Government / Politics

Election 2018: 30th State Assembly District

Candidates Neil Kitchens and Robert Rivas run to represent San Benito County, Salinas, Gilroy and more.
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Republican Neil G. Kitchens and Democrat Robert Rivas are running for the 30th State Assembly District seat on Nov. 6. The position is currently held by Democrat Anna Caballero, who is running for the State Senate in the 12th District.  


Neil G. Kitchens has lived in District 30 for 32 years. He said he moved from Arkansas to start mental institutions. He owns rental and residential properties in Los Angeles, Salinas and North Monterey County. He said he also owns timber land in Arkansas and Georgia.

Kitchens said his life in politics began in 2016 when he ran meetings in Monterey for the Republican Party, as part of the Casey Lucius campaign for Congress and the Donald Trump campaign for president. This is his first run for public office.

He said his experience with housing and mental institutions help him deal with homelessness, while his education in criminal justice and work with local police departments can help lower crime rates. He added that his knowledge of infrastructure gives him the expertise to fix the roads without raising gas taxes.

BenitoLink received word that Kitchens was living outside the 30th State Assembly District. We asked and Kitchens responded below. Nonetheless, his election form 410 Statement of Organization Recipient Committee and form 460 Recipient Committee Campaign Statement list the Committee to Elect Neil Kitchens for Assembly at his Prunedale address, which is outside the 30th District.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for State Assembly?

KITCHENS: I’m running for Assembly simply because I’m not going to sit back and watch my state that I love, I don’t want to move. A lot of people are moving out of the state. Go down the tubes, with all the gifts that the good Lord has given me and all the experience I have and the situation I’m in right now—my kids grown, my wife’s kids grown, we don’t have anything but a little Chihuahua dog that we carry around with us.

My wife told me, she was a political activist in Seattle, Washington for years, since 2008, she finally told me in 2015 either shut up or get involved. And I decided to get involved. I have the background, I have the education, I have the experience to fix infrastructure, to reduce crime, to reduce homelessness and to manage our forests so we have a forest left.

What issues are most important to your district?

Homelessness, crime, and infrastructure. And I can choose a few more, but it’s a two-year term, how much am I going to get done? I would add forest management into that. If I was going to choose a fourth one.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Forest management. Los Padres National Forest, if you look at the map of District 30 and the Ventana Wilderness, it’s all in. Last year it all burned to the ground again. 1977 the Marble Cone Fire burned it all to the ground, now it’s all burned to the ground again.

How would you solve that?

It’s very simple. First of all, you have to manage the forest. Managing the forest requires several things. First of all, you have to thin out the trees. You have to actually cut some trees down, but that’s good. That’s natural resources. We don’t have to have Canada dumping all their lumber over here while our loggers, our millworkers are all out of work. You have to thin out the trees, do a fifth row thinning every 10 years. You have to do some prescribed burning… It’s controlled burning so you’re burning the underbrush. You also have to be able to build roads into the Ventana Wilderness and into the Los Padres National Forest so when a fire starts you can get your crew in there. When a fire starts, Cal Fire or the United States Forest Service, they can’t even get in there because there is not a road. How are we supposed to fight the fires when we can’t even get to it? What do you think happens to all the animals when the fires happen? The all burn.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

The biggest obstacle and challenge the district faces is the lack of affordable housing. We grow the vegetables for the world, definitely for the nation. We have the most fertile soil in the world right here. The biggest challenge is how much farmland are we going to be able to give up to build more housing. That’s a challenge and I really don’t know the answer to that. I don’t have the answer for that right now, but I’m working on it. I have some ideas. I think that King City has already built a project to house farm workers. Instead of renting an apartment, they are renting rooms. And there is a common kitchen where they can have meals. They are housing like 2,000 people in one facility. It’s much more efficient than trying to build 2,000 apartments. That’s the biggest challenge we face. It’s the supply and the demand for housing and how much farmland are we going to be able to give up.

How do you plan to address them?

I plan to address, first of all the housing, by doing two things: reducing taxes and reducing regulations. People don’t understand how bad the regulations are. The impact fees, what it takes to build.

What are impact fees? They are regulations. You have to have environmental impact reports done. You have to have this study, that study.

I want to address the housing by reducing regulations and reducing taxes. And lowering the cost of building per unit multi-family housing to attract developers.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I’ll have an office down here in the district. I’ll have a field director, chief of staff. I’ll spend three days a week in Sacramento; Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I’ll spend Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the district, in the office. I’ll be in my office and available to my constituents when I’m in the district. When I’m not, when I’m in Sacramento, my staff will be available. And I have no problem [with] people just dropping in on me. I’m a worker. I love to work.

Where would the office be?

Pretty much right behind the Steinbeck Center. There is a really nice office building there.

Would you consider writing opinion articles for BenitoLink from your position as an elected representative?

Of course. I’d love to. It would be my pleasure.

What is the role of state government?

The role of state government is to pass laws and manage the state’s budget and hopefully a balanced budget, but we don’t have one now. Don’t let Jerry Brown fool you. He’s taken all these unfunded liabilities off the books and it’s making the budget look balanced.

And basically the state is in charge of the overall funding for each municipality and district. There is state money, there’s local money. Managing what taxes come in and where the money goes. And prioritizing things such as crime, infrastructure, and all of that. And anything that is not exclusive to the federal government goes to the state.

We found a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint against you that states you live two miles outside of District 30. Our research shows that you live at 17560 Cross Road, Prunedale, which is approximately two miles outside of the district. How is it that you are running for District 30 Assembly when you don’t live in the district?

No. That’s my office.

Where is your residence?

In Salinas.

What’s the address?

I’ll give you the address, but I’ll just tell you I was recommended highly by the elections office not to give out my home address. That’s why I put the 17560. There’s two houses on 17650 Cross Road. I rent one of them out. The other one I use for an office and I rent out part of that too. Where I’m registered to vote, where I file my taxes, where I get all my mail is in Salinas. [Kitchens provided the address, but asked BenitoLink not to publish it for safety concerns.]

And by the way, the FPPC did not file that complaint. Bill Lipe, the guy that came in fifth, the guy that came in dead last, he filed the complaint.

Let me tell you this, when you go out and file paperwork to run for office they confirm right there and then that you meet all the qualifications to file for that or you can’t file.

The complaint also states you have not filed appropriate disclosure forms for expenditures. We searched on the Secretary of the State’s website and found no campaign finance data associated with you and your campaign. Why is this?

I filed 460s. The next set were due two days ago so I’m late. And they charge you $10 a day so I gotta get them filed. They are real easy to file because I’m self-funded, and so that might be why they are not showing up. They‘re just showing a bunch of zeros. I’m spending my own money. I’m not getting any donations.

Bill Lipe filed all this crap because he is a sore loser. He spent $300,000 to get five percent of the vote. I spent $20,000 to get 34 percent of the vote.

I have a Committee to Elect Neil Kitchens for Assembly and you have to differentiate between Neil Kitchens the individual. The Committee to Elect Neil Kitchens for Assembly received some donations. What in law we call the minimus, I raised $4,000. Rivas has raised like $600,000, something like that.


Robert Rivas was raised in San Benito County and has lived in Paicines and then Hollister for over 36 years.

He is an educator at Gavilan College, a student support manager at San Benito High School and is on his second term as a county supervisor. He has worked for assembly members Anna Caballero and Simon Salinas and served as a senior clerk for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

Inspired by overcoming life challenges—a speech disability and being raised by his single mother and grandparents in farmworker housing—Rivas said he chose to pursue a career in public service.

Rivas obtained a master’s in public administration from San Jose State University and a bachelor’s in government from CSU Sacramento.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for State Assembly?

RIVAS: I promised my grandfather I would never forget where I came from and always continue to fight for my community. After working for assembly members Caballero and Salinas, I’ve developed an understanding of our region—and for that matter, rural California—that is often ignored by Sacramento. As I’ve always done during my tenure as a county supervisor, I want to continue listening to people’s concerns, be a problem-solver, and stand up for what is right. I will fight for our communities, even if it’s not what is popular with special interest groups.

What issues are most important to the district?

Some of the most important issues often overlap: education, healthcare, jobs, transportation, infrastructure, housing, and homelessness.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

This is what many people, especially in Sacramento, don’t understand: On their face, these broad issues echo those that face people throughout California. But as a largely rural district, we face these challenges in unique ways compared to other parts of California, which often require different solutions.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

Because we have a smaller population, it’s easier for state government to ignore us, which they have for so long. That’s why this district needs someone who won’t stop fighting for their needs and values. We need a strong voice in Sacramento to fight the special interests.

How do you plan to address them?

I’ll do what I’ve always done: listen to the needs of the community, stand by my convictions, and work hard with others to create solutions. We must make sure that the interests and needs of rural California are heard in Sacramento. While a county supervisor, a group of constituents approached me with their concerns about the dangers of fracking to San Benito’s water supply, which I researched and confirmed. I fought for and achieved the first county-wide ban of fracking ever achieved by a ballot measure in California. During the process, Big Oil launched a major public and personal attack against me. At that time, I was the only Democrat on the board. But I earned the respect of my colleagues and convinced them that we needed to take this urgent step to protect our water. Then, we worked hard talking to voters to achieve an overwhelming majority at the ballot box. Big Oil continued their fight against me in this campaign for Assembly, with huge media attacks. But I won’t back down.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I will be visiting each area in the district as frequently as possible to meet with local leaders and constituents, working together to address concerns and create solutions to local, regional, and state issues. My staff and I will also maintain a newsletter, social media accounts, and I offer my email and phone number to anyone who asks. Perhaps most important, I’m raising funds to staff local offices in Salinas, Hollister and South County. This will create better communication in some major areas of the district on a more regular basis.

Would you consider writing opinion articles for BenitoLink from your position as an elected representative?

I would be happy to contribute articles related to local and state policy issues to BenitoLink from my perspective as a member of the State Assembly.

What is the role of state government?

As a country, state, and at the municipal level, we have decided that there are certain issues that are best solved collectively. No one reasonably believes that individuals should have to build their own roads, provide their own private fire protection, or private security. The state government has an obligation to listen to the voice of everyday Californians to identify the challenges they face, and where we can come together to provide the most effective and efficient solutions. From protecting our environment, solving the transportation challenges we now face, closing the gap between the very richest and everyone else, providing more housing options to more people, and delivering true universal health care coverage, we, as a people, can come together through government to meet the challenges now facing our state.



Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.