In contrast to some of the larger-scale debates voters have recently seen, this week’s forum featuring District 43 Assemblywoman Laura Friedman and challenger Mike Graves harked back to the wholesome, issue-focused sessions of yore.
The forum, among many hosted recently by the League of Women Voters of Glendale/ Burbank, provided a virtual window to the district’s voters. They will decide in November on all levels of leadership to continue moving the nation through the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, cultural upheavals with regard to enforcement and emergency services and the gloomy reality of environmental damage. Candidates at the forum spoke from the comfort of their homes, using Zoom to “meet” with their moderator and be broadcast throughout the area.
Friedman, a Democrat from Glendale who has held the seat since 2016, called COVID-19 “a real game-changer” for the state government, which under the previous governor, Jerry Brown, had amassed a comfortable reserve balance at the expense of some state services and emergency preparedness.
“We went from a state that had record surpluses put away for a rainy day, one where our economy was booming — we were a huge job creator, the fifth-largest economy in the world — to now running a deficit because of all of the COVID-related costs,” she said.
Asked how she’d allocate federal assistance that fails to entirely bridge the gaps in spending for state workers’ salaries, the court system and public colleges, Friedman recalled her time on the Glendale City Council, which she joined amid the Great Recession. She called for a major audit of the state apparatus.
“Just because you funded something in the past doesn’t mean that you should fund it in the future, and now is the time to really take a look at every program not just to see where the money is going, but to also see whether it is doing what it was intended to do,” Friedman said. “Too often we allow legacy programs to continue without really looking at the effects on the ground, and this is the perfect opportunity to go department by department and have every single agency in the state justify every single dollar that they spend.”
Graves, a Republican businessman from Burbank, said he generally believes the state “tries to do too much” and indicated he would take a more deliberate approach to the stimulus funding that Friedman called for.
“Like Laura says, it’s time to audit different parts of California’s budget, because really the resources are strained and I don’t see that bouncing back right away,” he added. “A lot of people are big believers in stimulus. If they’re applied well and that money can be used in a productive fashion, then it’s going to work. A lot of times, these programs don’t work out.”
Both candidates agreed that the pandemic shutdowns have both helped to improve air quality while also exacerbating single-use waste issues .Working from home could turn into a new norm moving forward, Graves said, but not for everyone.
“For a number of us, that’s not really a choice,” he said. “There are certain kinds of essential work that simply require that you show up and stock shelves or bake goods, and that’s the way it goes.”
Graves added that he has stopped patronizing some eateries because their to-go containers usually just go straight into the trash.
“If you can’t always recycle it, if you can’t always reduce it, sometimes you find ways not to use that kind of packaging at all,” he said. “There’s a way forward on it, but it’s going to take some more examination.”
Friedman said the state needed to continue measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pointed to legislation she authored to promote a “circular economy” to conserve resources.
“We also need to put a lot more resources into the recycling system,” she said. “Right now, even if you put your recyclables into the bin, the chances of them actually getting recycled are very, very low. Only 10-15% of our post-consumer waste gets recycled and reused, and that is unsustainable.
“We’re filling our landfills up with plastic, we’re filling the oceans up with plastic, and there’s no excuse for it in California,” Friedman added.
On child care, Friedman pointed out how a dearth of options disproportionately affects women in the workplace and observed that the state should improve availability — regardless of the pandemic — to promote “upward mobility” for young parents. In response, Graves suggested that reopening public schools might be the most effective solution.
“I know that this is one of those areas where I’m probably out of step,” he admitted. “A lot of people seem to disagree with me on getting the schools open quickly, but the infection rate for kids is not bad at all and it really poses more of a problem for adults and the family members who live at home with them.”
In terms of protecting front-line workers during the pandemic, Graves said, the state should inspect food-packing facilities — many of which have been epicenters for outbreaks — to find shortcomings in air circulation and ventilation, key factors in coronavirus spread. Friedman stressed that health-care access remains an issue for many of these essential workers, whose ranks contribute to the disease’s disproportionate effects on the Latino, Black and Pacific Islander populations.
“Nurses as well are going to work and being disproportionally impacted by COVID, and we have to do a lot more to protect them in the workplace and we also have to make sure that they have access to health care,” she said. “A lot of these farm workers do not have access to affordable health care that’s readily available in their area.”
Friedman also advocated strengthening state regulations on home-building materials and locations to help curb increasingly destructive wildfires.
“Look, there are certain places that we just shouldn’t build, certain areas that — because they’re in wind canyons or on ridgelines — are just going to always be indefensible in a wildfire,” she said. “We’ve mandated [home hardening] for the entire state for earthquakes, for instance, but we have very weak codes when it comes to fires.”
Graves agreed with home hardening measures, but argued that existing regulations have for too long prevented the state’s ability to clear out the dry wood and brush that fuel these blazes.
“Prescribed fires are one of the best ways to take care of this,” he said. “There’s too much fuel on the ground. Far too often, the prescribed fires are a disaster in the making. It’s going to require some changing of existing regulations just to get back into the backcountry and a number of those areas with fuel loads.”
Addressing the question of police reform, Friedman said she supported a state measure to take away law enforcement officers’ certification if they’ve committed certain infractions. She added that society should be mindful that experiences with police vary among demographics.
“This is a time for us to really listen to those communities and take a lot of lead from them to see what their experiences are and what they believe we can do to make policing work for them as well,” she said. “I don’t think that Glendale and Burbank want to hire an officer only to find out that they had been fired from another department, maybe in another state, for excessive use of force.
“I do believe that we should work with law enforcement on something that is fair to them but is also protective of our communities,” Friedman added.
Graves, citing a shortage of officers, suggested that this might be too onerous on those who don’t “belong” in Burbank, for example, but could fit in elsewhere. He readily admitted to not being too familiar with decertification legislation yet.
“I would certainly want to talk to some of the police unions about it,” he said. “The way the media narrative has been towards the police these past few months, there are a lot of people who appear to be discouraged and don’t want to be police officers anymore. I think we need to foster an environment where we’re positive about our police and encourage people to go back into that kind of a profession.”
To watch the forum in its entirety, visit youtube.com/user/TheBurbankChannel and look under the tab “Special Programming.”