Interview with Assemblymember Marc Berman (24th District)

Present: Assemblymember Berman, (Ellen Kamei (staff member) (Jai Bhari intern, Harker Academy)

League members:

LWVPA (Palo Alto): Mary O’Kicki, Lisa Ratner, Ellen Smith
LWVLAMV (Los Altos/Mt.View): Gary Hedden, Lisa McLain, Merrian Nevin, Ellen Wheeler
LWVSSMC(S.SanMateo County) Lisa Conrad
LWVCS (CupertinoSunnyvale) Elaine Manley
LWVCSMC (North and Central San Mateo County) Anne Kuchins

Question 1: Money Bail Reform

Currently, release pending trial is based on an arrestee’s capacity to post money bail. Do you support legislative changes to a risk-assessment based system, so that release is contingent on preventing violence in the community, rather the arrestee’s finances?

Yes. Voted for AB 42. Was pleased that Senator Hertzberg made SB10 a two-year bill and hopes that Governor Brown’s engagement will give the boost to make needed improvements and get the bill passed. Noted that the Assembly tends to be more conservative than the Senate these days.

Question 2: CEQA Reform

What is your view regarding the use of CEQA to delay affordable housing projects? While recent legislative changes have streamlined the CEQA process for in-fill projects, do you think other legislative changes to CEQA are needed?

Does support SB 35. Believes CEQA is critically important, has very positive environmental and transparency benefits, but is also subject to abuse that has stopped some worthy projects. Introduced AB 1404, which would have provided CEQA exemption only in unincorporated urban in-fill situations, such as in the North Fair Oaks section of Redwood City, but it died in Senate Appropriations. Has reintroduced this as AB 1804, picking up where he left off in the form passed in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, applicable to  housing and mixed use.

Says last year’s housing bills were only a down payment, will keep an eye on SB 827, 828 as they evolve.

Question 3: Sea Level Rise

We need a regional, coordinated effort of several state agencies. And since the threat is swift in terms of typical infrastructure projects, we need to coordinate now. What is the path forward to assure continuity of infrastructure as we approach 2050 and beyond? What can be done legislatively?

This is a critically important “slow-moving emergency.” AB 184 was his first bill, building on efforts by his predecessor Rich Gordon to establish a statewide planning for sea level rise database, which had barely begun before hitting its sunset clause. Sought to make it a permanent project, but had to accept a sunset clause with a 5-year extension. Currently UC Berkeley’s Climate Readiness Institute is supporting the implementation of the database. A report is due soon, and there could be administrative actions based on possible recommendations from the report. This is a good example of cooperation between academia and government, could also spur coordination among authorities.

Question 4: Local League Question(s) about issue(s) of particular local concern.

Given time limits and the fact that Assemblymember Berman is chair of Select Committees on the Census and the Master Plan for Higher Education in California, which are of interest to us, we chose to combine this question with #5.

OPTIONAL Question 5:

What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2018? What are your personal priorities?

Census

Newly appointed chair of Assembly Select Committee on the 2020 Census. (Also Chair of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee.) California currently receives about $76 billion in federal moneys – or $1958 per resident – per year. A correct count of all residents, as required by the Constitution, is essential for California to get its proportional share of funds and seats in Congress. CA now has 53 seats in the House; population projections show one seat may be at risk to be taken away if the population is undercounted.

Worried about counting the immigrant community, whether documented or not. Referred to a story in the San Jose Mercury where an immigrant family moved between attempts by a census worker to contact them. With the ICE crackdown, we have been telling people if the “government” comes to the door, don’t answer – and now we will want them to open the door.

We need early and better funding and coordination. The budget has an allocation of $40.3 million, and the state will seek another $40 million from philanthropic sources. Also hope to use non-profits for outreach to “hard to count” communities. (Lisa Ratner noted that the League at the local and county council level could do public education and outreach on this issue and Assemblymember Berman indicated that could be part of the nonprofit effort.) The Senate may also set up a Select Committee, and Secretary of State Padilla is monitoring what can be done. Estimates are that CA was undercounted by 1.5 percent in 2010, but the state’s investment was down because of the economic downturn.

Master Plan for Higher Education

“Love these bigger efforts” – more than “just” bills. The promise of the Master Plan 58 years ago was access to affordable high-quality public higher education for every CA high school student who qualified. Has produced a quality workforce and much innovation, but now while we have quality, we have gotten away from access and affordability. Population has doubled; students are far more diverse; many more are meeting the A-G requirements- and the Master Plan has not really been updated.

A main reason is that it can’t be done in a year or two, which has been the planning horizon in the Assembly. It’s easy to kill efforts if you go too fast. Really glad that now he can plan (voters willing) on spending 12 years in the Assembly, thanks to term limit reform. You can take 8 or 10 years to develop something properly. A major goal would be to educate more students faster, with less debt, so students can make the life choices they actually want, rather than on the basis of how much money they can earn to pay off debt.

Five hearings have been scheduled for 2017-18 (2 in Sacramento, one at San Jose State, one in Fresno, and one in Southern California). This will be a listening process. So far the turnout has been good. People appreciate the deliberate pace and that there are no preconceived ideas. “You are less likely to drill a hole in the boat if you are on the boat – so get people on board!”

Note: There are tabs on his website for both the Census Committee and the Master Plan.

Other

Housing – see comments to Questions 1.

Youth/student suicide prevention – Wants to identify the best online training for school staff and students, and provide funding to make it available to all schools. Supports providing funding for voluntary training for health care professionals. A press release is available on his website with more information.

His AB1957 would streamline access to social services such as CalFresh, CalWORKs, allowing  use of e-mail or texting rather than requiring postal mail and maximize technological efficiency while making information secure. Provide service in multiple languages, cooperate with non-profits such as Second Harvest, Western Center on Law and Poverty

Elections – Loves being chair of this committee! Especially concerned with secure voting systems, including security of electronic voter files.  Joint hearings with Senate Elections Committee on cybersecurity will be held on March 7th to hear from registrars and other experts. Also wants to revise ballot format to be more user friendly, easier to understand (e.g., making it clear when you can vote for more than one person for city council). Los Angeles is working on a new plan. Committee can survey best practices to scale up. Videos are available on his website.