Making Democracy Work

Interview with Senator Robert Wieckowski

2017 Interview

Legislative Interview with Senator Robert Wieckowski February 17, 2017, League of Women Voters Fremont-Newark-Union City, San Jose-Santa Clara-Eden

Question #1 Funding of Election: What legislative measures would you support to ensure adequate and stable funding of election administration in California?

Senator Wieckowski believes that State and local governments have a fundamental obligation to provide an election process that ensures the integrity, accessibility, and security of our right to vote. He stated that the state government should raise funds to support election by closely looking at the budget planning to ensure to have spending funds for election. He stated that the state should: To raise tax to generate for the general fund to support election funding to improve aging voting system including voting machines, inconsistent by county, the poor areas Trust legislators to do their job including their responsibility for supporting the funding of election Election is the matter for general governing and general service, the fund should come from the general fund, cannot come from special funds Have the cap-and-trade program to generate fund for the general funds and then come back to use the fund for election including the special elections in the local districts. Need to change "Cap and trade" to "Cap and tax". Senator wants to introduce a bill that would tax carbon with money going to the gen fund Election is fundamental and general service and state government should be responsible to provide stable fund for the service. 9% of California residents are legal residents but not U.S. citizens. The Legal Aid services should be robust. Voting Services is foundational, and we must support it. There is a lack of trust of the legislature to allocate money into special funds. Special elections create the need for special funds, and small and poor districts need assistance to fund them. He thinks the money should come from the General Fund and be generated from "cap and tax' of carbon emissions. He will introduce a bill on taxing carbon emissions and hope for a robust market in CA, Prop 98 mandated 40% of money must go to education; 10% to reserve fund the rest to the general fund so could be used for other things (didn't say it but left impression that it could be used for helping smaller/poorer districts with elections)

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?

Senator Wieckowski stated that education is high on his list of issues he wants to address. He thinks California is making progress on higher education accountability. He stated that changes should be made to continue the progress in higher education: Changes to our Cal Grant program, which helps low- and middle-income California students to pay for college. Introduced legislation last year to have taxpayer-funded grant money. Property tax should be changed and reverse Proposition 13 to provide more money to fund higher education. The school funding generated through Proposition 98, which requires a certain amount of revenue be spent on schools, was a healthy start in making up for years of cuts. He supports every request for school funding. His priority is SB16 which lowers the cap on how much private lenders can garnish to the federal loan level of 15%. Per student funding is less than before. Student funding has increased by $3600 per student. He is disappointed by Governor Brown.Some students who do not qualify for Cal Grants are not qualified to get assistance. In the 1960's California had the highest student funding, because people's property tax supported the schools. Now, with Prop 13, it has changed student funding significantly. Today, 40% off the top of the budget goes to Prop 98 funding. Is it enough? Don't know. He always supports school funding. His top priority bill is lowering wage garnishment of private student loans. The private sector preys on parents to get these private student loans. Senator Wieckowski had some questions regarding perstudent spending in CA. Funding may still be lower than before the recession. He will provide numbers. The legislature has created 7,000 more slots for in-state admission to the CSU system and added resources to make it easier to apply. Senator Wieckowski's bill SB 16 allows but decreases the percentage of garnished wages of students/parents who take out private loans for higher education. Government education loans have a limit of 15% garnishment instead of the higher 25% limit on private loans. Senator Wieckowski's bill would take all garnishment limits down to 15%.

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? New Bill will target the recycling of waste water Recharge through partial cleaning and then pump into aquifer for natural cleaning, currently waste water (semi-treated) and run-off goes directly to the bay. We need to better manage our water ---- Need more storage space but areas for more dams are already built upon. Need to reconsider whole plan. Dams are not evenly managed: some have high levels when others are low. There should be some way to shift around water to more evenly balance things + and in the process get more storage. Technology There has to be a meeting of all water treatment groups.... Sea level rising... what one area does to stop encroachment may impact another area ... Need joint planning... Some small or rich areas could declare themselves a water district and simply buy/import water without considering others. Senator is considering Legislation to stop this. Step A: No more proliferation of water districts Step B: More consolidation of water districts

Question #4: Local League Question What are your thoughts about brackish water desalination as a viable water supply alternative in California?

Even with the recent increase in interest in brackish water desalination in the media, Senator Wieckowski said he would like to let technology lead the way on whether and when and how much is invested in pursuing brackish water desalination development. There are currently five ocean desalination plants statewide,23 brackish water desalination plants existing in the state, including one in Newark within Senator Wieckowski's district, and 17 brackish water plants proposed, and with the USGS report expected in March of 2017 identifying the location of brackish water aquifers in the United States, Senator Wieckowski thinks that the challenges are huge and need to be addressed before desalination could be considered viable as a water supply alternative in California. Challenges - the biggest of which is energy costs i.e., forcing salt water through microscopic membranes, blending/treatment, piping from inland sites, management of brine i.e. collection, disposal remain, additionally, there are no alternative energy sources at this time that would make a significant contribution to the high costs. Senator Wieckowski highly supports water recycling and favors continued statewide water conservation efforts as the best methods going forward at this time. Last year's budget - San Jose tertiary treatment center, recycling. Answer is in the recycling of waste water, after you get over the "yuk" factor. For example, treat the water, it's clean, then put the treated water into the aquifers to fill the drying out aquifers. In the Bay Area, we treat water for Grade A waste (sewage), and then the treated water goes into the bay. We should look into recycling water from roofs, and reuse it. Sentor thinks that all land that's suitable for dam building have been used. We want to balance water storage & flood control. Bay water level is rising. You can't be putting more water into the bay. Senator's interests- storage, improvements, conveyance. He is interested in recycling and having dams retrofitted so they can cooperate in water storage and discharging water. He is concerned with rising sea levels that may compromise water and sewage plants- especially since in the Bay Area discharge is into the Bay and ocean which may be higher than the current pipes for discharge. SB 1263 prohibits any more small water districts from forming. Consolidation of districts is needed both for improving water quality and for saving operating expenses. (ACWD and USD did a study about joining but nothing came of it.) Desalination was discussed but he is concerned about the energy required to run the plants and the need to not over-use brackish water that is needed in the estuaries. USGS to publish map of brackish water & aquifers in California. There are 5 desalination plants. He sees 2 power plants next to one desalination plant. The more salt, the higher the amount of energy needed to run the desalination plant. Cities and residents must change their use of water. He does not support large brackish water plants in California. He has visited them. He believes in: let technology lead the way. He does not support the ban on fracking. He wants to have data first, before deciding to ban. He claims that hydraulic fracking has been going on for 50 years in California

Question #5: Local General League Question Affordable Housing:

SB 2- $75 fee for real estate transfers. SB3 was not a great success in providing AH for veterans and people with mental health problems, and the money has not been spent. The legislature is asking for $3 bilion in the budget for housing. He is pushing for accessible dwelling units- or granny units- that are cheaper to build because they do not require parking If they are mile from public transportation and can use existing hook-ups from the house on the lot. He estimated that 150,000 units could be built quickly. Senator Wieckowski bill is now law. Accessible granny units. Local cities have put impact fees on these granny units as much as some big mansions. For all second units, the minimum lot size is 10,000 sq. ft.
- No parking requirements on building a second unit
- If live within half mile of public transit, city should allow you to build second unit and to hook up the second unit. 150,000 units of affordable housing if 10% of houses can build a second unit in their back yard. He will get in front of school districts and organizations to talk about this idea. Encourage building of second units. There was a 2006 bill to support homes for veterans --- money not spent Redirect money to help homeless with mental problems A lot of local bonds were passed to support housing Sanctuary State We have the Trust Act, signed by the Governor. We do not hold people after they have done their penalty or community service. We are now part of the resistance, and we want to do this quietly. We don't want to show up on ABC News.

Question #6: Senator Wieckowski's Priorities for 2017

Senator wants to fund Legal Aid, help poor people get lawyers. He wants poor people to get immigration lawyers. "MUST" build up Legal Aid ... now only 1 lawyer for 10,000 people. NEED immigration lawyers. His Legislative Priorities SB 407 - freedom of speech vs. home owner association which did not allow free speech SB 504 - red dye #2 and yellow dye in all soft drinks have negative effects on children's hyperactivity SB 66: Bill 3 years ago regarding punitive damages. Stops companies receiving punitive damage awards from listing them as a business expense on their taxes. (now it can be deducted from their IRS taxes as a "necessary and ordinary expense" Bay Area Caucus: We meet about once a month. Just had a retreat to discuss Bay Area wide issues and needs. We meet as a democratic caucus. We meet as an environmental caucus.