Interview with Senator Jerry Hill (13th District)

Date: February 12, 2018
Present: Senator Hill via telephone, Lisa A. Chung, District Representative

League members:

LWVSSMC (S. San Mateo County): Ann Draper
LWVLAMV (Los Altos/Mt.View):  Merrian Nevin
LWVCS (Cupertino/Sunnyvale): Serge Rudaz
LWVCSMC (North and Central San Mateo County):Anne Kuchins
LWVPA (Palo Alto): Mary O’Kicki

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?

(H) Answer: “Absolutely, I voted for SB 10, Senator Herzberg’s bill; it passed 26-11. Now it’s sitting in the appropriations committee of the Assembly. Money bail has proved to be so discriminatory.   When we talk about recidivism and prison having a revolving door, the money bail system is part of the reason for that. It is so sad. I strongly, strongly support it. It’s time to end this predatory system and solve it.”

As an aside, Hill added that the smaller bondsmen have gone after Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D- Van Nuys) as the author of the legislation.

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?

(H) Answer: Sen. Hill said he learned some things a couple of years ago when he co-authored SB 122 which tried to make some changes with CEQA to streamline the process. The problems with CEQA, he said, are not about good environmental quality review and attention to policies to protect communities.

The problem is that CEQA has been hijacked by organized labor, by some environmental groups, and by communities and neighborhoods who engage in what many call NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard). By hijacking CEQA, people are able to extort what they want, or to delay projects through lawsuits.

Streamlining the CEQA approach for affordable housing is an area where forward movement can be made, he added. It’s an approach that requires timely resolutions to objections and lawsuits – as long as the current protections in place are included with any proposed legislation.  He observed that many groups don’t want to see the CEQA process streamlined because it takes away their power of time and delay.  Affordable housing is just one segment of those projects that have been delayed and can’t be delayed in the future. So I support the streamlining of CEQA as long as we maintain the protections that are included in it, and we can do that.”

Follow-up Question:  Do you support SB 827 and SB 828? *

(H)Answer. Sen. Hill said he understood that Senator Weiner’s legislation had been seen by some cities as draconian and taking away local control of land-use decisions.  He said he hasn’t read the bill in detail. He added that, generally, when trying to get bills passed, legislators start with what is optimum, then sometimes they go beyond that, knowing that it will be amended and generally changed from what was authored.  So legislators aim to get the optimum idea they started with that way. Some areas [of those Wiener bills] may go too far. At the end of the day, with amendments, it may move the ball forward on housing. He observed that many cities haven’t been doing much on their own. Millbrae added [only] ten units of affordable housing in the last ten years. Is this [SB 827 & SB 828] the right bill?  Hill said it was too early for him to have an opinion because of the expected changes, but he was certainly supportive of the concept. “I’ve learned that some cities are more comfortable with Sacramento creating mandates around affordable housing,” he said. “It’s very hard to be on the city council and vote for affordable housing when the community members are against it. If Sacramento mandates certain things be done, it’s easier for city councils.”

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?

(H)Answer: We’ve done a number of things over the last couple of years to try and move toward a more thoughtful and regional planning approach. Some examples include the CA Climate Adaption Strategy; the CA Ocean Conservancy funding of some projects; Measure AA [passed June 2016 – $12 parcel tax,] which provides the resources on a regional basis to come together on pollution, habitat and restoration [for the San Francisco Bay].

The Bay Area Resilient by Design is to address climate change and earthquake impacts. And the Bay Conservation & Development Commission, Coastal Conservancy, the San Francisco Estuary Institute are all doing things. Are we doing enough? No.

Sen. Hill likened the reason for not doing enough to planning for safety. “It’s hard to be planning for safety concerns that are twenty or thirty years down the road when other things are in the forefront.” The same can be said of sea level rise. When will it get attention? When water hits your tail pipe as you’re driving along the highway, he joked.  It’s important for everyone to keep funding going and to allow for action on a regional basis. We have not done enough to develop one agency to enable us to move forward.

Key partnerships are being built. But, we are still in the formative stage of developing a regional entity that can oversee it and manage it and build the infrastructure that’s necessary to protect. Our goal is to make sure concern over sea level rise doesn’t slip to the back burner. Sen. Hill added that he didn’t think it will slip because “We’re seeing more evidence of sea level rise and climate change impacts, every day.” We’re not doing enough. 

Question 4: What can be done about our shortage of low to moderate income affordable housing? How can the discrepancy between cities that are working hard to meet their state mandated requirements and others that are doing little to nothing be addressed? 

(H)Answer: Sen. Hill mentioned a recent poll that was conducted that showed that people are very supportive of housing as long as it doesn’t affect traffic congestion and congestion in their communities.  Sen. Hill doesn’t see how you can add housing without adding traffic. And he added, that’s what the local governments are dealing with. And, that’s why you have Senator Weiner’s proposed bills, SB 827 and 828. In the City of Brisbane, Sen. Hill said, the city had originally proposed no housing in the area called the Baylands project. But, it is a perfect location for transit-centered development because Caltrain runs right through it. The city thought large-scale housing would change the character of their city. Now, they’re talking about having 2,000 to 2,200 units. There are opportunities – some through state and legislation. Sen. Hill said as the state takes a more active role, the local governments are seeing that they need to take action.  For a City Council member, it can be hard to vote for more housing when it’s going to impact the communities. There’s a fear factor that people have around affordable housing coming into their city or neighborhood, that Sen. Hill saw when he was on San Mateo City Council. The State has to lead and give incentives and use the carrot-and-stick approach to make sure that they move forward with the affordable housing that communities need.  Residents should look for more legislation to come to create more housing and the ability for schools to use excess land for teacher housing and workforce housing. Legislatively, SB 2, a bill authored by Senator Toni Atkins (D, District 39) last year will now provides $300 million a year for housing. Two obstacles to affordable housing in communities – fear [from community members] that City Council must face and money [to build housing] as well.

Follow-up question: What do you think of the California Association of Realtors ballot proposition that would allow seniors to transfer their Prop 13 tax basis to a new home in any county in CA?

(H) Answer: Sen. Hill said, “It’s a wonderful option,” and added, the Governor wasn’t crazy about it – because he thinks there’ll be a drop in property tax revenue. But Sen. Hill thinks seniors are being forced out of their area when they sell their home to downsize because of property tax increases if they move within the state. It’s a good idea and will probably pass, Sen. Hill said.

Question 5: What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2018? What are your personal priorities?

(H)Answer: A major issue the legislature must tackle is reforming the tax structure in CA.  The State is too dependent upon personal and corporate tax income. This isn’t sustainable. “We have 1% contributing 50% of the revenue to the state of CA.” When there is a downturn in the economy and no one is selling, the tax revenue falls dramatically. In the first month of the downturn in 2008, tax revenue fell 28%.

I’d like to see CA lower its corporate and personal tax rate and instead tax more services and/or increase the tax on services such as haircuts. Many other states do this. Taxes on services provide a more sustainable stream of revenue than a personal tax rate.

The State has built up a rainy day fund of reserves on about $20 billion which is great. But, it would be nice to find a long-term, sustainable solution.

Senator Hill has many priorities that he is currently working on which include those listed below.

SB 823: Consumer Credit Reports. Security Freezes

Senator Hill introduced SB 823 in January 2018 which will allow Californians to freeze and unfreeze their credit free of charge. The idea that a credit company, such as Equifax,  which experienced a data breach resulting in consumers being more vulnerable to identity theft and fraud, would then charge consumers to both freeze and unfreeze his or her credit to make it secure is offensive to Senator Hill. The credit companies profit from collecting, storing and then sharing sensitive information about consumers. Therefore, he believes, consumers should not have to pay them to keep that data secure. Currently, consumers can be charged up to $10 by each credit company to have their credit frozen, then $10 by each company again to have it unfrozen when legitimate access to that data is needed.  The bill will also allow Californians to request a credit freeze online, instead of by mail. And, the bill would enable Californians to make a single request to one company to have their credit frozen and it will be frozen at all three major credit companies instead of having to make three separate requests. The bill was co-authored by six other legislative members. A fact sheet about this bill can be found here.

SB 1028: Public utilities: rates: federal tax law changes

Senator Hill introduced SB 1028 in February 2018. The legislation, if passed, will require privately owned utility companies to pass on tax benefits, which they will receive as a result of the recent federal tax changes, to ratepayers within 90 days of when the benefits can be reasonably determined. The savings are to be in the form of a rate reduction. Senator Hill stated that the tax savings for private utility companies will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and these savings should be passed to the ratepayer. He noted that any investments into infrastructure or disaster prevention should be decided and approved by the CPUC as usual and not paid for by monies from a tax savings, which should be returned to the ratepayers. A fact sheet for SB 1028 can be found here:

SB 819: Electrical Corporations: rates

Senator Hill introduced SB 819 in January 2018. The legislation, if passed, will not allow electrical corporations to recover costs incurred for negligence. Sen. Hill said wildfires have really been a problem. When the $12 billion bill comes [the estimated insurance claims from last year’s wild fires] it has to get paid. And at the end of the day, if the utility is found negligent and guilty, Hill said, what the utilities want to do is be able to pass on the cost to the ratepayers. But if the fires are found to be from negligence, poor management, poor maintenance or poor judgment, he does not want electrical corporations to pass on the cost to rate payers. He acknowledged it could throw PG&E into bankruptcy. Are they almost too big to succeed? They did learn from the fire in San Bruno. They now have a very safe and reliable gas system.  A fact sheet for SB 819 can be found here:

SB-1106 Young adults: deferred entry of judgment pilot program.

Senator Hill introduced SB 1106 in February 2018. It extends and expands the pilot program to keep juvenile offenders in juvenile facilities after they turn 18 if they only have one or two years left so that they can stay in the programs that are supporting and/or helping them. Before, the minute they turned 18, they were thrown into the county jail with hardened criminals, Sen. Hill said.  Now, they can stay in the juvenile facility – separated from minors – and finish their programs. The pilot program has shown tremendous success, and he wants to expand it to other counties. It is very similar to the idea of bail reform. This is the way to help. Text of bill can be found here:

Cannabis Use

SB 1273:  Vehicle: Marijuana.

Senator Hill introduced SB 1273 in February 2018. The bill mirrors the current legislation regarding underage drinking and driving. It provides for zero tolerance of driving while under the influence of cannabis for those under the age of 21; a positive test for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol results in a suspended license. An exception is provided for individuals who are using prescription marijuana.

Also, the bill, for DUIs, provides for law enforcement to record the drug(s) and/ or alcohol that are present.  Sen. Hill said we need good data to determine when someone is impaired if using a combination of these drugs.

The text of the bill can be found here:

*SB 827 as introduced, Wiener

This bill would require a local government, if requested, to grant a development proponent of a transit-rich housing project a bonus if that development meets specified planning standards.

*SB 828, as introduced, Wiener

This bill would state the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would, among other things, require the Department of Housing and Community Development to take certain actions relating to unmet housing needs, including completing a comprehensive assessment on unmet need for each region and including the results of the assessment in regional allocations for the next housing element cycle.