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In some ways, Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath’s path to the Legislature was routine. Like many state lawmakers, she got her start in local government – she was a member of the Encinitas City Council.
In other ways, her ascent was something new for the district. For one, she flipped the seat from Republican to Democrat. And her race was marked early on by a bizarre accusation against a Republican contender that turned out not to be true.
Now that the first year of a two-year session is in the books, Boerner Horvath has already had three measures signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom and has another bill sitting on his desk, awaiting a signature.
I caught up with Boerner Horvath by phone this week to talk about her first year in Sacramento.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What surprised you most about your first session?
I think the thing that surprised me the most about my first year of a two-year session was how incredibly effective somebody can be when they have developed the relationships, when they have the policy experience and when they keep their district in mind. I think I thought it was going to be harder – instead of being one in five on a council, I was one in 80, and one in 120 in the Legislature. I thought it was going to be harder, but I was surprised to see how much goodwill and good persuasive argumentation could do to make sure that my district gets its fair share from Sacramento.
Is there anything you think you’ll change or adjust going forward based on what you learned during this first session
Yeah. I typically write my own bills. So in November after I got elected, I sat down with a notepad and wrote out my own bills.
I think there’s a reason people typically don’t do that. I don’t think I’m going to give it up because I think when you’re coming from that place of autonomy, you could specifically direct a solution to an existing problem, especially when it’s district-based. But I will now have the advantage of having the fall interim session where I could work more closely with stakeholders to build up some of the support for that.
Probably the most high-profile bill you worked on this year was the pilot program that would have changed how Airbnb and short-term rental enforcement worked in San Diego. I think a lot of people were pretty surprised when you decided to extend it into a two-year measure. Can you just shed any more light about what went into that decision and what kind of work you’ve been doing on the issue since then?
Actually that’s not my most high-profile bill. That’s the one you thought was my most high-profile bill. [AB 467, which requires that competitions held on state lands give out equal monetary prizes for each gender category] is by far the one that has the most impact for women’s equality for making sure that our policies and laws and regulations on state lands reflect the values of California. So I hope you would include that in your summary because that is the most high-profile thing I did. And it’s amazing that I got it through as a freshman…
As for [AB] 1731, it was a pragmatic decision. Again, I wrote the bill in my living room. We had a very strong coalition of support and we had the chair’s recommendation and Senate government and finance to move it forward. And we had the votes. But as I said previously, I didn’t go to Sacramento to get quick wins. I went to Sacramento to make good policy, and there was still a couple nuance things that I was trying to work out and I felt as a freshman … making Senate floor amendments, coming back on concurrence for amendments, you know, all of that stuff that’s not good policy when you’re tweaking a policy just to get the votes rather than tweaking a policy to make sure you’re measuring the correct impact.
With a three-year pilot, the policy had to be exactly right. Because you would have one year of people figuring it out and two years of implementation, where I’m going to study at the end where you want those two years of implementation to be accurately measured and reflected to guide future policy… So I felt like it needed a little bit more time and I’d rather do it right the first time rather than be just making policy tweaks to get more votes.
Can you talk about what any of those nuances are that you had concerns about and wanted more time to focus on?
The biggest one that I was trying to sort out was within the construct of regulating the platforms versus the local ordinances and the San Diego County coastal zone. How do you separate out the commercial actors who are buying up properties and doing this as a business versus the person who has a second home? So say somebody lives in Sacramento, has a second home in San Diego County, they use it for three months of the year and they may or may not return it to the rental market because of this bill. How do you separate the individual actor that has that second home from the commercial actor? Because it’s the commercial actor that’s causing 80 percent of the problems.
There was an enormous amount of pushback locally to bills like SB 50 and SB 330 that would have lowered barriers to home-building. A lot of people said these things should be handled locally and not by Sacramento. And yet I think a lot of those same people would probably be inclined to support your short-term rental bill even though it’s coming from Sacramento. Do you think that there’s any disconnect between people who are opposed to decisions coming from Sacramento when it’s things that they don’t like and who welcome help from Sacramento when it’s things they do like?
I think that actually that’s not the nuance and the differentiation of those bills. My cities, all who are in the San Diego County coastal zone, do not have full land use authority over their coastal zone. Coastal Commission has the ultimate land use authority. So the reason they would welcome my bill is because it put limits on something they cannot regulate themselves now.
One of the first bills you introduced earlier this year was a measure that would have allowed the city of Encinitas to lower the speed limit on a portion of Neptune Avenue. What was the thinking behind doing something that hyperlocal at the state level?
Originally it was designed for all recreational corridors in the state. I think we have residential roads that can be designated as recreational corridors – roads that have a disproportionately high recreational use: people walking their dogs, people taking out strollers, people running, biking… A city should have the ability, if they so choose, to lower the speed limit to something lower than 25 miles an hour… The reason we held it in the Senate side was because the city did a traffic survey and they were able to lower it by themselves. So we didn’t need it for Neptune anymore. But I think the principle still stands: How do you make it safer for people to partake in our beautiful outdoor natural spaces?
You already talked a bit about what you think is your biggest accomplishment this year, but are there any other efforts you were a part of or particular bills you’re proud of?
I don’t think it’s the bill. Obviously, AB 467 was a huge accomplishment. I went to Sacramento to make a difference, and in my first term to make such a difference for equality throughout the state, it’s really impactful and meaningful.
But the other thing I was able to do was to get $10.5 million for my district alone. My district’s never gotten money from Sacramento. We got $8 million for the beachfront improvement project in Oceanside that added a police substation to the downtown area, which is a great project and it’s so important to get that funding. We also got $1.5 for Mira Costa and Oceanside for their veterans resource center. And then we also got $1 million to address homelessness in my district. Often the counties get money, but North County often gets left out of those allocations because we don’t have the density that the city of San Diego has.
State Sen. Brian Jones officially joined the wild race for the 50th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Duncan Hunter, who’s facing federal criminal charges. He joins a crowded and high-profile field that includes former Rep. Darrell Issa and talk radio show host Carl DeMaio.
After Issa and DeMaio trolled each other with dueling press conferences a few hundred feet apart earlier this week, Jones did a little trolling of his own. He invited both Issa and DeMaio to join him on a Jeep tour of the district. He portrayed his fellow Republican challengers as opportunistic outsiders because neither lives — at least full-time — in the district. (Issa told reporters that he does, in fact, own a home in the 50th Congressional District and it’s occupied by his mother.)
“I’m convinced that after this tour, you might even like to live here!” Jones said in a statement.
If it’s ultimately signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, AB 164 will close a loophole in California law that allows people who are barred from possessing guns in one state from purchasing or possessing guns here. It was sponsored by District Attorney Summer Stephan, who said she was motivated by a local criminal case.
She told us in a podcast interview this week about a Colorado man who followed his victim to California, where he legally purchased a gun, even though a restraining order prohibited him from doing so in his home state.
According to the DA’s office, the man threatened violence against his ex and her family, and local police found a stockpile of firearms and ammunition in his residence. He pleaded guilty to two felonies — making a criminal threat and stalking — last year and was sentenced to 180 days in custody, with three years’ probation.
“It is such a priority that guns not be in the wrong hands,” Stephan said.
Written by Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes from Riverside, the bill passed the Legislature with overwhelming support.
When it comes to preventing potentially dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms, San Diego has been a bellwether for the rest of the state on at least one occasion. City Attorney Mara Elliott has aggressively leaned on another California law allowing third parties to petition a court to remove an individual’s firearms if they pose a threat to themselves or others.
In 2018, Los Angeles issued 31 gun-violence restraining orders and San Francisco issued only one. San Diego issued 185.
— Jack Molmud
Jesse Marx contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the number of bills Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath has had signed into law. She has written three bills signed into law by the governor.