Swanson’s seismic retrofit bill becomes law

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law today an East Bay lawmaker’s bill that lets local officials use public financing to help private property owners pay for seismic improvements.

AB 184, the Seismic Safety Financing Act, will make retrofits easier to achieve and more affordable by offering a financing option that removes much of the upfront expense, according to its author, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda.

Unreinforced masonry buildings present a big seismic hazard, and this bill’s state Senate floor analysis noted the Association of Bay Area Governments’ estimate that 26,000 of Oakland’s 163,000 housing units will become uninhabitable when the Hayward Fault has a major earthquake.

“Because commercial loans for earthquake improvements can be expensive, local officials want to accelerate retrofit work on vulnerable buildings by loaning money to private property owners at below-market rates,” the analysis said. “This bill provides local officials with another tool to help property owners pay for structural upgrades that save lives, protect rescue workers, and reduce economic disruption after a major earthquake.”

ABAG supported Swanson’s bill, as did the City of Oakland and the California Association of Realtors. The Assembly passed it on a 49-10 vote in April; the state Senate approved it on a 26-10 vote June 6.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had vetoed Swanson’s earlier incarnation of this bill last September, saying he didn’t support expanding contractual assessment programs – now used for energy and water efficiency improvements – to include seismic retrofits.


Assembly rejects lighter penalty for growing pot

The Assembly this week rejected a bill that would’ve reduced marijuana cultivation from a felony – punishable by 16 months, two years or three years in state prison – to a “wobbler” that can be filed either as a felony or as a misdemeanor punishable by a year in county jail.

AB 1017, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, failed Wednesday on a 24-36 vote. Assemblymembers Susan Bonilla, D-Concord; Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley; and Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, voted for it, while Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, opposed it and Assemblywomen Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, didn’t vote.

Swanson said the communities he represents is struggling with a severe drug crisis, and the bill would’ve moved California in the wrong direction.

“If we really want comprehensive drug reform, we can’t just relax certain portions of the laws around marijuana cultivation and use. We need to address the issue comprehensively through federal law,” he said, adding he fears the bill sends the wrong message to kids, that recreational marijuana use is acceptable. “This is not appropriate, especially when federal law continues to prosecute the crime, with a disproportionate effect on communities of color. You can’t address these issues in a vacuum, particularly where our state law comes into conflict with the federal.”

He said he’ll remain open-minded on the issue, “but as long as I see marijuana use preventing many of our young people from getting employed because they can’t pass drug tests, and all of the other adverse and negative impacts by accepting this drug as recreational, it clearly isn’t the time to start lessening the restrictions on its cultivation or use. The consequences of making this a recreational drug –- or creating the perception that we are trending that way by lessening the restrictions — has long-term and significant consequences I am not prepared support.”

Reconsideration of the bill was granted Thursday, but it was ordered to the Assembly’s inactive file at the request of Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Montebello.

Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, was the lone GOP vote in support of the bill, which was sponsored by Mendocino County District Attorney C. David Eyster and supported by the California Public Defenders Association and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“The state legislature has once again demonstrated its incompetence when it comes to dealing with prison crowding,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in a news release. “With California under court order to reduce its prison population, it is irresponsible to maintain present penalties for non-violent drug offenses. It makes no sense to keep marijuana growing a felony, when assault, battery, and petty theft are all misdemeanors. Legislators have once again caved in to the state’s law enforcement establishment, which has a vested professional interest in maximizing drug crime.”

The bill was opposed by the California District Attorneys Association, California Narcotics Officers’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association and California State Sheriffs’ Association.


Assembly passes Swanson’s prison education bill

Yesterday was a banner day for Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda. Besides the human trafficking bill on which I’ve written an article, he had another unanimously passed bill that would increase educational opportunities available in state prisons.

AB 216 would create incentives and remove restrictions for community colleges to offer courses in state correctional facilities. Swanson said this is especially important in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court order requiring California’s unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons to reduce their inmate population by 46,000.

“Education is a critical component to rehabilitating inmates and ensuring their successful transition back into society,” Swanson said in a news release. “AB 216 is part of a larger re-entry strategy that will address the Supreme Court mandate and the safety of our communities by significantly reducing the likelihood that released inmates will commit new crimes.”

California spends more than $49,000 per year to house each inmate, only to see many re-offend and cost their communities even more, he said. “It is better for our state to invest money upfront on training and educating inmates who will eventually be released into our communities, rather than have them re-enter society without the tools necessary to keep them off the streets and out of prison.”

The Assembly voted 79-0 Tuesday to pass the bill and send it on to the state Senate.


Foreclosure forum set for Saturday in Oakland

At least three state lawmakers are expected to attend a “foreclosure and economic crisis solutions forum” Saturday at which foreclosure victims, clergy, public employees and others will call for new initiatives to aid struggling communities.

Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda; Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, are scheduled to attend the public forum, from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday in St. Louis Bertrand Church, 1410 100th Ave. in Oakland. The event is being organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Oakland Community Organizations, PICO California, and SEIU Local 1021.

The forum will feature testimonies from foreclosure victims and local officials who are still feeling the crisis’ impact, and will offer policy solutions.

“Banks must be held accountable,” Lilian Cabrera, currently in foreclosure proceedings, said in a news release. “I’m a small business owner in Oakland, and if I don’t hold up my end of a contract, I’ll lose my license. Well, the banks certainly haven’t held up their end of the deal and they’re getting away with it.”


Swanson: Don’t abolish redevelopment agencies

With the Legislature’s budget conference committee scheduled to finish its work tomorrow having finished its work late this afternoon, and with Oakland City Council having spent today in a tizzy over Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to eliminate California’s local redevelopment agencies and redirect their money to help cover the state’s budget deficit, I just had a chat with Assemblyman Sandre Swanson.

“If I was asked to vote on it today, my vote would have to be no,” Swanson, D-Alameda, said of doing away with redevelopment agencies.

Swanson said he appreciates the “refreshing, transparent truth” Brown has brought to the budget process, but while some lawmakers’ districts don’t rely heavily on redevelopment spending, his does. “I would say it’s critical to my district” for furthering affordable housing and economic development, he said, citing as an example the redevelopment of Oakland’s Fox Theater and other Uptown-area projects which sparked that neighborhood’s renaissance.

“Since redevelopment dollars have been so integrated into the city’s operations, if you were to cut it out, we would end up losing thousands of jobs in Oakland,” Swanson said. “I just don’t know how other cities would handle it, but it would be devastating for Oakland. At this point I support the mayors who went to Sacramento, the eight to 10 big-city mayors including Mayor Quan, asking for some sort of alternative to this.”

As for Brown’s proposal’s chances in the Legislature, “I don’t think it’s a clear-cut question at this point,” he said. “I think the proposal being backed by the governor certainly has the momentum, but I think Democrats and Republicans alike are hearing from their cities and most people in Sacramento are hoping there can be some kind of compromise developed.”

“I just haven’t seen any kind of progress to date on reaching this kind of deal,” he acknowledged, although a lot can still happen before it comes to floor votes. “No matter what the leadership may suggest and the party’s position may be on this, I think many of these votes have to become votes of conscience. We have to be informed by the practical impact in each of our districts.”


Assembly adjourns in slain union leader’s honor

The state Assembly adjourned today in memory of Berresford “Berry” Bingham, political director of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, who was found dead Tuesday in his West Oakland home; Oakland Police are treating the case as a homicide.

The adjournment was at the request of Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Alameda, who chairs the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and counted Berry as a friend and constituent. Swanson made this floor statement:

“I rise today with a very heavy heart to adjourn in the memory of a constituent, but more importantly, a good friend. Berry Bingham was a Political Director for SEIU Local 1021. For 17 years, he worked tirelessly on behalf of working families in the State of California. Berry was a delegate to the Central Labor Council in Alameda County for 20 years; served our country in the United States Navy for 20 years; was the first African American to serve on the Alameda County School Board from 1994 to 2002; and was an assistant track and field coach at Encinal High School in Alameda.

“It was shocking to learn of his death. He was full of life and energy, believed in the process of democracy, and was a fierce advocate on behalf of working families. Bingham was gentle and kind and engaging to his friends. He was respectful, but always a fierce advocate on behalf of those he represented.

“I saw Barry two weeks ago when I was having breakfast at Ole’s in Alameda with my wife. He walked up to me, smiled, and we embraced. We talked about the brightness of the future of California, which will now be a great memory for me. This is a terrible loss for his family and the community. I respectfully ask that we adjourn in memory of Berry Bingham, an outstanding advocate and a great patriot.”

Bingham’s death is Oakland’s 12th homicide of 2011. A reward of $10,000 is being offered for information leading to the killer or killers; anyone with information can call police at 510-238-3821 or Crime Stoppers of Oakland at 510-777-3211.