California Dreaming in 2017

by on December 12, 2016

CA legislators stand by immigrants
CA legislators stand by immigrants

California’s massive rejection of Donald Trump—where Clinton won by over four million votes —has cast the state in the role as the leader of Trump resistance. That’s quite an honor. And as someone who grew up with Governors Reagan, Deukmejian and Wilson sandwiched in between eight years of Jerry Brown, I’m happy that California has moved in the progressive direction Tom Hayden predicted back in the 1970’s.

But before praising California as America’s idealized Lost Horizon, let’s look at the bigger picture. California is fantastic on immigrant rights, health care, backing unions and protecting LGBTQ rights. The state is not very good, however, on two of the biggest needs facing residents: housing and education.

Can we dream of a California that meaningfully addresses both in 2017? How can we help make this dream a reality?

Hope for Housing

I’ve long been bashing Governor Jerry Brown for his refusal to fund affordable housing (See, for example, ” Governor Jerry Brown’s Troubling View of Affordable Housing, Feb. 19, 2013)  Brown has vetoed key housing funding bills  and until 2016 opposed spending any general fund dollars; when he finally offered $400 million this year for housing conditioned on passage of “as of right” development legislation, many claimed that Brown only offered the housing money because he knew it would be refused.

Brown opposes housing bills when nobody else does. In 2015 AB 35 increased state housing tax credits by $100 million per year over five years, and would have leveraged an additional $1 billion in federal affordable housing funds.  Despite the bill passing the Assembly unanimously and getting only two “no” votes in the Senate, Brown vetoed it.

In 2014, Brown opposed SB 391, which funded affordable housing through a $75 real estate transaction fee that did not impact the general fund. SB 391 would have brought $500 million in affordable housing money annually, or over $1 billion since the bill died in the Assembly in the absence of Brown’s support.

So as California congratulates itself for its progressive politics, millions of its residents are living in overcrowded, unhealthy and/or unaffordable housing.

That’s not the California Dream. That’s more like a Nightmare.

Fortunately, key state legislators understand this. Former Assembly Speaker and now Senator Toni Atkins has already introduced SB 2, which resembles the prior $75 transaction fee measure Brown vetoed. Co-sponsors on SB 2 already include Senators Jim Beall of San Jose (who has also introduced SB 3 to create a $3 billion statewide housing bond to fund affordable housing programs), Bradford, Dodd, Hertzberg, Jackson, Mitchell, Roth, Skinner, Wieckowski and San Francisco’s newly-elected, Scott D. Wiener, as well as Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Tony Thurmond.

Wiener is making housing his top priority. The aggressiveness that sometimes alienated colleagues in San Francisco will be well suited to the upcoming fights over both SB-2 and new housing development rules. With housing a front burner issue in Sacramento, 2017 will test Wiener’s ability to make a difference.

Brown’s steadfast opposition to state housing funding led cities and counties to take the initiative. Many passed housing bonds in recent years, which will help with the inevitable federal cuts coming under the Trump Administration. But the extent of California’s housing crisis is so great that meaningful state funding is essential.

Education Blues

From 2011-12 to 2015, California education spending increased due to Prop 130’s passage. California’s per student spending went all the way from the nation’s worst to 46th place.

That’s not the California Dream I recognize. 46th place?

California leveraged this woeful spending into a bottom ten school performance ranking nationally.  And before anyone starts blaming  immigrants or teachers unions, focus on the key fact that progressive California is  nothing close to progressive on per student spending—it is among the worst states in this category.

California gets the schools it pays for. And just like our overcrowded and unaffordable housing, it should be considered a state disgrace.

California’s rhetoric about taking care of “working families” runs aground on our refusal to adequately fund public education. In the 1960’s when California students were primarily white our education spending was at the national top with Minnesota; since our public school students have become increasingly Latino, spending has plunged California to just above Mississippi.

From Minnesota to Mississippi is nothing to brag about.

It’s great that voters just renewed Prop 130 by passing Prop 55. But more school money is needed if California wants to portray itself as a progressive alternative to red state America.

This spending shortfall also extends to the University of California. According to a recent New York Times story (“Is a U.C. Education Affordable Anymore?” Dec. 9), rising costs mean “many Californians no longer see a path into public higher education.”

UC tuition and fees today is $13,500 annually. That’s a more than 20 fold increase since when I started UC Berkeley in 1974, with tuition tripling in last fifteen years alone.

I’ve heard some defend U.C. tuition hikes as still leaving the school a good deal compared to private colleges. But that misses the point. California should not have academically qualified students unable to afford U.C. schools. If we are as concerned about declining social mobility in the United States as we say we are, than we need to enable the child of low-income working parents to go to the best possible school, not simply the best they can afford.

I’m proud of the way Governor Brown, the Legislature, and new Attorney General Xavier Becerra are sending a powerful message about California values. But increasing funding for housing and schools must be part of what makes Californians proud, as these are the pillars of the California Dream.

What can we all do to help? Stop sugarcoating California’s housing and education deficiencies or ignoring them altogether by talking about what a great job Brown and the legislature are doing on immigration and other issues.

The lack of grassroots pressure on Brown to fund housing has been a problem for years. Commit that this year will be different.

And on education, we need to pressure the Governor on the need to make school spending a priority. California’s public school kids are facing a downpour of challenges, so let’s not allow more money to be put off limits for a “rainy day” that is already hear.

It’s not enough to stop Trump. California must continue moving forward where it has fallen far behind.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. Get inspired this holiday season by reading The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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