The Daily Press spoke with Richard Bloom, who has represented the 50th Assembly District in the California State Assembly since 2012 and was re-elected Nov. 6. Bloom’s district includes Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades and Malibu, as well as other nearby communities.
What are your priorities going into your new term?
They will be similar to what they’ve been in the past. Housing will continue to be a front and center priority, and I know it’s a priority for Governor-elect Newsom. I think we’ll be working closely to address the ongoing housing crisis.
I expect I’ll have new legislation on environmental issues. I’ve focused a lot of energy in the past on ocean and plastic pollution. We really have a crisis when it comes to trash in the state, and it’s become exacerbated because China is no longer taking our recyclables and this is something we need to do a better job addressing.
You’ll see more legislation on healthcare issues. The crisis of obesity and diabetes and heart disease that affects millions of Californians is still of great importance to me.
I also have a narrowly-focused but important healthcare issue. Not all insurance companies are required to cover hearing aids for children. Legislation in the past on that has not been successful, but I’m committed to making sure those children are not left behind because they don’t have access to hearing aids.
I plan to address the issues surrounding the wildfires, which is very closely connected to a multitude of issues, but climate change is one of the main ones, obviously, and the yearlong fire season we face. Last year, we budgeted a lot of new money to address this issue. (The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) went through its budget to address fires in September. They exhausted the money we had allocated for the entire fiscal year, so clearly we need to take another look at that. I’d like to be focusing more limited, but important, resources on bringing innovation to the way we fight forest fires.
I have one of the busiest legislative offices in the entire state legislature when it comes to introducing bills I think are of significant importance to Californians. I don’t see why this year should be any different. I think all the priorities I touched on are of great importance to my local constituents.
Since you identified housing as one of your top priorities, how will you form policy on that in the wake of Proposition 10 failing to pass? It seems that rent control is not very popular with California voters.
It wasn’t just a ballot measure, it was my bill last year that raised these issues and also didn’t move forward. But the fact that these two things didn’t happen doesn’t mean that the issues that moved both my bill and the ballot measure to the forefront go away. The crisis of affordability that affects everyone in the state, but often people are helpless in responding because they’re getting hit with dramatically escalating rents.
The issue of increasing homelessness caused by increasing rents, the issue of diminished quality of life for those who have no choice but to pay increasing amounts of their disposable income on rents: those issues don’t go away. They don’t go away for the tenants, or the apartment owners and realtors in the state who have mostly opposed our efforts to address those issues.
What will be different this year is that Governor-elect Newsom has expressed interest in addressing those issues and I’m confident that I will be working closely with the Governor to responsibly address that aspect of the housing crisis. This won’t make everybody happy, but we will also need to continue to address the production of new housing because this is a twofold issue. We do have to increase the amount of housing that’s available in the state to bring the cost down in the long term.
We’ve made a lot of progress over the past couple of years, but those projects are going to take many years to build, and in the interim we need to address the cost of housing for tenants in the state who have no choice but to either move into lower quality housing, move in with other people or in the most extreme cases to become homeless.
You mentioned that we can expect to see more legislation addressing the obesity and diabetes crisis. Will you be following up on the soda tax bill you’ve introduced in the past?
I have, in the past, proposed a bill to create a healthy California fund that would be funded by a 2 cent fee on sugary beverages. It produces a significant amount of revenue, all of which would be focused on addressing the healthcare crisis that we have in the state of California. You can expect to see me bring forward some version of that prior legislation.
In my view, the soda companies have actually asked for this legislation because they took action last year to prevent local governments like Santa Monica from passing their own local fees. I suspect people will disagree with my analysis, but if we’re not going to do this at the local level, then it’s our responsibility as a state to address this terrible crisis for which these drinks are largely responsible, according to overwhelming evidence in the scientific community.
What are your priorities for the 50th Assembly District? Are there specific local issues you’re aiming to address?
It depends on the part of the district. People who live in Agoura Hills and Malibu will continue to be concerned about fire issues and we certainly will be working on those issues. Environmental issues are always a high priority for all of my constituents, including climate change, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was on Santa Monica City Council, we passed a lot of forward-thinking environmental legislation. Councils in other communities in my district have passed this legislation and I believe that will continue to be the case.
Affordable housing continues to be a burning issue around the state. I represent a district that believes, like I do, that affordable housing is something we should expect as a right, and no one should be homeless in the fifth largest economy in the world. It’s going to take a lot of work and will be frustrating for some residents. Building housing for the homeless is a priority for many, but controversial for many, and we need to work our way through those issues quickly and efficiently so we can visibly see people off the streets and so they don’t have to live in squalor.
How do you think working with Governor-elect Newsom going to be different than working with Governor Brown?
I’m fortunate to have had a very good working relationship with Brown. I know Newsom and we’ve already begun talking about some of the issues we have in common. His priorities are very close to my priorities and that’s true of most of the legislature. The last six years have been very productive in working with Governor Brown, and I believe the next six years, until I reach my term limit, are going to be equally productive.
Gov. Brown mentioned my track record at the memorial in Thousand Oaks I attended. He looked over at me and said “I wasn’t too harsh with you, was I, in terms of the bills I signed?” and I said, “Quite the contrary, I think you only vetoed three of my bills.” We worked very closely together and neither he nor I could remember what those three bills were. I looked at him and I said, “We’re good, Governor Brown.”
I’ve been able to accomplish the things I have because I’ve been attuned to what the issues are and the best path to getting things done. It’s not always 100 percent what I want, but at end of the day, it’s the American democratic way. We work together to find a pathway to things that are attainable and make difference in the lives of Californians.
Governor-elect Newsom has run on an anti-Trump platform and plans to use the state government to fight national policies. Do you think Newsom is too concerned with the outside fight as opposed to California issues?
Not at all. My guess is that Newsom will be indistinguishable from Brown in opposing policies that have come out of the Trump administration, whether those are environmental policies, immigration policies or anything in between. California and plenty of other states take a different point of view, and we intend to assert that point of view and make sure we prevail to the extent possible. That means standing up strong for things Californians are, by and large, in agreement on and in strong disagreement with the Trump administration.
First and foremost, you see a very strong difference in style between Newsom, Brown and Trump administration. We don’t talk the way the Trump administration talks. When we have strong disagreements, we don’t insult people or their intelligence. We have a different approach to things here in California and I hope in every other state in the union.
I didn’t serve under Schwarzenegger and I know there would have been a lot of tension and a lot of agreement between us, but the underlying approach to resolving issues that separated us would have been one of respect and dialogue. And that’s something almost totally absent in Washington, and something almost all Americans and Californians believe needs to change and change quickly.