Interview with Marc Berman, Assemblyman District 24

League of Women Voters Legislative Interview with Assemblymember Marc Berman.  January 27, 11 am to 11:40 am in Berman’s Los Altos office.

Attendees:  Assemblymember Marc Berman, Ellen Kamei, Staff Director, Jackie Jacobberger, North & Central San Mateo League; Linda Davis, Cupertino/Sunnyvale League; Ellen Wheeler, Los Altos/ Mountain View League; Lisa Ratner, Palo Alto League, and Bonnie Packer, Palo Alto League.

Jackie began the interview with an explanation of League Legislative Interviews.  She asked the first question.

Question 1: Funding of Elections

What legislative measures would you support to ensure adequate and stable funding of election administration in California?

Berman responded that he had asked to be on the Elections and Redistricting Committee.  As a student in Washington DC, he worked on protecting the right to vote.  Berman admitted that he did not know much about how elections in the state are funded.  He believes that the state should move toward greater accessibility for voters, i.e., to make it as easy as possible for people to vote.  Berman said he is willing to listen to the League regarding bills on the administration of elections.  He is very upset with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in some states, and he would like for California to have as progressive voting policies as possible. He understands, however, that funding is a challenge in California because our governor is overly cautious.  However, funding to support an accessible voting process is a way to counter the current administration in Washington, DC.

Linda asked question two, preceded by her brief explanation of the situation.

Question 2: Public Higher Education

How can California meet the challenge of enrolling more students, including students with greater needs, at the UC and CSU? Is more state funding needed? Where does this issue rank in your legislative priorities?

Berman suggested there was a connection between the sharp increase in prison spending and the decrease in spending on higher education in recent decades. He is optimistic that recent prison reform will free up money that can be funneled into public education.  He stated that education (pre-school through college) is one of his top three priorities.  He feels the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education must be rewritten, by bringing all the relevant parties together and working in a slow, deliberate manner. The original plan called for education to be accessible, affordable and high quality.  However, while higher education is still high quality, it is no longer accessible and affordable.   He said that in a couple of weeks he would be able to tell us more about some work in progress on education.  Berman is not on the Higher Education Committee, but talks to the chair and members.  He mentioned one major problem that keeps college students in school longer and makes college more costly: many students cannot get into required lower level courses in their first two years, so they cannot graduate in four years.  This could be addressed by supplying more classes of those mandatory courses.   Another reason the students cannot graduate in four years is that in order to afford the fees, they must work while going to school, so it takes longer to graduate.  He said when he was working with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, he would tell businesses that they should support higher education so as to train kids for the region’s high tech jobs.  We discussed that homelessness is a problem for community college students.  Berman would like to see the schools build student housing on their property.  He mentioned some bills addressing housing that are being introduced, e.g., SB 35 (Weiner).

Lisa asked Question 3.

Question 3: Water Resources

What kinds of legislative proposals would you support to ensure that enough water of adequate quality is available for municipal and industrial uses, agriculture, and the environment in the face of over-stretched surface water and groundwater resources and climate conditions different than those California experienced in the last century?

Berman responded that challenges still exist even though the drought is over.  The ground water supply is decimated.  We need to continue best practices regarding recycling, conservation and the use of reclaimed water.  He does not think that desalination plants are a solution because of their impact on the environment and high energy needs.   He thinks there should be more state regulations making it easier to use recycled and reclaimed water.  The state needs to continue to work with the agriculture industry.  He thinks the state should continue to support new technologies and innovation in agriculture that could help reduce the amount of water used by the agriculture.  He supports the bills that were signed recently regarding the sustainability of ground water. 

Bonnie asked the Local League Question.

Question 4: Local League Question: 

There are multiple agencies deal with transportation and public transit in the Bay Area.  What measures can the state take to encourage these agencies to cooperate, consolidate, etc., to ensure better transit options?

Berman responded saying that funding incentives may be one way to encourage these agencies to consolidate.  He expects there to be some major transportation funding measures, such as a transportation infrastructure initiative.  There is an assembly bill that has money for transportation but not so much for transit.  Sen. Beall has introduced a bill that includes more money for transit.  He thought metrics could be created to measure interconnectedness between transit services as a way to provide incentives.  While MTC has a role to play, the state could play a bigger role.  The state could also identify private sectors to fill the gaps.    However, if there are to be fights to be picked in the legislature over funding, he would focus on housing this next year.  We mentioned how housing and transit are interconnected.

Jackie asked Question 5: What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2017? What are your personal priorities?

Berman responded:  Housing, Health Care and Immigration.  We need to take care of our most vulnerable residents and we cannot compromise our values.  This is our first line of defense against the administration in Washington DC.  When we defend California, we defend America.