In his first State of the State address, Gov. Gavin Newsom proved that his map of California does in fact include the San Joaquin Valley, the Inland Empire and other back-bone communities too often ignored.
The Valley has a justified history of distrust toward statewide politicians. As the former mayor of San Francisco, it’s easy to pigeonhole the new governor as another big-city politician out of touch with the unique issues of rural and inland communities. But after the Governor’s address, a lot of folks are rethinking their skepticism.
We don’t need to agree on the solution to every problem, but it is refreshing that Gov. Newsom’s vision for the future of California actually includes us.
Gov. Newsom used his spotlight as an opportunity to detail plans to create a more affordable housing market, improve the health and welfare of underserved communities, and make significant investments in the most impoverished areas of the state. The Governor also highlighted numerous ongoing fights over water and announced he was making a change.
If there was one message Gov. Newsom heard loud and clear during his frequent visits to the San Joaquin Valley, it was that Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, had to go. As a former NRDC employee, there are many who believe she never stopped working for the interest group. Her reputation and inability to build trust were the most significant barriers to progress on voluntary Bay-Delta Plan settlements, the Delta tunnels and addressing the critical issue of providing clean, safe and affordable drinking water in every community in California.
I sincerely thank Gov. Newsom for his bold leadership on this issue, and I look forward to the start of fresh conversations with the new state water board chair, Joaquin Esquivel.
Gov. Newsom then shifted his focus to high-speed rail. He detailed plans to fix the numerous delays which have plagued the project by creating more financial transparency, appointing a new chair of the High-Speed Rail Commission, and getting a Merced-to-Bakersfield line up and running.
With no mention of LA and the Bay Area, a number of media outlets demonstrated their bias by reporting the governor had scrapped the project. What most folks from the Valley heard was that we were now at the front of the line for a multi-billion dollar state investment. It’s not a place we have found ourselves very often.
It was not that long ago that the former leader of the State Senate questioned the value of investing billions of dollars out in the “tumbleweeds.” Gov. Newsom clearly sees high-speed rail as a vital opportunity for the Valley and has recommitted that Merced will be included from the start, not pushed off to later phases.
The governor also spoke extensively about the need to address homelessness and the necessity to reform CEQA. California is one of the most expensive states for construction, and the jungle of red tape known as the California Environmental Quality Act review is our primary cost driver. The Governor’s desire to cut through the bureaucracy and litigation that stops the construction of housing projects, homeless shelters and critically needed housing infrastructure is encouraging.
The Governor has highlighted the need to find the right balance for pursuing California’s ambitious climate change goals without the costs falling disproportionately on the poor. Until now, our state’s policies have largely ignored the impact on blue-collar communities, which are the first to lose jobs and the last to receive the benefits.
Finding the right balance for those least able to bear the costs of climate change should have been our first priority a long time ago.
Gov. Newsom has set a new tone in the Valley. He is not just talking about our priorities, he is acting on them.
Adam Gray represents the 21st Assembly District, which includes part of Stanislaus and all of Merced counties.