Calif. governor’s race: Delaine Eastin interview

In the weeks leading up to the June 5 primary, Press Play is speaking with the top candidates running for governor. We start with Delaine Eastin. She served two terms as State Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1995 to 2003. Before that, she was in the state assembly, chairing the education committee. She talks about her push for free college tuition, getting more funding for LAUSD, tacking the housing crisis, and more.

KCRW: So much of our audience, I think, is just tuning in now to the race and figuring out who the candidates are. So why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience, who is Delaine Eastin?

Delaine Eastin: Well, I’m a native Californian who is actually a fifth generation on my mother’s side. I was born in San Diego, raised mostly in the Bay Area and lived there most of my life. I live in Davis now.

First of my family to go to college, I was privileged to attend UC Davis for undergraduate and UC Santa Barbara for graduate school. I had a wonderful life because I had a wonderful education. And at some point I was teaching at community college and I was going to write the definitive textbook on California’s state and local government. So I got appointed to the Planning Commission in Union City, the fastest growing city in Alameda County.

And I learned a lot and I learned you could also make a difference, even in an appointed position if you did your homework and you paid attention. And at some point the only woman on the city council asked me to be her campaign manager for her reelection. I was like, ‘I can’t do that, I don’t know how to do that.’ She said, ‘oh we’ll teach you everything you need to know.’ So it was a very wonderful experience. I discovered that most of the people that run local campaigns are really wonderful, caring, concerned citizens. And the night she got reelected she said, ‘and in two years we’re going to run you.’ And I was like, ‘aah.’ But I did run and we had a wonderful experience in Union City.

We put the city in the school district together and collaborated and we got a lot of things done. Today, there’s a Delaine Eastin Elementary school because of our wonderful success. I then went to the legislature, 75 years after women had the vote in California in 1986  I was an elected woman and there’s only been 31 before me total in history.

That year we were on the cover of the California Journal – the biggest class of women in history. Five new elected women: Jackie Spear, Bev Hansen, Becky Morgan, Marian Bergeson and I. And we were able to make a difference and I was named Rookie of the Year by the journal and I wound up getting a lot of things done first in transportation, environment and consumer protection because Willie Brown wouldn’t appoint me to the Education Committee. My love was education. So I did get appointed, I got to chair it eventually and then I ran and became the first and still the only woman to be elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction for California.

KCRW: So you are the only woman on the ballot.

DE: Yes, of the top candidates.

KCRW: Yeah, of the top candidates there’s another woman on the ballot. But of the top six you are the only one. Are you saying to the voters, in part, ‘vote for me because I’m a woman?’

DE: Not at all. I’m saying vote for me in spite of the fact that I’m a woman, because I’m the most qualified candidate. Somebody once jokingly said, ‘you know it’s funny they always ask, would you vote for a qualified woman for office, and this person said, ‘we’ll know we’ve achieved equality when we have the same right to run unqualified people as men have had for so many years.;

I’m a very qualified hardworking, productive person. And I do think California needs nimble leadership. We have an overwhelmingly Democratic majority in both houses all the constitutionals are Democrats but we’re really not moving the needle on some of the most important issues of our time. You know that’s housing –
I spent Saturday night two weekends ago, I was in Los Angeles and I went to skid row and it was an absolute gut punch. I was never so shocked by how many elderly women are homeless, how many women and children are on the streets and how absolutely packed the homeless shelters are and there’s still a vast overflow into these tent cities.

At one of the homeless shelters which is five stories high, they decided they would convert the chapel into a dormitory room for senior women at night. They take the pews out and the women sleep on the floor because there are so many. We have only 12 percent of our nation’s population in California, but 25 percent of the homeless. So we have to have a full court press on short-term, immediate solutions for the homeless. But we’ve also got to build housing. We’re only building about 80,000 units a year. We should have been building 180,000. So for the million we didn’t build in the last 10 years we should probably, in fact haven’t a target somewhere between 250 and 300,000.

KCRW: That’s 250,000 a year.

DE: A couple of the other men are saying 500,000 year. Well guess what we’ve never built 500,000 a year.

KCRW: Well we haven’t built 250,000

DE: Well, we did 328,000 thousand one year. Some years ago.

KCRW: Decades ago

DE: Reality is that we don’t have the carpenters, the plumbers, the electricians to do 500,000, but if we could get up to a quarter of a million we could start to make a real dent in the problem. We have the oldest children living at home with their parents right now.

KCRW: Well some of your opponents are saying look the problem in California is too much regulation. The SEQUA law the Environmental Protection Law all of these regulations have gotten out of control and just add years and dollars to the costs of building new housing. It’s just very difficult to build new housing here on a grand scale. So what would you do as governor to try to streamline that process?

DE: Well I don’t think you have to get rid of environmental quality concerns in order to fix it. You have to have somebody who’s nimble enough to not just keep piling on new regulation, new rules, new procedures

KCRW: Would you get rid of some existing ones?

DE: I would streamline this process. Dramatically streamline the process. And give greater incentives to convert commercial industrial properties that are antiquated into a modern, multistory, affordable housing. And we did this in Union City we used I’d bring back redevelopment agency we used redevelopment money to buy back Pacific State Steel, Liquid Air and the PG&E PCB storage yard. They were all toxic, so we had to clean them all.

But we built multi story affordable and market rate housing. Guess what. The young families that live there love it. The kids can walk to high school- it’s two blocks away. The elementary school is three blocks away. The BART station has a half a block away. You don’t even have to move your car if you’re if you’re working near the BART line. And so we have a lot of things we can and should be doing without saying we’re just going to throw out the rules. Costa Hawkins, the Rent Control Act was supposed to encourage more development of rental property. Guess what. It did nothing of this kind.

KCRW: And so there’s a ballot initiative to get rid of it. Do you guys support it?

DE: I support it. I want to get rid of it. I think it’s not worked at all.

KCRW: So you want to strengthen rent control?

DE: I want to strengthen rent control. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we have way too many. We have foreign countries buying up housing to turn them into Airbnbs. And you know turn them into short-term rentals so they can make lots and lots of money and ships out of the country. It’s crazy!

KCRW: Now many economists think rent control is not the solution because it acts as a disincentive to creating new housing. I mean it’s great for people who have rent control apartments, but for everyone else it makes housing more expensive because there isn’t an incentive to build a lot of housing if it’s going to be rent controlled.

DE: That’s exactly the rationale that was used to pass Costa Hawkins in 1995 and the situation has gotten much worse. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. They got rid of the ability to have rent control on properties built after ’95. And guess what. It hasn’t stimulated rental construction. It hasn’t stimulated more opportunities for people to buy rental properties near where they work. And so the opposite happened. That was what they predicted. And I just say I really do believe there are lots of lots and lots of very successful countries that have lots of affordable housing that have rent control. I’m not talking about third world countries I’m talking about Europe.

KCRW: OK let’s talk about education. You’re in favor of universal pre-K. You’re in favor of free college education for in-state residents.

DE: Yes which I got. I paid eighty two dollars and fifty cents a semester to attend UC Davis.

KCRW: Wow.

DE: My best friend went to San Jose State, she paid forty two dollars a semester.

KCRW: OK. So for community, state and UC it would be pretty much free for all in-state residents.

DE: It would take a few years to get to free. But it’s a target. If people could do it coming out of a depression and a war then surely we should be able to figure out how to do it.

KCRW: How much would that cost the state?

DE: Well I don’t have the exact numbers. What I can tell you is that we used to spend 18 percent of our state budget on higher education and 3 percent on prisons. Higher education is now down below 12 percent. Prisons are up above 9 percent.

So budgets are statements of values. We need to get our values straight and make sure our budget reflects those values. We’re 41st in per pupil spending. When I graduated from high school we were fifth, tied with New York. New York is now in the top 10 still and they spend more than twice as much per student. We’re in the bottom 10. And our kids who are poorer than New York kids, more likely to be learning English as a second language,
they have a lot of reasons that we should be in the top 10. So we have to reinvest. We get that money by changing Prop 13 as it relates to commercial industrial property tax.

KCRW: You know Prop 13 has often been brought up as a big problem when it comes to state finances. Why hasn’t it been amended in the 40 plus years since it’s been around?

DE: Well it should have been amended, but everybody calls it the third rail of California politics and so they’re afraid to talk about it. But there is an initiative right now to change it as it relates to commercial-industrial. You know what the assumption was that if 50 percent of the property turned over that it would be reassessed. But what many shrewd business owners have done is they sold off 15 percent one year and the next year it’s 20 and the year after that it’s 10 and the year after that it’s 10. So they’ve actually sold more than 50 percent of the property but it never all sold at one time. Likewise there were those who assumed when 50 percent of the stock of a publicly traded company turned over, that that property would be reassessed. It was didn’t happen. So you do have properties that were built before Prop 13 passed that are being taxed basically at the 1978 level. Some of them are worth 50 times what they were worth then and some are worth 30 times. It has some other downsides not just the lack of resources to schools and locals. It also creates a disincentive for people to modernize.

And so the ghost ship fire in Oakland where 33 people died – that was because some greedy landlord who owned this warehouse, he wanted to make more money but he didn’t want to pay more taxes so he didn’t change the outside of the building. He just converted the inside into apartments and 33 people are dead today because of it. The other downside is that it’s a disincentive to new business people. So if you are opening a brand new restaurant across the street from some other restaurant that had been in business for 35 years your property tax might be 20 or 25 times what theirs are. That puts you at a terrible disadvantage.

KCRW: So you think that alone will go towards providing free higher education.

DE: I think that has to go to K12 and to higher education. So I think we may you know we may have to have some other juxtapositions. We have to look at the state budget and figure out what we really have to do and what we what we don’t have to have a Cadillac prison system when we have jalopy schools.

KCRW: OK speaking of problems in the public schools LAUSD – the second largest school district in the nation we have 700,000 or so students give or take, a budget of $9 billion. It’s an enormous institution. The new superintendent Austin Beutner says he needs more money to provide better education and he needs to get it from the state. Would you provide LA with more money as governor?

DE: Well I think the way to get him more money is this change I’ve been in Prop 13. It would be generated actually locally, but it would be more money and it wouldn’t necessarily have to come from the state. It could be a substantial amount of additional dollars though and it would it would serve the purpose that he wants to serve.

I think what people don’t realize, they’re now bragging in Sacramento, while we have local control funding formula we have local control it’s all fixed. Well it’s not all fixed. The fact is if you don’t have enough money to go around and you just say we’re going to give more money to the poorer districts, all you’re doing is reducing the money to the middle class and suburban and working class districts to help the poor districts. But nobody has enough. So it’s really robbing Peter to pay Paul, when in fact what you have to do is raise all boats. There has to be an additional investment made in California public education as there was when I was growing up. You know if the daughter of a machinist and address clerk can get a great education in a working class community and go onto the University of California in the ’50s and ’60s then surely we can do this in the year 2018.

KCRW: This has been your entire career: education.

DE: It’s been my focus.

KCRW: Your focus. You are an expert on it.

DE. Yup

KCRW: Why haven’t the major teachers unions endorsed you? Why have they endorsed Gavin Newsom.

DE: You know, I think they’re going with who they think is the winner and they haven’t always been. We haven’t always seen eye to eye. I’m always with the teachers associations when they are with the children but when they put the adults ahead of the children I go toe to toe with them. So they had a bill that said teachers didn’t have to do lesson plans. And I opposed them upfront and on purpose because in fact that was not in the best interest of the children. You know if you go into three different second grades in three different schools or even three different second grades in the same school, the teachers may be on three entirely different pages.

To just say that anybody who comes walks in off the street as a substitute teacher will know what to do is insane. I favor a longer period for getting to tenure. We have too short a tenure period. So there are things I stand for that they don’t like and I’m willing to look them in the eye and say we need to adjust this. By the way I created the teacher of the year foundation to raise up those teachers who win our Best Teacher Awards in California and one night I had a we had a dinner and they invited several of them back to my house and we had a glass of wine and every single one of them thought the time to tenure was too short.

KCRW: You are Number Six of the top six right now in terms of the latest polling.

DE: Yes.

KCRW: You say you are the best qualified candidate in this race. Why haven’t you gotten any more traction?

DE: Well first I’ve been off the political stage for a while. I’m not independently wealthy and I’m not taking corporate money. So I have a lot less in the way of resource funds.

KCRW: You’re not taking corporate money on purpose?

DE: On Purpose. I think there’s a real feeling out there among a lot of your listeners and our voters that big money has too much power in California. I was the first candidate for example to come out to ban fracking. The reality is that we had earthquakes before they were fashionable. My grandmother lived through the 06 earthquake in San Francisco. Her grandmother had a heart attack and died the day after the earthquake. We have no business even experimenting with this let alone having it as a policy all over the state that we’re allowing fracking. Second thing is to be injecting dirty water in the ground. A) We don’t have enough water and B) Why would we be putting dirty water in the ground? That’s not in the best interests of the health or safety of the people here.

Why would we let ourselves become increasingly dependent on carbon when we ought to be reducing our carbon use?  I put my money where my mouth is. You come to my house, there are solar panels on the roof and there’s a tank less water heater. We have to do some things differently in the future. And that includes moving away from carbon and I also believe we ought to have an oil severance tax. We are the only major oil producing state out of 33 that does not have an oil severance tax. Think about it those liberal states like Oklahoma and Mississippi and Louisiana, Texas and Alaska under Sarah Palin all have oil severance taxes. Why don’t we?
And, by the way if we had an oil severance tax, we’d have a revenue stream that would build a high speed rail in California

KCRW: Which you’re in favor of.

DE: I’m in favor of the revenue stream I’m not in favor of taking out the general fund, because the general fund is not robust enough to do it. We’ve got to focus the general fund on education, first and foremost, and on the other things the state must pay for.

KCRW: Delaine Easton a candidate for governor. Thank you for joining us.

DE: My pleasure.