lot of jurisdictions have historically held their local elections in odd years to not necessarily compete with high-profile presidential campaigns. But that results in so few people participating that you really wonder how representative our democracy is. … And so, whether it’s consolidating odd-year elections to even-year elections or ensuring that there is indeed a runoff, more people tend to participate. The bottom line is there’s more people who are exercising their voice in determining the outcome of the election. And again, that’s good for democracy.

Single-Payer Health Care Gets a Price Tag

The biggest question hanging over Sen. Ricardo Lara and Sen. Toni Atkins’ bill to create a single-payer health care system in California is how much it will cost.

This week, we got an estimate: $400 billion.

That earned it plenty of outrage and mockery by Republican politicians.

The collective reaction of everyone learning of the #SB562 cost estimate: pic.twitter.com/hqtZkyEaqN

— Asm. Randy Voepel (@RandyVoepel) May 22, 2017

The cost analysis presented this week figures $200 billion could be paid for with existing state, federal and local funds. The other $200 billion would need to come from new revenue, and suggests a payroll tax as an option.

“The write-up also notes that a universal healthcare proposal would likely reduce spending by employers and employees statewide, which currently ranges between $100 billion and $150 billion annually. Therefore, the total new spending under the bill would be between $50 billion and $100 billion each year,” notes the L.A. Times.

Among those who testified in favor of the bill at a Senate Appropriations hearing Monday was Kyle Thayer, a Carlsbad paramedic.

“I see every single day the people that don’t have health coverage and the things that happen. Often they choose between one medicine and another, and end up in the back of my ambulance for something as simple as high-blood pressure medication,” said Thayer.

The bill cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday and now heads to the full state Senate.

Getting Creative on Homelessness

As San Diego’s homeless problem booms, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s hoping to give the city another tool to help.

This week, Gonzalez Fletcher officially added San Diego to AB 932, which had aimed to give San Francisco the authority to declare a shelter crisis and clear regulatory hurdles for homeless housing projects.

Gonzalez Fletcher became a co-sponsor of the bill written by Assemblyman Phil Ting at the urging of San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward, who is set to lead a City Council committee on homelessness.

A spokesman for Ward said the bill could allow the committee to “get more creative” and consider unconventional housing or adaptive reuse opportunities like those Ward raised in a March memo.

Gonzalez Fletcher stressed that the legislation opens the door but that the city will need to be the one to take action. If the bill makes it through, it will require the City Council to pass new regulations to pave the way for any innovative steps.

“The approach does have to come locally,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “The creative solutions have to come locally.”

Lisa Halverstadt

What the Sanctuary State Bill Means for San Diego

There’s been a lot of discussion around the state and country about Sen. Kevin de Leon’s SB 54, the sanctuary state bill.

VOSD’s Scott Lewis zeroed in on what it would mean for San Diego: “If it passes in much the same form it’s in now, and the governor signs it, it would be the most significant change to local immigration enforcement in a decade.”

ICE currently has about 18 agents working inside three San Diego County jails. They would be evicted if SB 54 passes.

Sen. Joel Anderson has said that ICE agents won’t disappear under the bill – they might pop up in less desirable places: “If we make it easier to collect someone in front of an elementary school than collecting them in a jail where they’re serving time, where do you think ICE is going to go?” he told us.

San Diego Odds and Ends

 The nonprofit California Housing Partnership Corp. released a new report Monday that drove home the extent of the affordable housing crisis in Southern California.

San Diego is second to Los Angeles in terms of the biggest need: San Diego is 142,052 affordable units short of what it needs.

The report endorses several bills in the Legislature aimed at addressing the housing crisis, including two that would create new revenue sources to fund affordable housing: Sen. Toni Atkins’ SB 2, which would fund affordable housing by imposing a $75 fee on real estate recording documents, and Sen. Jim Beall’s SB 3, a $3 billion bond to fund affordable housing.

SB 2 advanced out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

 Assemblyman Rocky Chavez posted a Facebook video in which he opens up about his son’s struggle with schizophrenia, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

• A bill by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein cracking down on false and misleading claims in pet advertisements passed the Assembly this week.

Golden State News

 In scrambling to protect its climate policies from President Donald Trump, California is becoming a model for other states and nations on climate change. (New York Times)

 An effort to reform the state’s bail system is gaining momentum. (KQED)

 Here’s a breakdown of the ways President Trump’s budget knocks California. (Sacramento Bee)

 The California Department of Insurance is investigating complaints that several auto insurers charge higher rates to drivers who live in minority neighborhoods. (ProPublica)

 Education issues have opened up rifts within the Democratic Party, and 2018 could be a year of showdowns. (CalMatters)

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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