Education, environmental sustainability, development and traffic, and social justice are main concerns of Santa Monicans.
The person we elect to be our Assembly Member can help or hurt us as we try to tackle these issues. Our Assembly Member’s actions in Sacramento make a difference in financing for education, the enhancement and protection of clean air and water, easing traffic congestion, regulations for fair and safe working conditions, the availability of health care and more.
In alphabetical order, the candidates for the 50th Assembly District are: Richard Bloom, Betsy Butler, Torie Osborn, and Brad Torgan. On June 5, 2012 Santa Monicans will decide who gets their vote. To help in this decision, each candidate has been asked to respond to the same four questions. In their own words the candidates tell us where they stand and what they will do about education, sustainability, development and traffic, and issues of social justice.
Each question is written below, followed by the answer of each of the candidates.
EDUCATION: Santa Monica schools, from nursery schools through college, are struggling with tremendous budget cuts. As a City we have worked to offset those cuts, but more needs to be done. Please tell us what you have done to protect education funding and what you will do as an Assembly Member.
Richard Bloom: I am a champion for public education and have helped raise City funding to the SMMUSD from $2.25 million (1999) to a projected $14.4 million. My wife, my children, and I received excellent public educations. I’ve been a PTA Vice-President, coach, and volunteer while my children grew. I believe every child deserves an opportunity for an excellent education. We must find predictable funding for all levels of education that cannot be touched by the State. We must assure the public that their money is being spent wisely and for the benefit of our children.
Betsy Butler: I would not vote for a budget that did not address the needs of public education. Last year, my first year in the Assembly, we structured a budget that came as close as possible to protecting public education. As a result, the budget before us now will require many serious cuts but it increases funding for public schools by $6 billion. That funding will be contingent on the voters’ approval of the Governor’s proposed modest increase in temporary sales tax and an equally modest income tax increase on the wealthiest Californians. I am confident that every candidate will join with me in urging voters to approve that measure and secure this $6 billion in additional funding for our schools.
Torie Osborn: California’s future depends on reinvesting in our education system. I have endorsed the work of organizations like the Education Foundation, the PTA and CEPS, because, through their advocacy and work, SMMUSD has been able to absorb some of Sacramento’s draconian cuts, but we must do more to provide schools with reliable state funding. I would work tirelessly to craft a fair tax code (including closing the corporate property tax loophole, instituting an oil severance tax) so that early childhood education, K-12 education, and higher education can begin to recover. And I would look to bring Santa Monica’s extraordinary education leadership to broader scale.
Brad Torgan: California’s business tax climate is the third worst in the country, and that’s even with the property tax protections of Proposition 13. Our overall tax burden is the sixth highest in the country. Yet, our spending per K-12 student is 47th in the country. When our taxes are amongst the highest in the country, but our education spending is near the bottom, our spending priorities are seriously out of whack. The Assembly needs to put education near the top of its priorities, not the bottom.
SUSTAINABILITY. Santa Monica is growing its reputation for sustainability, from our solar-powered Ferris wheel, to our green streets, to our no plastic bag policy. Please explain what you have done to protect the environment and what you will do as an Assembly Member.
Richard Bloom: In the Assembly, I’ll continue the legacy I’ve begun on the City Council. As Mayor, Coastal Commissioner and in other positions, I have been a constant and passionate advocate for environmental initiatives, including protecting our coast and creating Marine Life Protection Areas. We’ve achieved extraordinary results in Santa Monica because the community is committed and because we deliberately engage the business community. I helped shepherd the plastic bag, polystyrene and various smoking bans that improve our environment. I have worked diligently to enact our green building ordinance and implement our green streets, stormwater runoff, water/energy self-sufficiency programs and more.
Betsy Butler: I intend to address water issues across the state and implement policies similar to Santa Monica and its reuse of water. My record as a current Assembly member affirms my commitment to the environment. Both my bill to ban toxics in products used by babies and my electric vehicle bill passed and were signed into law by Governor Brown in 2011. I have established my record as an early and effective opponent of the unregulated practice of “fracking” by oil companies. This process threatens our aquifers and must be regulated. My work has earned me the California League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club endorsements.
Torie Osborn: Under my leadership, Liberty Hill Foundation brought together mainstream environmental leaders and environmental justice groups in a new coalition – Green LA – to craft a unified progressive environmental agenda for LA. That agenda included LA’s Clean Air Action Plan for the Port of Los Angeles, Green Building Ordinances for the City and County of Los Angeles; it encouraged city departments to give preferred purchasing to green businesses. If elected I would continue my commitment to practical environmental solutions so that California, whose wind, solar, geothermal energy should make it the global center of the new green economy, can continue to lead on environmental policy.
Brad Torgan: When I served as Chief Counsel for California State Parks, I organized opposition to a toll road that would have destroyed a state beach and Trestles, one of the best known surfing spots in California. I also litigated to keep high voltage transmission lines out of State wilderness. As a member of the Assembly I would fight against special interest exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act.
DEVELOPMENT AND TRAFFIC. Santa Monica is experiencing an unprecedented demand for growth and development, with 15 Development Agreement applications currently before the City. It is also experiencing an unprecedented degree of traffic congestion. Please tell us your thoughts and ideas about development and traffic in Santa Monica and how those ideas might be expressed in the job of an Assembly Member.
Richard Bloom: We are not alone in having traffic congestion but it is definitely a problem. In consensus processes our community agreed on a cutting edge land use plan, an ambitious bike plan and, through dogged determination, we are realizing the dream of light rail. All new development must contribute to reducing traffic. Nearly all new development is “mixed use,” clustered near transit stops. Many of the solutions to traffic lay outside our borders. If neighboring cities, especially L.A., were to adopt Santa Monica-style land use rules, regional traffic would ease while economic development/jobs would accelerate. Legislation should encourage/incentivize this outcome.
Betsy Butler: Like many people here I am disappointed in how some local and state officials allow themselves to be bullied or bought by development interests who cynically use the recession as justification for damaging our communities and the quality of our lives. Every candidate promises to “stand up to the special interests.” I am the only candidate who has done so consistently.
Torie Osborn: Bringing more good paying jobs into Santa Monica and the 50th District is critical, but it will mean also allowing mixed development that requires the creation of affordable housing. If we locate affordable housing near job centers, it also cuts down on traffic. Along with the Expo line – which will cut back on the car traffic – we need to increase funding for bike routes, incentivize environmental friendly shuttles that allows Santa Monicans to get around the city without their cars, and expand regional mass transit systems such as the Subway to the Sea.
Brad Torgan: As a Planning and Transportation Commissioner in West Hollywood, I’ve seen firsthand the impacts of overdevelopment. I also see those impacts fighting on behalf of a community organization in Hollywood, trying to prevent massive increases in commercial density in their neighborhoods. How Santa Monica wants to develop is ultimately up to the citizens of Santa Monica, but there must be recognition that some development issues and impacts are regional in scope and require regional or state solutions.
SOCIAL JUSTICE. Examples of Santa Monica’s commitment to social justice include programs to end homelessness and the enactment of a living wage ordinance. Please explain what you have done to advance social justice in your work and what you would do as an Assembly Member.
Richard Bloom: I’ve led the struggle to end homelessness, provided unmatched services for seniors, the disabled and children – our first accessible playground is on the way. The Assembly should budget a reasonable safety net. But the State is broke, from years of fiscal irresponsibility. High unemployment makes things worse. Revenue measures like those on the November ballot will help. But true salvation for these programs and for the State of California requires a resurgent economy. Under my leadership, Santa Monica has proven how we can have both progress and prosperity. That’s the Santa Monica-style success I ask voters to send to Sacramento.
Betsy Butler: I am honored to have the support and endorsement of numerous social justice organizations, including the Consumer Federation of California, Equality California, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the California League of Conservation Voters and the United Farm Workers. Today, I am carrying the strongest legislation in America to protect farm workers from heat illness and death. I am proud that Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers, Lily Ledbetter, the California Democratic Party, and Planned Parenthood have endorsed as well.
Torie Osborn: My entire life has been spent working for social justice, from the early women’s health movement, to national leadership on HIV/AIDS, and the LGBT movement. Then, leading the Liberty Hill Foundation, I worked with local groups on successful living wage ordinances and environmental justice campaigns. In LA Mayor Villaraigosa’s cabinet and at the United Way, I worked to diminish homelessness and poverty. As a Member of the State Assembly, I would champion legislation on equality, poverty and juvenile justice, as well as fight to restore and protect the budgets for education and the safety net.
Brad Torgan: Social justice can’t be achieved when one out of every nine Californians of working age – 11 percent – is unemployed. Reducing that unemployment rate will require reforming our State’s tax structure and creating a more friendly business climate.
The candidates, in their own words, have told us who they are. What they believe. What they will do, if elected. On June 5, it will be our turn. It is our right and our responsibility to vote.
We have all heard or even said, “He’s a politician.” Usually, it’s meant as a put down. But doesn’t it depend on context? Can’t being a politician mean being a person committed to public service? Santa Monica has had the good fortune to be well represented by people of commitment to community and commitment to public service. Let us use our vote to continue that tradition.
To our candidates, thank you. It is hard work and worthwhile to run for office. It is hard work and also deeply satisfying to be able to do good work. Thank you for being willing to do this work. Thank you for your commitment to community and for your public service.