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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on September 28th, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 23, Issue 31

Candidates for the 37th Assembly District race describe what they will do if elected

By TAYLOR O'CONNOR

Second District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart will face off against environmental attorney and previous county Supervisor Mike Stoker for a seat in the state Assembly to represent California’s 37th District. 

Your vote matters
You can register to vote in Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo County by visiting registertovote.ca.gov.

After redistricting, the new 37th District now encompasses all of Santa Barbara County and southern San Luis Obispo County, prompting both candidates to run for office. During the primary elections, Hart led in Santa Barbara County with 57 percent of the vote, and Stoker had 39 percent. However, in San Luis Obispo County, Stoker led with 55 percent, and Hart got 40 percent, according to election data from both counties. 

As the November general election approaches, the Sun sent a list of questions to each candidate to learn more about their priorities if elected and how they will work to address their constituents’ concerns.

Sun: You highlighted resolving homelessness as one of your top priorities. How do you propose the state goes about fixing the issue? 


CHANGING DIRECTIONS
Mike Stoker, running against Gregg Hart for Assembly, served as a county supervisor from 1986 to 2004 representing the 2nd and 5th Districts. Outside of public service, Stoker serves as an attorney specializing in agriculture, labor, and environmental law.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE STOKER’S CAMPAIGN

Mike Stoker: Inflation, rising energy and grocery costs, and sky-high taxes have put our most vulnerable population in an untenable position. Those who are homeless due solely to economic misfortune need a state government that fights inflation and allows small businesses to create jobs and create prosperity. As your next assemblyman, I will fight inflation and stand up for small businesses. The new Care Court will go a long way toward addressing our state’s mental health and homelessness crisis—two problems that are intertwined. But the state’s job is not done. We must provide cities with the funds they need to build shelters and comply under the terrible Boise ruling, and bring back drug courts. With drug courts, the justice system was able to provide a critical stick in order to compel addicts into treatment. By addressing the state’s mental health and drug crises, we can start to reduce our state’s homeless population. Finally, I believe one of the biggest mistakes Gov. [Ronald] Reagan made was closing down our mental hospitals. Two-thirds of the homeless are in need of medical attention to deal with underlying mental health issues. We need to open mental health clinics that offer inpatient and outpatient services. Once a homeless individual receives inpatient help and is provided appropriate medications to treat them for their condition, they can be treated on an outpatient basis. We pass billions of dollars in bonds that do very little for improving our quality of life. I will lead an effort to place a bond on the ballot that will fund mental health clinics.


A LOCAL OFFICIAL
Gregg Hart, who’s running for Assembly, grew up in Santa Barbara, served on its City Council for four terms, and in 2018, he was elected to the county Board of Supervisors where he serves today.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GREGG HART’S CAMPAIGN

Gregg Hart: In order to effectively address California’s homelessness crisis, the state must support policies that prevent people from falling into homelessness, provide supportive services that help people get their lives back on track, and develop a stable funding stream for the creation of supportive housing units. I have led partnerships that have brought together the public, nonprofit, and private sectors to establish new services and bring people indoors. For example, I have worked closely with DignityMoves, a nonprofit organization that will be building small housing units at multiple locations around the county for individuals who want to get off the street and into a private space of their own. In return, the client agrees to participate in supportive services such as counseling and job training. This is a successful model program operated locally by Good Samaritan Shelter that can be replicated through the county of Santa Barbara and as an affordable and effective model program for the state of California. 

Sun: How does affordable housing fit into the dialogue of resolving homelessness, and what will you do to make it easier to develop in our communities? How will you provide incentives to encourage development? 

MS: Our state’s housing crisis is a supply crisis. Prices are high because demand is high and supply is low. We need to build more housing units all over the state, period. As a state lawmaker, I will push for policies that get the state out of the way and allow homebuilders to do what they do best: build housing. And I will author legislation making it much easier for mobile-home proponents to have their projects approved at the city and county level. 

GH: I am an advocate for policies to increase the supply of housing that is affordable for people of all income levels, including low- and middle-income earners. I believe the people who work in our community should be able to afford to live here. I will address this issue by making sure the state works collaboratively with cities and counties to meet the unique housing needs of individual communities. In Sacramento, I plan to advocate for an expansion of state funding for affordable housing construction, and the preservation of existing housing stock. Additionally, I believe the requirements to include affordable housing in a market-rate housing project should be amended to both increase the percentage of affordable units assigned within the project, and require those units to remain affordable in perpetuity.

Sun: As mental health provider shortages persist in communities like Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, what will you do to increase access to affordable mental health care?  

MS: We have a severe medical personnel shortage on the Central Coast—mental health professionals, included. The best way to attract doctors and mental health professionals to the Central Coast is to make the Central Coast more affordable. These medical professionals can practice medicine or therapy anywhere in the country—if the cost of living here on the Central Coast is uncompetitive, we won’t attract the numbers of doctors and medical professionals we need.  

GH: As county supervisor, I have met with California Department of Public Health officials to call for more resources to increase access to mental health care and keep our community members safe. I also dedicate a significant amount of my time on mental health care issues, having served on the boards of the county Behavioral Wellness Commission, Psychiatric Health Facility, and Mental Wellness Center. Staffing shortages persist in practically every medical discipline. We have to do more as a society to encourage students to enter into these fields and when they have made that decision, provide them the proper incentives to pursue a career in mental health care.

Sun: Extreme forest fires are one way we are seeing climate change’s effect on our community. What are your thoughts on forest management and prescribed burns as a solution to help protect our residents? If not this, then what is the solution?  

MS: I strongly support controlled burns, which is a scientifically proven way to clear dangerous underbrush and limit catastrophic wildfires. We need more controlled burns across the state, and we need a new state department of highly trained and competent professionals whose only job is prescribed burns. Right now, that job falls to Cal Fire. While I believe that Cal Fire is the best wildfire fighting organization on the planet, [its] job and mission is to extinguish fires, not set and control them. Setting up a specific state department solely responsible for implementing fire suppression tactics would be a great investment in public safety and cutting emissions.  

GH: I support a full range of appropriate forest management techniques as effective actions that can properly manage our state and federal public lands. I agree that prescribed burns are perhaps the best and most cost-effective ways to minimize significant wildfires.The county’s Fire Department does an excellent job coordinating prescribed burns that reduce brush and chaparral, and ultimately protect areas around our populated regions.

Sun: As California transitions to clean energy, how will you ensure this transition doesn’t hurt those working in the oil and gas industry, and that the community can afford the clean energy options? 

MS: We need an all-of-the-above approach to hitting our climate goals, but we’re not anywhere near getting rid of all oil and gas in California. During the latest heatwave, more than 60 percent of our grid was powered by California natural gas and imported power. We are nowhere close to having a grid that is capable of running 24/7 without natural gas. My opponent wants an energy grid that is solely reliant on renewable and sustainable energy sources. He opposes all other sources of energy, including natural gas—which is safe, clean and cheap. That approach, which has also been adopted by the majority in the Legislature, will only lead to greater shortages and higher energy bills. We need to cut emissions, and we need to do it in a way that is economically feasible for consumers and the workforce. 

GH: California must provide national leadership by setting realistic goals and benchmarks to address climate change. I believe any plan should include a variety of energy generation options, and not be limited to a single approach as the only answer to this very complex issue. I do not favor fracking or the use of energy intensive cyclic steam injection and other forms of oil drilling that increase greenhouse gas emissions and potentially threaten water supplies. As we transition to a clean energy future in California, the state must do everything possible to ensure workers have new union jobs to replace the jobs that are at risk as the fossil fuel industry contracts. We need to use these new energy and infrastructure projects to support working families with good-paying union jobs. While this gets talked about a lot at all levels of government—the “just transition” to renewable energy—it’s time to recognize the direct connection between the need for clean energy directly along with the need to support working families that depend upon energy jobs. 

Sun: What policies or actions will you propose regarding the water shortage, specifically for the agricultural sector in our counties?  

MS: Similar to our energy problems, we need an all-of-the-above approach to increasing our state’s water storage. We need more reservoirs, higher dams, more rainwater capture and water reclamation projects, and—perhaps most importantly—more desal plants up and down the coast. We have a water delivery system that was designed for 20 million people that is now serving 40 million-plus people. When initially designed, 100 percent of the water transported from Northern California was transferred south for residential, commercial, and agricultural purposes. Today, even in years of severe drought, up to 30 percent of that water is diverted to the Pacific Ocean to purportedly protect some endangered species like the Delta smelt. My opponent supports that diversion. I do not. And we have not built a new reservoir since the ’60s when our governor was Pat Brown, Gov. Jerry Brown’s father. I have been advocating for over three decades to build new reservoirs. My opponent and the extreme environmental left—which support[s] my opponent—have opposed all those proposed reservoirs.

GH: California’s water quality and water supplies are both critical elements of our state’s infrastructure that must be preserved, expanded, and financially supported with significant new investment. I will work with my colleagues in the Legislature, local governments, and the agriculture community to identify new investments that are necessary to maintain and modernize our state’s deteriorating infrastructure systems that were originally constructed many decades ago. These systems require modernization to meet the needs of the 21st century and must respect the environment and ensure high-quality, reliable water supplies to all California residents, including our vital agriculture industry. 

Sun: The Sun recently reported on a record-breaking year of opioid-related deaths (“Reversing death,” Sept. 15). What actions will you take in order to ensure workers, like behavioral health professionals, law enforcement, and paramedics, have the resources they need when combating this crisis? 

MS: The opioid epidemic has claimed far too many lives. If we’re going to stop drug overdoses, we need to get dealers and users off the street. Dealers need to be thrown in jail, and users need to be compelled to enter treatment via drug courts. The coddling of criminals and drug abusers needs to end. Also, there is a direct relationship between open borders, which my opponent supports, and the flow of drugs into the United States. We need to have secure borders. Since President Biden became president, more than 5 million people have illegally crossed our border. 

GH: The Sun’s recent article was an excellent example of highlighting how local government[s] can bring together community organizations and government disciplines to address an emerging and dangerous crisis. Our multi-jurisdictional program, initiated by Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, ensures our partners have the tools they need to address this emergency. There is not a single solution to this issue; we must address this crisis with multiple approaches, including state legislation like AB1598, and identifying new funding sources to support local programs that offer a range of services such as residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and aftercare. Unfortunately, this crisis will not be solved overnight. We must work together as a community to find solutions and care options that work, are effective, have long-term staying power, and will hopefully save lives and minimize the devastating impact on families.

Sun: What are some marginalized or forgotten communities you’d like to see addressed at the state level? How would you help them as an Assembly member? 

MS: The middle and working class have been totally forgotten by state policymakers. It seems that every policy coming out of Sacramento squeezes the working class and makes it harder to make ends meet. The Central Coast is too expensive, and inflation has made our region’s affordability crisis worse. As the next Assemblyman for the Central Coast, I will always fight for the working and middle class. I will fight for lower taxes, look for ways to lower costs [to] make it easier for small businesses to succeed, and make the Central Coast more affordable for everybody. My opponent opposes Prop. 13 and has voted in to raise taxes, fees, and assessments over 4,000 times while on the Santa Barbara City Council. And, unlike my opponent, I will oppose the crazy mandates that are putting our small businesses out of business or forcing them to move to another state. 

GH: As a member of the Assembly, I will be a voice for working families, who struggle every day to make ends meet. I will be their representative in Sacramento who will address the issues that matter most and deliver results for those families who live and work in our community. We must advance equity for all Californians. As a county supervisor, I have worked to address racial disparities in the criminal justice and health care systems. I am a strong advocate for advancing gender equity and supporting LGBTQ Californians. We need to do a better job partnering with marginalized communities to understand the inequities that exist, and develop solutions that can make our state more just, healthy, and prosperous for all. Specifically, I have met with community members in Santa Maria to better understand the impacts of pollution on residents who live near oil wells, agricultural operations, and industrial sites. Additionally, I have supported efforts to modernize our county’s approach to regulating oil production by identifying abandoned infrastructure and holding companies accountable. This work needs to be expanded throughout the state, recognizing that commercial pollution hits marginalized communities the hardest, I am committed to protecting our environment in an inclusive and equitable manner.

Sun: You recently attended a Santa Maria mobile home park community forum to address affordable housing concerns, specifically for senior citizens. What will you do to ensure this rapidly growing population group has access to affordable housing? 

MS: I grew up in mobile home parks and am well-versed in the issues our seniors face as inflation and prices skyrocket. As stated above, I will author legislation making it much easier for mobile home developers to have mobile home projects approved at the city and county level. Also, what we can do to keep costs stable is to support Proposition 13. While I fully support Prop. 13 protections, my opponent opposes Prop. 13 and supported the state’s largest ever property tax increase. Additionally, we can pass common-sense protections for mobile home park residents. When I was a Santa Barbara County supervisor, I always stood up for mobile home park residents. I led the effort in 1985 to adopt Santa Barbara County’s Mobile Home Rent Control Ordinance. That is the same ordinance that the mobile-home owners have been urging the city of Santa Maria to pass for decades. As your next Assemblyman, I will push for state laws that allow mobile home park residents to be justly compensated if the park owner decides to sell the park. I will also support policies that will give mobile home park residents the opportunity to approve or deny mobile home park conversions.  

GH: Mobile home parks provide an excellent inventory of affordable housing for senior citizens that must be preserved. As I described during the forum, many seniors live on fixed incomes and need certainty to make sure they can afford their rent. Santa Barbara County and every city, except Santa Maria, recognized the importance of mobile home parks and adopted mobile home rent control to allow for modest rent increases tied to the annual CPI [Consumer Price Index]. This protects the tenants and provides the park owners with a fair rate of return. Long term, if a park owner wants to redevelop the park, the existing tenants must not be displaced. The owner should be required to provide new units to the existing tenants on a rent-restricted basis, in order to make sure that the community does not lose valuable housing for senior citizens.

Sun: What investments will you make in the education sector and how will that improve the current system?  

MS: Our state’s education system needs a major overhaul. We’ve let unelected bureaucrats run wild when it comes to required masking in K-12 schools and community colleges. It’s time to get parents more involved in their kids’ education. As your next assemblyman, I will stand up for parents and kids, and make sure their voices are heard when it comes to education policy. In addition, I think it is critical that we invest more into career technical education (CTE). College isn’t for everybody, and the trades are the super-highway to the middle class for high school graduates. Our local North County schools and community colleges have made huge strides toward improving our region’s career technical education programs, and I look forward to continuing to build on their great work. I strongly believe parents know what is best for their children. My opponent has made it clear that he believes [the] government knows what is best for our children.

GH: The state of California is investing significant new funding to expand access to transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds. In the long run, this will be enormously beneficial to working families. The state must support appropriate levels of funding for physical enhancements to K-12 and community college campuses. I strongly believe that union trade apprenticeship programs help young workers to achieve their professional goals and are an essential component of safe worksites. I believe apprenticeship program[s]—such as LIUNA’s [Laborers’ International Union of North America] successful program—should be modeled and expanded into our high schools and community colleges. Our community colleges such as Allan Hancock College provide an excellent pathway for local students to matriculate into a four-year college. We should do more to make this excellent educational opportunity available to our local students and to create a path for community colleges to offer four-year degrees. The state should provide enhanced CalGrants so our students are not burdened with significant college loans upon graduating.

Sun: What would you adjust policy-wise in order to see public safety enhanced in communities? How will you work with law enforcement to make improvements?  

MS: We need to support our cops and ensure they have the resources they need to keep our communities safe. While I fully support funding the police, my opponent has a record of pushing for the defunding of police while on the county Board of Supervisors. I am proud to be endorsed by the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and the statewide Peace Officers Research Association of California. I will make sure our state supports cops and gives them the resources they need to fight human trafficking and keep gangs off our streets. 

GH: I believe that the public’s safety should be a top priority for any elected official. I recognize and understand the importance of ensuring public safety agencies have the appropriate budgets and tools they need to protect us and help keep our communities safe. I oppose the privatization of public safety, and I do not believe it is prudent to reduce or redirect existing law enforcement funding of police patrol and investigation personnel. I am committed to working with crime survivors, law enforcement, community organizations, and criminal justice reform advocates to understand and successfully achieve their collective goals of providing effective public safety with transparency and fairness. The state needs to invest in data-driven crime reduction strategies including active community-led policing, drug and alcohol treatment, job training, and mental health services to make our communities safer and reduce recidivism. My commitment to the safety of our families and neighborhoods has earned me the endorsement of state and local law enforcement organizations including the California Highway Patrolmen’s Association, the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations, the Santa Barbara City Police Officers Association, and Santa Barbara County District Attorney-elect John Savrnoch.

Sun: What will you do, or propose, to help legal cannabis businesses sustain in California and stop illegal operations? 

MS: I support lowering taxes for all businesses and individuals—including the legal cannabis industry. My opponent has voted over 4,000 times to increase taxes, fees, and assessments, and opposes Prop. 13 protections that keep property taxes low. 

GH: The state should look at the multiple taxes that are levied on legal cannabis businesses by state and local jurisdictions. I understand that the taxes on cannabis businesses are some of the highest of any profession in the state. The taxes at the state and local levels may have created a significant barrier to a successful business. Like any illegal business, the state should continue to aggressively enforce and prosecute illegal operations.

Taylor O’Connor can be reached at toconnor@santamariasun.com.










Weekly Poll
What do you think about a farmworker resource center in Santa Barbara County?

It's a great way to create a network of collaboration and reach people in need.
It's been needed in the county for a long time and should have been made earlier.
We don't have the funding now, but we should come up with ideas in the meantime.
We don't need it. There are plenty of resources readily available.

| Poll Results






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