Recap of State Senator Bill Dodd’s Answers to SCA Member Questions
Questions after each guest speaker’s SCA presentation often go beyond the topic of the day – especially when a local elected official or state legislator is involved. I want to thank State Senator Bill Dodd for describing the collaborative work he and others are doing by sponsoring a series of laws aimed at dealing with California’s ability to anticipate, prevent and cope with wildfires.
The Q&A session that followed touched on several compelling issues important for residents and the economy, such as the persistent lack of housing (especially affordable housing), homelessness, the need for CEQA reform, term limits, preserving Prop. 13, and how to spend the state’s $21 billion surplus.
The overriding concern for over two years has been fire recovery and how to replace 5,800 homes lost in Sonoma County on top of the continuing 30,000-home backlog. To date, only about 400 homes have been rebuilt. Meanwhile, time is running out for those displaced to receive living expense insurance payments, scheduled to expire October 9. Some 7,000 residents have already left the region. Compelling issues remain, such as how to address this near-term need as well as how to incentivize current residents to stay here?
Sen. Dodd proposed a bill with a one-year living expense extension which has yet to be approved, while observing that of the 20 million policy holders in the state, 3,000 to 4,000 still need this support. He said insurance companies should voluntarily offer an extension.
With regard to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Sen. Dodd said a significant number of lawsuits are filed by trade unions, not by environmental groups as some might think, and that the legislature is still considering passing CEQA reform. He also supports term limits so fresh ideas can come from a new generation of legislators, with the staff serving as the continuity base.
Sen. Dodd described himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. A question came up regarding the split roll tax and Prop 13. The question asked how much money government is going to take from the local economy. Sen. Dodd said $1.5 billion in fees and taxes were in place at the start of the session led by a generally liberal majority in both houses. He admitted that concern is rising over the ability of some groups to cope. He said 25% of Sonoma County’s population lives below the poverty line, and the number of seniors on fixed incomes is increasing.
The state’s $21 billion surplus also came up. Sen. Dodd said 80% of these funds went to 150 items that were not fixed or deferred, while 20% paid for other things. He said we need to spend money in areas that are hurting people, such as fixing the public pension fund shortfall and providing aid to education, rather than sprinkling a little money here and there on special interests. He noted California is the 5th largest world economy but ranks 41st among the states for educational funding and attainment.
While the public often focuses on the broad aspects of major issues, the underlying causes and steps underway to resolve them are not as well known. This points to the need to stay abreast of developments in Sacramento, and locally, through contacts with elected leaders at SCA meetings where concerns can be raised, discussed, and where authoritative answers can be received.