Co-president Bernie Brooks was the moderator of the virtual meeting, Secretary Ingrid Swenson took notes, and Karen Weeks sat in from the Sonoma County League. Members of the Napa team asked the four questions, beginning with brief background information for each. The questions are included here with team members’ summaries of Ms. Aguiar-Curry’s answers.
Question 1: Land Use and Climate Change Diane Beere: What do you see as the most important considerations and priorities in the effort to reach a net drawdown of greenhouse gases from natural and working lands? How do we balance the many considerations? What are the funding priorities?
Aguiar-Curry (A-C): Assembly members are working on many climate issues, and cap and trade is working. Climate change is devastating to our area; the fire issue is the most important. We have allotted millions for reforestation and clearing from fire destruction, and we are working with land trusts to protect wild lands. We are also working on legislation to improve soil health, to have a clean and sustainable water supply, and to mitigate the many impacts of weather change. There are quite a few large farms in my district whose owners want to pass property on to their children. They are struggling to hold on. To preserve family farms and retain farmland, I may propose a tax credit to allow them to divide the property up so their descendants can farm a part of the land. I am working with land trust folks to form a trust group that would be similar to tenant farming. One ongoing problem in passing this type of legislation is that 60 of the 80 assembly members are from urban districts who are not familiar with rural ag issues.
Question 2: Housing and Homelessness, Zoning and Affordability
Joyce Kingery: What can be done to reform exclusionary single-family zoning in California? What reforms do you support to legalize and incentivize more affordable housing (both naturally occurring and deed restricted) in high-opportunity neighborhoods?
A-C: I head the Local Government Committee, which is tasked with reviewing many housing bills before they go to the full assembly. COVID has made it more difficult to address certain housing issues. During the last session, the legislature was more concerned with evictions, the economy, and job loss, etc. Regarding reforming exclusionary single-family zoning in California, I am in favor in principle, but every community is different, and when writing legislation one needs to consider the whole state. Local governments have a lot of power, and the state can mandate some things but not others. Last session, many of the housing bills were flawed and ended up being stalled. We are hoping to rewrite some of the better ones, feeling that there will be more time this year for give-and-take conversations.
Legislators are trying to identify impediments to housing development. They may create a Housing Disaster Fund to try to get people back into their homes. They are also trying to get financing for housing, including supplemental federal funding. I represent rural counties, whereas the housing focus is on urban counties. However, both Napa and Sonoma counties have very able city councils, and I work with them to help increase more affordable housing.
I am working on a constitutional amendment that would allow local governments to deal more effectively with outdated infrastructure that can impede development in older areas where multi-family housing is more apt to be built. The developers need incentives to help defray the costs of being required to upgrade infrastructure.
Question 3: Equitable COVID-19 RecoveryJan Darter: What can be done to ensure that California’s COVID-19 economic recovery is equitable and focuses on the needs of those who are most impacted?
A-C: We have failed at this effort so far. We don’t have enough vaccine and there are inequitable distribution issues. There is a vaccination plan but insufficient resources to implement it. How can we increase supply? How do we best implement testing? Particularly now, with decreased sales tax and TOT revenue (Transient Occupancy Tax), our counties and cities need funding for COVID recovery. Messaging has been inconsistent, and we are working on improving the system. Going forward, we need to have a vision for handling all emergency issues.
We need to make sure kids get back to school so that parents can get back to work. Families are struggling. I am on the Emergency Management Committee, which will be addressing pandemic issues and trying to get businesses open. I belong to the Women’s Caucus, which is sponsoring a family leave bill. Parents need to have more childcare, and childcare providers need more PPE and testing. There must be more funding for all of this.
Darter: There is a debate about the most equitable distribution plan for vaccinations. While the elderly have been targeted, maybe we should focus on the socially and economically needy who suffer exposure on the job and live in crowded housing situations.
A-C: Each county has its own focus. Marin County is focusing its vaccine distribution on teachers and support staff. Napa and Salinas have a focus on farmworkers. One southern California county is vaccinating everyone in crowded living conditions. We need to get vaccines into more neighborhoods.
Question 4: Legislator’s Personal Priorities
Robyn Orsini: What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2021? What are your personal priorities?
A-C: My approach is first to ask certain questions: What is the problem? How can it be fixed? How would a new law be implemented? This year the focus will be on COVID-19: vaccinations, federal relief, and schools. Each legislator is only allowed to propose 12 bills from the Assembly to the Senate. I want to sponsor strong bills that will be implemented. In addition to what I mentioned earlier, here are some of the bills I am working on.
I am co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment (ACA 1) to lower the voter threshold if local jurisdictions want to issue a bond for infrastructure projects, such as installing or repairing sewers or upgrading libraries.
I am continuing to work on expanding broadband/internet access to everyone (AB 14), including access at senior living centers.
Telehealth is another priority, which passed last year. Especially during the pandemic, telehealth has been life changing for some. There has been a 750% increase in people attending their behavioral health appointments.
I plan to do a hemp CBD bill. California farmers can now grow hemp but cannot process it, so supply is being imported from out of state. My bill would legalize processing.
I have a housing disaster fund bill to assist fire victims, some mental health bills, an agricultural bill, a wine bill, and an emergency bill.
I am concerned that electric cars do not have the infrastructure to advance their use.
I am sponsoring a consumer protection bill related to labeling olive oil as “Made in California” when in fact it is grown elsewhere and shipped here for packaging and distribution.
For information on these bills and others as they are introduced, go to LegInfo.