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The politics of North County are changing quickly in the era of Trump. Look no further than the 76th Assembly District, long considered a safe space for conservatives, stretching from Camp Pendleton to Encinitas along the coast.
A flood of Republican candidates, eager to replace Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, locked themselves out of the general election this year, assuring that two Democrats would compete. In November, Tasha Boerner Horvath, an Encinitas City Council member, won by nearly 10 percentage points.
We caught up with her as she settles in.
Can you give us a sense of what your priorities are going to be in your first year in the Legislature?
While running and meeting with lots of folks, we had a really strong ground game and what we heard is there are three top priorities in my district and I will be advocating for those. The first one is around sustainability. The second one is around prosperity. And the third is about equality or equity.
Tell us about the process of becoming a state legislator because I’m sure you go through an orientation. What are you learning in the first couple days?
It ranges. It’s also a job, so you have all your normal HR forms and you have to choose health insurance. Then there’s also basic stuff like, how does a bill get made? And who writes the bill? And how do we determine constitutionality of ideas? What are the committees? And it’s Sacramento, so like, how do relationships work? You spend a lot of time meeting your other Assembly members. People are categorized into a freshman class and as you would have seen, as the election results came in, our class grew and grew and grew. We had about three weeks of orientation up in Sacramento.
The day after I won, I was up there interviewing staff and we have staff to make sure we’re hearing the voices of our district and able to be effective legislators. I think we grew from five or six, and now we’re eight or nine.
Different legislators approach the job differently. Assemblywoman Marie Waldron drives to the Capitol. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has said she stays in a hotel room because it reminds herself that Sacramento is not her home. How are you striking the right balance between going back and forth?
For me, it’s also a little different. I have two young kids, 7 and 11, so it’s about making sure I can take the kids to school on a Monday. And then when I’m there, I’m trying to do as much as I can to serve my district. I’m renting an apartment from a friend and it’s very close to the Capitol, so I can be in the building as much as possible. It’s also not my place and it’s been decorated, but I think it’s important to have healthy choices and make my own oatmeal for breakfast and stuff like that. And that’s how I’ve chosen for now to try it out. I’m somebody who tries something out and if it works, then it works, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll try something new.
OK, let’s talk policy for a second. Gov. Gavin Newsom is pledging to build millions of new housing units through a combination of subsidies and tax credits for affordable housing developers and regulatory rollbacks. That’s a pretty ambitious goal. Generally, would you support that effort, and are there any specific housing policy changes you’d like to see in any package of legislation?
We’re exploring, from our team, some of the ways that housing policy can change, here specifically, because I think my district is very different than most districts in the state. We are a suburban district. We have our major transit corridor on the coast that is vulnerable to sea level rise. When you look at transit-oriented development and you look at where that transit would be and the vulnerability to climate change, there has to be some thought to how you do it differently. And I also think in a very high land value coastal district, how do you get real affordable housing?
I welcome the idea of more subsidies and tax credits. That’s a great idea, and I think most people would be inclined to support that. But I think what works in my district is housing that is affordable by design. So smaller units. That doesn’t necessarily mean the San Francisco micro-units, but maybe incentivizing housing that’s less than 2,500 square feet. In a coastal district, that would give you a housing diversity that would keep the district and fight against the gentrification that we’ve already seeing here and that’s really coming to a crisis in a place like San Francisco.
There’s a lot of attention on Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill that would increase density around major transit centers. It was dead on arrival last time, but there seems a growing urgency around it this time. Would you support that bill specifically or a bill like that one?
I haven’t read the new version. But I do worry that in areas where density is close to the coast, our coastal infrastructure can’t support it. I think our district needs a transit-first mentality, and I think his idea is a housing-first mentality. And where we have seen increased density in the 76th, we haven’t necessarily seen the increased transit that is regular and reliable and connects people with the places where they want to go. So here, the focus has to be first on connectivity and transit and active transportation, and then dealing with the stark reality of high land values in a coastal district.
It’s a diverse district and early in the campaign you noted it has more than just veterans’ issues, but I wonder if are veterans on your mind and whether you’re working on any bills that are veterans-related.
Veterans are absolutely on my mind. I think it would be absolutely irresponsible to have Camp Pendleton in your district and not focus on veterans’ issues. We are looking at one in particular. I haven’t yet announced my bill package, so won’t give you the inside scoop, but there will be one specifically addressing veterans.
Last question. There’s talk of reintroducing a single-payer health care bill this year as well. It died last time because the funding source was unclear and the federal government was unlikely to give its blessing to redirect Medicaid and Medicare dollars. Do you support single-payer this time around, and what’s the likelihood of it succeeding?
What I’m hearing around the Capitol is it’s not going to come up this next year. Given the number of issues that we have with wildfires, with fully funding public education, with housing, as you mentioned, it would be a big ask to address all four of those at one time. I would support a plan that gets us towards greater access to quality, affordable care and I think there are many avenues that people are exploring to do that.
— Jesse Marx
San Diego Is Feeling the Heat Following Lead Legislation
Even before Flint, Michigan’s water crisis drew new attention to water quality issues, the California Legislature was working to remove lead from taps.
In summer 2015, before the Flint crisis was on most people’s radar, the Legislature approved Chino Sen. Connie Leyva’s Safe Drinking Water in Schools Act, which would have required school officials to test for lead and, if needed, provide bottled water until they can get rid of the toxic metal.
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill citing uncertain but “possibly very large” costs, though he did instruct the State Water Resources Control Board to make sure kids weren’t drinking toxic water.
In 2016, when everyone knew what had happened in Flint, Leyva tried again with an even more ambitious bill. It required water agencies across the state to know whether they have lead pipes in the ground. This time around, the governor signed the bill into law.
Last year, Leyva came back to toughen the law up even more. The governor signed that, too.
By then, there were also high-profile water tests – thanks to the State Water Board’s school testing program – that found lead in several schools across the San Diego region.
Because of those, San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced and the governor signed a bill that requires officials to test for lead and provide bottled water until they can get rid of it.
San Diego Unified passed a $3.5 billion school bond, largely by telling parents their kids may be drinking dangerous water, even though less than 2 percent of the bond money is earmarked for removing lead from schools.
Now, the city of San Diego faces new accountability and potentially large costs because of Leyva’s 2017 legislation. The city, unlike any other major California municipality, is unable to identify what 192,000 of its water pipes are made of, which means they could be made of lead.
Not only does new data required by Leyva’s legislation show city officials have been misleading the public about a possible source of leaded drinking water, but if the city can’t figure that all out by summer 2020, it will have to come up with a plan to replace all of those lines. That could cost city ratepayers about $200 million to $1 billion.
— Ry Rivard
Atkins Has Sat Out the Two Biggest Housing Debates
KPBS this week highlighted one big decision to keep an eye on: where Sen. Toni Atkins will land on Sen. Scott Weiner’s high-profile bill to spur more dense development near transit and jobs centers.
From Andrew Bowen:
Atkins, who was elected senate president pro tem earlier this year, has been a staunch advocate for more funding for low-income housing. But she has not been front and center in the debate over local control, declining to take a position on the year’s highest-profile bill that would have given the state more of a say over local zoning rules.
That means that over the past year, the Legislature’s most high-profile housing advocate declined to take a position both on the state’s most high-profile housing bill, and the most high-profile ballot measure – the one that would have cleared the way for rent control.
The Centrist Drumbeat Continues
It’s basically becoming a weekly tradition: A prominent Republican voice pens an opus on the broken Republican Party.
This week, it was former Republican political strategist Dan Schnur, an authority on California politics. In a column for the Jewish Journal, Schnur posits that a new political party could appeal to many Californians: “Many of us have often wondered about the potential for a centrist third party that could occupy the ground near midfield that has been abandoned by Democrats and Republicans.”
Before Schnur, it was former Republican Assembly leader Chad Mayes, who wrote, “The California Republican Party must be willing to abandon toxic messengers and outdated thinking and adopt policy approaches that will meet the needs of today’s California. Otherwise, it will have no future.”
And before Mayes, it was former Republican Senate leader Kristin Olsen declaring the state Republican Party dead and demanding “a new way.”
Meanwhile, this week the state Republican Party learned it can no longer count state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye as a member. She told CALmatters this week that she switched her party registration to no party preference after the Republican-led U.S. Senate voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Golden State News
- State regulators delayed implementing a bill requiring utilities to create fire mitigation plans. In the meantime, massive wildfires have devastated the state. (Union-Tribune)
- Harvard University has been quietly amassing Central Valley farmland, and the rights to the groundwater underneath it. (Wall Street Journal)
- Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, who represents Fresno, was arrested this week on a misdemeanor child abuse charge. (ABC 30 Fresno)
- This study lays out the tremendous surge in Latino turnout in the midterm election. (Latino Politics & Policy Initiative)
- Oakland is suing the Raiders over the team’s move to Las Vegas. (San Francisco Chronicle)
- This is a deeply sad, well-told feature on the man at the center of the Ghost Ship fire. (New York Times Magazine)
- Wildfires could erase all the state’s progress on climate change. (Mother Jones)
- This is a fascinating look at the impact of a unique California labor law. (Courthouse News)