.Assembly Candidates Weigh in on Issues Facing North Bay Counties

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A shorter version of this article appeared in our March 16 print issues.]

Four Democrats are competing in the June 7 primary election for the seat being vacated by state Assemblyman Marc Levine, who is running for California insurance commissioner. 

The winner will represent all of Marin County and part of Sonoma County in the 12th Assembly District, which replaces the 10th District due to recent state redistricting.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

The three Marin candidates include California Coastal Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh, Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly and Ida Times-Green, board president of the Sausalito Marin City School District. Steve Schwartz, the lone candidate from Sonoma County, leads a nonprofit food collaborative.

Aminzadeh, a Kentfield resident, is an attorney who has spent her career advocating for sustainable water solutions through leadership positions at nonprofit organizations including the US Water Alliance, Pisces Foundation and California Coastkeeper Alliance. Appointed to the California Coastal Commission in 2017, she is now serving her second term at the state agency tasked with protecting California’s coast and ocean. A centerpiece of Aminzadeh’s assembly campaign is her commitment to addressing the climate crisis. She is concerned that less than one-third of the assembly is represented by women, which she says has had an impact on issues facing women and children.

Connolly, an attorney and 25-year resident of San Rafael, has served in public office for almost two decades. Currently in his second term on the Marin County Board of Supervisors, he was also a two-term member of the San Rafael City Council, a local school board president and a California supervising deputy attorney general. In addition, Connolly was a founding board member of Marin Clean Energy and worked on the committee that developed a climate change action plan for San Rafael, the first to be adopted by a Marin city. 

Steve Schwartz, of Sebastopol, was the chief of staff for two California assembly members and has led nonprofit organizations for more than 25 years. Much of his work has been focused on sustainable agriculture and supporting farmers, and he runs a small organic farm in Sonoma County. As the founder and director of the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative, Schwartz works to bring together congregations with local farmers, giving people access to organic foods and helping the local economy. He has served as a board member of the Gravenstein Union School District, International Farm Transition Network, California Reinvestment Coalition and Sonoma County Farm Trails, as well as on the steering committee of the Marin Food Policy Council.

Ida Times-Green, a Marin native and long-time resident of Marin City, has served for eight years on the Sausalito-Marin City School Board and is currently the president. Along with her late husband, Edward “Boone” Green, Times-Green founded One Kid at a Time, a nonprofit organization for at-risk youth. Having earned a master’s degree in social work, she is a social worker for Marin County in the Behavioral Health and Recovery Services department.

With the primary election less than three months away, the Pacific Sun presented each candidate with the same four questions to find out where they stand on important issues facing Marin and Sonoma counties.

Assembly District 12 Candidates 2022
CANDIDATES (L to R) Sara Aminzadeh, Damon Connolly, Steve Schwartz and Ida Times-Green are competing to replace Marc Levine in representing Marin County and southern Sonoma County in the state Assembly. Photo credits (L to R): Laura Kudritzki Photography; Wild Horse Productions, David Law; Sari Singerman; Bay Area Parlay.

What is the most important issue in this election and how would you address it?

Aminzadeh:

Climate change. There was a series of weeks in 2020 when the wildfires had made the air quality so poor that I was concerned for my then one-year-old son Henry’s health. I was missing work to drive hours to get him to areas with clean air to breathe. It both broke my heart and fortified my resolve to earn a seat at Sacramento decision-making tables where climate action can and must happen.

That fear for my son’s health and determination to fight for his future drove me to run for this seat. I know that I am uniquely qualified to organize, negotiate, and lead on this issue and apply the full force of my environmental law and policy expertise to Sacramento to accelerate climate action. I am a California Coastal Commissioner, environmental leader, and attorney who has spent my life successfully defending the Clean Water Act, winning actions against big polluters, and stopping Trump from weakening California’s environmental and worker protections.

I have a detailed climate action plan that has served as the foundation of my campaign and candidacy. My plan aims to advance environmental justice in three key areas of climate action: 1) power-building and governance reforms in Sacramento decision-making; 2) decarbonization and electrification reforms; 3) adaptation and preparedness for impacts already occurring.

In simpler terms: I’ll take bold action to accelerate the end of fossil fuel use and address the effects of drought, extreme wildfires, and pollution.

Connolly:

Long term, the most important issue facing the North Bay and California is the climate crisis. Wildfires and droughts have already significantly altered our lives in the last decade. California is and needs to continue being a leader in providing solutions to climate change that are bold and inspirational. At the same time, we must build resilience to cope with the threats that are already upon us in ways that I have supported at the local level like wildfire preparedness, including more firefighting resources and staffing, and funding for sea level rise protections.  

My most immediate concern is dealing with the fallout from the pandemic. It has caused disruptions in our local businesses, our schools, our personal finances, not to mention our mental health. It has exacerbated inequities in our society for housing, jobs and the environment that need to be addressed. We are sure to experience more disruption from the financial fallout of the sanctions against Russia (which I support as a moral necessity). People will experience higher prices, but our state government can help with financial relief and policies that dampen the harm, especially to our most vulnerable populations.

To accelerate economic revitalization, my priorities include restoring K-12 funding to a point where California is in the top 10 states in per pupil funding and making college more affordable while reducing student debt. All of this must be done with an eye toward equity to ensure that shared prosperity is reached by all communities.

Schwartz:

We need to maintain the character of our communities and the beautiful open space and robust agriculture that Sonoma and Marin counties are known for. This relates to investments in climate change resiliency, excellent schools, and workforce housing. The state budget is expected to be over $285 billion, and legislators will vote on as many as 3,000 bills in a session. For this race, the most important issue is whether we will elect someone with bold vision and the experience necessary to successfully hammer out solutions on a broad range of issues that impact the North Bay, and bring back dollars to support community priorities.

My community knowledge, my track record of creating and implementing innovative programs, and my experience as a Chief of Staff in the Capitol demonstrate I’m the best qualified to accomplish this.

Times-Green:

There are numerous issues facing our state I believe are critical – single payer healthcare, affordable housing, homelessness, wildfire resiliency – with the climate crisis being an existential threat and dealing with that must underlie everything we do. Wildfires, drought, sea level rise, health issues arising from poor air quality, for example, are direct effects of climate change. It’s about more than just this district — it’s about the future of California. I believe there is also an ethical imperative to solve the climate crisis simultaneously with the crisis of inequity. We need to build healthy, sustainable, equitable communities. 

We must also act with a sense of urgency. We must achieve greenhouse gas carbon neutrality in California by 2030. We must act decisively with massive efforts to restore ecological balance and economic stability. This requires direct greenhouse gas emission reductions, removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the accelerated transition away from fossil fuels. We must prioritize renewable energy projects by investing in programs to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2030. We must do this while creating well-paying union jobs in the zero-carbon and alternative domestic energy production sectors.

Do you support the state’s current approach to reducing homelessness and increasing the availability of affordable housing? What, if any, state policy changes do you believe would help to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in the district?

Aminzadeh:

We are clearly in a housing crisis, and our teachers, firefighters, and essential workers cannot find housing that is affordable in the communities where they work. People are sleeping in their cars or spending hours every week commuting. We also have roughly 2,500 unhoused community members in our District. This is a human rights and safety issue for everyone in the 12th Assembly District that we must address.

As a statewide decision maker, I would continue work to set targets and reforms that help us build new housing, particularly policies that incentivize transit-oriented and affordable housing. But housing leadership and land use control must be retained at the local level. That is why it is critical that Assembly District 12 have a representative that has more than a decade of work crafting state policies to address community needs and has the relationships with legislators to be effective on day one. I also have granular knowledge of the levers needed to help preserve our beautiful rural areas and open space for future generations. I am that candidate.

Connolly:

While bold state action was needed sooner, the Project Homekey initiative to address the twin crises of homelessness and housing affordability is a strong foundation that I will build on in the State Assembly. It embraces a Housing First approach, offering local communities grants to invest in affordable housing and transitional and permanent supportive housing. This includes creative solutions like tiny homes, converting motels into housing, and repurposing underutilized buildings for housing.

As a legislator, I will push to ensure that investments in affordable housing and homelessness services produce noticeable results for those in need of housing. We also need to recognize that our mental health and substance abuse services are significantly underfunded, a legacy of the Governor Reagan era that our state is still grappling with.

Additional affordable housing solutions include infill (especially in downtown and transit corridors), increasing the supply of accessory dwelling units, social housing, rezoning of commercial property, and other opportunities with community voices at the center. As we provide housing solutions, it’s important that we preserve valued open space and avoid construction in high-risk wildfire areas. It’s the role of the North Bay’s assemblymember to make sure that these concerns are heard in our state government rather than the state prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach.

Schwartz:

The Governor and Legislature have recently made much needed investments in transitional housing. A roof is essential, but doesn’t solve everything. We need to support social services which includes mental health support to help people get on a positive trajectory. There is some ‘catch up’ going on, as our government has not invested enough dollars to address this problem for over 10 years. Innovative groups, including the faith-community are stepping up to offer safe parking, tiny-home villages, and more – we need to support groups that have proven they can shelter people quickly in months instead of years.

Not all ‘below-market’ rate housing is affordable for working people that do essential services in our communities. Nonprofit housing developers are doing great work. They need access to more financing including bonds and guarantees. They cannot ‘move the needle’ fast enough. Individual homeowners who want to build an ADU (auxiliary dwelling unit), or Junior ADU, can help address the challenge. We need to support access to financing for middle-income property owners who seek to add housing stock in this way.

We need to focus partly on asset-building strategies, like Individual Development Accounts which match savings. I have personal experience launching this kind of program. Santa Clara has a great model for IDAs to help teachers buy their first home. I would like to scale this with state dollars. Communities of color have especially poor access to housing. We need to prioritize state policies that redress this. I have six years of experience with advocacy for housing through the Community Reinvestment Coalition.

Times-Green:

Affordable and workforce housing, while linked, are not the same issue as homelessness and need to be approached in a variety of ways. Certainly, affordable housing helps keep people from moving into homelessness, as we recognized during the worst of COVID. Affordable housing also creates a more diverse community where our seniors can age in place, our young people can live where they grew up, and our essential workers can be part of our community. Many of our workers commute from other areas causing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. While infill, ADUs and repurposing existing sites are part of the solution, I also support thoughtful, nonprofit development of affordable housing, built to green standards, in transit areas.

Most municipalities and their residents are grappling with new housing laws and the latest housing mandates which seem out of touch to many. The state needs to invest in affordable housing with additional funding to our local governments and be more helpful with articulating useful guidelines to support these programs and their implementation. That being said, locally we need to seek creative, sustainable and equitable ways to meet these goals.

With regards to homelessness, as a social worker for Marin County, I grapple with this on a daily basis. Project Homekey is a good start and has housed 10,000 people statewide so far, with a goal of 50,000 in the coming year, but that is nowhere near enough. Marin County’s “Housing First” approach is also a positive step. Moving people to permanent, supportive housing is a primary stabilizing factor in ending the cycle of homelessness. We need greater support and resources from the state if we’re going to make significant progress on the challenge of homelessness.

As a social worker, I see that homelessness needs a comprehensive solution that delivers housing, programs, services, job training and opportunities. An effective crisis response can also help people in crisis, to prevent them from becoming homeless, but there needs to be housing and support services ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Photo: Andre M./Wikimedia
Photo: Andre M./Wikimedia

What state legislation would you support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in District 12 and statewide?

Aminzadeh:

We need a series of reforms and private-public sector partnerships to decarbonize our economy and reach carbon neutrality as a state. I would sponsor legislation and negotiate budget allocations for programs to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy and electric vehicles, e-bikes and e-scooters, and support micro-grids to reduce our state’s demand on fossil fuels. As we reduce demand for dirty fuels, California must also stop issuing new oil and gas leases and permits, and approving new wells, which continues to cause oil spills and affect the health and futures of frontline communities. Phasing out fossil fuels is essential for our planet’s future and to serve environmental justice for disproportionately burdened communities of color throughout California. And California has already proven that we can do it while continuing to grow our economy.

If you would like to see my climate action plan, please email at [email protected].

Connolly:

I believe the state should phase out fossil fuels as fast as possible. I would introduce legislation for faster Zero Emission Vehicle adoption; current legislation establishes 100% ZEV by 2035. I authored a resolution in Marin County calling on the State to transition to 100% ZEV by 2030, a policy that this year was adopted into the California Democratic Party platform. This transition requires incentives to ensure price parity and equitable access.

Our transition to EV’s must be complemented with the revolutionization of our transit systems, ensuring more seamless mobility to improve dependability, along with funding at the state level for safe and expanded bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

I support banning fracking and new oil and drilling permits, and accelerating phasing out of fossil fuels, but this must include a just transition for workers in those industries. We must increase adoption of home and building electrification and preserve the incentives for rooftop solar installation.

Schwartz:

California has been a big part of the problem on emissions, and we must continue to be bold with our solutions. We can do more to lead the nation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I will fight for policies and state dollars for: food waste reduction, carbon sequestration through climate friendly farming, and clean energy including more roof-top solar and storage.

I support Sen. Dodd’s SB 833, the Community Energy Resilience Act, which would create a technical assistance and grant program administered by the California Energy Commission. The legislation would support more solar and storage on schools, senior centers, and other critical facilities.

As the only candidate from Sonoma County, I especially applaud the budget package approved last fall that includes investments in fire prevention and I will work closely with Sen. McGuire to expand on it. State authority to make stricter emission standards for cars, trucks and SUVs than the federal government was restored this week by the Biden administration. We need to act swiftly on this as an intermediate step on the way to phasing out sales of gas powered cars. We can use state resources to incentivize reduction of greenhouse gases.  I will apply an equity lens when introducing policies that do this. We also need to minimize green-washing. I support SB 260,which would require large corporations to disclose and monitor greenhouse gases.

Agriculture represents some 10% of greenhouse gas emissions nationally. Local farmers and advocates in Marin and Sonoma counties are leading the way on proven methods of sequestering carbon in soil, and reducing emissions from food and agricultural waste. We need to continue to fund grants and incentives for businesses leading the way on this transition, like the Healthy Soils Program. Much of this can happen through the State budget process.

Times-Green:

This is a crucial decade. We must take aggressive action towards carbon neutrality by 2030. I would support accelerated transition to zero emission vehicles and the infrastructure to support them, and improving and expanding, transit systems that are integrated with Bay Area counties for ease, equity and affordability of use. You can’t get people out of their cars unless they have viable alternatives.

I would also support setting ambitious goals for carbon sequestration in urban locations as well as on natural and working lands, relying primarily on nature-based solutions.

Assembly Bill 1400, the single-payer healthcare legislation, died in the legislature recently without a public vote. If elected, would you vote in favor of AB 1400 or another similar single payer healthcare policy?

Aminzadeh:

The pandemic has laid bare our continuing healthcare and mental health crisis, and we must address it now. I support single payer healthcare and would have voted to enact AB1400. While I am saddened it did not come up for a vote, I will work with the Administration, California Nurses Association and other health care champions in the legislature to make progress on health care reforms that prioritize people over profits. Even as we continue the important work of getting single payer health care across the finish line, I will work on shoring up the system we have to ensure that our most vulnerable, seniors, children, and people with disabilities will get the physical and mental healthcare they need, regardless of the size of their pocketbook. Destigmatizing mental health conditions and reducing barriers to treatment and services ranks as another top priority.

Connolly:

Fundamentally, I believe that healthcare is a human right that should be available and affordable to every Californian, regardless of their income level. I support AB 1400 and a single payer healthcare system. I am interested in exploring all options available to ensure the necessary funding requirements are met. Until that transition materializes, we should immediately embrace expanding Medicaid eligibility.

Schwartz:

Access to healthcare is a right. If elected I would support single payer healthcare legislation until that goal is realized. I applaud Governor Newsom’s call to cover healthcare for undocumented people who are not currently able to get health insurance support due to their age and income level. COVID taught us much: that when we don’t provide access to health care to all in our community, everyone can be at greater risk, especially our elders. We also saw that in addition to their own personal suffering, individuals without access to healthcare can be stuck at home for longer than necessary, causing labor shortages at schools and small businesses, impacting our economy. Californians cannot wait for change at the federal level on this.

Times-Green:

Yes, and I would want to co-author the next version of this vital legislation. The reasons to support a universal, Medicare for all, single payer, system are simple: you get more, you cover everyone, and it costs less. COVID has spotlighted the cultural and economic inequities of our current healthcare delivery system and 60% of likely voters now support a single payer plan.

AB 1400 incorporated all the principles we should be looking for in a single payer healthcare bill. It had universal coverage with fully comprehensive benefits and the freedom to choose care providers. Patient care must be based on the needs of the patient and the advice of their medical professionals. Period. Additionally, it provided for a robust jobs conversion program for those currently working in the health insurance industry.

As an assemblywoman, I see my mission as finding out what the roadblocks to the passage of AB 1400 were, and then working collaboratively with other legislators to craft a bill that is ready for the Governor’s signature in 2023. We have the roadmap in AB 1400 and Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 11. Electing legislators like myself, people who are fully committed to providing universal, quality, affordable, single payer healthcare, will bring us one step closer to true universal healthcare for all Californians.


For more information, visit the candidates’ websites:

www.saraforassembly.com

www.damonconnolly.com

www.steveschwartzassembly.com

www.idatimesgreenforassembly.com

Nikki Silverstein
Nikki Silverstein is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Pacific Sun since 2005. She escaped Florida after college and now lives in Sausalito with her Chiweenie and an assortment of foster dogs. Send news tips to [email protected].

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