Last Saturday, April 28, I attended an hour and a half coffee Q&A with Toni Atkins, the State Assembly Representative for the 76th District, of which OB is a part. The small turn-out was not an indication of interest, but rather limited to those who had been invited to the small venue; Newbreak Coffee Co. on Abbott Street. In other words, it could not have been a more perfect venue and environment to talk with the Majority Whip regarding issues which affect us all.
After introductions to a very diverse klatch of constituents and before Ms. Atkins jumped into some more important issues, she discussed the district changes and how it will affect OB. She will continue to be our representative in the State Assembly, but the district which ended in Bird Rock will now extend north to Solana Beach. While she will continue to represent those east to the I-15 and south of I-8, she will no longer represent Clairemont & Kearny Mesa. From what I could tell, the reformation opens up new areas and the elections will not simply be a formality in strictly Republican and Democratic districts.
Ms. Atkins began by the meat of the conversation addressing two major issues which are before the State Assembly; the state budget and the education budget. She addressed the two issues with a very thoughtful and integrative approach. If the budget does not support education now, in the long run, the State will suffer with a less educated work force. Unfortunately, and despite Prop. 98, when the state budget shrinks, so too does the education budget. Regardless of the 40% earmarked for education, the budget amount will be less than previous years.
Ms. Atkins does see a silver lining, however, in the elimination of Development Corporations. She did not go into the issues surrounding elimination of Development Corps, i.e. San Diego Centre City Development Corp., other than to indicate some the money (12%) of the money budgeted to Development Corps. would be “unwound” into education.
I have always thought of the education system as a sort of after-thought when it comes to the legislature. So I was very surprised to hear historically most bills introduced in the legislature are focused on education. Ms. Atkins believes an investment in education is an investment in the economy. She rejects the governor’s cut on early education funding.
Ms. Atkins does have a concern about California State students graduating from public universities, only to have a $75K debt to face. She expressed one way to bring back more money to the state education system by closing the loop-holes with regard to contracting with out of state corporations. She would look first to contracting with local corporations; the money spent would go back into the local economy, in particular schools.
Californians have, as Ms. Atkins explained, a budget based on volatile tax revenues. When housing, manufacturing and other taxable sources flat line due to a poor economy, then the budget must be based upon that flat line economy. The current climate in Sacramento is, if you don’t have the money, you can’t spend it.
Traditionally, in lean budgetary years, what suffer first are schools, service for children and the elderly, and programs for the poor. Recognizing all positions have a basic rational legitimacy, Ms. Atkins would like to see less legislation and more conversation by the parties. The creation of the budget and the legislative process should not be whether it is democrat vs. republican.
Ms. Atkins used an example of organic farming in California, and something as simple as labeling. Organic farmers, one would think, would favor proper labeling of organic and non-organic foods. But with the labeling comes competition from outside the state. And herein lays the problem with moving a conflict forward. Each side has a legitimate and rational concern, from the farmer to the consumer. But resolution should not fall into an “us v. them” mentality.
She is very proud of her achievements regarding Oceanic conservation, and the mapping of the Marine Protection sanctuaries along our coast. And reflecting on the 4th July Fireworks issue, she explained the California Environmental Quality Administration never meant to preclude annual fireworks displays, and should be able to be handled at the local level, not with the current bill before the California Congress. She did say, however, protection of our coastal waters should always be the first priority
The session was more of a roundtable than a true Q & A. Ms. Atkins discussed Health Care with Leo and Courtney, who held their young son Noah. Leo, a chiropractor, explained his concerns about health related issues when it comes to vaccinations and food supply.
Jay, who was in attendance, works with engineering students at SDSU, spoke to the importance of getting the legislature to make schooling more accessible. His engineering students are using an integrated approach to design communities which are sustainable and give back to the community.
Christina, who works with environmental issues, discussed her concerns with the deterioration of our Ocean and some of the programs which were in place to preserve our 1100 miles of coastline.
Ms. Atkins endorses Bob Filner for Mayor. She made no bones about her support of eliminating the death penalty and a re-working of the three strikes law. While she wants to see those who commit heinous crimes punished and serve extended jail sentences, she believes there is an opportunity for improvement of the system. In fact, she noted, local authorities are gearing up for the influx of inmates from state prison, with a focus more toward addressing rehabilitation and social services, rather than merely housing prisoners for the duration of their sentences.
My first impression, having never met Ms. Atkins before, was of someone who really does care about the constituents she represents. She also is frustrated by the process in Sacramento. She commented on how things worked when she sat on the City Council, and how much more complex they are in Sacramento. I found her to be surprisingly candid and quite approachable.
For further information regarding Ms. Atkins or to contact her, her website is here.