(Editor’s note: Yesterday we ran comments by Mayor Eric Garcetti, U.S. Representative Ted Lieu and L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Today, we include comments from State Senator Ben Allen, State Assemblymember Richard Bloom, L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin and LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin.)
STATE SENATOR BEN ALLEN
Allen, who has held his position since 2014, said that California would continue to vote by mail for all special elections and that the process “Worked well” in November. “It gave people a place to vote in person if they wanted with the convenience of voting any place in the county 10 to 11 days before election day and they could also vote by mail or use one of the drop boxes.”
He said he voted on January 28 to extend the state’s eviction moratoriums from January 1 until June 30. “There was no question in my mind we needed to do something.”
Regarding schools reopening, “The governor’s plan has run into some real challenges with advocates . . .there is an urgency for funding to reopen schools, but February is impossible,” Allen said. “Teachers prefer to be vaccinated prior to returning to the classroom, which is why we need to prioritize teachers for the vaccine.” He said if you look at other areas of the country there are ways to safely reopen without mass vaccinations first.
The state auditor came out with an audit of the Employment Development Department that was requested by legislators, and it found serious fault with EDD. “None of these findings are new, but it’s useful to have them confirmed by our state auditor,” Allen said.
The EDD, which has paid out $110 billion in unemployment since March, is now under fraud investigation. According to a December USA Story (“In California: State Unemployment Fraud May Total $2 Billion”), Allen said, “A real ball was dropped there,” and that EDD had been outsourcing calls from those unemployed to local legislators’ offices instead.
Allen said he co-authored AB 110, which would require the state to crosscheck with the prison system records to thwart future unemployment fraud.
His office had been inundated with calls and tasked with trying to help people get unemployment. He noted that EDD is taking about eight percent of its calls and outsourcing the rest to legislators. “EDD can start taking these calls and expanding their hours,” he said. “It’s been a very dispiriting experience.”
Q. What is the strategy for banning single-use plastics?
A. “Contact our office, we’ll do a national push,” he said.
Allen has co-sponsored SB 54, which aims to reduce, to the maximum extent feasible, single-use packaging and priority single-use products. Also, to ensure that all single-use packaging and priority single-use products that are manufactured on or after January 1, 2032, and that are offered for sale, sold, distributed, or imported in or into the state into are recyclable or compostable. (https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB54)
Q. Allen was asked about the bill that almost passed that would allow density development in high fire areas, such as Pacific Palisades. Will he support exemptions?
A. “We need to provide more housing availability and affordability,” he said, noting that the bills that have come out so far have not provided adequate flexibility. “I support more housing, but I’m not for one-size fits all.” He said that he and Senator Henry Stern had introduced SB 55, which would prohibit all commercial and residential in very high fire severity zones. “It’s not where we ought to be building,” Allen said. “Enough is enough.”
Q. What is the status for wildfire funding prevention?
A. A new bond is being proposed that would raise $2.2 billion. “I’m for pro-wildfire funding prevention,” said Allen, who has been working on this for some time. He argues that in the long run, preventing fires will be cheaper than fighting them.
ASSEMBLYMAN RICHARD BLOOM
Bloom has announced that he plans to run for L.A. County Supervisor, after hearing Sheila Kuehl say that she is retiring.
“We are all troubled by the rollout of the vaccination program,” said Bloom, who was outraged when anti-vaccers tried to stop people from being vaccinated at Dodger Stadium.
Bloom said he had success introducing AB 1766, which provides more oversight on adult residential facilities.
He said he co-authored SB 91, a tenant eviction moratorium law, with protections for tenants and for landlords. “My staff will be happy to answer questions from constituents.”
Bloom also wrote AB 1788, which bans second-generation rodenticides that caused mountain lion deaths in the Santa Monica Mountains and other areas of the state. This bill was approved by the governor.
Bloom has also opposed the proposed law that would allow density housing in very high fire severity zones. He said he has a bill in the works that would make it easier to build in commercial zones.
Bloom said he has co- authored AB 71, which authorizes $2.1 billion for housing and homeless efforts. “This is an extremely important bill that I have high hopes for,” he said. (Editor’s note: This bill, for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2022, and with respect to taxpayers with taxable income under the Corporation Tax Law greater than $5,000,000 for the taxable year, would increase these tax rates from 8.84% to 9.6%, or 10.84% to 11.6% for financial institutions, unless the minimum franchise tax is greater.)
Q. The L.A. neighborhood prosecutor has said that the passage of state laws AB 1950 and AB 3234 means that prosecutors no longer have bargaining chips in trying to get people into rehab. How can you get reasonable discretion back in the neighborhood prosecutor’s hands?
A. “There is still discretion with judges,” Bloom said. “In preceding decades, we created a criminal justice system that loaded people into prisons and did little to rehabilitate them. That didn’t work. AB 1950 limits probation for one year for misdemeanors and two years for felonies. I think these are modest reforms. Statistics show we are not increasing crime.
“We have quality of life crimes that intersect with the homelessness,” said Bloom, who called the homeless population “one of the most complicated issues that I have ever seen and addressing it requires us to look at everything. The response to homelessness takes all of this into consideration.”
Q. Many of the homeless have mental health issues. What about more facilities?
A. “Absolutely, I couldn’t agree with you more; that’s what AB 71 would work with,” he said, and noted that right now there is a methamphetamine epidemic. “Housing for the homeless is a big issue,” Bloom said. “We need to provide housing, mental health care, better health care and a range of preventative efforts.”
CITY COUNCILMAN MIKE BONIN
Bonin, who was first elected to his position in 2013, said that we’re caught in “an unprecedented crisis. We’re in the middle of a public health crisis, an economic crisis with the worst [LA City] budget since the Great Depression, and a homeless crisis.”
“We cannot do it without federal and state assistance,” Bonin said, noting that the first two weeks of the Biden presidency was encouraging.
“We’re going to break down some barriers, tear down some silos. We’re going to take on some sacred cows and do things differently. I’m taking on what are traditionally sacred cows: police union, corporate landlords and fossil-fuel companies. We have to be bigger and different than we have been before.”
Q. We have hundreds of affordable housing units in Pacific Palisades. How much should we have and where would you put it and why?
A. Bonin said the State recently approved a regional plan, so “we know what the goals are, for how much and where.” He said that the City is working on the Mello Act. “We’ll be toughening that up.” (Editor’s note: the Mello Act was enacted in 1981 “to preserve residential housing units occupied by low- or moderate-income persons or families in the coastal zone,” and was responsible for keeping the 174 units affordable at Palisades Bowl Mobile Home Park.)
Q. Can you provide an update on the senior assisted living facility in the Highlands?
A. “It was challenged in Court, but it has prevailed in Court,” Bonin said.
LAUSD BOARD MEMBER NICK MELVOIN
Melvoin, who is vice-president of the board, said that LAUSD public schools have been closed for 323 days, but have managed to serve more than 100 million meals. “About 82 percent of our families are in poverty,” he said, and there are 17,000 homeless students. “About 20 percent of the meals we served were for adults that had no connection to the school district.”
Also, he said, LAUSD has given out more than 100,000 iPads, computers and hotspots.
The district has overseen more than 400,000 Covid tests to staff, students and community. “We have health clinics at schools,” said Melvoin, who noted that LAUSD has made the schools available for vaccinations, if L.A. County wants to use them. “We have tried to be part of the solution because we know schools have become the social safety net of last resort in places like L.A.” He acknowledged that not only is this a path to get schools reopened, but that as great as the efforts are for online learning, “kids are suffering emotionally and mentally. Parents are suffering. We need to bring kids back.”
He acknowledged that the County needed to get Covid under control, but asked for the governor to provide a clear and consistent standard.
On LAUSD campuses, “We’ve replaced the HVAC systems with filters, we’ve installed plexiglass, we have masks,” he said. Schools have also put down arrows to ensure physical distancing.
Q. If we want schools to reopen, can’t we move teachers up on the vaccination schedule?
A. “Yes,” Melvoin said. This is something he has been advocating for months.
Q. He was asked about how many teachers are over 65 and may have already received the vaccination.
A. “About 10 percent of our faculty and staff,” he said.
(Melvoin was on Fox 11 LA with Dr. Drew and Elex Michaelson, talking about the challenges of reopening the schools. CLICK HERE.)