On March 10th, several members of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco had
the opportunity to interview Senator Scott Wiener on a variety of issues from statewide
funding of elections, public higher education, water, as well as major issues that the
legislature must deal with in 2017 and his own personal priorities. Below are the
questions that we at the League posed and Senator Wiener’s responses.
What legislative measures would you support to ensure adequate and stable
funding of election administration in California?
“I’m a supporter of improving and modernizing our election’s equipment (s) and to take
a different approach is to how we run elections, for example, towards more Open Source voting which is more transparent and much more cost effective you don’t have pay massive amounts to outside vendors with closed systems. I was working on moving
San Francisco towards Open Source voting and there has been some progress yet very
slow and it’s my hope that the state as a whole moves in that direction.
And, yes, the state should provide some support but in the end the counties are responsible for
running elections and I don’t want to put the state in a position where we are supporting
all of the local county’s elections department as that is a county responsibility. So I’m
not saying that they should never provide help but I would hesitate to get the state into a
position where it’s the safety net for all elections departments. But it is important for the
state to set standards so that we have reliable election processes throughout the state
so that it’s not scatter shot”.
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?
He responded by illustrating the importance of the two systems and providing some
historical context on how they were instrumental in educating and elevating the State of
California in its workforce development and how to increase general fund support in the
“UC and CSU need significantly larger general fund support and in California these two
systems play a critical role, along with our community colleges, in creating modern
California with a strong middle class and with this advanced economy around
technology, healthcare and along with the K-12 system that used to exist in California
and our investments in infrastructure. In the 40’s and 50’s and even the 60’s we really
created this modern state and made it the center of the universe in many ways. And
then over time, we made poor decisions around our tax structure and we have this state
of forty million people that is the size of a large European country, and the 5th or 6th
largest economy in the world and yet we struggle to pay for basic services; K-12 is in
the 40’s of the 50 states in per person spending. We had dis-invested in infrastructure
in a major way and we had defunded UC and CSU and put these two systems in a
place where they could either raise tuition or get more out of state students as a way to
get more money and then that means less spots for in state students. And we are
constantly berating them for either raising fares or not having enough slots for California
residents and then we are not giving them the general fund support that they need to do
everything we want, which is to put a lid on tuition and to have a lot of slots for in state
So we need to increase the general fund support for these systems but that
will only happen in a meaningful way if we reform our tax system and have the revenue
for that need and for other needs as well.
In how it ranks on his priorities he responded:
“I rank it high and it’s definitely on my radar with a number of other important priorities. I
would like to see a reform on a tax structure so that we can generate more revenue in a
stable way and to fund these needs. We will see what happens there. Senator
Hertzberg is working on it, the overall reform and has taken the lead on it but I’m very
supportive of his efforts and I also don’t want to reduplicate his efforts”.
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?
Senator Wiener was very knowledgeable on the subject of water and supplied many
examples of what California must do in order to utilize water in a more astute way.
“We need to restructure and modernize our water system. The way we build our water
system in California no longer applies, it’s not adequate anymore with the size of our
state. And we have gone through an usual number of wet decades that aren’t the norm
in California. And even though we have gone through a couple of wet winters, we have
a long term structural water shortage in California and the only way we can address it is
to modernize the system. We need to become more and more efficient in not just how
we use water but apart from that we have to increase water recycling.
I think it’s embarrassing how little California recycles compared to places like Australia or Israel
which are two very arid environments where they recycle huge amounts of water. We
make it very hard in California to recycle water and our state agencies are just
lumbering and behind and we need to invest massively in water recycling infrastructure
both on an industrial scale but also in a decentralized scale in terms of making more of
our housing and office buildings stock recycled water on site. We should be moving
towards a so called black water model so that’s it’s just everything together and the
technology is that even if it’s coming from your toilet you can recycle it, purify it and
drink it. And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to do black water because if you do grey water
you need two sets of pipes and it’s just much more complicated; black water you just
need the one set of pipes. We should be moving in that direction.
I have a bill this year yet I can’t remember the bill number, and it directs the relevant state departments to update and establish modernized health standards for recycled water and they have to issue the new standard and they have to do that before we can really move forward. I
will be doing more aggressive water legislation as well. Water recycling costs about a
quarter or a fifth of what desalination costs just in terms of creating the infrastructure
and operating it. And desalination has more of an environmental impact and uses a
massive amount of power although we shouldn’t take anything off the table, desalination
should be an option as a last resort when you run out of other options and water
recycling should be at the front of the line.
We also need to make it much more robust in replenishing ground water, making it so that when we have a lot of rain that the rain is actually going into the aquifers and there is much more knowledge now on how to do that but it requires participation of private property owners in terms of having areas that can effectively recharge the aquifers and we need to do that as well. We should do public information campaigns and I think that happens naturally over time. There is less public information going on because people think that the drought is solved yet in
Southern California they are not back to where they need be, in Northern California the
reservoirs are all going gang busters but there are parts of Southern California that are
well below where they need to be. There was a podcast on NPR out of Sacramento
where they were talking about water and the legislature and how people perceive the
drought as being over.
And this is how it works in the legislature, there is always a hot issue, I did a lot of water related work in City Hall when I was in the Board of Supervisors and then all of sudden during the drought there are all these water bills and everyone wanted to do a water bill and now that it’s out of mind there are not very many water bills in the legislature. I’m going to keep going on water. Assemblymember Bill Quirk from the South Bay is also doing a water recycling bill that I think complements what we are doing so I think I will work with him on that. We see it now with housing, there weren’t many people who were doing bills but now all of sudden there a hundred
housing bills in the legislature because, as it should be, it’s an issue that is front and
Our San Francisco League’s question about an issue of particular concern and an
optional question. Do you support single payer healthcare?
“Yes, I support it. It’s in skeletal form now it’s not flushed out. I’ve always been a
supporter of single payer health care and I think that if the federal government was
capable of doing anything non destructive we would just expand Medicare, when we
had Medicare for all. For California to do it alone, I’m supportive of us and if it’s feasible
moving in that direction. It’s challenging for one state to do it when you’re restructuring
the whole healthcare system especially in terms of paying for it, but I think we should
absolutely explore it and do it if we can figure out how to do it well”.
What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2017?
What are your personal priorities?
Senator Wiener concluded that the major issues and those that are his personal
priorities include housing which he considers a crisis that must be dealt with,
transportation, health access and the environment and climate change.
“Housing and I have a bill, SB 35, that will try to reform how we approve housing. And try
to stop local communities from not allowing housing in their city. For many communities
now they don’t allow any housing. We are at a crisis point not only in San Francisco and
in the Bay Area but in huge slots of the state including suburban and rural areas. I’ve
heard rural, conservative republicans talk about their housing struggles. And it’s
everywhere from San Francisco to farm workers; it’s a huge problem. It’s a huge
problem that California hasn’t had the political will to tell people you’re going to have
housing in your community and you can’t just say build it elsewhere.
Everyone of us can think of twenty reasons why we shouldn’t have housing where I live or in my city. This isn’t just affordable housing but all housing. Let’s be clear about what affordable housing is: it’s below market rate and subsidized housing, it’s housing where there is a public
subsidy that subsidizes the cost of that housing. I fully support that especially for low
income people because the market will not produce housing for them and I’ve always
been a big proponent of it. Also, if anyone ever tells you that we will solve our middle
class housing problem with public subsidizes I would like you to come immediately to
me so I can sell you a bridge! It will never happen as there are not enough public
subsidizes to solve the middle class problem. It is so broad and so deep.
For low income people, I think we can really move the dial if we make the investment but for
middle income people, the only way we are going to solve the problem is to have more
housing of every variety; new multi unit apartment buildings, in law units, small units,
large units, family size units, just more of everything and not just in San Francisco but in
the surrounding communities; in San Mateo County near the Caltrain lines, in the South
Bay, in Oakland, in various parts of LA. And having a mix of the subsidized rate and the
affordable and everything. It’s been estimated that California needs to boost 180,000
units a year statewide and at all income levels just to keep up with growth and we’re
producing half or not even half that so it just gets worse and worse. I’m very passionate
about the issue because it’s a crisis. It’s harming everyone; families, seniors, young
people. There’s too many jobs for the housing, yet I don’t think there are too many jobs.
Now we have companies that are moving here or starting here and so they grow here
so the unemployment rate is really low and it’s great to have those jobs but you have to
have your housing keep up with it.
I’m also very focused on transportation funding in particular for public transportation. We
have a big funding bill moving through the legislature and I’m going to make sure it has
good investment for public transportation. We have so much congestion on our roads
that we have to bulk up these transit systems here and in Southern California.
I’m very focused as always on health access. I have a few different HIV related bills and
also a few bills to expand access to Calfresh (food stamps). Also, the environment and
climate change is a huge priority for the legislature and for me personally, I have a bill to
require solar panels on new roofs, a bill to try and incentivize technology for storage of
energy particularly solar and renewables. And I have a bill that would make it extremely
hard to transport tar sands oil in California, the oil in the excel pipeline”.
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