As a Long Beach-based publication, we’d like to ask why you are the best prepared candidate to represent Long Beach’s interests in the State Senate?
I am a product of the entire district. I was raised in Cudahy, attended the local schools, graduated from Bell High School, was homecoming queen and student body president. I got a scholarship to Yale University and Columbia Law School. I’m currently a practicing attorney in Long Beach, and I’m giving you this promise to show that I am equally invested in Long Beach. My firm is here. I’ve been here for five years now. I recognize that Long Beach is the economic engine of the 33rd, but I want to use that in as leverage so that we can get resources all throughout the district. So what makes me the most qualified candidate? I understand Long Beach’s needs and I understand how we can work together in the district to support everybody.
If elected, what would be the focus of the first piece of legislation you would propose?
In the context of that, I came into office with the city of Bell in the midst of scandal. One of the things that I was able to do and my colleagues were not, is that I have the financial and the legal skills to understand how cities function. So what I would intend to do is quite simply is to learn the budget. When I took office in Bell six months in [in 2010], we found out that my city was in debt by $155 million with a general fund of $13 [million]. So that’s beyond bankruptcy. I literally have pulled more overnights working on Bell than I did in all my academic career because these are people’s lives. Now eight years later, we are at $75 million debt and still at $13 million in the general fund because we haven’t been successful at increasing our sales tax revenue. And property tax for the most part is going to stay the same. Where we did succeed is to prevent an increase [in debt]. So what am I going to do? I’m going to learn to budget. I think California is an incredibly wealthy state. We are the fifth largest economy in the world. I intend to learn it and advocate with the priorities. So in terms of legislation, it’s hard to say, because I want to learn the budget first in order to allocate resources correctly.
Is there a particular endorsement or supporter which is especially relevant or meaningful to you? Why should voters give that specific one particular attention when considering your candidacy?
I am incredibly honored to have received the endorsement of one of my friends and mentors, which is retired Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno. I have known him since I was 19 years old. He graduated from Yale, and I met him obviously years later when I was a sophomore in college when he went to a reunion. He didn’t formally become my mentor until after law school. And the reason why I [value his endorsement] is because of the work that he’s done in the judiciary. He’s incredibly bright. He thinks of me as such… he did a video on me that explains why he’s endorsing me. So for me he just means the world. Someone who I’ve always admired and someone who for a moment I thought maybe I would go that route [become a judge]. And maybe that’s still in the works, but right now I’m running for State Senate and I’m really excited. So he’s someone that I go to actually for advice.
Similarly, how would those endorsements or supporters impact your decisions or voting record if you were elected?
Well I’m not a career politician. I am an attorney who has a unique set of skills that will be used for the betterment of the community. So The endorsements that I’ve gotten are minimal. The one that I mentioned and the support that I received has come from my colleagues and people who I’ve worked with. How would they impact me? They won’t. I’m not a career politician, and my goal is to just serve and use my skill set. I don’t feel indebted to anyone. My only obligation really is to my residents and that means a lot to me. I ran for office because I felt the duty to do so. I am incredibly blessed. I got excellent opportunities that I don’t see my residents receiving anymore and that’s not right. It’s not fair. I would describe what happened in Bell as a very well-orchestrated white collar crime scheme targeted at the hard working community. And I’ve seen similar examples in neighboring cities, and I want to make sure that that doesn’t happen. So at this point it’s my community. They trust me, I feel very honored; I’m a product of the area and I think it’s my contribution.
How would you remain focused on the diverse and differing needs of the many cities you would represent and not forget about the needs of local government once you are in Sacramento?
That’s an easy one. Again, considering the context, I can’t. I entered the world of politics working in a city that had nothing. I don’t think it’s something that you forget easily. It’s actually my induction into the world of politics and the world of government and finance. That’s basically my foundation. I don’t know how to do politics any other way other than through governance.
How would you address climate change?
Primarily, by working together. This problem is so incredibly gigantic and I feel like we’re regressing in finding solutions. So first and foremost I would gather the appropriate stakeholders and get guidance. My strength again as an attorney is advocacy and being able to bring in resources. What I would do is get the experts, get some guidance and advocate on residents’ behalf. One of the things that I focused a lot on is the 710 Freeway. And the reason why I do it is because [residents’] cancer rates, asthma rates, etc. etc., and also people don’t realize that the two exits on the 710, the two last ones on Atlantic and the one on Florence Boulevard, are the worst ones. Both of them exit in my city. They all exit in Bell. You can see the level of concentration of air quality, traffic and congestion there. It’s inevitable that that’s one of the things at my community is going to have to address. I would gather stakeholders and come up with a viable solution.
Some state leaders and legislators support action for the state to control local housing development. This is a responsibility traditionally managed by local cities and their citizens. Should the state control local housing development? What do you think of the governor suing a city on their housing policy as has occurred with Huntington Beach?
I think that issue should remain at local level, quite honestly. Every city has their own specific needs and we should be able to address them on our own. Because they directly impact us—and being on the ground and living in the community—I think we know best how to address them. I also have a real estate development background so in terms of creating cities, you can’t have one formula for all cities in the state.
So Huntington Beach, I’ll give you a better example. A couple of weeks ago or just like a week or two, [the governor] came up with a list of cities that are not compliant with the housing requirement. I understand why he did that. The city of Bell was included and we clearly don’t belong there because if you look at our city, my entire city is filled out. My city is 2 square miles with 40,000 people. There is no space whatsoever where we can build and we can’t build up because a lot of restrictions exists. And we can’t accommodate more people because quite honestly we’re lacking the infrastructure to accommodate a larger population. Our infrastructure is poor like I’ve just mentioned.
The last two exits on the 710 are the worst ones. We don’t have public transportation. I started working on the 710 project and I started working on that because I was really naïve—I promised that I was going to fix the exit on Florence because my thought was South Gate was able to fix their Firestone exit, we should quick fix our Florence exit. I didn’t realize that there was this vital way of politics and financing that needed to take place before that happened. And also, they had to really recognize that there was a need here. The only thing that was stopping it was the advocacy to get it done.
But in the process of finding solutions I realized that the Florence bus line is just as congested and as in high demand as the bus line on Wilshire Boulevard. And Wilshire Boulevard actually has public transformation. Metro is there. … So to ask us to accommodate a larger density, I think it’s unfair. I have great projects right now in the city of Bell that I would love to do mixed use and accommodate housing. But I recognize and developers don’t want to and even the city doesn’t have the resources to accommodate larger density.
What do you think should be the state’s role in preventing and solving the homelessness crisis?
We have a moral duty, quite honestly. Again, like I mentioned, California is the fifth largest economy in the world. To have the level of homelessness that we have, I think it’s really, quite honestly, just embarrassing and I think we’re failing as a society to care for that need. The city of Bell, again our resources are limited, but last year we opened permanent supportive housing for the homeless and veterans. We were able to do it with minimal resources, I don’t understand how the state can’t do the same. By the way, this project wasn’t a loan. We partnered with the Salvation Army. So when in terms of when I talk about getting involved, getting stakeholders involved, that we can’t do it alone and my city is poor. And no one can really do it alone. You have to get other people involved, get the experts involved.
Police use of force issue is a hot-button issue in this state and nationwide. There are competing use of force bills in the legislature right now. What is your position on use of force reform and do you support the pending legislative reforms?
When I was at the ACLU, I did an internship with them when I was in law school and had the opportunity to do some intake work at the L.A. County Jail facilities, and realized that that facility for example was beyond capacity. It was doubled. Literally doubled. You walk in there and the level of human rights abuses that existed were evident. So the reason why I’m bringing that up is that I saw firsthand the situation in which the prisoners, and also the officers, find themselves in. So I recognize the need, and basically how we as a society contribute to creating an environment in which there is natural hostility.
So do I support that legislation? I definitely think there needs to be better training. There has to be better sensitivities. I think the use of excess force should not be tolerated. That being said, we also need to recognize that we’re creating an environment in which officers feel defensive. So I recognize the abuses and the dangers that exists there. I mean I look at my own police department. We’re small, we’re incredibly small and underserved. So because we don’t have the budget, we haven’t been able to hire more police officers.
So what we end up having to do is to a lot of overtime pay. Give a lot of overtime pay to officers and that’s not the best thing to do because we’ll end up having a tired workforce that’s forced to go out into the public and basically defend and risk their lives to defend others. So that’s the situation. I’m trying not to be wishy-washy but I think we need to look at the problem much more holistically and recognize why it is that we, the United States, have one of the highest levels of incarceration in the world.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District is pursuing a one-half cent sales tax measure that would raise about $1.4 billion each year to pay for clean-air projects such as zero-emission cars, trucks, trains and cargo equipment. What is your position on this given that a major freeway corridor, the 710, runs through the district?
I would have to analyze the impact and again how each city bears it. Again going back to the city of Bell, we were one of the highest tax cities in California precisely because of the scandal and the abuse that we suffered. So I’m able with SB1 for example—a lot of my residents were asking me, are you going to support this? Should we vote for this or not? And my response to them was yes. Why? Because we have the 710 in our backyard and those might at least go for that. So we have to make an analysis together as to whether or not you want to support it. Because at the same time my residents don’t want to get taxed anymore. We’re taxed enough. But we recognize that we need resources in order to be able to accommodate our needs like SB1 with the 710. Air quality is another one.
Similarly, what is your position on proposed plans to widen a 19-mile stretch of the 710 freeway through much of the district?
We’re talking about that on our way here as we were driving up the 710. No, we should not widen it. The moment you widen it, all you do is create an opportunity to increase traffic. I think what we need to do and we need to emphasize is we need to repair it. First and foremost at its most basic level it needs to be repaired. We all know that there’s going to be an increase in traffic use, at least at the Port of Long Beach that’s going to increase the amount of traffic that goes up the 710. And by the way they get off on Florence or they get off on Atlantic, which again, are both on the city of Bell. Drive up a mile and get off in Commerce and then transport all these goods to the rest of the nation.
The Port of Long Beach and the Port of L.A. and maybe one here, together bring in 44 percent of the nation’s goods and they go up this corridor. If we don’t do something to address and fix the 710, I have no idea how we’re going to accommodate the increase of imports. But what I do know, is that if we don’t address it, the impact is going to be up above where my community lives. So I formally opposed the expansion of the 710.
Is there anything else about your candidacy you’d like voters to know?
In the last eight years, I have learned so much about local government and management. Because again I started off my career as an elected official in a city that had tremendous need. And what I realized there is that I am incredibly thankful for the education and the training that I received. Because had I not had that, I don’t know if I would have been able to come up with solutions in the city. So all this is to say that training is needed, a foundation is needed. Problems are complex, which is actually one of the reasons why I’m fascinated with running for the 33rd because the kid in me likes that stuff. I graduated with a BA in American studies government. I have a master’s in economics and I went to Columbia Law School.
So in the practice of government as an elected official, I get to do all those things. I get to pursue my own interests. And the beauty of it is that I get to do it in my community. So what would I want voters to know: I want voters to know that I have the skill set, the passion and the interest in the subject matter to advocate for our own benefit and that’s essential. I saw that in the first three years in Bell where we spent a lot of time in Sacramento. We were being treated basically as part of the problem and Sacramento failed to recognize that our city was actually the victim. It was actually the victim. So it was my advocacy that really helped them switch and change their perspective of who we were.
First of all we didn’t do it. And second, it was done to us. So to put the onus and the punishment on the city was wrong. And I think the only reason I was able to do it and catch that is because I studied and worked and immersed myself in the problems. I have done more working on Bell matters than I have in my entire academic career. And why? Because these are people’s lives. And I think people fail to recognize that government affects people’s lives. It’s not just distant policy platform that exists between one entity and the residents. What government does, it affects people’s livelihood. And I recognize that, and I work with that in mind.