Making Democracy Work

Interview with Senator Robert Wieckowski

2017 Interview

Legislative Interview with Senator Robert Wieckowski February 17, 2017, League of Women Voters Fremont-Newark-Union City, San Jose-Santa Clara-Eden

Question #1 Funding of Election: What legislative measures would you support to ensure adequate and stable funding of election administration in California?

Senator Wieckowski believes that State and local governments have a fundamental obligation to provide an election process that ensures the integrity, accessibility, and security of our right to vote. He stated that the state government should raise funds to support election by closely looking at the budget planning to ensure to have spending funds for election. He stated that the state should: To raise tax to generate for the general fund to support election funding to improve aging voting system including voting machines, inconsistent by county, the poor areas Trust legislators to do their job including their responsibility for supporting the funding of election Election is the matter for general governing and general service, the fund should come from the general fund, cannot come from special funds Have the cap-and-trade program to generate fund for the general funds and then come back to use the fund for election including the special elections in the local districts. Need to change "Cap and trade" to "Cap and tax". Senator wants to introduce a bill that would tax carbon with money going to the gen fund Election is fundamental and general service and state government should be responsible to provide stable fund for the service. 9% of California residents are legal residents but not U.S. citizens. The Legal Aid services should be robust. Voting Services is foundational, and we must support it. There is a lack of trust of the legislature to allocate money into special funds. Special elections create the need for special funds, and small and poor districts need assistance to fund them. He thinks the money should come from the General Fund and be generated from "cap and tax' of carbon emissions. He will introduce a bill on taxing carbon emissions and hope for a robust market in CA, Prop 98 mandated 40% of money must go to education; 10% to reserve fund the rest to the general fund so could be used for other things (didn't say it but left impression that it could be used for helping smaller/poorer districts with elections)

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 rank in your legislative priorities?

Senator Wieckowski stated that education is high on his list of issues he wants to address. He thinks California is making progress on higher education accountability. He stated that changes should be made to continue the progress in higher education: Changes to our Cal Grant program, which helps low- and middle-income California students to pay for college. Introduced legislation last year to have taxpayer-funded grant money. Property tax should be changed and reverse Proposition 13 to provide more money to fund higher education. The school funding generated through Proposition 98, which requires a certain amount of revenue be spent on schools, was a healthy start in making up for years of cuts. He supports every request for school funding. His priority is SB16 which lowers the cap on how much private lenders can garnish to the federal loan level of 15%. Per student funding is less than before. Student funding has increased by $3600 per student. He is disappointed by Governor Brown.Some students who do not qualify for Cal Grants are not qualified to get assistance. In the 1960's California had the highest student funding, because people's property tax supported the schools. Now, with Prop 13, it has changed student funding significantly. Today, 40% off the top of the budget goes to Prop 98 funding. Is it enough? Don't know. He always supports school funding. His top priority bill is lowering wage garnishment of private student loans. The private sector preys on parents to get these private student loans. Senator Wieckowski had some questions regarding perstudent spending in CA. Funding may still be lower than before the recession. He will provide numbers. The legislature has created 7,000 more slots for in-state admission to the CSU system and added resources to make it easier to apply. Senator Wieckowski's bill SB 16 allows but decreases the percentage of garnished wages of students/parents who take out private loans for higher education. Government education loans have a limit of 15% garnishment instead of the higher 25% limit on private loans. Senator Wieckowski's bill would take all garnishment limits down to 15%.

Question #3: Water Resources

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? New Bill will target the recycling of waste water Recharge through partial cleaning and then pump into aquifer for natural cleaning, currently waste water (semi-treated) and run-off goes directly to the bay. We need to better manage our water ---- Need more storage space but areas for more dams are already built upon. Need to reconsider whole plan. Dams are not evenly managed: some have high levels when others are low. There should be some way to shift around water to more evenly balance things + and in the process get more storage. Technology There has to be a meeting of all water treatment groups.... Sea level rising... what one area does to stop encroachment may impact another area ... Need joint planning... Some small or rich areas could declare themselves a water district and simply buy/import water without considering others. Senator is considering Legislation to stop this. Step A: No more proliferation of water districts Step B: More consolidation of water districts

Question #4: Local League Question What are your thoughts about brackish water desalination as a viable water supply alternative in California?

Even with the recent increase in interest in brackish water desalination in the media, Senator Wieckowski said he would like to let technology lead the way on whether and when and how much is invested in pursuing brackish water desalination development. There are currently five ocean desalination plants statewide,23 brackish water desalination plants existing in the state, including one in Newark within Senator Wieckowski's district, and 17 brackish water plants proposed, and with the USGS report expected in March of 2017 identifying the location of brackish water aquifers in the United States, Senator Wieckowski thinks that the challenges are huge and need to be addressed before desalination could be considered viable as a water supply alternative in California. Challenges - the biggest of which is energy costs i.e., forcing salt water through microscopic membranes, blending/treatment, piping from inland sites, management of brine i.e. collection, disposal remain, additionally, there are no alternative energy sources at this time that would make a significant contribution to the high costs. Senator Wieckowski highly supports water recycling and favors continued statewide water conservation efforts as the best methods going forward at this time. Last year's budget - San Jose tertiary treatment center, recycling. Answer is in the recycling of waste water, after you get over the "yuk" factor. For example, treat the water, it's clean, then put the treated water into the aquifers to fill the drying out aquifers. In the Bay Area, we treat water for Grade A waste (sewage), and then the treated water goes into the bay. We should look into recycling water from roofs, and reuse it. Sentor thinks that all land that's suitable for dam building have been used. We want to balance water storage & flood control. Bay water level is rising. You can't be putting more water into the bay. Senator's interests- storage, improvements, conveyance. He is interested in recycling and having dams retrofitted so they can cooperate in water storage and discharging water. He is concerned with rising sea levels that may compromise water and sewage plants- especially since in the Bay Area discharge is into the Bay and ocean which may be higher than the current pipes for discharge. SB 1263 prohibits any more small water districts from forming. Consolidation of districts is needed both for improving water quality and for saving operating expenses. (ACWD and USD did a study about joining but nothing came of it.) Desalination was discussed but he is concerned about the energy required to run the plants and the need to not over-use brackish water that is needed in the estuaries. USGS to publish map of brackish water & aquifers in California. There are 5 desalination plants. He sees 2 power plants next to one desalination plant. The more salt, the higher the amount of energy needed to run the desalination plant. Cities and residents must change their use of water. He does not support large brackish water plants in California. He has visited them. He believes in: let technology lead the way. He does not support the ban on fracking. He wants to have data first, before deciding to ban. He claims that hydraulic fracking has been going on for 50 years in California

Question #5: Local General League Question Affordable Housing:

SB 2- $75 fee for real estate transfers. SB3 was not a great success in providing AH for veterans and people with mental health problems, and the money has not been spent. The legislature is asking for $3 bilion in the budget for housing. He is pushing for accessible dwelling units- or granny units- that are cheaper to build because they do not require parking If they are mile from public transportation and can use existing hook-ups from the house on the lot. He estimated that 150,000 units could be built quickly. Senator Wieckowski bill is now law. Accessible granny units. Local cities have put impact fees on these granny units as much as some big mansions. For all second units, the minimum lot size is 10,000 sq. ft.
- No parking requirements on building a second unit
- If live within half mile of public transit, city should allow you to build second unit and to hook up the second unit. 150,000 units of affordable housing if 10% of houses can build a second unit in their back yard. He will get in front of school districts and organizations to talk about this idea. Encourage building of second units. There was a 2006 bill to support homes for veterans --- money not spent Redirect money to help homeless with mental problems A lot of local bonds were passed to support housing Sanctuary State We have the Trust Act, signed by the Governor. We do not hold people after they have done their penalty or community service. We are now part of the resistance, and we want to do this quietly. We don't want to show up on ABC News.

Question #6: Senator Wieckowski's Priorities for 2017

Senator wants to fund Legal Aid, help poor people get lawyers. He wants poor people to get immigration lawyers. "MUST" build up Legal Aid ... now only 1 lawyer for 10,000 people. NEED immigration lawyers. His Legislative Priorities SB 407 - freedom of speech vs. home owner association which did not allow free speech SB 504 - red dye #2 and yellow dye in all soft drinks have negative effects on children's hyperactivity SB 66: Bill 3 years ago regarding punitive damages. Stops companies receiving punitive damage awards from listing them as a business expense on their taxes. (now it can be deducted from their IRS taxes as a "necessary and ordinary expense" Bay Area Caucus: We meet about once a month. Just had a retreat to discuss Bay Area wide issues and needs. We meet as a democratic caucus. We meet as an environmental caucus.

2016 Interview


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?

In response to concerns regarding low voter turnout, Senator Wieckowski stated that voter apathy is a challenge. Currently we have Motor Voter in place; the Secretary of State website is in 6 languages, and CalVOTE is expected to be online by June 30, 2016. 73% of eligible voters are registered Statewide; 70% in Santa Clara County; and 78% in Alameda County. However, voter turnout is low unless there is a hot button issue. 42% of mail in ballots are not submitted. One option may be to have more places to turn those ballots in. There are no simple answers.

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?

Senator Wieckowski's package of income inequality bills last year included an idea that does not increase housing availability, but is a strategy of preventing people from losing their homes. This is to change the Homestead exemption to reflect higher home values. Currently the limits are home values of $75,000 for single people and $100,000 for married couples. SB 308 is on the Assembly floor now to increase those limits to $100,000/150,000 and add $300,000 exemption for seniors. Homesteading protects a person's personal home from being taken to pay debts. The median price of a home in Fremont is verging on $1 million now. A second effort (SB 308) Senator Wieckowski is working on is to revisit impact fees and requirements for "granny units". Additions to a house may be built, but when a stove is added, it becomes a separate unit. Current requirements include approximately $75,000 in impact fees, regardless of the size of the house. The set-back requirements and off street parking requirements are also in place. This discourages small granny units from being built. Once a stove is included impact fees are triggered. Another suggestion is to think about putting together a cluster of affordable housing, with architectural review, and rent to teachers and/or other public servants. One issue in Fremont is that the city requires all houses over 50 years old to be reviewed for historical status prior to making changes. This review requirement often dissuades owners from remodeling + or purchasing a property. AB 1335 (Atkins) is a current bill to create funds for more housing. Senator Wieckowski supports this bill. He also agrees that there needs to be a stable source of funding for housing now that Redevelopment Agencies no longer exist. There will be a "one time opportunity" to dedicate $1 Billion from current surplus to Affordable Housing in the upcoming budget, which the Senator supports but will have to be negotiated with the Governor.

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?

California is 12th in the world in producing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the state is also a leader in addressing pollution and climate change. Senator Wieckowski is chair of the Senate Environment Quality Committee. He represented California at the recent Paris Conference on climate. California was clearly the "belle of the ball" in that everyone wanted to hear from them regarding the formula for success: reducing carbon emissions while maintaining economic prosperity. Senator Wieckowski spoke enthusiastically about the 195 nations along with the EU that came together to create a blue print for change after 21 tries. In addition, a group of "sub-national" governments (states and provinces) developed an Under 2 by 2100 agreement that has 123 signatories by the end of the conference. The goal is to keep the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees worldwide, a very aggressive goal set by the Paris Conference. In terms of California, we have implemented Cap and Trade as a market based mechanism to curb carbon emissions. 60% of the funds collected have designated purposed, and 40% are used for discretionary projects. This money is largely unspent. They key is to find the technical, scientific, and political balance for investments with these funds. Cap and Trade expires in 2020. Areas of interest include rebuilding soil, use of dairy digesters, post wild fire forestry practices, disposal of restaurant waste upgrading biomass equipment. In response to a question about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the coal industry, Senator Wieckowski explained that the window for governments to approve the Paris agreement is from Earth Day 2016 (April) until Earth Day 2017. The Supreme Court has directed the lower courts to expand their views in the matter and make their decisions which can then be appealed to the Supreme Court again. This will delay the final decision. However, President Obama can use the existing Clean Air Act to enforce pollution reduction on the coal industry if the treaty is not in place.

Question 4: Local League Question(s) We asked about the possibility of a transfer station between the ACE (Altamont Commuter Express) lines and BART in Fremont.

State Senator Wieckowski stated that he had put forth this proposal in a special session as part of the Transportation bill, an idea previously thought up by Don Dillon. Basically, the transfer station would be near the Shinn Park, on Peralta and it would primarily be a transfer station (thus not needing a lot of land for parking). However, Bob thought there should be additional access points (resembling the Rockridge BART station. He also envisioned a pedestrian bridge. We asked about the likelihood of this bill passing and did not receive a definitive answer but there seems to be support for the concept. The legislature is currently in special session dealing with the Medicaid tax, which should be wrapped up next week, and a transportation tax. Under consideration are proposals to link ACE trains and BART to connect the Valley communities with the Bay Area. Senator Wieckowski's proposal in the bill is to build a Centerville/Niles transfer station with 3 access points. This would allow people to take the train in from the Valley and transfer to BART or another train, creating better connections among existing systems as relieving congestion on the freeways.

Question 5: What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2016? What are your personal priorities?

1. Homestead exemption
2. Will introduce a bill to limit cigarette sales to tobacconists because some $217 million is not being collected from convenience stores according to the State BOE.
3. Will introduce bill on arbitration that will not allow it for assisted living; and will not prevent the creation of a class action. Currently people have no recourse when companies create onerous arbitration policies. Arbitration was created for Business to Business disagreements in the 1930's as a way to avoid long and costly court proceedings. It is now used in many civil situations and there are no rules and procedures as there are in courts. Arbitration is not required to follow California law.

2015 Interview

League interview with Senator Robert Wieckowski, District 10 February 21, 2015 by league members John R. Smith of Fremont-Newark-Union City League and Martha Hull from the San Jose/Santa Clara League.

QUESTION 1: Money in Politics (Campaign Disclosure)

Senator Wieckowski state that yes, we need top level automation and we need transparent disclosure. People tend to forget need for campaign transparency in between elections. We need a good clear template for people to follow as far as submitting reports.

The Senator is worried about big money coming in without any limits ... and without requirement to tell who gave the money

The Senator is surprised that there is not a system in place now for submitting things electronically (reports, etc.) There are some good models already in use. He gave the example from his bankruptcy attorney practice. "I've been able to file reports for 10 years" Federal court system. He admits there are few courts, so the system is smaller, but it is a possible example to work from. He also mentioned electronic signatures accepted by almost everyone now. He did mention that the original "hard copy" documents had to be kept by the originator of the report.

The major problem with e-reporting as he sees it is that people must be well-trained to use the system. We need up-to-date computer systems and people that are comfortable with using them. +Good training is a must.

He is in favor of Cal Access. But doesn't understand why it has to come from the general fund then repaid by a special fund. Why not just set up the special fund.

The Senator would like to see automation at the top level of reporting and would prefer the same system throughout. The Senator supports funding for Cal-Access and the idea of item in budget O.K. and a loan idea possible. The Senator would support req. that Cal-Access be structured to allow expansion to include electronic filing of local disclosure reports.

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?

Senator Wieckowski sees the basic problem with lack of money and - of course +space. We must help schools get materials and space. ... Also a problem is how to implement the idea. One solution seems to be moving 6th grade into middle school + something that many schools already do. This might open up some room in elementary/primary schools. Note: schools must have proper equipment (child sized toilets, wash basins, etc.)

The Senator recommended a possible idea: make a school just for K & pre K .... Think about it. We don't have a "one child" policy. People with more than one child prefer to have children in the same school (ease of transportation etc.)

The Senator thinks that "pre-education" is a good idea but financially not feasible for more than one pre-K year for now. Should try to have at least 1 year pre-Kindergarten

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?

Senator Wieckowski stated that this is not a priority with the legislature right now. He voted to remove the cap but there is little pressure to do so in the legislature. Currently there is no move to change the law.

The Senator said there are things that can be done by the school district. Example: A simple way to get around the cap is to change the designation of funds: i.e. Change from unassigned to assigned, allowing Districts to keep funds for specific purposes. ie. Saving for new school or technology.

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?

Senator Wieckowski wants the state to adapt an "adaptation and resiliency" model to deal with the water issues facing the state. He mentioned one of the problems we have is not just water, but the ability for people / agencies to talk together about the problem / situation. (dams, snow pack, etc.) With better knowledge we can handle the problem better.

The legislature's #1 problem now is the reduction of greenhouse gases. To get attention for the water problem it has to be associated with greenhouse gases. i.e. Is recharging underground systems going to help reduce greenhouse gases?

The Senator suggested that the focus on water has to start with the Governor. We must raise adaptation to a high value

The Senator stated that our current goals are focused on the quotas set for 2020. We need to start looking beyond 2020. We need new targets (i.e. currently we are trying to reduce commercial buildings to 50% fewer emissions than the current buildings. Current buildings have a limit as to how long they will last. We need to look to even fewer emissions than that after 2020.

Greenhouse gases led to rising sea water which led to another discussion.

The Senator stated that the state is not doing much to plan for the rise in ocean tide levels in the future. He mentioned the "Little Hoover Rule" ---- We measure the size of state beaches from the high tide mark. ..... We measure the distance from the middle high tide mark to 100 feet inland as the size of the state owned/controlled beach. What is going to happen to the privately owned property beyond this current 100 foot mark when the high tide mark changes with the raising of the ocean water? The state gives no guidance about what to do with this situation (rising water/private property)

The Senator thinks that the state needs more technology so that different districts can communicate with each other. To tell others if its raining in that district, etc. He thinks the state should raise the value of adaptation versus mitigation. We're not creating alternative (incentives) enough with cap & trade.

The Senator stated that the $7 billion bond only funded partial solutions, and they focus mostly on mitigation when we should be focusing more on adaptation. "Dams should be talking to each other with technology" means that there is a lot of activity but lack of good communication to fit the pieces together. AB 32 focuses on reducing greenhouse gases, not on water. We need to push for adaptation for things like Direct Potable Reuse (DPR), developing long range targets and mandating best practice as in his bill, SB246.

Question 4. Has anything been done about the problem of repayment of college loans?

Introduced bill on wage garnishments.... Today creditor can garnish up to 25% of a person's wages. Most people with repayment problems are not in a position to handle that. Bill would have reduced the amount of garnishment to 10%. .... Bill did not pass.

Question 5 Climate Change

He will support a framework for greenhouse gasses (such as new target date for alternative fuels. Improve efficiencies of State buildings. Later add all commercial buildings.

Climate action plans: The state could force cities, but would need some way to control what the cities are doing. Big question+how do you get the public to buy in. They are creating email lists, etc. for outreach and holding hearing throughout the state.

Question 6. What is the legislature doing about problem of trains carrying oil or other hazardous substances?

Senator Wieckowski pointed out the huge number of trains /tankers / etc. that this includes and stated that there are too many variables at this time.