Assemblymember Rob Bonta Sets Priorities, Supports Building Trades Bills
Rob Bonta was elected November 2012 to the California State Assembly’s 18th district, where he represents the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro. Prior to serving in the Assembly, Bonta was elected Vice Mayor of the City of Alameda. In the State Assembly, he serves as Chair of the Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security Committee and is a member of the Health, Transportation, Banking and Finance Committeee, and the Elections and Redistricting Committee. In February 2013, he was appointed as Chair of the Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay.
The Journeyman interviewed Assemblymember Bonta in July about some of his legislative priorities, his position on building trades issues, and the transition from City Council to State Assembly.
Journeyman: What are some of your priorities in your first term in the Assembly, especially regarding labor and the building trades?
Rob Bonta: Generally, my top four priorities are the same ones I have had as an elected official in Alameda and as a candidate: creating more good jobs—not just any jobs but ones that have decent wages and health acre and pension benefits; jobs that that a middle class family can rely on; strengthening our public schools; making sure we have safe streets; and making sure we have an adequate, strong and secure public social safety net.
I have two bills I co-authored that will help promote the goal of creating good jobs that are important to the building trades. Assembly Bill 229, authored by John Perez, and AB 243 by Assemblymember Dickenson. Both bills create infrastructure revitalization financing districts, IRFDs, which are essentially a replacement tool for what we lost when Redevelopment Agencies were eliminated. The RDAs were a very important tool for cities throughout the state to use to build low-income housing and for job creation and economic development where there was blight to create new projects that employed building trades workers. AB 229 would apply to former military bases and AB 243 would apply to any former redevelopment-designated area.
In Alameda, like many cities, we relied heavily on redevelopment to fund affordable housing stock as well as to promote economic revitalization projects. As Vice Mayor, I was on the City Council when redevelopment agencies were abolished, so that local perspective allowed me to see the impact of state level decisions locally on our ability to create jobs for folks that need them and the inability to provide services like creating affordable housing. That perspective has stayed with me and is one of the reasons I co-authored the bills to find ways to replace what we lost with redevelopment.
Journeyman: Would either of the bills require prevailing wages or requirements for ensuring union labor?
Rob Bonta: No, that’s not their focus. Like redevelopment, they provide a tool for financing. The separate issue of prevailing wage isn’t addressed. That’s a separate question; they just provide a local financing source. But each locality may have their own rules about prevailing wage, whether they are General Law or Charter Cities. In California, we have what we call the Little Davis Bacon Act that requires that prevailing wages are paid if there is state funding; so the funding source determines whether prevailing wages apply or if there’s union labor.
Regarding prevailing wage, I helped get a prevailing wage ordinance passed in the City of Alameda, working with Brian Lester and Mike Croll from OE 3. The City of Alameda had passed resolutions on two occasions that made strong statements in support of a prevailing wage but never adopted an ordinance that clearly implemented a prevailing wage as a law. So I took the initiative and we passed an ordinance that made it crystal clear, and we passed it unanimously in February 2012. Alameda is a charter city that isn’t governed by the Little Davis Bacon Act and could make the decision either way. We made the right decision—to ensure that we do have a prevailing wage requirement. In Sacramento, prevailing wages for charter cities have been a little bit of a contentious issue. I supported the proposal by Senator Steinberg that prohibited state funding from going to cities that ban Project Labor Agreements.
Currently, SB7 by Steinberg and Senator Canella has bipartisan support. It would increase financial incentives for charter cities to adopt prevailing wage ordinances like we did in Alameda. It incentivizes charter cities to support prevailing wage. They have the ability to go either way, but the approach at the state level that I support is to provide some incentives to adopt prevailing wage. [SB7 provides that charter cities are eligible for state funds for public works projects only if they pay the prevailing wage on their municipal projects.]
Journeyman: Has SB 7 come before the Assembly yet for a vote?
Rob Bonta: It is scheduled to have a hearing in Labor Committee in August and should pass and go to the floor. It has a lot of support. The battle will be at the governor’s office.
Journeyman: Have you had a chance to vote on some of the other Building Trades sponsored bills?
Rob Bonta: I’ve voted in support of quite a few of them. As I mentioned, AB 229 and 243. One important bill that I will be supporting when it comes over from the Senate is SB 391 by DeSaulnier—the California Homes and Jobs Act of 2013—that is supported by State Building Trades Council. It creates an ongoing source of funding for affordable housing development. It does that by establishing a $75 recording fee for documents related to the sale of a property, like for refinancing. It allocates funds for the development, acquisition, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable to low and moderate income homes. It has broad support among housing advocates and business groups and is seen as a way to generate funding to build more affordable housing stock, and also to replace the funding tool that we lost with redevelopment agencies. So it works hand in hand with AB 229 and 243 which I already voted for, but it has a different funding source—instead of the IRFDs it is funded through a recording fee.
I also supported the Governor’s economic development initiatives that will help bolster the business climate through enterprise zone reform, which the building trades supported. It includes a sales tax exemption for manufacturing which will help create good manufacturing jobs. I also supported AB 26 by Bonilla, which the Building Trades Council supported, that protects workers and communities where there are greenhouse gas reduction projects. It is funded by refineries under the cap and trade program and helps maximize safety by requiring that work is done by qualified, skilled journeylevel workers and apprentices.
I also voted for AB 277, the North Fork Rancheria Tribal Gaming Compact. It will create over 1,200 construction jobs for the project in the Central Valley. It is governed by an all union PLA with the building trades. There would be 5,000 new jobs total.
AB 1140 is another bill supported by the building trades that I voted for. It has a semi-annual prevailing wage determination, which is effective immediately on projects already underway. It requires timely payment of fair wages. I also voted for SB 311 in the Elections Committee. It will protect prevailing wages by requiring that any Charter City conversion elections are held in the statewide general election.
Journeyman: Has SB 311 passed the Assembly?
Rob Bonta: It will go to the floor for a third reading. It makes a lot of sense that when you are going to do something as critical as possibly converting to a charter city, you have as many people voting as possible.
I supported the budget items that will help the building trades; we were able to allocate $25 million specifically for infill incentive grants. That will help local governments eliminate blight by reusing properties that are underutilized or empty to develop infill projects, like affordable housing, that could be used to put building trades members back to work. The budget also provided $25 million to fund Transit Oriented Development projects. So we provided $50 million through the budget process to support development of infill and TODs, which will certainly help create more jobs for the building trades across the state.
Journeyman: You recently held town hall meetings in the District on the state budget. What kind of feedback did you get from constituents? And with the economy picking up and the legislature passing a balanced budget, what do you foresee for the future?
Rob Bonta: It’s been really exciting for me. I got elected last November and was sworn-in in December. Every year for the past several years, the budget has been defined by massive levels of cuts to critical programs. They were all budgets that needed cuts to remove the deficit. This year, for the first time after all those years of difficult cuts, the budget was on time, it was fiscally sound, and it restored funding; in fact it created some new funding for essential programs that had been cut in the past that are really critical to our state. That was exciting for me to come in in my first year, with the potential to be there for 12 years, and start off after the history we have had with the budgets full of cuts, to have a budget that was on time and actually reinvested in things that are important like education and job creation, our social safety net and public safety—things that are important to our state and represent where we are as a state.
We are at a turning point, turning a corner away from the great recession and towards more positive economic times and financial recovery and moving in the direction of restoration—not full restoration or certainly not where we need to be, but moving in the right direction and funding programs that really need it. I expect the budget to be better next year and to continue to improve. We are at the early stages of an improving economy. Things we did in the past, being fiscally responsible, are helping us now. Prop 30 also helped a lot since education is the number one expenditure in the state budget.
Journeyman: What are your thoughts about funding more vocational education like trades classes or pre-apprenticeship programs in the public schools?
Rob Bonta: That’s something that’s definitely important to me. There are students who are going to be college bound and others who will find more satisfaction in working in one of the trades. So we need to find ways to create opportunities and pathways for all of our students. That is something we need to continue to focus on and invest in and find funding for, and it’s something I’ve personally been involved in as a board member of the Cypress Mandela training program. That’s not school-based but does provide pathways into apprenticeships and the trades, including for people who need diversion because of their interaction with the criminal justice system and those who were formerly incarcerated who are re-entering society and need a career. That definitely is something we need in the budget and that I would support.
Journeyman: What is most challenging or interesting going from representing one city to several, with a larger and more diverse population?
Rob Bonta: It’s been interesting. In Alameda, I could make decisions that had an impact in the community where I live, so it had a more local flavor. And I was on the receiving end of the impacts of decisions that were made at the state level, as I mentioned with the elimination of Redevelopment and the impact that had on Alameda and the projects we had planned.
As a parent of children in the public schools, I felt the cuts made to schools personally in a very detrimental way. Now I can take those experiences as a local leader and knowing how decisions made at state level trickle down and really impact locally and bring that experience and knowledge to my decision making as a lawmaker. Those experiences inform my decisions at the state level.
I want to continue to serve Alameda and I also see the impacts that decisions at the state level have on San Leandro and Oakland, which faces serious challenges. I hope to show leadership in improving area schools and helping support school funding and creating tools for local development that other states can follow.
Journeyman: Anything else you’d like to add?
Rob Bonta: I also want to add that the decision to move forward with High Speed Rail was made before I was elected, but I support it. It is an important project; Republicans have tried to weaken it but it will provide jobs in construction and help support union apprenticeship programs. I will continue to support policies for good jobs and that help encourage people to get into union apprenticeship programs.