Leticia Vasquez Wilson

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?

Well, I have been a resident of the city of Long Beach. I attended Cal State Long Beach as both an undergraduate student, having earned my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and also my master’s degree in public policy and administration. And so I started my work in public service, actually in Long Beach. I did a lot of volunteer work at Centro Shalom and other agencies during my time as a student. I have been very active in the Long Beach community. I have been a member of the Long Beach Young Democrats, the Long Beach Democratic Club, and started my professional career here in Long Beach working for the Long Beach Women’s Center or woman’s shelter. I helped develop the domestic assault response team where we worked in coalition with the Long Beach Police Department to help women that had been victims of domestic violence. For example, a victim of domestic violence called our hotline. We answered the hotline, we responded to any calls either at a hospital or at a home, offered a woman shelter or another form of housing, and also offered counseling services. I have been very involved with the Long Beach Young Democrats doing other community service. I was involved in Long Beach politics during my time as a student, which is where I met Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, and have been a part of the Long Beach community for many years.

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

I’m very interested in education. I have been a teacher since 1999 and I believe that our education system from the K-14 system lacks funding. During my time as a staff member to Assemblymember Mervyn Dymally, we introduced a number of pieces of legislation to increase funding for public schools, and so I’m interested in revisiting that.

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?

Well I have so many endorsements so I’ve got to pick and choose. I have the endorsement of five Democratic clubs, including the Yes We Can Democratic Club here in Long Beach. And, I believe that that endorsement is very important because they are the most progressive Democratic club in the city, and they represent the progressive values that I believe are needed to be represented in Sacramento.

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

As progressives, we have focused on a number of very important issues throughout the state, including education, healthcare and also housing. And so those endorsements will help guide me as I develop and introduce public policy in those areas [education, healthcare and housing]. We’ve talked about creating more affordable housing in that progressive movement. So again, I’m interested in bringing more affordable housing. We’ve talked about the deterioration of our public schools in the progressive movement, and I’m interested in working on restoring the good public schools in our region, and healthcare, which is another big issue in our progressive movement. And that’s helping to expand access to medical services for everyone. And you know, the other really important one that we also talk about in our progressive movement is eliminating money from politics. Eliminating the influence of big money in politics and that is certainly another issue that I’m interested in working on, in conjunction with our progressives to introduce legislation that will limit the millions of dollars that are being poured into campaigns. I believe that, the people of and the voters of our district are the ones that should be able to decide who their elected officials should be. And in fact, it’s one of the reasons why I’m running. I strongly feel that our elected positions are not royal titles that are—people shouldn’t be crowned for these positions. These positions should not be played like a game of musical chairs among a select few. This process, this democratic process that we’ve all fought for in this country, should be a process that people and voters engage in, and the process includes all of the candidates stepping up and talking to the voters about why they feel they’re the best to represent them and also sharing with them what they have done to earn that position in their communities. And I have a strong record of doing that. You know, I served on the City Council in the city of Lynwood from 2003 to 2007. And when I ran for City Council, I actually ran because the city was suffering from having a reputation of having elected officials that were there serving themselves. And at a very young age, I decided to run for office on a platform that I was going to change that, and we were able to do that. You know, not change it completely, but we made an impact. And some of the things that we were able to achieve there are the following:

During my my campaign for the Lynwood City Council, I became aware of that our city councilmembers in the city of Lynwood were making almost $130,000 a year—in a working class community where the average median income was $30,000 and this was for what is in the books as a part time job. I came in and I said, ‘We’re going to get rid of that.’ We slashed the council salaries by 72 percent, bringing down the council salaries to about $30,000. The council members had a reputation of abusing city credit cards. They were using the city credit cards to pay for services at strip clubs. This is all documented in the L.A. Times and their newspapers. I supported the elimination of credit cards for council members. Another one of the complaints by the residents is the citizens don’t have access to City Hall. We have a primarily Spanish speaking community. I brought a resolution to the table that would require our city to translate our City Council agendas to Spanish and also hire a translator so that our Spanish speaking residents could come to our City Council meetings, put on their headphones and listen to the business that was being conducted on their behalf and also follow along an agenda that was written in a language that they couldn’t understand. I brought that to the City Council.

At that time, a number of our neighboring cities, including Long Beach because I lived at Long Beach, had already started televising their City Council meetings by way of the local cable company. The cities had franchises with cable companies and one of the things that they did was they went out and they recorded the City Council meetings, and they made them available to the residents through their cable channels. I brought that to the table at City Hall in the city of Lynwood and it was approved. We had this practice [in Lynwood] of not having an open and competitive bidding process for contracts, which I found was very troubling in our city because oftentimes our contractors were abusing the contracts that they were being issued, and so we put an end to that. We put a resolution in the books that required every contract that was going to go out for competitive bid. So those are just a couple of the reforms that I spearheaded during my time on the city council. When I became mayor in 2005, I created an ad hoc committee that specifically worked on good government initiatives, including studying the creation of an ethics commission. I went to the city of L.A. to study what L.A .had, and I also went to the city of Oakland to study what the city of Oakland had. They had very progressive ethics commissions. I brought it to our city; unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the support to do that, but that’s certainly something that I’m interested in doing as a member of the legislature.

I believe that as a member of the state legislature, there are a number of things that we can do to create more transparency in our local governments and some of the things that I was able to achieve at the local level are some of the ideas that I’m interested in bringing forward at the state level. So in addition to serving and seeing through some of those initiatives that I mentioned, we also were able to complete a number of projects in the city. During my time, we approved the design and completed five new parks projects. We made parks a priority in our city. At that time there was funding at the state level for communities like Lynwood because communities like Lynwood are park deficient. So we were able to secure funding to build and design five new parks—and a brand new senior citizens center, which the city never had. We secured funding at the federal level through advocacy, meaning through traveling up to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., knocking on doors, working with our federal elected officials to secure funding for street improvement programs that we were able to deliver in Lynwood.

We also received funding to create a safe routes to school program in our city. And so we achieved a considerable amount in our short time there. I also served on the library commission. The county of L.A. has something called the library commission. I was appointed by L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Burke, and during my three years there I was able to secure funding to get our Lynwood library renovated. So those are some of the things that I’ve been able to achieve as a city councilmember, through my hard work and advocacy on our behalf.

I hope to bring that level of representation for all of our communities in the state Senate. I currently serve on the Central Basin Municipal Water District Board of Directors. After leaving the City Council in Lynwood, I had no intention on coming back into politics. I was actually recruited by Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally who is also our former lieutenant governor here in California. He has a stellar record of public service in our state, I respect him a great deal. He came to me and said, ‘You were a great elected official in the city of Lynwood. You belong in our office and I want to help get you get elected to this water board that gravely needs the community’s voice.’ After his first call, I said, ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’ I have made my transition into teaching in the community college system. And he called me again. I said, ‘OK, let me think about it.’ I talked with my family about it and basically decided to go ahead and run for this water board. The water agency had a number of issues. I ran on a platform to reform the agency. I promised the voters—and I can give you copies of all my campaign literature as well—I promised the voters that I would get the agency audited; there were a number of questionable contracts that had been approved by the board. I promised to revisit those contracts. … Oftentimes, you know, reforming, when you make a decision that you want to reform agencies, that means coming up against a lot of interests. Big money interests have a lot at stake. And so I took them on and we cleaned up Central Basin. So I’m proud of the work that I’ve done as a council member. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done here in Long Beach, working for the Long Beach women’s shelter. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done as a council member and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done in education to impact our young people. So I have a very long history of public service and running for the state Senate is another opportunity for me to build on the public service record that I currently have.

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 celebrate diversity in every aspect of my life. I have a very multicultural family. My husband is African American, I’m Latina. The 33rd District is one of the most diverse districts in the state of California. I believe that our diversity is our strength. I believe that each of our cities has its own unique needs. I’m a strong supporter of local government authority. I will work with all of the cities to ensure that the resources that are available in Sacramento are coming into our communities. I’m committed to working with all of our cities to make sure that all of the diverse needs are being properly represented in Sacramento, and also that the funding that we’re all entitled to, everyone is being given access to.

How would you address climate change?

I’ve had an opportunity to address climate change on the Metropolitan Water District board of directors. We actually implemented a climate action plan. As we know, climate change is very real. Our planet is getting warmer and warmer every day, which means that our water supply is decreasing. So we approved a climate action plan, at the Metropolitan Water District to ensure that we are focusing on reducing the emissions that are making our earth drier or hotter. So I look forward to continuing and building on that work that I’ve already done. I will be working with our environmental community to look at legislation that we can introduce to address that.

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 believe in local control across the board. I think that each of our cities has a lot of similarities, but we each have our own unique needs. So I do believe that our cities should maintain their authority to implement policies as they see fit in their cities. With respect to the lawsuit against the city of Huntington Beach—I am not too familiar with the details. However, I am familiar with the fact that there are some cities that are not interested in doing affordable housing. So I will speak to that point: I believe that the issue of affordability and housing has to be distributed across the state. I don’t believe that only certain communities have the responsibility to do that. And so I would support legislation that evenly distributes that responsibility across the board.

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

Well it goes back to local control. I believe that obviously the state is in a position to allocate funding, and is in a position to help create programs for local governments and not just cities but county governments—and any other special districts that focus on that, including housing authorities. We have a number of cities that have housing authorities. And so I believe that the role of state government is to work in combination with [housing authorities] to create solutions that ultimately the local governments will implement.

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?

We have had so many instances where that has been very clearly documented on social media and the news where there has been an excessive use of force. I believe that we have good law enforcement officers, and just as in any profession, we have some bad apples and I think that’s across the board, including journalists. We’ve got great journalists and we’ve got, you know not so great journalists. And I believe that the rotten apples should be properly dealt with. You know there needs to be some implications. There have to be ramifications that come with abusing the power and authority that we give to law enforcement officers. And we need to maintain our police officers’ accountability—and, you mentioned, police legislation. … I need to learn more about the legislation, but I will say that we need to hold people accountable that are abusing their power and authority.

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 support a half cent sales tax measure if that money actually comes into our communities. You know, part of the challenge that we see in the northern part of the district is because we’re smaller communities. We’re often shortchanged when it comes to implementing regional sales taxes. I’ll give you a prime example: our voters in California approved two water bonds in the past seven years. Our communities have paid for that water bond through the taxes that were imposed, yet our communities are not seeing the funding to help us build the infrastructure that that tax was meant to help build. And so, while I support the idea that you just mentioned, I’m really interested in looking at the fine print to see where that money is going to go exactly and who’s entitled to apply for that money and how we’re going to be able to see it in our communities. That’s very important to me.

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

The city of Lynwood has been very vocal against the project. We have already been unduly burdened by the environmental impact and the air quality and other challenges that come with having a freeway—not only the 710 freeway, but the 105 Freeway. We’re pretty much surrounded by freeways and that has had a really horrible impact on our air quality and so we are very concerned.

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

Well, I have spent my entire adult life in public service. I have lived and worked in the district my entire life. I have a solid grasp of how local government functions. The fact that I have a track record of delivering on the promises that I’ve made to the voters, from reforming our local governments in the city of Lynwood and at the Central Basin Municipal Water Board, to actually delivering projects to our communities. As I mentioned, the parks in the city of Lynwood, our senior citizens center …  I hope that the voters in the district will judge me on my qualifications and what I have accomplished in the 33rd District.