QUESTION 1: FUNDING OF ELECTIONS What legislative measures would you support to ensure adequate and stable funding of election administration in California?
Assemblymember Evan Low is very active in supporting measures to increase voter access. As Chair of the California Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee, he introduced a package of bills recently to improve voter participation, eliminate barriers to voting, and fight back against those who seek to deny Californians their voting rights. One of his bills supports the idea of making election day a holiday. Another supports prepaid postage on all mail in ballots. Another bill he is introducing lowers the voter age to 17. He stated, "California has the strongest voter accessibility in the books." He also shared that he was shocked and dismayed to hear President Donald Trump continue to make irresponsible and unfounded allegations about widespread voter fraud in California when there is no evidence for such a claim....a claim which undermines our democracy.
Regarding inconsistencies in voting procedures and funding between counties in our state, Assemblymember Low explained that it was differences of opinion regarding local control and state control that were at the heart of this issue. "Each county has its own system in place," he said, adding that state versus local control is a complex and challenging issue.
Passionate about the importance of voting, Assemblymember Low stated he would be a champion for any measure to support adequate and stable funding for our state election process. He shared with us the sad fact that in 2014 only 25% of California eligible voters cast a ballot. His goal is to take down barriers to voting and to streamline and improve the process.
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 run in your legislative priorities?
Assemblymember Low emphasized that he, as a former community college instructor, has a passion for higher education. He has been a member of the State Assembly Committee on Higher Education since his initial year in the office. In terms of increasing access, he shared how "time to completion" strongly impacts access. The fact that only nine percent of San Jose State students graduate in four years, not only increases cost, but also limits space available for other students. Time to completion at the Community College and University levels has also increased. One of the reasons for this problem is that courses aren't offered when or where needed and this delays students from graduating. Tuition and housing costs also continue to increase. Obviously, more funding is needed, but how to acquire the funding is, in his opinion, the critical issue. He discussed the need for more certainty and less fluctuation in state revenue. One possible solution being discussed in Sacramento would be to restructure the current sales tax by lowering it and instituting a tax across the board on all goods and services purchased. "To keep kicking the can down the road is not a solution," he concluded.
Assemblymember Low was made aware of and given a copy of the recently completed LWVC Study of Public Higher Education in California. When asked if he would support an increase in the number of Community Colleges being able to offer four year degrees, he answered in the affirmative. This would certainly increase access for many students because the student would be able to live at home and wouldn't incur increased transportation costs.
QUESTION 3: WATER RESOURCES What kind of legislative proposals would you support to ensure that enough water of adequate quality is available for municipal and industrial uses, agriculture, and environment in the face of over-stretched surface water and groundwater resources and climate conditions different than those California experienced in the last century?
Assemblymember Low began his answer to this question by referring to the recent Oroville Dam disaster which made us all aware of the importance of the infrastructure. Again, funding is needed to improve our state's infrastructure. The question he and fellow legislators face is how to determine the fairest ways to increase the revenue stream for the state. This increase in revenues is needed to ensure that the repair of this infrastructure takes priority. He is aware of other state committees such as Natural Resources and Parks and Wildlife discussing infrastructure issues, but he is not a member of these committees.
QUESTION 4: WHAT OTHER ISSUES DO YOU THINK THE LEGISLATURE MUST DEAL WITH IN 2017? WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL PRIORITIES?
Assemblymember Low stated that he is most concerned with the initiative process which he sees as an "abuse of the system." This initiative process leads to special elections which are quite costly. He cited the recent initiative in Campbell to allow several medical marijuana dispensaries even right next to residences, and to allow growing of a large amount of marijuana in private homes for "personal use". Because proponents forced this into a special election, this initiative alone costs the taxpayers $700,000. It also is likely to have far lower and less representative turnout than a general election. He is introducing a bill which will consolidate special elections into the regular election cycle unless the local governing body decided the matter was sufficiently urgent to merit a special election.
Question #1 + Voting and Elections + What legislative proposals would you support to improve the number of California citizens who register and turn out to vote? Are there other steps that government should take to engage more California residents in elections?
Assemblymember Low said voting is important so that it is not just a few people who determine policy. His ideas for increasing voter participation and removing barriers include: making Election Day a holiday, or moving the election day to an existing holiday, such as Caesar Chavez Day; the future possibility of using new technology such as voting via biometrics on one's cell phone or other secure devices once issues such as security and creating a paper trail are resolved; and also, he wanted to make the voter experience better. He also supports full disclosure in mail pieces in campaign materials, and transparency and said that there needs to be more education around issues (something the League can help with). Low has introduced a bill, now in its second year, AB1689, to mandate civics education and require a "service learning" component in the school curriculum.
Question #2 + Housing + What will you do to ensure that your constituents are not displaced from their homes, and what steps would you take to increase the supply of housing + especially housing that is affordable to people of modest means? Do you agree this would require a stable and dedicated source of funding?
Assemblymember Low noted the high cost of housing locally and that one needs to make $171,000 to afford a single family home in this community. This issue is personal to him as neither he nor his staff can afford to purchase a single family home in the community that they represent. . Housing is a priority issue for him. How to increase housing in our already built-out environment? The only way to add housing is to increase density, build up and near transit, he said, which often clashes with what many residents feel is the need to retain "suburban integrity," and who oppose increasing density. He said there's a "stigma" attached to Affordable Housing, and a NIMBY attitude about building such housing. To address this issue, he co-authored AB 1335 which would place a $75 fee on all real estate filings and that fee would go toward Affordable Housing. He also suggested that there be some sort of "density bonus" incentives for developers, changing state regulations allowing "tiny housing" or micro-housing concepts. He is also part of a Bay Area legislative delegation that is seeking $1 billion from the General Fund to be used for funding homelessness, Affordable Housing, and workforce housing.
Question #3 + Climate Change + What are your priorities for state legislation and policies on climate change? Are there other related issues that you feel need to be addressed?
Assemblymember Low focused on the need for funds for road and highway infrastructure and increased efficiency in transportation and transit. He is working on a bill to provide tax incentives for building more charging stations for electric vehicles. He also supports work by Senator Jim Beall on the need to reform the gas tax, but noted the challenges of increasing taxes, and the conflicts between raising the gas tax and the idea of a flat (but regressive) tax on cars. He also called for renewable standards, and how the monies from Cap and Trade would best be used to mitigate impacts of fossil fuels.
Question #4 + Local Question on Transportation + What is the likelihood of state funding for BART to bring BART to San Jose and the possibility of fixing the problem with declining tax revenues?
Assemblymember Low said that there needs to be a range of options for funding BART new construction and we need to look at many sources such as: Prop 30, an oil severance tax, other taxing options. The major issue is taxing through legislation vs. the ballot box. We need to "sound the alarm" and need to educate and build support. Currently, he noted, it is not politically expedient and there is inadequate public support. He expressed support for a ½ cents sales tax increase.
Question #5 + Local Question on Water + The Assemblymember was asked for his solutions, such as technical or incentives to resolve the question about the twin tunnels. Meg Giberson noted that the LWVC is opposed to the current WaterFix and shared the state letter of Oct. 30, 2015 in which the State LWV noted that the "environmental impact report/statement "fails not only to meet the League's criteria for supporting new conveyance infrastructure in the Delta but also to conform to established law."
Assemblymember Low said that he currently has no position on the Twin Tunnels but will join a delegation to Amsterdam and would learn more about their work on similar projects and wants to be more educated on the matter. He was on the West Valley Sanitation District, and learned that was lots of "leakage" and that there is opportunity to save water through elimination of those leaks. He also noted that Central Valley legislators have urged state legislators to stop demonizing farmers and so it's not an "us vs them" problem. Low said that we need a collective solution.
In response to question about his priorities, Low said he is always asks himself: Am I adding value? As a supplement to the interview, the Assemblymember provided these points below:
From the office of Assemblymember Evan Low: I was very genuine when I talked about investment in our civic duty. I just see the dismantling of our democracy. There was a record number of campaign spending in elections and a record low voter turnout.
I am focused on encouraging folks to engage in the discussion and political process.
QUESTION 1: Money in Politics 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.
Yes, I would support funding for the rebuilding of Cal Access. Cal Access is a great resource where the public can find out about the contributors to political campaigns. In my opinion, the State needs to go further. We need further disclosure so that people know who supports the independent expenditures. I think the lack of transparency has made an impact on voter apathy. I believe that our democracy suffers if we are not transparent
QUESTION 2: 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?
I think it is vital that we invest in early childhood education programs including universal preschool and transitional kindergarten. We know that the economy is cyclical. When we are in a recession, the revenue stream is uncertain. During these times, early childhood education programs are some of the first to be cut from the budget. In my opinion, we need to be engaged in conversations about long-term solutions to improve the certainty of funding for vital expenditures such as early childhood education.
The Governor has proposed $250 million for early childhood education. The Chair of the Assembly Committee on Education is an educator and one of his focuses is on the educational components of our four year olds. I believe that we need to invest in our education system so that we can provide our children with the tools for success as early as possible.
QUESTION 2: 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?
Our state has a one-size fits all policy. I recognize that the local education agencies throughout the state face different circumstances every year. I think it is disingenuous and hypocritical for the state to tell school districts that they have to spend their funds instead of saving them. I believe that the intent of the law was to ensure that districts are spending their funds on teachers, classrooms, facilities, etc. and not hoarding revenue. I believe this is a work in progress and we need to work with local education leaders, school board members, teachers, etc. to modify the rules. It is important to get their input on how the cap on reserves will impact them.
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?
We are in the worst drought in recorded history. Prop 1 and the recent groundwater legislation is an incremental step in the right direction. We need to ensure that our region receives the funding assistance it needs to improve our failing infrastructure. Throughout the state, we have deferred maintenance. We can no longer delay these structural improvements.
Finding new solutions to ensure California's water supply is important. It is time to explore desalinization. I recognize that these initiatives are costly, but every option should be on the table. What new methods can be used?
Question 4: Climate Change + What legislation regarding climate change would you support?
The Governor has already proposed that we have 50% renewables by 2030 and, as is, that will be very challenging unless municipalities change the way they operate. This would include investments in solar, meeting goals for diversion of solid waste, etc. We have already banned single-use bags and polystyrene to meet some of the climate change goals, but I think we can do more.
I would support legislation that improved infrastructure and encouraged building transit corridors near affordable housing units. When you build more housing, it has to be near major transit thoroughfares.
Question 5. What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2015? What are your personal priorities?
I was very genuine when I talked about investment in our civic duty. I can see the dismantling of our democracy. In the past election, there was a record low voter turnout. Less than 20% of the eligible electorate makes the decision. I am passionate about improving civic engagement and voter turnout.
I am also working on income inequality in our region and affordable housing. Do you think that most 30 year olds can afford to live in a single family home in our community? No. This is tragic. People are unable to live in the community they work in. I represent Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, and the San Jose neighborhoods of Rose Garden, Willow Glen, Cambrian, Almaden Valley, and West San Jose. In our district, we have Title I schools. There is a sense of rags and riches in our community. I want to make sure that we begin addressing these issues.