Assembly Candidates Face Off On the Issues

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday May 08, 2008 - 10:03:00 AM

The Daily Planet sat down with the four candidates in the California Assembly District 14 race, and asked them their views on various issues: health care, education, and economic development. The Planet is presenting some of their responses, continuing here with the economy. Their views on health care were published in the April 25 issue. 


Tony Thurmond 

In a word, it’s jobs. We need to increase the number of jobs in the Assembly district and in the state. 

Part of that development should be in green technology. I’m thinking about the pre-apprenticeship training program in Richmond that I helped to get started called Richmond Build. It’s a construction training program. We’ve graduated about three classes in this program. And one of the components that our graduates are being trained in is solar panel installation. So they can command a higher wage if they can go to a job and say they already have a skill, they have the capacity to do solar panel installation. I think it goes even beyond that. I know that there are venture capitalists who are looking to invest in all types of technology that can create alternative types of energy. They’re investing in wind, solar. I think that the state has to invest in these new forms of technology for us to have new energy sources and to allow us to lower our carbon footprint. So it’s a win-win. It’s good for the environment. To me it’s akin to what the internet must have meant to California ten years ago and what Silicon Valley meant to California ten years ago. This is our next opportunity, and if we spend some money to train people in the new technologies that are going to be coming online so they can earn those better wages, so that we can make sure that youth are more competitive and more prepared for the jobs of the future, we are basically investing in our future. 

And I think we shouldn’t forget about small businesses that are in the inner cities. In green technologies. Perhaps we can provide tax incentives for small businesses. We know the larger corporations will get them. We know that the venture capitalists will get them. We should be looking at small businesses. That’s where the majority of our jobs are going to come from. There’s going to be a need for the small businesses to service the larger companies that provide some of the larger products of green technology. And if you look in Richmond, many of these businesses may be minority-wned, they may be women-owned, but no matter what, they’re community-based. And they’re going to hire local people. They’re going to hire people that are coming out of our apprenticeship training programs in high school. They’re going to hire people who are looking for their first job out of high school or out of a community college or a four-year college. And we can use tax incentives for those companies to provide green products and hire local people. 

Legislatively, you can look at the investments the state makes every year. We invest tremendous amounts of money in all kinds of markets. If you look at the investments we make from our retirement pool, we could be investing those dollars into sustainable technology, making very smart and strategic investments that don’t present any additional risk, so that we’re protecting the benefits of our retirees. The treasurer of our state has great access to wealth and can invest that in a number of portfolios. And in the legislature, we should be directing that this is a priority, that we want to invest in more of these technological opportunities that are going to create jobs. 

The other area where we should be investing is in our infrastructure. We have neglected our roads. Local municipalities can’t keep up with their streets and roads and other infrastructure repairs, infrastructure that supports public transportation, improves roads, improves schools. We should be re-investing our resources there. This is not the time to cut. This is the time to spend, but to spend wisely, in a way that creates more jobs. The bond measures passed in 2006 for infrastructure translated into jobs for Californians, and that also means California will be more competitive in the economy. 


Kriss Worthington 

As a Councilmember I have been a vigorous supporter of union, good-paying jobs. Depending on who you listen to, Berkeley is the only, or one of the few, cities that have maintained and expanded a manufacturing base. We’ve lost some of our manufacturing, but we’ve also had a whole bunch of new green manufacturing in Berkeley and that is a very important part of the economy. There are many forces seeking to gentrify and drive that out. I’ve been actively involved in encouraging the formation of the Green Chamber of Commerce, helping the individual businesses to understand how to become green, and how simple or complicated that is. Helping defend land. Just like in Oakland there are threats to the land that could be used for manufacturing—people want to turn that into yuppie condos. Having a lot of high-income condos is not necessarily an improvement. I don’t believe in what I call trickle-down development philosophies, where you just let developers do what they want and you just assume there will be more jobs, there will be more housing, therefore it will help everybody. There’s actually been a better, stronger, and more clever coalition in Oakland than in Berkeley, coming up with ideas of what kinds of mitigations, and what kinds of community benefits do you require in development projects. 

To some extent in Berkeley and other cities now, you might care about how many well-paying jobs are going to come out of this development, but to some extent you’re restricted from even asking those questions and basing your decision on that kind of information because of the nature of state law and city regulations. 

I would think in the long-term we should have an equivalent to CEQA for community benefits and community impacts. I’ve been trying to get Berkeley to address this a little bit, not very successfully. Oakland has actually got a movement coalition through the East Bay Alliance for Sustainability. They’ve got a coalition built where they’ve got neighborhoods and unions working together to advocate for these kinds of policies. We’re not quite at that level in Berkeley. 

If we’re going to have policies like SB375 that Darryl Steinberg has been pushing heavily, which link land use and transportation funding, also getting into the mix, talking about community benefits and having an analysis doesn’t cost much. To the extent that we can make that a part of the equation, I think that’s valuable information for people to understand in what decisions they’re making. 

Green manufacturing is already happening, and it’s only a question of acknowledging it and building on it. Berkeley had some clear policies to encourage expansion of green manufacturing. 

Hopefully, green manufacturing will expand and other businesses will become green, even if they haven’t been historically, so that we can have growth and jobs and simultaneously protect the environment. But so much of the current economy is service jobs, not manufacturing. Restaurants and coffee houses, they are a major part of the economic engine, and they’re not well-paid jobs by and large. And all of these corporate chain stores that are expanding around us pay so little. So I feel when we’re talking about economic development, getting a living wage for all employees is an economic development strategy. That helps your economy. It gives people more money to live on. Some people would say that a living wage is anti-economic development. I would argue it’s pro-economic development because it’s helping the people in these careers have the capacity to pay their bills. Getting the service jobs to be decently paid is a critical part of economic development for the whole state. That’s why I’ve been involved in the whole campaign to support all kinds of different industries coming up to a living wage, supporting union organizing efforts for janitors, for security workers, and hotel workers. A lot of them are practically minimum wage jobs. 


Phil Polakoff 

We’re incredibly well-positioned to create a public-private partnership in creating socially responsible business. Most of that is green. You have to make certain that businesses feel welcome here and historically, Berkeley’s not been that friendly towards innovation business. A lot of the incubation that begins here ends up moving to Richmond or Emeryville. It’s too hard to get a business license. Taxes are too high. And when I talk to the merchants here, they have started business improvement districts, such as on Solano Avenue, but they don’t feel that although they are taxed they are given the proper amenities. I don’t think that’s particularly a legislative issue. That’s more a City Council issue here in Berkeley. Others have used redevelopment funds, like Lafayette, to make their business climate more attractive. And probably the best of all of the cities in this district that has enhanced its sense of well-being is Pleasant Hill. They’ve restructured the entire community. Sometimes people forget that this district is Pleasant Hill. It is San Pablo. It is Lafayette. It’s not just Berkeley. That’s my challenge. Because up until this race everyone thinks that even the people running are generally Berkeley-centric. And the challenge for me is running against the establishment. There’s no reason why Berkeley shouldn’t be a showcase for a downtown business area. Why do people go out to Walnut Creek or Emeryville for their shopping? I was talking to a woman the other day and she asked me, “Why can’t I buy a pair of underpants in Berkeley? I mean, Ross’s is closing.” 

So in the East Bay in particular, the opportunities for economic development are real. In Richmond—and I’ve studied this. I’ve talked to the City Manager in Richmond about what we could do better. We could hopefully deal with the development of the UC campus in Richmond. We could bring in manufacturing jobs. There’s a lot of space in Richmond to develop into socially responsible business. For example, what happened to Power Light in Berkeley that changed ownership to Sun Power and has now taken over the Ford Plant in Richmond. That’s a good story. You could have better warehouses. You could have something to transition from a Rust Belt economy to a Green Belt economy. In Berkeley, you could use the R&D money coming from the university and spin off a whole new generation of businesses. You can do this. But you have to create the leadership and the will to do it. 

In Pleasant Hill I think you can address more the service industry. In Richmond you have a manufacturing base. You can do something with the port to make it more viable. You could build the Port of Richmond out. 

Statewide, we have to make sure the state becomes the Golden State again. We have to make sure that we keep jobs here. Well-paying jobs. We have to enhance career technical schools so that people can get jobs that don’t have a minimal but a livable wage. We have to prevent jobs from moving offshore. We have to deal with public-private partnerships. We have to make sure that redevelopment makes sense. We have to deal with infrastructure upgrades that are reasonable. Having toll roads through parks, that’s not what I call reasonable. People are paying a lot of taxes and they don’t think they are getting the benefit of it. Going up University Avenue, it’s like going through a war zone with the potholes. We have to figure out why some areas are economically vibrant and other areas are not so vibrant. And then we have to keep the mix.  


Nancy Skinner 

I would start out with education. Because by California basically abandoning its commitment to public education, we’re not preparing our work force. Regardless of your employer, whether you’re a big box retailer or a service industry restaurant or some of the tec industry, you are looking for a literate, educated work force. One way to keep jobs in the state and to keep the business climate healthy is to make sure we are educating people and giving young people motivation to stay in school. And that requires more than just college prep. Many of the jobs available now don’t require a college degree. And so programs like what you now call career technical education that are preparing people for more trade and skilled types of positions. If you don’t have any intention to go off and be a lawyer or an accountant or a doctor, and your whole curriculum is oriented that way, what’s your motivation to stay in school? So the career technical education is very, very important for our economic development goals. 

What can a legislator do? Beyond legislation, when Angelides was State Treasurer, he and his board of CalPers, the state retirement fund, they set aside a large portion of funds in the CalPers retirement for clean and green investment. And then they started looking at how to use those investments to invest in the growth of green business and clean technology within California. So he not only put those investments into that clean and green technology sector, but also specifically how to invest in California businesses so you could grow those industries and keep those jobs here. So one of the things that Assemblymember Loni Hancock did was to hold a summit on this question in the City of Richmond. Because the City of Richmond has a great deal of land area that is available for this sector. And at that time, I was working very closely with clean technology companies and clean energy companies to get them involved in the state. When I heard about the meeting, I started recruiting companies to come. One of the companies I recruited to come to that meeting was Power Light. Now they’re called Sun Power. Power Light at that time was based in Berkeley, and they were the largest privately held solar company in the country. And I got to know them very well, and I knew they were looking to leave Berkeley. And I also knew that other jurisdictions were recruiting them. And of course, I wanted them to stay in Berkeley, but the available industrial and manufacturing parcels in Berkeley are much smaller. So I told them you need to see what Richmond has to offer, and you need to see what the treasurer, Angelides, has got on the table and what types of investment they have for the growth of this sector. So they went. And there was a full presentation by the City of Richmond Economic Development Department, their plans, and their intentions to try to grow green tec industries. That resulted in Power Light--which was then purchased by Sun Power--moving their facility to the Ford Plant in Richmond, and that’s where they are now. It’s in AD14 and in the East Bay, and in an area where jobs are so needed. 

Right now the majority of North American venture capital that is going into the green energy and green tec sector is being invested in California. And that investment is both for research and development and product deployment. So we want that investment to keep those companies and industries here in the state, and to keep that job growth here in the state. And the state has very ambitious planet protection and energy reliability and energy self-sufficiency goals, which are in close harmony with that other objective. So the state can use its policies, for example, in the implementation of AB32, to help keep those businesses here.