Last Wednesday, the Santa Monica Democratic Club invited Third District County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath and 51st Assembly District Representative Rick Chavez Zbur to address the club. Each elected leader received almost an hour for opening remarks and then take questions from Club leadership.
The Club has been successful lately with the use of a “hybrid” meeting format, offering in-person meet-ups with a local tablet near the podium recording meeting speakers for Zoom participants, whose Zoom squares could be seen by those attending live. All told, Horvath and Zbur addressed nearly 90 local Democrats, split fairly even between formats.
Zbur followed an exciting hour with Horvath, and the two were very complimentary of one another as Horvath passed the microphone to the freshman Assemblymember. He said he really valued their partnership and even bragged a little about Horvath’s role in rental housing.
Said Zbur, “I was listening to Supervisor Horvath talk earlier about how we need to focus much more on preventing homelessness. One of the things she didn’t mention is that she was responsible for getting the entire board of supervisors to sponsor AB 1431, which is the California Housing Security Act, which actually will provide – if we can actually get the funding through and convince the governor and others to fund it – rent subsidies, significant rent subsidies for the most housing insecure people in the state of California, and it would be a game changer.”
In his remarks, Zbur – like Horvath – was grateful to the club for its support during his inaugural assembly campaign. “This feels like my home Democratic Club, even though I live in the middle of the district, and just want to thank you for really everything you did to help me get elected and everything that you have been doing since then to really help provide input and help me get off the ground running.”
Zbur talked about the leadership transition taking place and the election of new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas. He then made a bit of news by announcing his selection by Rivas to serve as the new Democratic Caucus Chair, putting him firmly in Assembly Majority Leadership.
Then Zbur went further into housing and homelessness. “A couple of weeks ago, when the new homeless count came out, and we saw that we’re sort of losing ground, I frankly wasn’t all that surprised by it. Because if you think about it, this is a period of time where we basically have a lot of the rent eviction moratoriums ending, people are living in rental housing with big amounts of built-up rent that they owe, and really, very limited amounts of support to sort of help people dig themselves out of these things. And I know many people that I am close to who lost their jobs weren’t paying their rent, got some amount of assistance, but really don’t have big nest eggs. And now landlords are basically causing them to sort of pay up and a lot of them are feeling a lot of stress that they don’t have any other circumstances.”
Zbur said that as a new legislator, he realized he needed to focus on these rent-burdened people and make sure they and others didn’t become unhoused. He got specific about his AB 1431 (mentioned above) saying it would provide, “Rent subsidies that would be up to $2,000 a month, for up to two years, for people that are low-income seniors, people living with disabilities, people that were formerly incarcerated foster youth – a group of folks that basically face a high risk of housing insecurity.” He added that waiting to assist those once they become homeless would cost “Six to $10 billion, compared to half a billion dollars [in rent subsidies]. So focusing on prevention is something that is not only much more compassionate in my mind, but it’s also really cost-effective as well.” The Assemblymember singled out Rent Control Board Chair Anastasia Foster, who was in attendance, for her help in shaping the details of the legislation.
His Assembly Bill 1620 – which was sponsored by the cities of Santa Monica and West Hollywood – would add a compassionate exception from the Costa-Hawkins vacancy decontrol law. Under Costa-Hawkins, when a rent-controlled unit is vacated, the rent for that unit jumps to the latest market rate for the new occupants. But if 1620 becomes law, it would allow persons with disabilities and other mobility issues – in older buildings lacking elevators – to move from their current unit on an upper floor of a building to an open unit on the first floor, without a change in rent. Zbur says even this common-sense measure has been a battle given how hard it is to ever challenge Costa-Hawkins in Sacramento. But he thinks now that the California Apartment Association has changed its stance from opposition to neutrality, it may have a chance.
Zbur also spoke about buttressing the financial security of former foster youth, 25 percent of whom become homeless at some point after reaching adulthood. He says that while they benefit from an assistance program now called the Independent Living Program, that assistance goes away if they have accumulated $5,000 or more in savings. But, Zbur said, “We want these young people to have $5,000 in savings that we have. But that’s some of what you do to have housing security, right? To have a little bit of a nest egg to turn back on if you lose your job.” He has legislation that would allow for such savings while still receiving help.
In addition to housing and affordability, Zbur discussed his initiatives around clean energy. His AB 3, The California Offshore Wind and Jobs Act, would accelerate California’s ability to expand offshore wind turbines to the level we need to move off of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and gas-powered plants. He says the key to making offshore wind happen is the construction of new, expanded, and deeper ports.
To ease the friction between the environmental community and labor, Zbur is including as part of the bill an in-state manufacturing requirement for wind turbines. “My view about offshore wind is that we need to actually find ways of having high-wage jobs that people can sort of move to as we move to a clean energy economy,” he said.
The Assemblymember is also sponsoring AB 1176, which would require every local jurisdiction to add a climate action electrification plan to their General Plan update, or as a separate plan. “The idea is that we actually really have to think about how we’re going to have electric charging stations in all the places that our people need them.” He credited Santa Monica for already adopting this practice.
Zbur’s civil rights and social justice platform included AB 5, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which would require every public school teacher in grades seven through 12 to take LGBTQ+ cultural competence training for an hour each year over six years. He explained, “Anecdotally, right, we’ve got kids who are being bullied in the community, or within the school, or don’t have supportive home environments. And we know when that’s the case, the person who’s most likely to turn to you for help is a school teacher.” But Zbur says it’s more than merely an anti-bullying bill. It’s about keeping kids in school and away from harmful coping mechanisms and/or ending up on the streets.
To address the teacher shortage, Zbur has introduced a bill dubbed the Teacher Pipeline Bill, that would pay the tuition for school classified staff (cooks, bus drivers, janitors) to go back to school and earn their teaching credential. He says similar programs have been introduced in the past but are little used. The reason? They make the classified staff give up employment to return to school. His bill would allow them to keep their jobs while they study and get accredited.
Finally, Zbur address the California Film Tax Credit and his work to get it renewed and expanded. Zbur says at $330 million, one challenge is that ours is dwarfed by New York State’s $800 million credit, and Georgia’s unlimited tax credit. Zbur says he doesn’t understand why California doesn’t make ours unlimited given every dollar spent on the credit brings in $7 in economic benefit to local jurisdictions.
Photo from the Assemblymember’s Website