When it comes to representation at the state level, San Benito County has struggled to get a seat at the table. That changed with last November's election when then county supervisor Robert Rivas was elected to represent California's 30th State Assembly district, which encompasses San Benito County, Big Sur, Chualar, Gilroy, Greenfield, Gonzales, King City, Salinas, Soledad, Spreckels, and Watsonville.
In the interview below, Assemblyman Rivas talks about housing, how being in state politics compares to the political stage at the local level, and what it's like to represent San Benito County up in Sacramento.
BENITOLINK: While you’ve only been in Sacramento a brief time, how does participating in state politics compare to the eight years you spent in local government? What is similar? What is different?
RIVAS: No matter what level of government, public service is about helping people. When I served as a supervisor, I got to know my four colleagues on the board and worked together closely to get things done for the people of San Benito County. I have 79 colleagues in the Assembly! Needless to say, that's a lot of people to get to know. But it's also a lot of opportunity.
I will work with my colleagues who are physicians to improve healthcare for the people of our District and California as a whole. I serve with experts on environmental issues, with whom I will partner to protect our air and water. And my new colleagues who are farmers can provide guidance in my new role on the committee on Agriculture.
But just like when I was on the Board of Supervisors, the most important input I'll get is from my constituents. No one knows our community and needs like the people who live here. That's why I'll continue to be accessible and available to all residents in Assembly District 30.
What issues do you see happening in San Benito County that are part of larger, statewide issues? What are your thoughts on addressing these issues?
Many of the major issues that exist today in California directly impact San Benito County. For example, the environment, housing and transportation, and education remain top priorities on our local and statewide agendas. As a result, I’ll be advocating for policies that will improve the quality of life for residents of San Benito County and the entire state.
For instance, agriculture is critical to San Benito County and directly impacted by state laws and regulations. Our farmers and farmworkers depend on clean water, soil, and air. And while residents in some parts of the state may not depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, they also value protecting the environment. In my work in the Assembly and on the Agricultural Committee, I hope to contribute in a direct and meaningful way to help local agriculture thrive.
The housing crisis is another issue that impacts both rural areas and cities throughout California. Many San Benito County residents commute long distances to work on dangerous roads that are in need of repair. Clearly, our community needs more local jobs, infrastructure repair, and additional transportation options.
Likewise, educational opportunities in San Benito County are also limited by lack of transportation, lack of funding, and other missing resources. Similar to many schools across the state, we need additional resources in the classroom and wrap-around services to provide underserved students the help they need to succeed in school.
I look forward to being a voice for San Benito County and Assembly District 30 in Sacramento, helping my colleagues to see how they intersect with the overall needs of California.
As a former San Benito County supervisor, you witnessed firsthand how local officials can be left out of discussions concerning their jurisdictions (i.e. the downsizing of Panoche Valley Solar Farm). Now that you are at the state level and assigned to the Local Government committee, what will you do to ensure local officials are at the table when it comes to making decisions about San Benito County?
When I was a county supervisor, I learned the value of working with other local leaders to solve problems. As a member of the Local Government Committee, I’ll continue to engage local leaders to solicit their opinions and advice on state policy and proposed legislation.
Listening to the concerns of other residents and community leaders has always been my priority. I spent much of the winter legislative recess meeting with people throughout the district, hearing the issues they wanted me to focus on in Sacramento. During each of those meetings, I made clear they should always feel free to reach out to me and my staff on any particular issue or legislative matter.
I’ll continue to do my part to hear from local leaders who are uniquely aware of specific issues in our community. As an Assemblymember and a member of the Local Government Committee, I will work hard to be a voice in Sacramento for local officials on both substantive and process-oriented issues.
Will you be working with Sacramento-based lobbyist Kim Stone of Stone Advocacy (who the San Benito County Board of Supervisors hired in Dec. 2017) directly and can you ensure the county will get quarterly reports on her progress?
I want to hear from anyone who can provide me information to better represent the residents of Assembly District 30. I am always open to meeting with people who want to discuss issues related to San Benito County.
As for documentation, I believe in and practice complete transparency and measuring progress towards goals, and I encourage these habits on every level of government.
From your position in Sacramento, will you be able to address any of the financial issues San Benito County has experienced for decades?
As an Assemblymember, I will work to increase transparency and make sure local governments have the tools they need to balance budgets and create greater efficiency.
I will fight for the resources our local communities need and deserve. Among other critical areas, our county has a clear funding need for the County Jail, Juvenile Hall, San Juan Bautista-area schools, and city parks.
Do you support additional consolidation of major roles in San Benito County government? Why or why not?
Consolidation of local governmental roles is one specific area where, when appropriate, a city could potentially save taxpayer dollars and increase efficiency. However, this matter should be given careful determination on a case-by-case basis. Many of these positions carry serious responsibility and deal with complex issues, which require a substantial amount of research and study beyond their stated business hours.
In addition, those with major government roles often need to maintain outside jobs to help support their families. We want to make sure qualified candidates who want to serve our local communities through major government roles can manage the workload and financially afford to serve in these positions.
California voters recently approved Prop 1, a $4 billion housing bond, and Prop 2, a measure that allows the state to use revenues collected from a previous tax to fund housing for the homeless and mentally ill. How will these propositions affect San Benito County, and what could the local jurisdictions be doing to take advantage of efforts like this?
It is key that rural communities like San Benito County receive their fair share of funds from state bonds and measures. This community has already shown its willingness to serve the homeless with its successful H.O.M.E. project, but we know all the needs have not been met. A willingness to allocate new places for building various types of housing for the unique needs of all residents will help demonstrate that San Benito County is ready to act when the State distributes these funds. As Assemblymember for District 30, I will make sure all the County’s housing needs are heard in Sacramento.
Anything else you'd like to add?
As the new legislative session begins, I’m excited to bring your concerns to Sacramento. I look forward to digging into my work on the various committees, and eventually to introducing well-researched legislation that will benefit the residents of San Benito County, and all of California. I’m already learning from my fellow Assemblymembers and Senators, which will help our communities as I continue to represent District 30. Finally, never hesitate to contact our office at (831) 759-8676 for assistance, to share an idea, or express a concern.
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