2015 Legislative Interview: Assemblymember David Chiu

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Every year Leagues all over California meet with their representatives to discuss a few of the League’s priorities for the year. This is the report from such an interview with Assemblymember David Chiu, conducted on February 20, 2015. It does not reflect the opinions of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco.





Question 1: Money in Politics (Campaign Disclosure)


Cal-Access is the database and website for online reporting and disclosure of state campaign and lobbying financial activity. It is antiquated, inflexible, and desperately in need of an overhaul to make it robust and user-friendly for the public and the media as well as for those who are required to file disclosure reports.


Would you support funding for the rebuilding of Cal-Access? Possibilities that have been mentioned include an item in the 2015-2016 state budget and a loan from the state’s General Fund that would be repaid over time from an existing fund dedicated to improvement of Cal-Access.

Would you support a requirement that Cal-Access be structured to allow expansion to include electronic filing of local disclosure reports?

The quick answer is this: as an advocate for cleaning up politics, and in particular the incredible influence of money in politics, I would be happy to support improving the Cal-Access system. During my six years as the President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, I championed similar data and website transparency requirements for local campaign and lobbying requirements. I actually passed several ethics laws requiring online disclosure and transparency around both lobbyists and campaign information. This is an area I’m passionate about and I would support additional funding for rebuilding Cal-Access as well as thinking about ways in which Cal-Access can be better structured to allow for the expansion of online filing of local disclosure reports. So that’s the short answer!

I will also mention that I sponsored a resolution at the Board of Supervisors calling for the overturning of Citizens United, or a potential constitutional amendment campaign to overturn the Supreme Court decision that essentially says that corporations are exactly like people when it comes to politics. That concept I think is just sadly and unfortunately completely wrong, but has led to much greater influence for money and corporations in politics. I would also say that I think the state of California should consider the public financing of campaigns, in the same way that San Francisco has successfully pioneered that. I would definitely support this.

We definitely need more transparency and more rules on how money influences both the legislative process and the political campaign process.

Question 2: Education

Part 1. Early Childhood Education

Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs were greatly reduced during the economic downturn. Although significant funding was reinstated last session, it is still not at the previous level, and large numbers of children, with differing needs, go unserved.

Among the options for increased funding of ECE programs are 1) universal access for all four year olds, 2) limiting funding to low-income children and those with special needs while expanding the reach to three-year-olds, 3) expanding and improving service for the very young (ages zero to three), or 4) the ideal, all of the above. What would be your preference? What first? What do you think has the best chance of being funded and signed?

On the topic of Early Childhood Education, I am supportive of all of the above! Every study has shown that the earlier you can educate kids, the faster you are able to improve their rapidly growing brains and prepare them to be successful. And not only successful in kindergarten, but also as students and adults for the rest of their natural lives. I have been a big supporter of more funding for childcare, childhood education, and universal pre-K. On this subject of universal care for four year olds, I’d be happy to support such measures.

I also agree that we need to start by focusing on low-income kids, and those with special needs when focusing on the youngest students. But anything we can do at the early stage will help.

That being said, you asked about funding. It all does come down to dollars – the trick is where can we get the money? I would be happy to support a variety of revenue streams that have been proposed, from increasing a tobacco tax or a soda tax, which has been proven to help with the health outcomes of kids, to considering taxing oil. There have been discussions about how California is the only major oil-producing state in the country that does not put a tax on oil. It would bring in billions of dollars, some of which we could use for early childhood education. I would also say that this year in the State Assembly, there is a proposal to make full day pre-school programs be available to all low-income kids. I think anything we can do for the youngest kids, will be a smart investment in the future. Every study shows that every dollar used on early childhood education is paid back many times over with what you don’t have to spend in the future when it comes to our juvenile justice system, criminal justice system, and other remedial services.

Part 2. Cap on Reserves


As part of the 2014-15 state budget, the legislature adopted a trailer bill, SB 858, one provision of which would place a cap on local school district reserves, including assigned and unassigned year-end balances, under certain conditions. That provision was linked to Proposition 2 in the November election, and with the passage of Prop 2, it is now in effect. In August, at the close of the legislative session, there was an attempt to repeal the cap language, but it failed.


Would you support a bill to repeal the cap and restore the authority of local school districts, in alignment with the norm of local control, to ensure school districts can maintain healthy reserves to protect students and teachers from budget cuts during future economic downturns?

This is a new subject to me, so I’ll just state that upfront. I will say a few things in general about rainy day funds. I’m a big supporter of rainy day funds, particularly when we have years of recessions that required significant cuts in services and layoffs. For us to do a better job with our public finances, to smooth out our budget for school districts and governments, rainy day funds are imperative.

In San Francisco, I championed a rainy day fund for San Francisco’s  budget. In 2009 I authored a ballot measure that established a rainy day fund for the City and County of San Francisco. I was also very supportive of the rainy day fund for California, because the idea behind rainy day funds is simple: you save money when times are good, so that when times are bad, you can use it.

Now I’m not familiar with this exact cap, and whether it’s adequate, but I’m open to the conversation. In general, we need to make sure that the dollars are going to our schools, and that the money is used responsibly. Whatever policy supports this is the one that I’ll support.

Question #3: Water

In recent months, voters approved the Proposition 1 water bond and the legislature passed significant groundwater legislation. Do you see these actions as having addressed the important water issues in your district? If not, what more should be done? What can the Legislature do to increase California’s resilience in the face of future water supply uncertainties?

On water, I did support the water bond last year, and I was glad that the voters approved the deal that was struck in the Assembly around investing in our water infrastructure as well as establishing policies around groundwater. Clearly, though, the natural events of the past few months show we are not done with dealing with drought issues. I do think there is more that we can continue to do.

My focus has been on conservation:  what can we do as both a city and a state to increase our conservation? In San Francisco, we make sure that we are building our infrastructure and buildings so that they are able to absorb water better. When I was on the Board of Supervisors I helped to establish a program to create incentives for large buildings to re-use so called “gray water and black water” going through their systems. Many large buildings are like small towns and they use a ton of water. We need to think how to better conserve as a state.

We also need do a better job in regards to Bay Delta conservation and maintaining the quality of the water we have in our natural sources.  I believe we need to consider tracking how every household uses water, such as through individual water meters so that we can consider how every resident properly use the water that they use. This is very important, and there is much more to be done.

Everything we can do to create incentives for conservation and penalties for the waste of water will help our state. We have been very blessed in the Bay Area to have easier access to water, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set high standards on water conservation.

Question #4: Affordable Housing

One of the priority issues our San Francisco League is interested in is affordable housing.  Particularly considering the high price of land in the city, we wonder if the state is putting sufficient pressure on the suburbs to build their share of housing near transit.  You may have read in the Chronicle last week that Mayor Libby Schaaf, while talking to the Chronicle editors last week, threw out the idea that perhaps San Francisco housing developers could fulfill some of their affordable housing requirements by building some of that housing in Oakland.  Do you have any thoughts on that?

My top priority in the Assembly is to attack the affordable housing challenge, not just in San Francisco, but in all of California. In fact, right after I was elected I began to collect articles about affordable housing challenges up and down California, from San Diego to our Northern border. We are seeing a significant shortage of housing up and down our state. This is the result in part of government decisions made in years past. The elimination of redevelopment agencies and the drying up of housing bond money have completely decimated the abilities of cities and counties to build affordable housing.

The very first bill that I introduced, AB35, would establish a new affordable housing tax credit to better incentivize the creation of more affordable housing and leveraging federal and state funds, in addition to private sector investments to build more affordable housing. This is my top priority. It is what I’m spending a lot of my time thinking about. I serve on our state’s Housing Committee so I can focus on this. It is something we absolutely need to work on.

We need additional sources of funding. We need to think not only about an affordable housing tax credit, but also consider a permanent source of funding for affordable housing. This is a conversation that has come and gone over the years, but I want to really focus our legislature on affordable housing. This is something I’ve been working on in our Assembly, and will continue to do so.

However, your question is more specific: is the State putting sufficient pressure on suburbs to build their share of housing near transit? The answer is “no” and we should do more. I’m very supportive of transit-centered development, of building more affordable housing close to major transit centers.

One of the biggest problems we have in San Francisco is when cities in the South Bay (such as Mountain View, Palo Alto, etc.) create enormous campuses with thousands of new workers on the one hand, but do nothing to help house them. This exacerbates the problems in the rest of the Bay Area. We need to have a regional approach to how we create jobs and build housing and improve transit between these jobs and housing in a way that encourages growth.

This idea of encouraging more housing near transit and jobs is one that I support.

Regarding Mayor Schaaf’s ideas, they sound intriguing. But that being said, San Francisco needs to use every dollar we have to build affordable housing in San Francisco.

Question # 5:

What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2015? What are your personal priorities?  

I’ll mention a few of the topics I wish to work on. As I said, housing is my top concern.

Another issue I’m spending a lot of time on is public transportation. In a city like San Francisco where Muni is late at least 40% of the time, where pedestrians, cyclists and seniors are walking on some of the most dangerous streets in our state,  where we have significant traffic congestion, and way more potholes than we should, we need to find a way to more successfully invest in our streets. I’m working with our Speaker to help champion additional money for transportation infrastructure. California is ranked forty-ninth out of fifty states on having the poorest quality roads in our country. Sixty percent of our roads are in need of repair.  The average driver spends about $800 a year on car wear and tear due to the state of our roads. We need to invest in our roads and our streets to make them safer for not just cars but pedestrians and bicyclists.

I’ll also mention that I believe that one of my bills will soon become one of the top priorities for the Women’s Caucus in the State Legislature. It is a bill to address the challenges that low-wage, often times women, retail workers face in California. For millions of Californians who work in low-wage often times part-time jobs, they have no predictability in their schedule. Let’s use the example of a food service worker who is told by her employer that she works 10 hours a week. The initial schedule might be Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9-12 but “I’ll let you know.” So that employer can let their employee know on Sunday night that their shift for Monday is cancelled, they can let them know on Tuesday morning that they need come in later in the day, regardless of their child-care needs. There are no protections for workers in having a right to know what their schedules are.

Last year on the Board of Supervisors I passed a first-in-the-country law that required employers to provide a two week schedule to their employees. I just introduced a Fair Scheduling Bill in the Assembly that will require employers with over 500 employees in the state to provide similar provisions for scheduling. This is another top priority of mine.

Another priority for me is the cost of healthcare. We have too many specialty drugs that are unbelievably expensive. The price of specialty drugs has sky-rocketed. In fact, there are over 1,000 specialty drugs over the past year that have seen their prices go up over 400%. This is not only incredible detrimental to patients, but it is blowing holes in state and local government budgets, and makes it increasingly difficult for us to establish a successful healthcare system that serves us all. I’m introducing legislation that would require manufacturers of the most expensive specialty drugs to provide the public information on why their products are so expensive. I’m hoping this will continue a conversation about having checks and balances regarding the pricing of specialty drugs.

I’m also working on legislation in the civil rights context. For example, I’m working on a bill that will allow domestic violence survivors to get out of apartment leases if they need to when they are trying to extricate themselves from difficult situations.

I’m also working on legislation to streamline the process by which we put electric vehicle charging stations around the state.

We have so much work to do to fulfill the promise of our Golden State.

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