Lena Gonzalez

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 have a great experience being here in the city of Long Beach for 10 years, five years working very directly with the Long Beach community as a district director for Robert Garcia (vice mayor at the time) and the last five years, I’ve been elected (as a councilwoman). And in those five years of being elected, I’ve led on major policies for the city. I’ve actually chaired the state and federal legislative committees. I’ve championed major policies on the state level with Sen. Ricardo Lara at the time on behalf of Long Beach, and worked very closely with my council colleagues in order to push the agendas and the values of residents forward. You know, we’re the largest—one of the largest—cities in the state of California; everyone is watching us. So, I think that our policies—whether it’s hotel workers, whether it’s the Styrofoam ban, whether it’s addressing the issue of misclassification at our port—it’s been taken up by the state legislature. So, I think that experience and knowledge has really given me an opportunity to run for state Senate.

If elected, what would be the focus of the first piece of legislation you would propose?

Couple things. I think about of course climate change is so very important, not just to residents here in Long Beach but along the Southeast and South L.A. regions of the Senate district. [There is] toxicity underground and issues with air quality and the water quality; being an environmental advocate on the L.A. River Master Plan. Even though my opponents don’t know it, I’ve been advocating for them as well as Long Beach on that committee. And so, that one is going to be a big one. Gov. Brown has set forward SB 100 [a bill signed in September] which set carbon fuel emissions to get to zero by 2045. I’d like to see how we can speed that up. We’re going to be looking at a Green New Deal here in Long Beach that we can support, [and see] how can we take that to the state Senate and really push the envelope when it comes to green technology, green innovation and building a new green economy.

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?

Absolutely. Planned Parenthood has just endorsed me. I feel like that is not just something that speaks to women voters, it speaks to all voters. We know that in the Senate district about 80 percent of the people that go to the clinic are women, but we’re also seeing an influx in the district—and I’ve got stats from Planned Parenthood—from the LGBTQ community, utilizing Planned Parenthood clinics. Title X which was now just challenged by the [Trump] Administration, is a hot ticket item. We know that this Senate district has a lot of Medi-Cal recipients. And so, access to health care is going to be extremely crucial in this election as well. Having that endorsement is key in realizing that I’m going to be the person championing a lot of these issues, not just for women but for everybody.

Similarly, how would those endorsements or supporters impact your decisions or voting record if you were elected?

They have impact because they’re fighting every single day for health care access, for more Medi-Cal reimbursements, for additional clinics in the areas of need, which is my district currently in the 1st District, but will be as a state Senator in the 33rd district. So, they will absolutely impact me. I will have to bend their ear as to how we could get more state funding for Medi-Cal reimbursements, how we can get doctors that look like the community in these areas, and how we can expand access, whether that’s through mobile clinics, additional brick and mortar clinics. That’s gonna be very important and then talking about the ACA and universal health care overall is, is going to be key.

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?

I’ve had a lot of experience in the 1st District. It’s dynamic. There are competing interests every day, growth, keeping our diversity here in the city, the port and, you know, its amazing growth as well, but also the environmental impacts with lot of competing interests. They are very similar to the Senate district. So, I will absolutely represent everyone because I’ve been doing that in the 1st District. The Southeast region has a lot of need as well. … I think what’s exciting about myself going to the Senate district and a lot of legislators that have been elected before me is that we do come from local government. So, knowing that you have somebody that has a local component and experience is very important. The local control aspect which a lot of people, not just in Long Beach, we want to have but also in speaking with a lot of the electeds in Southeast L.A.—they want to ensure their voice is heard. In the first 100 days, I hope to go to every single City Council meeting and talk to local elected officials and school board members about how we can change and improve our Senate district but look at it cohesively. This isn’t Long Beach against Southeast L.A., this is all of us together.

How would you address climate change?

Well, on the local side, I’m the most progressive on the environment on the City Council currently. I’ve been the one, one of the only no votes on the additional oil drilling in the Los Cerritos Wetlands. I’ve been a no vote when it comes to coal being transported from the port through our communities because I truly believe in that and I banned Styrofoam. It took me two years to do that. We banned Styrofoam. Everyone thinks it’s so innovative. It’s great but we needed to do that. We also created a green business program with that. We’re looking at a dimension at a Green New Deal, to look at more green and innovative economies in the state of California. So I think I will continue those efforts. I think the state legislature has looked at Long Beach as a leader and I hope to carry that on and work on making more ambitious plans and goals. The 2045 goal [to reduce emissions], [I will look at] how can we get that to 2035 and really build upon the work that I’ve been doing here on the local level. I know Gov. Newsom has a lot of good plans as well for the environment that we will work collaboratively on.

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 am going to be bullish on affordable housing. I have been a local proponent of building more affordable housing because I am the council member that has [been] the ‘yes in my backyard’ council member. I keep giving people the statistic but I’ll do it again: 1,800 units of affordable housing currently exist in my district, Downtown and Central Long Beach. That’s more than five districts combined in this city. I shouldn’t have to be the only member of the council sharing that load of this responsibility. I think every part of the city, if you have lower resources, you should still be able to live along the coast just as you’re able to live in Downtown or Central. I think the same speaks for the rest of the state. Huntington Beach has built absolutely no affordable housing, yet they’re getting incentives and state tax credits because of their housing plan. So, I believe that the state does need to step in. If we want to address displacement, if we want to make sure that rents don’t continue to increase, if we want to ensure that people have a good place to live, including [people of] average, medium and low income levels. That means, very low income as well, people need to, to think about that. Right now, we are only incentivizing seniors and veterans. What about families, women with children that we know that are, are sort of on an uptick in  experiencing homelessness in L.A. County specifically. So, we need to address that and work with local governments. But if they don’t work with us, then we absolutely need to step in as a state and we’ll make sure we’re producing more.

What do you think should be the state’s role in preventing and solving the homelessness crisis?

We have a state of emergency when it comes to homelessness and L.A. County is feeling that the most, for various reasons. I think in Long Beach we did a really good job at obtaining $12 million state grant to fund an annual homeless shelter, which was fantastic. And, you know, we got a lot of heat even for that, but I think it was the right direction. It’s only about less than 200 beds so it’s not even like the whole solution here, but I think more funding and when I look at that, it’s like the whole, the whole issue. It’s not just affordable housing, it’s not just shelters, it’s mental health services which we know have been historically under resourced. It’s more funding for education as well because we know in higher ed, one out of every six Long Beach City College students is homeless that we know of. Food insecurity is an issue, so we need to expand, based on all of these different pillars, and we haven’t looked at it very comprehensively as a state. We’ve just looked at it and try to piecemeal. Let’s give funding here and funding here and funding here but we haven’t looked at it as a complete package like a continuum of care that we have here. I’d like to do that same sort of continuum of care at the state level making sure that all aspects of homelessness get addressed. So that means more funding, working closer with our federal government as well and some of our congress members, work in certain committees like health committees, that could be very fruitful for us and I know Congresswoman Nanette Barragan is on the health committee. Perhaps she can look for additional resources on the mental health side with us.

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?

Police use of force reform absolutely needs to happen. I think we’re in a situation where there’s a lot of distrust in government specifically with police departments and I know police departments are also overworked and under-resourced so we have to absolutely figure this out. I know that there’s competing bills, it seems that one bill, which just calls for training, it seems that departments are already doing that already. You know, in my work at Microsoft—I think the issue is data. I’m actually working right now with USC on a data platform that will actually look at arrest, police use of force data, truancies for three different organizations or agencies, I should say, LAUSD, city of L.A., and L.A. County Sheriff. We want to provide this data to policy makers to make more informed decisions about this issue. It seems in the legislature, it’s extremely split. We need to get the data, we need to sit down together as we’ve done before with other issues like the California Values Act, got everyone at a table and formed a committee of sorts and really figure out what the root of the issue is and how it’s going to affect people every single day. So, few different steps but I think if we can work together, a little bit more collaboratively… some of these have been dying on the Senate floor.

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 haven’t studied the issue, but I will. I would absolutely support I think anything that supports the green economy— anything that supports the lessening of emissions due to transportation, which we know is the major violator in the environment, especially in our neighborhoods. And given the fact that I currently represent an area that has some of the highest asthma rates, absolutely, we need to do this. This is what we need to do. When we’re looking at bond measures down the road or sales tax increases, I would hope that going forward, they really start investing back into this new green economy.

Similarly, what is your position on proposed plans to widen a 19-mile stretch of the 710 freeway through much of the district?

I was on the 710 project committee for a few months, and I know that this has been two decades-plus in the making and so there have been a lot of discussions back and forth from the environmental justice groups to elected officials along the 710. Widening it is certainly something that logistically would seem good, but I wanted to err on the side of the environmental justice advocates to ensure that we had a dedicated truck lane and that there was bike infrastructure along there. That community oftentimes has had obviously trucks, trains, port emissions, dirty water in the L.A. River—so it’s  just been compounding the issue. In addition to expanding, I would just hope that we can continue looking at ways that we can lessen the truck load off the 710. I’m actually working in that area to expand Drake and Chavez to one park, that would add green space to provide a community center that would talk about the environmental sustainability along the westside of the city that would sort of marry with the L.A. River. We’re also providing $50 million in the Municipal Urban Stormwater Treatment plan, LB MUST. So, there’s other elements that need to take place if we continue adding more trucks, hopefully to mitigate some of those issues.

Is there anything else about your candidacy you’d like voters to know?

I will continue to be a champion for the environment. I have been the most progressive voice on the City Council when it comes to the environment. I will continue pushing for more education opportunities especially for those in underserved neighborhoods like the district I would be representing. And then lastly, I would just say, I will work with everybody. I want to make sure my door is completely open and hear the needs of all residents in Southeast L.A., South L.A., and in Long Beach.