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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Interview with Assemblywoman Lois Wolk--Part III

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 final of a three-part interview. In this segment, the Assemblywoman discusses land use, housing, seniors, health insurance, and her legislative accomplishments and goals.

9. How can the 5th Senate District balance the need for housing and jobs to accommodate huge projected growth with the need to preserve agricultural land and environmental protection?
That’s a tremendous challenge and it’s a challenge we feel throughout the central valley. People are looking for housing, they’re moving to these areas, they haven’t stopped moving to these areas and we need to do a better job of planning. We need, and I hope we would have a resurgence of what we had years ago when we looked at regional planning, strong regional planning. The blueprint was a good example, but that’s only for the Sacramento region. We need that for the entire Senate 5th District. San Joaquin has done a very good job as well of beginning the process of a blueprint. They have strong transportation organization, but there needs to be an overall planning effort that connects transportation, land use, planning, all the agricultural preservation, and environmental preservation. All of the pressures that come from growth have to be looked at in a connective fashion—and we don’t do that. We don’t do a good job of that. We need to do more of that.

It is very difficult, but now is probably the best time to do that. The reason I say that is when you are in a recession that you are right now, and you don’t have the pressure of housing on you, the overheated market, you have an opportunity to take a step back if you are in local government, and look out several years. Look out five to ten years. Look out twenty years. Preferably, look out thirty years or more and do some fundamental planning for your region. We don’t do a good job of that in California. We should do more.

I have introduced 2501, that includes climate change in all water planning in the state at every level. I think that has to occur. That’s one response to what we know is coming and needs to be addressed. The other bill that was part of the flood protection package, was a change in general plan law, to require each community, city and county, to incorporate flooding in a comprehensive way into their general plans. Many communities still don’t do that, but they will have to do that by the end of next year, including the maps the maps that will be given to them of the different flood plains. So there are efforts to do that and there are some pieces of legislation currently that aim to do the same for transportation and air quality and housing. I support those, I think that they’re to put forward.

I recognize however, that much resistance comes from local communities because land use is a local prerogative. I would just encourage, as I did when I was on the city council and the board of supervisors, regional efforts that Davis can’t do it alone, Woodland can’t do it alone, it is important for Yolo County cities to be working together in partnership and to be working in the greater region on all of these issues—that’s essential. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but that’s what needs to happen. It’s a tension between the local government responsibility as a constitution for land use and the state’s overall overriding interest in making certain that the state as a whole deals with these challenges. There’s a tension there and it’s a healthy challenge.
10. Everyone it seems is for health care reform. What approach do you most advocate for and more importantly, how can you get it passed in the current climate or will you be looking toward 2011 with a Democratic Governor?
My greatest disappointment was that we were unable to enact health care reform. My position has always been, whatever health care reform comes to my desk in the Assembly, I will vote for—whether it is single payer, which I have supported, or the Speaker and Governor’s proposal, I supported that, and I co-authored John Laird and Darrell Steinberg’s bills to expand healthy families, to insure the children. My greatest disappointment is that this year, since we were unable to insure every citizen that we were unable to insure and expand healthy children, the healthy families program and thereby insure all children.

This will have to be done at the federal level. I am looking forward to the election in November. I think within a year after that, we will see a health care reform. It will be similar to the SKIP program, basically the federal government has to set a floor and then California will rise above that floor. Each state will or not depending on their needs and demands and values. I look forward to this election because I think that health care reform is on the national agenda. It is the number one for people. It has surpassed education in many polls statewide—not yet in my district. It is up there. It has risen dramatically. It has to be dealt with. I look forward to working on that before we have a new governor.
11. What other issues do you think are vital to your candidacy for the Senate and your record as a State Assemblywoman?
Well one of the areas has been my focus on seniors and elders. The elder abuse legislation which was landmark legislation to require banks and financial institutions to report elder financial abuse when they think it’s occurring. That took us two years, it was a difficult piece of legislation. We had a great deal of support for it. I’m very proud about that. I’m currently looking at end of life issues—nursing homes, assisted living facilities, issues. We are a growing and changing population. We’re growing older, we have a demographic surge, and people are living longer. They are not living next door to their relatives any longer. They need at times housing and medical care. They need continuums of care, they need services at certain times and not at others. They need the flexibility of being able to go back and forth between the housing and nursing home, homebound care, there are all permutations of the things that seniors need as they age.

I’d like to work on these, but we haven’t had a lot in that area. We haven’t had enough oversight. And it is a tremendous wave. The baby boomers are coming. We have to be prepared for that. What we saw in Davis was a very good example of that. We have two facilities we built in the 90s—one in ’89, the University Retirement Facility, which I was instrumental in getting approved and working toward. That was in the 1990s, it is twenty years later. When Atria took over Covell Gardens the rent increases were dramatic. That was very difficult for many of the existing residents. At that point, alternative were not and are not available. I think that’s a real lack in our community. We haven’t thought about the changes in our demographics that are coming upon us not just in Davis, but countywide and statewide, practically and statewide that would allow choices to be available to seniors.

Frankly, we have an expansion in the needs of children as well—childcare. Because of the changes in the family, there are very different demands that the family requires that we’re not confronting. Changes in home to school transportation for example, single-parent families have incredible demands on them, childcare, the need for preschool, there are a whole series of things that we have to do for children as well, that have to reflect changing times. So I look forward to working on those of those issues in the Senate.

(Follow up on the situation at Atria Covell Gardens regarding the power situation in January and rent).

I think there are two parts to that. I disagree with you that the Davis City Council couldn’t do anything. For the immediate, their fire department was absolutely wonderful in getting there, getting people out of the elevator who were trapped there, and being ready to be partners in whatever emergencies are provided, and that’s ongoing not just in crises, they’re always there.

I have introduced legislation to make certain that emergency plans have to be serious. If they provide services dependent upon electricity, in particular oxygen and a number of things that they have to have a backup generator. I’m sure that that will pass and be signed by the governor.

The issue of rents—whether adequate notice and adequate justification is given for these rents. There are a number of things that could be done better—mechanisms for appealing it if possible. Here’s the issue with Davis, yes there are problems that were highlighted by what happened. We don’t have enough facilities in Davis. It took a city council to approve ten acres of land for the University Retirement Community using the redevelopment agency and new development to make that happen. And it took a city council prior to mine—Mike Corbett, Anne Evans, and David Rosenberg—to approve Covell Gardens in 1988 or 87, recognizing the need for a senior facility. We need more of them. There was no place to go.

If you are 76 or 85 and you are faced with, and you’re relatively healthy and your rent goes up and you have a limited amount of income, you have no other place to go. Your choices were limited. That is something that the Davis City Council can directly assist with. I know that those are difficult conversations to have given the current view about growth, but if we’re committed to infill, what about infill projects? What about some vision in terms of creating alternatives for those seniors. There are going to be more and more people like that—are we going to send them away from Davis? That is what I was faced with as mayor in the 90’s. People were leaving the community because we did not have a university retirement community. And because Covell Gardens at the time was only senior housing. It did not have any assisted living. It changed over time. Where are those facilities? I don’t know of any in the planning process. That may be the case in Woodland as well, in fact, it may be true in California. We have to do a better job of anticipating demographic surge and the needs that that group presents and ready for it. That’s what a public official should be about, and especially at the local level where land use is in their control.
12. What accomplishment in your political career are you most proud?
I have a lot of them. I am very proud of the flood protection package, the Cache Creek Wild and Scenic bill, that Cache Creek will forever be wild and scenic. My grandchildren will be able to experience that creek and their grandmother had something to do with making it wild and scenic. Also the landmark bill on elder protection—elder financial abuse. I’ve accomplished a number of things that aren’t pieces of legislation. I’ve managed to solve a number of problems that resulted in making the school districts healthier financially. Getting the $4 million for Marguerite Montgomery was a wonderful success. I also years before saved $14 million for the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District and I’m working now to help the Dixon School District achieve a reserve with their sale of property which needs legislation. A lot of these things gave me a great deal of satisfaction because they made lives and situations much better for people. I like to solve problems.
13. If you accomplish one thing as a State Senator what would it be?
I have two things. To insure every child in this state, that would be the first thing in the next two years. The second thing would be to develop a steward for the delta. A medical home for every child in the state of California.
---Doug Paul Davis reporting