“Newsmaker of the Week” is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Senior Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
Signal: Tell us who you are and what qualifies you to be a member of the California Assembly. (Smyth won the coin toss and spoke first.)
Smyth: I’m born and raised here in Santa Clarita. I spent the last six years as a City Council member. I’ve also served two terms as mayor of Santa Clarita. Prior to that, I worked in the Legislature for six years, for the late Sen. Pete Knight, and in between times, I worked in the private sector.
I think that’s what makes me uniquely qualified for this district and this office — I have experience in the private sector, in the public sector, holding public office, as well as in the Legislature. Because in the era of term limits, you really don’t have time to get up to speed; you have to become and be effective immediately. I think that having that background of serving in the private sector, the public sector and working in the State Assembly gives me that background to become effective.
I am currently married to my wife, Lena; we’ve been married for seven years and I have two children.
Shaw: I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, middle-class neighborhood. My dad was a millman, a union carpenter, and my mother represented engineers and scientists at Lockheed. So I grew up in the shadow of the aerospace industry, and for the last 13 years, I’ve worked at a wonderful organization, a nonprofit in Sunland — part of the (38th Assembly) district — called Tierra del Sol (Foundation). We serve adults with developmental disabilities.
Prior to that, I was in the private sector, in financial services, worked there for 10 years, and I, too, feel that my qualifications both in the public and private sector qualify me to go to the State Assembly.
For the last six years, I’ve chaired the Women’s Caucus of the California Democratic Party, working with many issues and with our state elected officials, and will have that relationship when I get to Sacramento — being able to walk in the door of most offices and answer questions and get seconds on my bills and be able to really promote some good legislation for this district. So I feel that my experience in both — like Cameron, public and private — will give me the experience I need to go to Sacramento.
Signal: What are the three biggest things you want to tackle as a member of the Assembly?
Shaw: For this district alone, I really think — and I’m sure that Cameron’s going to agree with me — we’re talking about growth, development, and what it’s going to do to the infrastructure, particularly of this community.
But this district goes from Glendale, out the 210, 118 freeways out to Simi Valley, and then the bulk of the district is here in Santa Clarita. I think that we really need to take those issues to Sacramento, to make sure that we’re not overdeveloping, we’re protecting our water, protecting our land, protecting our infrastructure. We also need to rebuild that infrastructure to protect their citizens here.
I also want to look at health care; we’ve got a serious crisis in this state, affecting folks who don’t have health care. On a very personal note, having worked in the field, having worked with people with disabilities, I really want to bring that issue to the forefront. We’ve had a few fighters for us in Sacramento; they’re all being termed out. Our population is growing, autism is growing, and I really want to address the needs of people with disabilities and bring them to the forefront.
Smyth: I think infrastructure is critical. This district includes the 5, 14, 118, 405 and 210 freeways, some of the busiest in the state, so it’s important that transportation dollars are spent here in the 38th District so that our residents have an easy mode of transportation.
Secondly, the economy. Jobs are leaving California at an alarming rate. Jokingly, other states refer to the California Legislature as their economic development arm because of the overregulations and the burdensome things they put on the business community — and that’s driving them out of state, driving jobs of all levels out of the state.
And finally I want to deal with public education. I’m the son of two public educators: My mom was a teacher, my father was the superintendent of the Hart District here. I went to all public schools and I hope to send my kids to our local public schools. It’s important that our teachers and the staff at those schools have the resources they need, because we have great schools in Santa Clarita, good schools in Simi Valley, but the kids in L.A. Unified are not getting their fair share.
Signal: Today in California, developers who want to build 500 homes or more have to go through a rigorous process where they must “prove” that there will be enough water for their projects. As a result, here in the Santa Clarita Valley, we’re seeing a lot of 499-unit projects, where the regulations are less severe. Should the restrictions be expanded to include more housing projects, or are they already too onerous?
Smyth: I think it’s redundant, because the issue of development and infrastructure, for the most part, particularly housing, falls on the local jurisdiction.
For me, during my past six years on the City Council, I haven’t approved any project that doesn’t have the adequate infrastructure that I believe it needs, and that includes water, schools, parks, roads, economic opportunities. So, mandating a state regulation that it has to be this magic 500 number, what you ended up getting is exactly what you alluded to — a whole bunch of 499 (-unit projects), and if you change that number, all that’s going to happen is, the private sector is just going to adjust to that.
So I think by having local jurisdictions that oversee it, they’re the ones that should be making the decision, and if the local government officials are not following the wishes of the community, they will vote them out and elect those who do. So I don’t believe there needs to be any more regulation on that. The power and control already rest within the local government, and that’s where it should stay.
Shaw: I don’t believe they’re too onerous, and I believe they should be expanded.
But I think we should also be looking at a regional solution to all of these developments — looking at how the San Fernando Valley affects what is going on in Santa Clarita, what happens in Simi Valley. We have to look at this district as a large piece, and we’re seeing these development projects going on all across this district. I think we need to really be looking long-term, regionally looking at these developments and making sure that we do have the infrastructure, the water — and the effect on our children’s health with air pollution and additional car trips will affect all of us, too. So I believe that we need to look even more carefully at the regulations to protect our citizens and protect our children.
Signal: We often hear about businesses fleeing from California, the excuses being that they’re overregulated and overtaxed. California continues to grow in population. Where will these new people find jobs? What specific ideas do you have to make California more business-friendly?
Shaw: I believe that we need to protect our workers. In looking at the business climate, I don’t believe that we’re losing that many jobs. I believe that that’s the Business Roundtable that’s just saying that to scare off the regulations.
I believe that we do need to encourage better working conditions for folks, better health care, better benefits. And the better an employee, the happier an employee, we’re not going to lose those jobs. California’s a great place to be. We don’t have hurricanes; we barely have downtime for weather.
So I believe that we need to watch those regulations, yes, to protect our business climate, but we also need to protect the people working there. I think our best growth effort is in sustainable industries and bringing in environmentally friendly “smart growth,” smart technologies, and I think we may look at the Magic Mountain area, depending on what happens there, to look at jobs in that area. But I believe that we’ve got the technology, we’ve got great schools, we’ve got great students who can go forward in California to bring us that smart growth.
Smyth: I think the first thing we need to do is continue the efforts that the governor has had with rolling back the worker’s comp costs. You have businesses, one in particular here in Santa Clarita that has chosen to go through a temp agency because the cost of having more full-time employees is too onerous — not because of paying their wages, but because of the worker’s comp costs that they have to endure.
I think we also have to start looking at tax incentives and tax breaks for businesses, in particular the filming industry, which is the No. 1 employer here in this district — because you have films, and the production companies are now not only leaving the L.A. area, leaving our district, not only leaving the state of California, but now they’re leaving this country because of the incentives that are provided in other states and other countries. Those are jobs — we’re not talking about actors, we’re not talking about directors, we’re talking about grips, set designers, the nuts-and-bolts folks who make these productions run. We have to make sure we protect those jobs so they have a place to work.
Signal: Cameron, what do you like about Phil Angelides?
Smyth: His daughters all went to U.C. Davis, where I went to school, so he and his kids have excellent taste in the public school system.
Signal: Lyn, what you like about Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Shaw: I think he’s a wonderful entertainer. I think he has really robbed the public of his acting abilities, and I’d like to help him go back to that.
Signal: Cemex wants to mine 69 million tons of sand and gravel in Soledad Canyon over the next 20 years. Is this as big a problem as many people think it is? And what, specifically, as an Assembly member, could you do about it?
Shaw: I believe it is a problem, and we are seeing rising asthma rates, rising cancer rates in this area. I believe we do need to seriously address it. And again, I go back to the idea of regional solutions. I know that the local City Council — and I have to commend Mr. Smyth for really taking this to task — this is I think one area we agree on. We don’t want this. We don’t want this in any of our communities, especially where we have children growing up, and we have to look — as has been done in the schools — where we bring in our local people and they take it to Sacramento.
If we can’t get it done on a local basis, then we really need to bring in a coalition of our state members, county supervisors, as we’re seeing with Buck McKeon carrying legislation, but we really do need to do everything we can to stop that project.
Smyth: You know, it’s funny, because obviously being involved in this fight from day one since I was elected to the council, it gives me an opportunity to take the battle to a little different level.
One of the things that we’re currently working on now is, the governor has a planned trip to Mexico, I believe, after the election, and we want to make sure that he conveys, if he does choose to meet with representatives of Cemex, that this is a project that has real, real concerns to the residents of the state of California and can have major, major impacts as alluded to from a health perspective. Also the infrastructure, the fact that you put a gravel truck on the 14 Freeway every minute for the next 20 years — that’s incredible, what an impact that would have on air quality, on road and quality-of-life issues.
So what we do is take that up to the legislators and help communicate that with them, as well as the executive branch, and so the governor and his administration know that this is a problem and that we can take the fight one step further.
Signal: Proposition 86 would just about triple the tax on cigarettes, and Proposition 87 would tax oil companies $4 billion. What do you think about these two ballot measures?
Smyth: I oppose them. The reason I oppose them is, one, I believe that we’re already overtaxed on numerous fronts.
Go to the oil tax, first of all. We’re already taxed at the pump. Proposition 42 was passed by the voters, and that was supposed to dedicate money to build our roads and infrastructure. Well, what happened? That money just got sucked into the general fund and hasn’t been spent on what it was intended. So it was very deceptive to the voters.
And secondly on that, what do you think the oil companies are going to do? They get taxed an additional cost; they’re not going to eat that cost. That’s just going to get passed right back down to the consumers. So that is not something that I support.
I also think that the cigarette tax is one that isn’t necessary. It is singling out a certain group of folks for an additional tax burden, and I don’t think that we need to continue to overtax people in California. I think we’re overtaxed, and the Legislature, unfortunately, in the past, has proven that they can’t be trusted with our tax dollars.
Shaw: I support them both. Cigarette tax — I believe we can continue to tax them, and if it cuts down on the level that people smoke, maybe it’ll help my dad, who smoked since he was 13 years old and I wish he’d quit. I’ll cost him more money, but I believe it’s a good thing.
Proposition 87 I absolutely disagree with Mr. Smyth on. I believe that we need to put this money into ending our dependence on foreign oil. We need to look at alternative sources of energy. Many years ago, I worked on solar energy when I was in the private sector, and we had a great deal of difficulty getting that promoted and getting funding for it. I think this would go a long way to ending our dependence on foreign oil and looking at alternative sources, which we desperately need to do. We need to look at biodiesels, we need to look at all different forms.
Signal: Roads have always been a big issue here in the Santa Clarita Valley. We don’t seem to have enough of them. In Sacramento, what would you do to improve our transportation infrastructure? Should the state put more money into roads? Should it put money into public transit? Should it require developers to pay more?
Shaw: I think we need to look at a couple of areas. We need to look at more rapid transit, more mass transit. We also need to look at improving our bus system — cleaner buses, more buses. Again I go back to working with people with disabilities: It’s a little hard for them; most of them don’t even own a car. They don’t have a driver’s license. So that again is important to me on a personal note.
One of the things we need to do is help bring some other jobs into this area to help people get off the roads, help them with that long commute that they’re fighting now. But we do need to bring more money, and as Mr. Smyth said, we need to capture those Proposition 42 dollars and put them back into our communities.
I believe that both Schwarzenegger and Angelides are going to do that, but again, we need to capture them, protect them, so that they don’t get put back into general fund revenue. That’s what I would do in Sacramento: Protect those funds and add it to more buses and more public transit.
Smyth: You (ask if) the state should put more money into roads; I’d be happy if they put any money into roads. And I go back to Proposition 42. I mean, that was an effort that has taxed the residents of California because we were told that yes, this money will go into building more roads and improving our infrastructure, and like I said, it just got sucked into the general fund.
Now, the last two years, the governor has fully funded Proposition 42, but there’s an initiative on the ballot this year that will permanently protect Proposition 42 dollars, which I do support, because then we will actually have a true representation of what that tax revenue that Proposition 42 generates. How much is that? And where in the infrastructure can that be spent? That’s our job, I think, as a legislator and an Assembly member, to make sure that that revenue is spent here in our district. Because as you know, in Santa Clarita, we are a donor area to L.A. and the state of California. We put way more money in than we get back. I want to make sure the 38th gets its fair share of those dollars.
Signal: Here in Santa Clarita, we have a redevelopment project area that covers downtown Newhall. A measure on the Nov. 7 ballot, Proposition 90, would change the rules and probably restrict the city’s ability to use the power of eminent domain in the redevelopment of Newhall. Where do you stand?
Smyth: I support Proposition 90. I do also support eminent domain, and we have exercised it in the city for roads, for schools, for parks, for public use projects. I do support it. However, the Kelo (v. New London) decision in the Supreme Court now allows for cities to come in and take one private industry and replace it with another — so the city could come in and take Moore’s subway sandwich shop, eminent-domain it and replace it with a Subway because it creates more tax revenue. That is wrong, and that is not something we should do.
I supported the redevelopment of the Newhall area well before the Kelo decision was ever in place, and I expect that we will redevelop that area without taking somebody’s business for a use that is not a public benefit. So I do support Proposition 90, and we need to make sure that we protect the local businesses.
Shaw: I oppose that one, and I believe that our schools will be hurt, our communities will be hurt, it’s going to cost us some more money.
I agree with the intent, and I agree again with Mr. Smyth on what happened with the Supreme Court decision, but I don’t think that this is the right bill at the right time. I think it needs to be better written, and I would support a better-written initiative in the future, but not this one. I think, again, it’s going to go back to hurting what our schools can do, what our communities can do.
Signal: Is illegal immigration as big a problem as some people make it out to be? What should the state as opposed to the federal government be doing about it?
Shaw: That is a difficult one. It’s an emotional decision, and it is a tough one for the states, because we do bear the burden of what the federal government’s decisions are. We provide the services, we provide the policing, we provide now the National Guard at the borders.
My problem is that right now, what we’re seeing come out of the federal government are Band-Aid solutions. We need to look at an overall solution to this. What does this really mean? How do we address these folks who are here illegally? What does that mean to our economy? They are carrying jobs that possibly other folks won’t do. What does the true impact mean? How much will it cost to literally hunt them down and send them away? Building a wall at the Mexican border? That’s not going to address the issue of terrorism and terrorists who are coming in across the Canadian border.
I’d like to see a comprehensive system. I’m tired of Band-Aid solutions. I’m tired of piecemealing-patchworking our legislation when we have a huge problem. We need to work with the federal government as a state.
Smyth: You talk about, “This is a federal issue,” and we hear that. One of the things that I did as a council member was pass an ordinance with the city here in the Santa Clarita that said that if you choose to contract with the city and you want to bid on a contract, you have to verify that you do not hire illegal immigrants. That is something that’s in place to protect our local businesses.
We also have to push the federal government to house those prisoners, the illegals who are in our state prison system, or at the very least, reimburse us. I agree that we have to work with the federal government, we have to work with local agencies, but there are things that we can do here in the state.
One issue where Lyn and I disagree on, I don’t believe that we should be giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, whereas Lyn supports that. I don’t think that’s a decision that we should make.
I do support the border, I do support putting controls on the border and putting a wall there, the federal government. I think that will show a decrease of folks coming in, and we also have to work with the employers who are hiring them.
Signal: (Without advance warning) Ask each other a question.
Smyth: How’s the campaign going?
Shaw: Well, it’s an interesting roller coaster. I’m still working full-time, trying to host an event at my foundation on (Oct. 14), so I’m finding I can get by with a lot less sleep than I ever thought I could.
It’s a great way to lose weight, but on the other hand, it is a wonderful opportunity to get out there and talk to people and really find out what’s on people’s minds, get a chance to talk about the differences between the two of us, between our two parties, and try and get people back involved in the process of government.
It’s so important that people understand that it’s really not about you and me, it’s really not about Lyn Shaw or Cameron Smyth, it’s about what we mean, what we can do for the voters of our district, what resources we can bring in here, what our experience is. And that’s what we really need to be considering and taking that to the voters.
Signal: (Shaw’s turn.)
Shaw: Well, Mr. Smyth, I’ve read some of your interviews, and I want to ask you how you can justify working for an oil company. You said you oppose development, yet you take development money and oil company money. I’d like you to justify how you can take the money and vote.
Smyth: First of all, I didn’t say I oppose development, but (that) I set standards on development and have a litmus test for myself for any development project that I’m going to support. Secondly, I did work for an oil company — and what’s funny is that we’re talking about the economy.
What happened is — and I do disagree with your take that (in this) economy, jobs aren’t leaving as much, because I lost my job with an oil company, because they chose not to do business in California any more. It was too difficult.
Fortunately, I chose then to start my own company and ended up getting some contracts with the company — another division of Shell, actually in their hydrogen division, which was developing the alternative fuel system that you alluded to earlier, which I think is a critical component.
I’ve made it very clear that for anyone that wishes to contribute to my campaign, I support it, but it doesn’t mean that I’m going to always support their issue. I’ll be very honest with them, and people have chosen to support me from all walks of businesses, from labor, all the way to Fortune 500 companies.
Signal: When people walk into the polling booth on Nov. 7, why would they want to put a mark by your name?
Smyth: I think a couple reasons. One is I have a record of working in the public sector, a record of taking care of our taxpayers’ dollars, and of serving the public. Additionally, I alluded to earlier, I have a record of serving in the public sector, working in the Legislature, and experience in the private sector, both good and bad, and I can take that with me to Sacramento.
And finally, I will be someone that you can count on, that you can trust, and that when you make the phone calls, whether you agree with me or not, I will take your calls and we can talk about the issues. I will always work my best to represent the entire 38th Assembly District.
Shaw: First of all, I too have the experience in working as chair of the Women’s Caucus — it is a statewide, elected position — in working in the nonprofit field; I have worked in terms of budgets and working with the Legislature.
But one of the most important factors is that I have the relationships built. Mr. Smyth has been quoted as saying his priority is to go to the state Assembly and vote “no.” I’m going to be voting “yes.” Yes for the people of Santa Clarita, yes for the people of the San Fernando Valley, yes for the people of the Simi Valley, and I’ll be able to do that. I’ll be able to get support for whatever I want to bring in, in terms of resources to this valley, because I’ve built those relationships over the years. That’s why people should vote for me, Lyn Shaw. Thank you.