Election 2012: Who is Lori Saldaña?
Note: The La Jolla Light recently met with congressional candidate Lori Saldaña to discuss her bid to represent San Diego in the newly redrawn 52nd District. Interviews with the remaining candidates in the race — Republicans John Stahl and Wayne Iverson — will follow in next week’s edition of the Light. Interviews with Democrat Scott Peters, which ran in the Jan. 12 edition, and Republican Brian Bilbray, which ran in the Jan. 19 edition, can be viewed here (Peters) and here (Bilbray).
By Pat Sherman
Native San Diegan and former Bird Rock resident Lori Saldaña was a member of the California state Assembly from 2004 to 2010, representing the 76th District (which includes a sliver of Bird Rock).
Saldaña, a Democrat whose father served in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked as a reporter for the San Diego Evening Tribune, was raised in Clairemont, where she currently resides. She earned a bachelor of arts degree and a master’s degree in education from San Diego State University.
After college, Saldaña went on to teach business information technology for the San Diego Community College District, where she also managed Department of Labor grants used for student technical training.
Saldaña has distinguished herself as a champion of environmental causes. From 1992-1994, she chaired the San Diego Wetlands Advisory board, and in 1999, President Clinton appointed her to the Border Environment Cooperation Commission’s advisory council.
In 2007, Saldaña was named Legislator of the Year by Californians Against Waste for her legislation regarding E-waste. She also co-authored the state’s Million Dollar Solar Initiative and the Global Warming Solutions Act. She was appointed assembly speaker pro tem and served as chair of the bipartisan California Women’s Legislative Caucus.
Saldaña has been endorsed by seven Democratic Clubs, including those in La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Rancho Santa Fe. She also has received endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers, Congress members Karen Bass and Judy Chu, former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye, current City Council members Marti Emerald and Tony Young, San Diego School Board President Richard Barrera, State Controller John Chiang and State Senator Mark Leno.
The La Jolla Light recently met with Saldaña to discuss her candidacy and plans for the 52nd District. To read the interview in its entirety, visit lajollalight.com.
La Jolla Light: Please tell us something about your ties to La Jolla?
Lori Saldaña: I was born in La Jolla, at what was originally Scripps (Memorial) Hospital on Prospect Street, so I felt like I had come home to be able to live in (Bird Rock), a neighborhood just a few miles from the hospital where I was born. Walking the bike path that connects Bird Rock to the Village, I started watching the infill happening there, in that open space area along the bike path.
I watched the development (in Bird Rock) just as it was getting started, when they turned the old hotel on the bluff into the high rise condos. It was a very charming neighborhood at the time I was there, but I knew that the community planning group was working very hard, during very difficult economic times back in the ‘90s, to put in what is there now — the roundabouts, the different parking — and it’s really transformed. In the 10 years since I’ve been gone, it’s amazing how it’s transformed that little community.
LL: What do you think about the redevelopment of Bird Rock overall?
Saldaña: It’s pretty dense, compared to when I was there. …
La Jolla Light: As a member of Congress how would you use your position for the benefit of your La Jolla constituents?
Saldaña: The Federal Clean Water Act is a great example. People don’t realize, but it’s also about funding infrastructure, and La Jolla is an older neighborhood. We have for decades had problems with sewer lines breaking. La Jolla has some really old infrastructure, just like the rest of the city of San Diego.
Part of the clean water act funding is to go to help rehabilitate and maintain old wastewater and water infrastructure. So, I want to make sure that San Diego gets its share of those funds that would go into communities all along the coast.
There are federal programs and funds available. What’s missing is the management. Members of the city council were actually found negligent in managing the Clean Water Act funds.
San Diego had a terrible legacy of sewage spills for a very long time. It took people like Donna Frye, who has endorsed my campaign, to step up with as an activist. When she and (husband) Skip owned Harry’s Surf Shop down in Pacific Beach, I used to go hang out with her. We’d talk about Brian Bilbray attacking the Clean Water Act, Brian Bilbray voting to weaken the Clean Water Act. Then, we realized the city of San Diego was violating the Clean Water Act.
So, I worked very hard to get Donna Frye elected. We’ve been supporters and friends for 20 years. She observed firsthand the kind of backdoor deals that I think voters are very discouraged by. I don’t participate in those backroom deals.
LL: What do you believe to be your crowing achievements as a member of the state legislature.
Saldaña: Energy efficiency and climate change. They’re hand in hand. Being in the legislature in California, you’re in charge of the eighth largest economy in the world. Our Climate Change Act of 2006 changed the way the world looks at air quality.
I was coauthor of that bill (AB 32) in my first term as a legislator. In my second term, I introduced a bill (AB 1103) which will be implemented this year that basically puts a value on energy efficiency. It looks at every commercial building in the state of California, every nongovernment, non-residential building, and creates an energy benchmarking level.
It’s like when you go to buy a car and you look at miles-per-gallon and then you can choose. Do I want the high-efficiency building that’s going to cost me more … or do I get a cheaper, dirtier building, but then I can invest in it and bring it up (to energy efficiency standards)?
The retrofitting is not mandatory. The bill doesn’t require it, but a smart person with an older building that’s not energy efficient will go and hire an architect, will hire a company — and there are many of them in San Diego that specialize in retrofitting older buildings to be more energy efficient. It’s creating jobs, it’s creating opportunities, and it’s encouraging people to be energy efficient. (The bill) was signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger and had the support of the building industry and others.
LL: How do you plan to differentiate yourself as a candidate in the 52nd District, where the vote is split almost evenly between Democrats, Republicans and undeclared voters?
Saldaña: The 76th Assembly District had a breakdown very similar to the current (52nd congressional) district. It’s about 40 percent Democrat, 35 percent Republican, 25 percent Decline to State. The fastest-growing voter group in the state is Decline to State. I represented them with increasing voter margins for the three times I was elected.
In this district, the coastal Decline to State people are highly educated … They are often entrepreneurs or they work in research, education, the university. … They relate very well to my background as an educator, as someone who has worked on environmental issues, as a presidential appointee, as an environmental policy researcher at UCSD. I think that’s why I did so well, against all odds, in my first go-round.
The residents of this community have voted for me seven times in the last seven years. Over 113,000 people voted for me in my final term. That’s nearly as many people as live in one city council district. I had the most support, because I believe very simply, I kept my word. I could be trusted.
LL: You’re often labeled as a progressive or member of the left. How do you see yourself politically?
Saldaña: Considering that this last year in Congress they have seen more bills renaming post offices than anything of substance, we need some progress in Washington. So, I’m very happy to call myself a progressive, because we need to progress to move our country forward.
When I chaired Housing and Community Development, we passed bonds that created thousands of jobs to invest in our communities. That’s progress when you invest in infrastructure, when you maintain infrastructure.
I was an academic, a researcher, and a university and college teacher before I was elected. Often the people that try to pigeonhole me as an environmentalist, they’re trying to limit my skills and my experience that I bring to this.
A healthy environment means healthy people. If people are drinking contaminated water or swimming in contaminated water and getting sick, that’s a healthcare burden that we all share. If kids or adults are sick with asthma from dirty air, that’s a healthcare burden we all shoulder. Environmental protection, to me, goes hand-in-hand with healthy human beings.
In the end, if you ask someone, ‘Do we have too many environmental regulations?’ people will often say, ‘Absolutely. Too many environmental regulations are getting in the way of business and other things.’ I always say, ‘Do you want clean water and a healthy environment?’ (They say), ‘Absolutely.’ So the disconnect is we have regulations in place to ensure a healthy environment … but people tend to forget that the framework for accomplishing those things are regulations.
LL: What do you feel are your opponents’ main deficiencies?
Saldaña: Look at Brian Bilbray. He has been in Washington for 14 years and he’s never even chaired a committee. (Congressman) Kevin McCarthy went to Washington in 2006. He is now the third in line behind (House Speaker John) Boehner and (Majority Leader Eric) Cantor.
I think if you want leadership in this delegation, I’m the choice. I’ve gone into leadership as a presidential appointee and I went from never having served in elected office to being the speaker pro tem for the assembly of California. I know what it takes to earn the trust of people, and that’s how you become a leader.
There is only one legislative level that’s anywhere near federal, and that’s the state of California: tens of millions of people and a $ 100 billion-plus state budget. If you want to understand the big picture, which you need at the congressional level, I can’t think of a better training ground then serving in the state legislature in California. Is there a lot of dysfunction there? Certainly, but that’s helped me prepare for the dysfunction that’s inevitable to encounter in Washington.
LL: Brian Bilbray has come out strong against illegal immigration and does not support amnesty programs. What is your approach to dealing with the issue?
Saldaña: When the Minutemen were coming out and the governor praised them, I pushed back and I said we need trained, professional law enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border, for the safety of the men and women who are border patrol agents, for the safety of the men and women who are legally going back and forth across the border … and I’ve never wavered on that.
For Brian Bilbray and anyone to just simply say, ‘Build a fence, shut it down,’ well, let’s look at what happens when you build that fence. They waived every law on the books in order to build that fence. People forget that. They say, ‘Oh, it was just environmental laws.’ No, that federal bill waived every law on labor, workforce safety, on everything, to build a border fence that will cost the taxpayers billions of dollars, just to maintain it — and it doesn’t work.
Ask China. Walls don’t work. People go around them. People go under them. People go over them, as we have seen. We need to be smart on immigration, not just tough. Our regional economy is on the line. Billions of dollars come in from Mexico. Their economy is not great, but it’s not terrible either. If you go to any department store in San Diego, listen to how many people are speaking Spanish and spending their money in those stores. And I’m not talking about the 99-cent stores.
LL: Do you believe in an amnesty program for illegal immigrants?
Saldaña: Ronald Regan signed an amnesty bill in 1986. I think Ronald Regan had it right. If people can prove that the only law they’ve broken is a civil law, which is the immigration law, but they are not violent offenders, they haven’t violated any criminal laws, then they should have a path to citizenship.
It should be tough. They should learn English. I used to teach English as a second language, so I understand the motivation to get people up to speed on their English skills. Many of my students would learn English and then come into my computer class to get computer skills to start their own businesses. Immigrants are an economic engine unto themselves. Just drive around San Diego and look at the communities that have huge investments, as a result of our southwest Asian immigrants.
La Jolla Light: Any more thoughts on why you feel you are the best candidate for this job?
Lori Saldaña: I think as an educator I know what it takes to learn, and I stress lifelong learning to my students and I stress it with myself. Surround yourself with smart people. Listen to what they have to say. Look for the ones that have the experience that you don’t have, ask them a lot of questions, and then apply that to your job. That’s what I want to do back in Washington. I had dozens of bills signed by a Republican governor and I’m very confident I can go back and work with anyone in Washington as well as I learned to work with them in Sacramento. …
One reason I ran for office is I was very concerned looking at the cutbacks in services for healthcare, and the cutbacks in education, I was teaching at the time in community college, … managing federal grants for information technology programs and those grants started disappearing back in 2001-2001. Basically, as our defense spending in the United State increased, I saw firsthand our education funds being slashed. … All of these funds just disappeared. As our war efforts overseas built up, our domestic spending in education and other programs declined.
I grew up in a Marine Corps family. My father was a career Marine. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the men and women who are volunteering to serve … but my big concern—I served for six years on the Veterans Affairs (committee)—is what we do to help men and women re-enter our communities after their service and active duty military is over.
I held hearings as chair of the Women’s Caucus about women in the military. We did a lot of work on providing service. It turns out there’s only one residential facility for women military members in the country, up in Palo Alto, for them to go and have residential services for PTSD, for traumatic brain injury. And we have more women serving in the military now than at any time in the nation’s history—and serving under combat situations, not because we’ve changed the regulations allowing that, but because the nature of warfare has changed. …
My caucus in Sacramento arranged for a hearing concurrent with the congressional caucus hearing. What they heard in Washington about what was happening with women in the military was so disturbing to the Department of Defense they refused to let the people come to California to testify in front of our hearing, because we learned that women in the military were lacking the resources to get on with their lives after their service. And just a number of other challenges that weren’t be addressed. … (As a result) The Department of Defense decided they need to reevaluate what they were doing for women veterans and women active duty military members before they would come and testify in California.
We are a nation transitioning from a warfare decade to a veterans’ decade and I want to make sure that we have resources in place. … We need to make sure that they have the rehabilitation, the supportive services and the jobs to get on with their lives.
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