Berkeley Talks transcript: State lawmakers on the future of California

Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #112: “State lawmakers on the future of California.”

Stephen Small: Welcome to The Future of California: People, Place and Power. I’m Stephen Small, the director of the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, which is the sponsor of today’s event. I’m speaking to you from the City of Berkeley, which is in the territory of Huichin, the ancestral and unseeded land of the Chochenyo Ohlone. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone people. Every member of the Berkeley community has benefited and continues to benefit from the use and occupation of this land and they’ve done so since the institution’s founding in 1868. Consistent with the university’s values of community and diversity, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and make visible the university’s relationship to Native peoples and in particular, the way that the University of California as a land grant university has benefited financially from the appropriation of Native lands. By offering this land acknowledgment, I affirm our commitment to hold the University of California, Berkeley, more accountable to the needs of Native American people.

Now before we begin, I would like to thank the co-sponsors for today’s event. The Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies of the University of California Berkeley, the Asian American Research Center, the California Immigrant Policy Center, the California Initiative for Health Equity and Action, the California Nurses’ Association, California Reinvestment Coalition, East Bay Community Foundation, Goldman School of Public Policy, the Institute of Governmental Studies, the Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues, the Latinx Research Center, Northern California Grantmakers, The Othering & Belonging Institute, the San Francisco Foundation, Southern California Grantmakers, the California Endowment and TURN, The Utility Reform Network. On behalf of all the co-sponsors, I want to mention that this is not a partisan event. We do not endorse any of the legislators or any of the legislation that will be discussed.

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce Michael Drake, the president of the University of California who will give welcoming remarks before we begin the panel discussion with the legislators. Dr. Drake is new to his role as UC president, but he’s not new to the University of California. In fact, he received his MD degree from UC San Francisco and then, he spent more than two decades on the faculty there including as the Steven P. Shearing Professor of Ophthalmology. President Drake went on to serve as chancellor of UC Irvine and as the systemwide vice president for health affairs. He then left UC to serve as president of the Ohio State University where he was there for six years before returning to UC as president just last year. We’re delighted to have him back and honored that he could join us today. Welcome, President Drake and over to you.

Michael Drake: Thank you very much, Professor Small. It’s an honor to welcome everyone to this evening’s program. Tonight, we’ll hear from some of our state’s dedicated public servants on the challenges and solutions ahead and what they envision for the future of California. These are difficult times for all Californians and, in fact, for many people in our country and around the world. Many are confronting economic and mental health challenges. Many have lost loved ones during the pandemic, and we continue to live and to witness the pain of systemic racism in everyday life. The stress and strain of these issues are palpable. There is hope ahead and a smart public policy is one crucial element fueling that optimism.

California’s a state built on bright ideas and sound facts, and that is true in the forward trajectory of California’s public policy as well. Central to that is California’s robust public policy higher education system and the public education’s higher education system broadly across our state which sets the state apart from the rest of the nation. Since its founding, UC has been dedicated to serving the people of the State of the California by providing access to a quality, affordable higher education by advancing social mobility, by developing technologies that launch new sectors of our robust economy and in many other ways. Across our 10 campuses, we are working to equip our state leaders and to inform public policy with evidence-based research. Those research solutions are helping California lead on climate action. They’re helping our state root out racism in all its forms and to affect societal and institutional change, and they’re helping to shed light on the many other challenges ahead for Californians including housing, transportation and poverty.

These advances would not be possible without our ongoing partnerships with state and federal leaders. I want to thank Governor Newsom and our state legislature, especially the members who are here tonight for their continued support to the University of California during this difficult time. And to our audience, thank you again for joining us this evening and please enjoy what is sure to be a lively and informative conversation. Fiat lux, and back to you, Professor Small.

Stephen Small: Thank you very much, President Drake, for those thoughtful, sympathetic and sensitive as well as inspiring remarks. Now, I’m pleased to introduce the moderator of today’s event, Marisa Lagos. Marisa will be asking her own questions as well as questions from the audience. So for audience members, please use the Q&A feature to ask your questions. I also want to mention that we have automatic captioning enabled so that if you want to see that, please click the CC button at the bottom of your screen.

Marisa Lagos is a correspondent for KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk. And she co-hosts a weekly show and podcast, Political Breakdown. Lagos was nominated for the Peabody and won several other awards for her work investigating the 2017 wildfires. In 2011, she won a special award from Evident Change for her work in covering California justice issues. And I have to mention that she is also a UC alum. Over to you, Marisa.

Marisa Lagos: Thank you. I was going to slip that in, UC Santa Barbara, go Gauchos. Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here and we should explain to the audience we are lucky enough right now to be joined by four California lawmakers, but they could duck in and out because they are all in Sacramento trying to do the people’s work and vote on bills. So I’m going to introduce them all and … Yes, thank you, Nancy. Everyone’s texting me. So just if they disappear, just know it’s because they’re going to vote on something and maybe they’ll come back and maybe they won’t or maybe me and Assemblymember Ramos will just talk about San Bernardino County for an hour. So I’m going to go through their bios real quick.

Senator Anna Caballero’s district includes the Salinas Valley as well as Stanislaus Merced and San Benito Counties, I think almost all of those counties. You might have a record there. She’s worked as a legal advisor to farm workers and been in state and local government including as a state assemblywoman and previous to becoming a senator, Governor Brown’s secretary of business consumer services and housing agency. Senator Caballero, thank you so much for joining us.

Assemblyman David Chiu represents San Francisco in the state legislature. Previously, he was president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was the first Asian American to hold that post. Chiu’s chair of the assembly housing committee and he’s previously worked as a prosecutor and a civil rights attorney. I know I’m leaving some stuff out there, but he’s done a lot despite that face. He also has an adorable son who’s the same age as my youngest son and as Governor Newsom’s youngest son. So we all like to trade war stories when get together.

Assemblymember James Ramos is a member of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe and is the first Native American elected to the state legislature, if you can believe that. His assembly district covers most of San Bernardino county. He is a lifelong resident of the Manuel Indian Reservation and has served on the California State Board of Education, San Bernardino Community College Trustees and the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, and I believe in all those positions may have been the first Indian to hold them so a lot to talk about there when we talk about equity, Assemblymember.

Finally, Senator Nancy Skinner represents Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond just across the bridge from me. She’s also chair of the Senate Budget Committee and vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Conference. Senator Skinner’s been an advocate for social justice and criminal justice reform over her long career in public service which, fun fact, started when she was elected in 1984 as the first and only student to ever be elected to the Berkeley City Council. So I am surrounded by overachievers as you can tell.

I’m not sure, I was going to do this in alphabetical order, but now I’m going to do it in who might leave first. So Senator Caballero, let’s open with you. The first sort of umbrella question we have is what is the most urgent challenge or opportunity you see facing California? And I’ll just say you don’t have to solve all the world’s problems right now, but broad brushstrokes.

Anna Caballero: Well, thank you very much, Marisa, for the opportunity to be here tonight and apologies if we’re all in session in committees and so we kind of ducked out. Let me just say that my answer would probably have been different if it had been pre-COVID, but I look at the world right now through the COVID lens, and the reality of the situation is my district is, two-thirds of my district is in the Central Valley and so it’s a rural agricultural district, and what the COVID pandemic did is it put a spotlight on every fault and fracture that the state has. Anything that we’ve done, we have not done a good job of solving, was just magnified by this virus. And I think it’s fair to say that every single one of us have been running around like crazy trying to get PPE, trying to get vaccines, delivering food. It’s just been myriad of issues.

So from my perspective, the issues that are going to be front and center that we have to deal with is a recovery. How do we do a recovery when we’ve got these glaring differences in wealth in our community, the huge difference in housing opportunities? We’re 2.5 million housing units short, which has exacerbated our homeless population and people are living in significantly overcrowded housing situations, which is why this virus ran so rampantly through some of the communities. Our healthcare is inequitable and it’s pretty much based on income. We no longer require everybody to be covered. Our educational system has been devastated, again, magnifying for those individuals that had a hard time managing the internet and then by that I mean kids not being able to access the internet. The two little children that you saw sitting at the Taco Bell using their Wi-Fi were in my district and that’s not unusual, and so broadband access has been absolutely abominable in most of my district because there just is not enough access.

So for me, recovering economically, getting people back to work, getting them good jobs, building the housing we need, making sure they have healthcare, I have a fairly large undocumented population as well and they were not eligible for most of the safety net services that we had. So it’s the equity issues are going to be critically important, and I have a very large immigrant population as well and so language issues are an issue. So for me, it’s going to be how do we recover in a way that makes us strong and gives people a sense that we’re going in the direction

Marisa Lagos: Just a few things there to unpack. Senator Skinner, you have obviously a very different looking district, but some of the same disparities. I mean what are you looking at as either challenges or opportunities?

Nancy Skinner: Well, ironically, while my district is urban, it has much of the same disparity in income that … I probably have a few more wealthy wealthy. I’ve got billionaires now in my district. When I first moved to the area I live in, there were no billionaires. There are now multiple billionaires. However, there’s the highest percent of mothers with children in poverty, single mothers with children in poverty of any. I think we’re the first or second, in terms of senatorial districts in the state, but I thought my colleague, Senator Caballero, I was like you characterized it brilliantly and so in terms of what the faults and fissures that the pandemic showed, which we knew we had.

What I’ll add is that here we have this just bizarre circumstance where we know so many families and small businesses are in pain, economic pain because of this pandemic. They’ve lost jobs or any number of factors, they had to leave a job because they had no ability to have their kids in school or child care, they had no other safety net so incredible economic pain. And then, we had the stock market soaring for the whole year. And so, many of our wealthiest residents got wealthier than ever and because of our fortunately very progressive tax rate, California had more money than ever.

The state has these great revenues, but people in this terrible pain, but the good news is, and Senator Caballero and I both experienced, we were both in the legislature during the last recession where that was not the case. California really didn’t have revenue and we had to inflict more pain on people that were already in pain. At least now, we have the opportunity to try to address some of these inequities like around homelessness, around health care, around so many other things. As we’ve already done, we gave direct stimulus grants already not only to small businesses, but to households that were really hurt by the pandemic and we’re going to, hopefully in whatever budget we adopt with the combination of federal funds that are coming in and the revenues that we have, do more good and begin the path of addressing these historic inequities because California has unfortunately for years had the largest percent of people in poverty when you consider our cost of living and we want to reverse that. So maybe there’s an opportunity, maybe we can make lemonade out of the lemons of the pandemic.

Marisa Lagos: Thank you, Senator. Assemblymember Chiu, since you might have to jump out next, what are your biggest priorities? I think they probably align with the senators as well.

David Chiu: I think the good senators have really well summarized what are the most urgent challenges, and I think they all boil down really to one word that both Senator Caballero and Skinner have referenced, which is equity. The fact of the matter is this pandemic, this recession has shown a bright, bright, hot spotlight on folks who have it and are making it and folks who don’t, and whether we’re talking about who has access to our health care system, who has access to education at this moment, who has the ability to keep their job going or to continue work versus who doesn’t, who has access to housing versus who’s forced out on the street. It all comes down to equity.

Maybe one other topic I’ll just mention because it is another crisis on top of all the crises we’ve experienced this year, those of us all over the state have experienced climate in all sorts of very, very challenging ways. So whether it be wildfires or power shutoffs, whether it be the orange skies, the fact of the matter is we’re all working frantically to help our communities recover from the pandemic and the recession, but at the same time, we have this crisis that is long-term in the making, but which we have to address right now. We all know that if in the next couple years, we don’t turn the corner on addressing climate change, climate crisis is happening and we’ve got to figure this out. 2030 is sort of that drop dead date when the world has to reverse its inexorable progress toward increasing temperatures by two degrees celsius and California has to lead and do our part.

Marisa Lagos: Thank you, Assemblymember. Mr. Ramos, finally getting to you, I mean you represent communities that have never had equity in our society. So I’m curious how you’re approaching this moment because as everyone else noted, these are not shocking sort of fissures that we’re recognizing, but I think for some people maybe it’s more recognizable than ever.

James Ramos: I agree with my colleagues that COVID-19 and some of the different issues and environment now that’s facing the state of California has only highlighted the need for issues that already have been part of what it is that California was struggling with, homelessness, mental health, suicide, all these other areas and housing were areas that California was also trying to address, but now with COVID-19, it has shown the disparities even larger than what people even imagined. With broadband access when we talk about education achievement gaps, talking specifically about different cohorts out there and the Native American community of why it’s been so underperforming and showing that the crisis of showing distance learning and now putting that together with trying to get equitable internet access for those.

One of the things that we’ve also identified in some of the most hardest hit areas in our community, people of color, and we see that the underlying conditions of health care have moved forward to heighten the area of COVID-19 of positive tests and those succumbing to COVID-19. And we see it higher in the Native American population in the state of California, across the nation and that goes back to health care and substandard health care that’s there. And even starting to address now where we’re at as far as vaccines moving forward, trying to get out there and talk to those that to accept that the vaccines, get the vaccine, there’s hesitance to move forward. Some have different legitimate reasons, but when people in the educational process within the Native American community, when our older elders are resistant to take some of those vaccines, we have to truly understand that as late as the 1970s, there was a sterilization policy inflicted upon the Native American women, including the state of California.

So once we bring that education full circle, when we start to discuss that, that would start to open up why there’s so much resistance. And when we start to see the opportunities of moving forward in the state of California, here on this panel, you have a diverse group with different ideas representing different people throughout the California State, but we also need to make sure that we’re addressing those issues from the past to where we are to the present so in the future, we could continue to work together.

Marisa Lagos: Thank you. Senator Caballero, do you have time for a question? I’m curious, I mean Senator Skinner kind of alluded to this, but we have had a kind of bit of whiplash when it comes to the state budget this year in terms of what we expected at the beginning of COVID, how it’s turned out, but then also the state is going to be getting billions of dollars from both the $1.9 trillion rescue plan and if the infrastructure and jobs bills pass. I mean we’re talking about really big investments in things like fighting child poverty. What do you see then as like … But then as I’m a public school mom and I’m hearing well, in two years, we’re going to have a terrible budget. So what do you see as the sort of short and medium term outlook and more importantly, how can you all in your positions really make sure that money is spent on fighting these intransigent issues instead of whatever, the people see a difference, you want to make them see a difference, right?

Anna Caballero: That’s exactly right. So let me tell you, let me even make it more complicated than that. There’s no question that the state is going to get money from the federal government, relief money and then our budget is very, very healthy, and we’re trying to figure out how do we put resources out there to help people now where they’re at right now, how can we get people back to work. And then every single city and county, they’re getting money from the federal government as well. So the question becomes how do we stimulate economy so that we’re getting the most bang for our buck? Exactly what you’re saying, which is two years down the road, once we have expended our resources, my guess is this stock market is not going to continue indefinitely and we’ll be back to a more normal kind of budget, and we need to make sure that we haven’t grown government so much that we’re having to shut down things that we started that were great ideas, but that we can’t sustain long-term. And I think that’s the challenge that we have is not to overpromise, but to try to take the state dollars that we have right now, try to figure out how do we work with our local governments as well so that we can get things done that they’ve wanted to do for years.

What does that look like? I don’t know. From my perspective, we have a serious water quality issue and water availability issue. So investing in water infrastructure to me seems to make a whole heck of a lot of sense. It puts people back to work. Those are the kinds of projects I think that if … In my district, the number one issue pre-pandemic was the creation of good jobs. A lot of the jobs are related to agriculture and people don’t earn a lot of money and so people are really interested in good jobs. So if we can create those good jobs all over the state, and I think probably Senator Skinner has the same issues in her district, people have moved into her district out of the San Francisco area because they can’t afford to live there anymore, but they still need a good job. And so how do we do that in the short term so that in the long term, we have the resources at the state to do all the great things that we want to do?

Marisa Lagos: Assemblymember Chiu, I want to ask you about that because I mean you’ve known Governor Newsom for a long time as have I. He came in with very bold ambitions around things like early childhood education and childhood poverty, and increasing the minimum wage, a lot of these very expensive, but I think you would argue necessary progressive proposals. So I mean how do you see the ability to do what the senator’s talking about, which is not to kind of go too far and overinvest in government programs that are either going to have to shrink or we have to pay for, but also uphold these promises that quite frankly most of you all campaigned on?

David Chiu: We have to be really in using the dollars that we have and I very much appreciate that Governor Newsom before this pandemic had laid out bold proposals on what we needed to do to address issues that are still ongoing. And despite the fact that he and all of us have been juggling crisis after crisis, plague after plague, we are still trying to stay focused on the big things. So I’ll talk about one topic we haven’t discussed which is we had hoped that homelessness was going to be at the top of the agenda before the pandemic hit. In fact, Governor Newsom had devoted the last State of the State address a couple weeks before we went into shutdown on this very topic and we haven’t …

I really have to applaud the governor for using federal dollars to do what has been likely the most successful short-term program to move people into underutilized hotels and motels, Project Roomkey and Homekey, to get thousands of folks off the streets, but as we’ve been doing this even more people are becoming homeless. And so we are eagerly awaiting the possibility of more federal stimulus dollars and I know talking to mayors all over the state, there’s this idea that we should make a very significant at least one-time investment in trying to get a hand on this, but I’ll say because we have the chair of the Senate Budget Committee here, we have to be very, very smart in how we use these dollars because we know they’re not going to last and we’ve got really a couple of shots to make some real impacts in addressing inequity and we’ve got to use our … We got to pick our moments smartly.

Marisa Lagos: That seems like a good transition to you, Senator Skinner. I’m sure you have all the answers, but I mean on housing and homelessness in particular, this is … I mean I keep just thinking about how California is sort of painted often in the national press, I don’t know, it looks lovely outside my window, but if you listen to some networks, it’s all on fire and it’s going … But it is true that we have a really horrible homeless crisis that housing has been such a challenge. I don’t know, do you think this pandemic has moved the needle around any of those issues, nimbyism, the sort of challenge of connecting all these dots?

Nancy Skinner: It’s interesting. I think during the pandemic … Well, the visual nature of our folks that have to live in encampments alone, I mean no Californian can at all I think rest easily knowing that we have … We’re the richest state in the richest country in the world and that we have this many of our brothers and sisters that are living that cannot afford a roof over their heads, and there’s a lot of people that want to characterize it as well, they’re addicted or they have mental illness. And the fact is that that is not the majority of those people that can’t afford a roof over their head. And the other fact is that if you go and talk to those folks who can’t afford the roof over their head, they’ve lived in your community for years. They didn’t come here from somewhere else. They just got priced out.

And as you, as I think Senator Caballero pointed out and Marisa, you pointed out, we created this problem. And when I say we, because we did not build enough housing for 40 years minimum, 40, maybe 50 even, we did not, in some communities far worse than others and, unfortunately, my own community, the one I live in and I’ve lived in for a long time, Berkeley was one of the worst perpetrators of this. Now Berkeley is beginning to be more open-minded, but what I found fascinating during this pandemic is the other thing that became talked about much more and it was moving up through other … there were other circumstances, Trump being in the White House, various other things that caused more of white America I would say, well, more of those folks who are of color in America sort of raising the issues of the way that racism has permeated so many things, legal and other, that have affected that ability for people to get housing, get education or be incarcerated or any number of things like that. And then …

But in the pandemic because so many of us were stuck at home, I think white America began to, maybe not all, but began to look at these issues, too. And we saw the reaction to say the George Floyd murder and such, but that also started raising a discussion about how our housing policies have actually been very exclusionary and from a racial point of view. And that as much as we have wanted to preserve the character of our neighborhoods, what we haven’t always understood is that preserving the character of our neighborhood, if our neighborhood is dominantly white and dominantly one income means that we are cutting out other people. We have excluded lower income people, and I don’t even see lower, I mean even middle class people and, of course, people of color.

I think California is engaged in that conversation whether we can do the change fast enough to address the issues, time will tell, but what I’m very hopeful about is that we will use these funds that we have right now and make a significant dent. And our colleague, Assemblymember Chiu, mentioned short term fixes. In fact, Project Homekey is not a short term. Those properties were bought permanently and so those folks that are housed are hopefully housed permanently, but of course, we have to both increase that a great deal, but then stop the flow, the creation of so many homeless people. And what with this pandemic-induced economic harm, we hope, we want to make sure that we don’t have people that end up leaving where they live to avoid eviction because they can’t afford or being foreclosed.

So, we’re going to have to make three big investments. We’re going to have to make big investments in rental assistance to keep people housed. We’re going to have to make sure there’s not a big foreclosure wave. And we have to make an investment to create new housing units for those who are homeless. And then, I just wanted to … Well, two other last points. I want to thank the University of California and the Institute of the Study of Societal Issues for hosting this. And I want to remind all of us, which I’m sure many of the listeners know, how critical our education system is in California and our incredible public universities, both CSU and UC system. And when we look at the UC system, some of the highest rated public universities in the world and when we really look at who we’re giving education to, so many of the students that graduate from our UC system are first generation students, are students who have very low income, but if you look at these private schools that are so fantastic and they give great scholarships and all, they don’t have near the cross-section of economic diversity that our CSU and UC system has. And so, of course, we have to reinvest in those systems to keep that opportunity available.

And then finally, I’m just really proud to have a colleague like Assemblymember Ramos that California would … We talk so much about we’re trying to right various racial, but California really hasn’t fully acknowledged or accepted its very extreme racial history in that in effect our … Where we tried to wipe out our entire Indian population and very deliberately and very directly. It was not an accident whatsoever. And so many of us grew up without any understanding of it. I’m a native Californian, I had no understanding. I thought the only Indians in America lived in the Navajo Nation or the … I knew about Navajos, I knew about … I had no concept until an adult that there were even any, any Indians in California or any of the role of California in wiping out a very huge population. So I just am so glad that we have a colleague, and not that it should be on his shoulders, it is not, to remind us of that. It is on all of ours to correct that history and to acknowledge that circumstance.

Marisa Lagos: Yeah. I want to give you a chance to respond to that, Assemblymember Ramos, because it seems like we are starting to have many of these conversations more sort of broadly and more directly, but I know like teaching Native American curriculum is still a huge issue, right? Can you talk about that a little bit? And how does that interplay into some of the bigger kind of equity issues we’re talking about? Because it’s not just about learning something in school, right? It’s about putting it into action.

James Ramos: Yeah, it truly is and thank you, Senator, for those kind words in recognition of the California people in the state of California. And it’s true, I mean the different acknowledgment and the land acknowledgment that took place here on this panel discussion, but it’s true, right? I mean we went from a period of being invisible to many to being forgotten by many and then all of a sudden, you see start economic development move forward on some reservations, but not all and then people have one idea. We went from not even being acknowledged to now the stereotype of casinos and tribes are doing well when that’s far from the truth. It’s only a handful of tribes that continue to be successful at gaming.

Meanwhile, all these issues that we’re talking about, the issues of sterilization policy, people might not even know that existed. People might not even know that the first governor in the state of California put out bounties on the California Native people against their souls and they got paid when they brought dead Indian people in to show that they killed Indian people to get paid the militia dollars that the state approved by the first governor in the legislature and then got reimbursed by the federal government for that money that came through.

And then we have a governor, the governor, Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019 issued for the first time in the history of the state of California apology for the atrocities and genocide inflicted on the California Native people. And so that mentality happened so far back in history, the mentality of viewing California’s first people as something less than human so they could continue to move forward and take what they wanted, right? And it started with the Russian exploration, the Spanish era, right, with the mission systems that led to the Mexican rule, the U.S. rule, ultimately, the state of California, but the mentality towards the Indian people here in the state of California started with those early explorations of the Russian and the Spanish.

That’s why it’s so important to get into the educational components of educating the factual truth of what truly happened here in the state of California, the third and fourth grade learning about those in your own backyard, the lonely people out there where UC Berkeley is. In our area, the Serrano [inaudible] people, on the State Capitol, the Miwok, Nisenan people. What truly happened in that history because the history that’s been taught has been taught by those who have oppressed the people that they’re talking about. Now is the time for that voice to have those people that were oppressed to be able to tell that story and correct the history in the state of California.

And we continue to work and we continue to see the issues that affect the state of California. And as a Californian Indian person, I’ve sat on the different boards in our local area, county board of supervisors, state board of education, and homelessness has always been a number one issue that’s there as well as mental health. And one of the areas that we have dived into is working with our youth, our homeless youth. When I left San Bernardino County, there was over 50,000 homeless youth that were attending our local schools, K through 12. We want to be more proactive to that situation. That’s where we need to dive in, our homeless youth population, getting them the resources that are there and tackling the mental health component.

People will start to see and start to talk about our economy needs to open up and move forward, but there’s no way that we could talk about moving our economy forward unless we’re going to start to talk about the mental component and the mental health stability of those being asked to go back into the classroom, the stability of the mental health of those being asked to open back up their business, and the mental health stability of the consumer that’s asked to now be part of the economic recovery.

Marisa Lagos: It strikes me … Well, I’m looking at some of the audience questions and I think there’s a handful around this question of people and corporations leaving California because of the expense, citing high taxes, saying it’s too hard to live here. On the other hand, I have a bunch of questions from people saying isn’t this all about wealth disparity? Shouldn’t we tax the rich more? Should we repeal Prop 13? Senator Caballero, I’ll start with you there. First of all, is it true, are we seeing a huge exodus out of this state? Is that something that you worry about as a policymaker? And how do you kind of balance those two things, which is we never have enough resources to do all the work, but you also don’t want to just discourage innovation and all those other things.

Anna Caballero: I think you said it right, which is that we don’t want to discourage innovation and we want to … We are known for losing industries whether it’s the … Oh, gosh, I had a total blank. Back in the ’70s, we lost all of these companies that did aerospace work, right, and Los Angeles in particular was devastated, but we shifted and we brought in all of these … The Silicon Valley had just exploded and has become a real center of innovation from the, not only on the tech stuff, but also on the pharmaceutical world as well. And so, there will always be individuals that leave to look for a way to save money in another state. That’s just the way it is.

I think the reality of the situation is that California’s migration, whether it’s in or out, has stayed relatively level over the years and you always hear about this rush of businesses that are leaving the state and it’s going to be tragic, and we’re going to hell in a handbasket, and the national state, they were ready to kiss California goodbye a couple of years ago. And we defy all of that because the bottom line is that we have some of the most progressive policies in terms of leading the world in innovation and in climate change, quite frankly, despite what was happening on the national stage.

And so I think the real issue is this, if you ask people in the state of California whether they believe we ought to tax the wealthy more, the percentage is very high that they support that idea. I think we need to be careful because we need to figure out how do we, and there’s no question there’s this imbalance of income, how do we create an opportunity for people at the bottom of the income scale to be able to earn a better living without it being from the government, right? In other words, right now we’re going to have to subsidize some of that through the earning income tax credit, which is a great way to put money into the hands of people that are working, but aren’t earning enough money. And what we have to do I think is do the training. I think we have one of the best educational systems, but we need to do a lot more in that area and in particular have to do it …

I think Nancy was talking about having the unenviable number one in single women. She’s either number one or number two. I’ve heard that Merced County’s number one and so we can fight over who’s got the most in that category.

The depressing part about it is that if we know this, what are we doing about it? What can we do? How can we … First, it’s understanding it. Is it an educational issue? Is it child care support issue? We’ve got to figure this out. I think we’re real committed to it. But the other part of it is that we’ve got to be able to create jobs all over the state. The economic recovery if you look at where it was felt the most was in the Silicon Valley, in the Bay Area. The rest of the state has not made up for the losses that they suffered in ’07, ’08, and ’09 where people lost their homes. And so we’ve got to figure out how to be able to get resources so that we can … If it’s education, education, if it’s building, it’s doing the building work that put people to work.

I guess the challenge that we have is, again, gets back to equity. How do we figure out how to do this in a way that it’s felt all over the state? Because it’s my belief that people are really looking, they’re looking for hope and hope is when people are earning a good salary, they can come home, pay their own bills and that’s good for the state and local government coffers.

Marisa Lagos: Yeah. I have a question from an attendee asking whether California should be looking at its own green new deal to deal with climate change, but also to sort of jumpstart the economy. Assemblymember Chiu, is that on the table?

David Chiu: Absolutely. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a number of years. I know it’s sort of aspirational at some levels, but I would say in California, we are really trying to figure this out. I’ll give one example of a bill that I recently introduced. Right off the coast of California, 20 to 30 miles out, we get enough offshore winds. If we had enough offshore wind turbines to literally meet all of the energy needs of our state, we haven’t tapped it. And so we are having a conversation right now in the legislature just about how we move this forward. There are many examples of new technologies that are being innovated in the great state of California.

And you asked a question before about whether California has seen its best days and it reminded me of that quote of Mark Twain about how reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated. There’s a reason why California has been the fifth largest economy in the world. The innovation that we have, the venture capital community, the entrepreneurs and the workforce, our educators, the fact that this is a forum that is being hosted by the best public university system in the country, these are our strengths and, of course, there are issues that we have to tackle. There are more things we can do to help our workforce and to move our economy along, but I wouldn’t write us off yet and I would say when it comes to clean energy and creating new green and clean, we are figuring this out right now in a lot of different contexts and I’m pretty bullish on it.

Nancy Skinner: I just want to add one quick thing. And so we’re doing this forum in the Bay Area and so I imagine that we have been acutely aware of some exodus because, and this was in LA Times article recently that it was actually Policy Lab that did the study, so unfortunately, our friend, Mr. Chiu’s district that is losing the folks. I mean the main exodus-

Marisa Lagos: The parking is excellent right now.

Nancy Skinner: So far the main exodus so far, the main exodus or shift in population has been San Franciscans leaving San Francisco, but contrary to all these claims like they’re all going to Texas and all, they’ve in fact moving to other parts of California and-

Marisa Lagos: I think mostly to Alameda in the East Bay.

Nancy Skinner: Right, well, a lot of the East Bay, but also the Sierras, different communities in the Sierras because the tech companies have allowed them to … So anyway, so there’s, as my colleague, Senator Caballero pointed out, there’s always a lot of myths. During the whole recession was like every business has left California, Texas is taking them all … Now, yes, we always have some businesses leave. We always have some grow and expand. We always have some new ones start. We will see after a year or two whether any of these terrible predictions are … But there has been a shift of population out of San Francisco, whether that’s permanent or not, I think this opening up of being able to work from home and many companies saying that they’re willing to allow that work from home potentially even permanently causes demographic shifts, and we’ll see whether that, how that parcels out in the end. Does it open up some more housing units in San Francisco or does it unfortunately put more housing pressure on those areas where these folks have left or moved to? Independent of that, we have to build more housing.

Marisa Lagos: But Elon Musk left. I mean isn’t that everything?

Nancy Skinner: Well, he may come back. His companies are still, many of their factories, right here, right?

Marisa Lagos: Right. No, I know. I think often there’s a bit of East Coast media bias in a lot of these stories. Assemblyman Ramos, you represent a district that I mean I’m familiar with because my husband grew up in the high desert so I’m just going to make a broad generalization here and say it’s … I mean it’s less blue for sure than some of the members here, but it’s also I think a place where people might be a little more skeptical of government to begin with, and I think a lot of people have lost their faith in government from top to bottom during this pandemic. So how are you talking to your constituents about rebuilding that trust and sort of trying to move forward? Because I mean you can go down the list from schools to the health system, it’s been a rough year for everyone.

James Ramos: Yeah, it definitely is and the district that we represent in the Inland Empire, there is a lot of areas, the cities that we represent, Rancho Cucamonga, City of Redlands, Highland, Loma Linda and San Bernardino to some extent, but there is that big distrust in government. And when you see and you hear that the budget has a surplus, then automatically there comes well, now that we have that extra money, can’t you use it for these different programs? But you also see businesses that are truly struggling, small businesses that are going out of business, and how do they gain that trust back from their elected leaders, right?

And so we have to be able to balance some of the discussion that’s going on and taking place in the state legislature, which my colleagues and us have done a great job at understanding the differences that different districts bring to the table in the state of California. Certainly in our district, and those who know that small business is an area that we continue to talk about protecting small businesses, particularly 25 employees or less. And why that number is there is because when the minimum wage was moved forward, businesses would have to move forward and get to that $15 level over a period of a year. But there was also that one year to catch up for businesses with less than 25 employees or less. So we continue to advocate on those behalves and standing up for a lot of those issues.

Now the distrust continues. Even in the topic as far as is it true, is it fact or myth that businesses are leaving the state of California to Texas or Arizona? But there’s also the facts and myths at the local level that the government has put so much burden on businesses that they can’t even survive. However, there’s businesses that truly do open up. There’s some businesses that close up and there’s businesses that have weathered the storm. I think looking at a lot of the issues from the levels in the infrastructure, from the business owner to the person they pay the lease to and the bank that owns the lease, there has to be that full discussion if we’re truly talking about easing the burdens on businesses.

And in our area, and the question is how do deal with our constituency in our area when we know there’s a big distrust in government to begin with is by taking those question and advocating on their behalf and making sure that we add that to the table for the larger discussion at the state legislature, which we’ve been successful at working with our counterparts in our legislative colleagues.

Marisa Lagos: We’re going to have to leave it there. I’m personally just really grateful for you all being here and especially grateful that you all made it through this hour without getting called back. Although, hopefully, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a much later night. Assemblymember Ramos, Assemblymember Chiu, Senators Caballero and Skinner, thank you all. We did not solve the world’s problems in this hour, but I think we started so appreciate it. And Professor Small, I’ll hand it back to you.

Stephen Small: Thank you very much, Marisa. We appreciate your skillful and easygoing, both provocative and thoughtful interventions and moderation. Thank you, Senator Anna Caballero, Assemblymember David Chiu, Assemblymember James Ramos and Senator Nancy Skinner. We appreciate the time that you shared with us tonight. I join Marisa in thanking you wholeheartedly for staying with us the whole time, sharing your thoughts, your insights and your advocacy. And as an educator, I’d like to say that I sincerely appreciate your recognition of the role of education in general and the role of the UC and CSU systems in particular. Thank you to all our co-sponsors and to everyone who joined us tonight. And on behalf of my colleagues and students at the Institute for the Study of Societal Change, I’d like to wish you all a very pleasant evening and success in your future endeavors.