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Monday, April 28, 2008

Interview with Assemblywoman Lois Wolk--Part II

On Friday April 18, the Vanguard sat down and spoke with Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, candidate for the State Senate, 5th District. In November she will face Republican Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian. This is the second of a three-part interview. In this segment, the Assemblywoman discusses the transparency in government, flood protection, her record working in a bipartisan manner, and the needs of local government.

5. One of my biggest concerns is transparency in government. I think the state of California does an extremely poor job in the area of open government, particularly with regards to public records access. As a state senator, what changes would you like to make, if any, to California’s open government policies?
Having been a member of the city council and board of supervisors, we worked under the Brown Act and we made an effort to be transparent and where we weren’t, citizens would remind us that we needed to be and they had access to whatever they needed under the law. I support that; I always have. When I got to the legislature, I was amazed at the very different way we conduct business and the lack of accountability that you see with departments.

I support and have supported every effort that has come before me to increase transparency. I think it is important to do that. There is enough distrust of government that we don’t need to add to it by keeping things secret. It’s just not anybody’s interest.

The newspaper publishers are the ones that come forward with some legislation each year that extends the right to have open records. I support that strongly.
6. Many communities seem to develop housing in flood prone areas. What steps do you believe are needed to ensure protection from floods given growing population pressures?
That’s one of the areas that I have been the most active in—flood protection. I am very proud of the package that we put together. It was landmark legislation, signed by the governor last year that connects land use to local government decision making. Beginning in 2011 and ending in 2016, there will be no more development in flood plains by local government in deep flood plains, without adequate protection. That is the keystone of a flood protection policy for the Sacramento-San Joaquin area that frankly is well overdue.

There has been tremendous growth just in the last twenty years since the last floods in the 80’s and the 90’s. There has been tremendous growth in areas that were under 10 and 12 feet of water twice in the last twenty years. That’s foolhardy and that’s a major safety risk. Natomas, Plumas Lake, River Islands—these are areas that do not have sufficient protection and need to have protection. We are in the flood plain. We flood all the time. We aren’t on a hill. Davis is, we have a slight elevation. But the fact is most of the area, especially on the rivers, a very beautiful area, but not the place you want to put housing.

I am very proud of this package it includes a change in the relationship between local government and the state. We negotiated it with the governor, with local government, with the developers, it took us three years, but it’s a good piece of legislation. I’m looking forward to watching it so that it doesn’t get weakened in any way.
7. I am going to ask two specific but related questions. The first is, tell us why a Democrat should vote for you rather than your Republican opponent? The second part, is tell us why someone who is in the middle should vote for you, as opposed to your Republican opponent?
I suggest that if you look at my record, you’ll see someone who has spent years in public service trying to solve problems and I do it with anybody in any part of the spectrum. If there are problems and concerns, I try to work through those. If you look at my legislation, you will see a focus on seniors, children, the environment, education, health care; areas that I think are very strong Democratic values. But they are also values that transcend party. I think that record is one that I’m very proud of. Those are the same issues that I would take to the Senate.

I also work in a bipartisan fashion; I don’t let party get in the way of good legislation. Whether it is flood protection or transportation, I make it a point to convince those, persuade those, and involve those who have an interest in a particular area. For instance Route 12, which was a major safety problem in Solano and San Joaquin County. I represent Solano as do many Democrats, but as you cross into San Joaquin, Route 12 is represented by Republicans—Senator Cogdill, Allen Nakanishi, Guy Houston. I convened the meeting, we talked about safety problems on Route 12 and we worked to fix them. They did the things they could do on their side of the aisle; I did what I could do on my side of the aisle. And when it came down to the final votes, they were there and we were there together. That’s how that unity achieved success on Route 12—a road in which people were dying, in fact there was one week in which there was a death almost every day because of the head on collisions.

I think it’s important to note that the values that attract Democrats to me are the same that would attract Republicans or Independents to me. That is that I solve problems and I do it with whoever is at the table or whoever is effective.
8. How can the state better get money to local jurisdictions such as cities or counties?
There is a difference between them. I started my career in the Davis City Council and I went to the board of supervisors, so I’m very much aware of local government and its needs. Cities are more independent from the state than counties, which are more and more the arm of the state taking care of many of the services that the state provides certain health and social services and justice. The state took a great deal of funds away from local government when I was in City Hall and I vowed that when I got to state that I would do what I could to protect the city sources of revenue and the county ones and we did that through Prop. 1A.

The result is that in downturns of the economy like now, they will be more protected than they’ve ever been. That doesn’t mean that in a time of economic recession, they will feel no hurt. They will. They should tighten their belts, just as we’re going to have to. Counties, just because of who they serve, I have spent a good deal of time making certain that the kinds of cuts we’re going to be forced to make, will not affect the federal funding we get. We get a lot of funding that is put together through many different sources at the county level. All of it is focused on those who are the poorest, the most in need, aged, blind, the disabled, children, and all with the fewest resources. We have combinations of funding from the federal government. I want to make sure that we are careful to maximize the resources that we get from the federal government, and not leave any of those dollars on the table. Make sure that we get as much as we possibly can down to the local level.

This is an unusual year. We are in a very serious recession, no matter what the President tells us. We are in a very serious recession and we have a budget deficit that is approaching $14 billion. While we can make cuts in some areas, and will, $14 billion worth of cuts would be devastating to many of the poorest among us, and I don’t intend to see that happen. I don’t intend to see education harmed either. But in order to protect local government, or anyone else, it is important to recognize that there are three states that have a two-thirds budget requirement. It is the only vote where we cannot vote what we wish to do as Democrats. We need Republican support and right now they’re not willing to put any revenues on the table. So that really creates a standoff at this point in time. I don’t know how that’s going to come off.

We’re certainly going to fight for the areas that I think people care deeply about—education, health care, transportation, all of these areas are so important to people’s live. There are more and more needs that people have. People want more and more. There are problems that need to be solved, and our revenues are declining. If you adjust for inflation and population growth, in fact over the last twenty years we are spending less per capita in the state of California, the eighth largest economy in the world, than we did twenty years ago. It is an untenable situation.
---Doug Paul Davis reporting