Nov. 2022 Election: Q&A with Akilah Weber, California state Assembly District 79 candidate – The San Diego Union-Tribune

There are two candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot running for a two-year term to represent this district: Democratic Assemblymember/doctor Akilah Weber and Republican project manager Corbin Sabol. Here are Weber’s answers to a 14-question survey The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board emailed candidates.

Q: Why do you want this job and what would be your top priority?


A: As the currently elected Assembly member for California’s Assembly District 79, I am honored to serve in the Legislature representing the area where I grew up and am now raising my two children in. In the California Legislature, we deal with broad-ranging issues such as the economy, climate, business, affordable housing and public health and therefore need someone who has a proven commitment and record of representing our district well and creating and supporting legislation that benefits our district and all of California. I have done this, and I am committed to continuing my work, not only to craft good legislation, but also to bring resources back to my district. In addition to the numerous bills I was able to get through both houses and to the governor’s desk this session, more than $50 million was allocated to several projects across the 79th Assembly District. This will result in real change and upgrades to public infrastructure for the community’s enjoyment.

I actually have two high-level priorities. The first is my desire to improve the social determinants of health in this state. These are the non-medical factors, everything outside of the four walls of a medical facility, which affects the health outcomes of individuals and communities. I created and now serve as the chair of the Assembly Select Committee on the Social Determinants of Health to elevate these issues and create policy that improve these conditions statewide. The second is my desire to continue to bring more resources into my district. The relationship that I and my office have between those locally elected, the community organizations and the residents of the 79th District is something that I cherish and has helped me utilize state resources and partnerships to improve and enhance what is able to be provided locally.

Q: What is the biggest accomplishment of your career?

A: I have only been in the California Assembly for a short time, as I was elected in April 2021. However, as a result of the skills that I learned and use as a physician, I have been able to accomplish a lot in that short time. I work across the aisle, think outside of the box to solve longstanding issues, take a collaborative approach and always keep my constituents and my district as a priority.

Since April 2021, I have had 11 bills reach Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature where I am the primary author and many other bills where I am the co-author. We have seamlessly continued the 79th District activities such as the Attendance Challenge, the Back to School Backpack Giveaway and the Turkey Drive, and we also started the Literacy Book Drive. My office has hosted numerous webinars on topics that range from mortgage relief during the pandemic to a small business webinar featuring our state treasurer to our upcoming webinar on youth financial wellness.

Q: Assess what the state is doing now to address the changing climate. What would you support to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California?

A: Addressing the issues of climate change is a priority of the California Legislature and mine. Once again, this year we have seen record-breaking temperatures in San Diego and throughout the state. We are experiencing more wildfires and erratic weather patterns, and it is clear that we must act boldly now to address the changing climate for our future generations. At the end of this legislative session, I voted for and we passed a package of significant climate legislation that included a codification of the state’s goal to reach net-zero emissions, a framework for the implementation of carbon-capture technologies, and setback requirements for oil and gas wells. These policies will improve the lives of Californians by protecting communities from the short- and long-term effects of pollution and climate change while utilizing the newest technology to help reduce the carbon in our atmosphere.

Q: Assess what the state is doing now to address the drought. What would you do differently?

A: Water is essential to life and California is, and has been, in a drought. The state has a dedicated website to track our drought response. From increasing investments, water conservation efforts and a comprehensive needs assessment, the state is making our drought response a priority.

I know that we cannot conserve our way out of every drought. This is why I support working closely with local jurisdictions to better determine their specific needs, and having a diverse water portfolio, which includes conservation and increasing storage capacity. I also support using the latest technology to create new ways of utilizing the resources we already have instead of being solely dependent on resources outside of California. This is why I was pleased to work with the East County Advanced Water Purification Program to request funds from the state to establish a new source of water for San Diego County residents.

Q: The California Air Resources Board has adopted a policy that would ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles in the state by 2035. What would you do to ease the transition to electric vehicles and ensure affordability, equity and practicality?

A: There are a few programs currently being offered to increase the affordability of electric vehicles. These programs include Clean Cars 4 All, the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project and the Clean Vehicle Assistance Program. We need to ensure that these programs continue to assist families who make the transition and need financial support. Additionally, the state must do a better job of building up electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state in order to increase accessibility and practicality.

The electric strain on the grid is also a serious factor to consider. In communities that have less utility infrastructure, we need to ensure equitable access to the power grid to prevent any disproportionate impacts to emergency power shutoffs. This includes prioritizing communities of concern in undergrounding utility efforts.

Q: What can the state do to get more people to use public transit?

A: Decades of federal and state transportation policy and funding have focused primarily on the automobile and the roads and highways needed for us to get around in them. While this focus produced many benefits, it also ignored or created significant problems, such as greenhouse gas emissions, a key driver of climate change. Today, half of all greenhouse gas emissions in California come from transportation.

The state can take steps to better align policy and funding. We should be taking full advantage of recent changes in federal programs that allow funds to be used to support the development of transit and rail projects. We should also be investing in the resources needed to develop a pipeline of transit and rail projects, as is done for highway and road projects. The state can expand the eligibility of state funding programs to allow for the development of projects and also dedicate a portion of federal and state transit and rail funding to the development of a pipeline of projects.

These efforts could lead to increased availability of public transit and reduced wait times. I would also support the state in creating a permanent free public transit program for youth and seniors.

Q: Housing affordability is a huge issue in California. What can you do to help renters or homeowners who are struggling now?

A: I voted to support the extension of eviction protections for California renters who were struggling to pay their rent. My office also provides information to constituents on where they can receive rental and utility relief. This year, the California Mortgage Relief program began accepting applications to assist homeowners with mortgage and utility arrears, up to $80,000 that they don’t have to pay back! I hosted a webinar in partnership with the Urban League of San Diego County and program representatives to spread the information about the application process and eligibility criteria.

This issue of vacation rentals and investor-owned properties in residential neighborhoods has contributed to the decrease in supply of housing. I would encourage local jurisdictions across the state to adopt ordinances that work for their communities and residents in order to increase housing supply and drive down demand.

It is expensive to build single-family homes and multifamily residences because of the cost of land, construction materials, development and permitting fees, and meeting regulatory requirements. When and where possible, I support using excess state land to drive down the cost to build. We also need to work with the federal government on reeling in nationwide costs for construction materials and work with local governments on streamlining development processes.

Q: More and more resources are being dedicated to the homelessness issue, yet California has more homeless people than ever. Do you see progress? What solutions are working?

A: I support increasing funding to expand programs such as Project Roomkey and Homekey. We must also strengthen our behavioral health resources in this state. This includes retaining the behavioral health providers that we currently have and recruiting and training more. This also includes working with local governments and nonprofits to best determine how the state can best support programs already implemented to address the behavioral health needs in their individual communities. I also support the creation of grants for local jurisdictions to be awarded to reduce the number of encampments.

We also must recognize that homelessness does not just mean people living in unsheltered locations. It also means people who cannot afford to purchase a home or pay rent and therefore are living in hotels or their cars or transitioning between the residence of friends or family. To assist those people, we need to drastically increase our affordable housing options and make sure that people are being paid a livable wage.

Q: California’s crime rate is going up. Do you blame recent criminal justice reforms, other factors or some combination? How would you keep Californians safe?

A: There are many factors contributing to California’s crime rate, including issues of poverty, joblessness and our mental health crisis. We must also deal with the issue of ghost guns. In San Diego, there have been efforts to decrease the supply and accessibility of ghost guns, but this also needs to be addressed at the state level. Additionally, we have to remove assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and other weapons designed for military use from the hands of civilians. Seventy-six shots were fired in 54 seconds in the most recent mass shooting in Sacramento. Those types of weapons should not be on our streets.

There has also been a rise in hate crimes, even here in San Diego, which should not be tolerated. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their comings and goings regardless of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender or their religion. It starts at home, teaching our kids and other family members how to be inclusive and understanding without inflicting violence on others. It is strengthened in the schools with a curriculum that teaches the history of all people and allows for a better appreciation of the diversity within our communities, our state and our country.

Q: How would you help California students who suffered from learning loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: Learning loss can be attributed to a wide array of factors, including socioeconomic status, class sizes and overall access to resources. California’s school districts have received approximately $40 billion to help them cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, with funds specifically dedicated to learning loss. While schools need flexibility to spend these funds, accountability and oversight are also essential. Tracking if the funds have already been spent has not been the issue; being able to review what specifically the funds were spent on and if those expenditures have resulted in improved student outcomes has been a more difficult task. School districts can go beyond the minimum reporting requirements, and the state can do more to support districts in their efforts to be more transparent.

Additionally, this past legislative session, I authored Assembly Bill 2774, which would have created a new supplemental grant category in the Local Control Funding Formula to include the lowest performing subgroup of students statewide. Although this bill did not move to the governor’s desk, I have a commitment from his staff that together we will continue to work on this to ensure ongoing funding for this will be placed in the upcoming budget. Finally, we must try to improve every aspect of a student’s life, like meals, transportation, mental health and class size, if we truly want to make holistic improvements in learning loss.

Q: The state has had giant surpluses in recent years yet there are worries about a potential recession. How would you ensure the state is prepared to weather an economic downturn? What will you do for Californians who are struggling economically now?

A: To ensure that California is prepared for an economic downturn, we should maintain healthy budget reserves to allow for investments in infrastructure when needed. We must also build a strong unemployment insurance system to ensure individuals are able to support their families when they are laid off, ensure there are accessible health coverage programs and, finally, provide financial relief to small businesses that are hit during recession periods.

Additionally, families need more funds sent directly to their pockets. Considering the rate of inflation and the price of gas statewide, an additional stimulus check can go very far for a family that lives paycheck to paycheck.

Q: California has the nation’s most strict gun laws and among its lowest gun death rates. What is your philosophy toward gun legislation? Have you or your family been directly affected by gun violence?

A: I support commonsense gun legislation and supported the package of bills signed by Gov. Newsom that focused on improving our gun laws. I also support removing assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and other weapons designed for military use from the hands of civilians. I grew up in San Diego. When I was in elementary school, we did earthquake drills. My children now also do active shooter drills. Our children should go to school without being worried about being shot. We should be able to go grocery shopping without being worried about someone coming in with an assault weapon. Our society can do better and we must do better.

Q: What is your position on Proposition 1, which would establish the rights for Californians to an abortion and to contraceptives in the state Constitution?

A: As a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist, I have spent many years providing reproductive health care. I have counseled many girls and women who have found themselves in a situation where they have an unintended pregnancy. For those who chose to get an abortion, it was never a decision that they made lightly. I also understand that one of the methods to prevent an unintended pregnancy is by being educated about and having access to contraception. I am proud I got my adolescent gynecology clinic designated as a “Family PACT” site so that girls could get their contraceptive needs met regardless of their ability to pay.

So it should come as no surprise that I strongly support a woman’s right to choose and the right to reliable access to abortion and contraception services for all women, regardless of their ability to pay or where they live. I was a joint co-author on Senate Constitutional Amendment 10, which placed Proposition 1 on the ballot. I fully support Proposition 1.

During this legislative session, I authored Assembly Bill 2134, which establishes the California Reproductive Health Equity Program to provide grant funding to California’s safety net providers of abortion and contraception services. While California has long been a leader in protecting the right to abortion, cost is still a barrier for many women in need. The bill, if signed, would cover services for individuals with a household income at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty line. As a “reproductive freedom” state, we must urgently address and support the needs of providers that offer this care to ensure they can continue to serve the patients who are relying on them for this critical service.

Q: Why should voters elect you over your opponent?

A: In a short amount of time, my record of accomplishment in both Sacramento and in my district has proven me to be strong, leveled and effective. I have championed budget wins to improve my district’s water supply, park and open space infrastructure, and school safety. I have served thousands of families through assistance with unemployment insurance benefits, school supplies, books, food drives and more. I am just getting started and have so much more to give to my district and California.

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