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California’s Busy Legislative Year, Climate Change Driving Refugee Crisis And More.

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California had a busy legislative year with the passage of several controversial bills from one meant to protect workers to another tightening the process for vaccine exemptions. Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins talks to Midday to reflect on this year’s session. Also, climate change is expected to displace as many as 140 million people by 2050. And, for many in Hollywood, the U.S.-Mexico border serves only as background for gritty crime dramas, but locally, filmmakers are trying to tell a wider array of stories.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Maureen Cavenaugh. This state legislative session left governor Newsome with a hefty stack of bills on his desk. Newsome has until October 13th to sign them into law senate president pro tem Tony Atkins is now back home in San Diego. After this busy and sometimes contentious legislative session, she joins us in studio. Tony Atkins. Welcome. Thank you. It's so good to be here. Now I want to ask you first about the protests over SB two 76 the bill to tighten the process for vaccine exemptions that provoked an assault on one member of the legislature and an incident where blood was thrown on the Senate floor. This country is seeing such intense political disputes. Do you expect to see more of that kind of disruption in Sacramento? Well, I certainly hope not. I know that this was a a pretty emotional and contentious issue. I think the legislature handled it appropriately.

Speaker 1: 01:00 We had to of course adjust that night. It costs us about two hours, three hours to get reestablished in another hearing room to continue to finish the work of the legislature of the Senate. I hope not, but you know, uh, we, we will be prepared. We will handle it the best we can with, uh, the appropriateness of the work that we have to do for the people of California. Now, uh, Bill you authored SB one is aimed at stopping Trump administration rollbacks of environmental laws and protections for endangered species, but it's come up against criticism that it may impact water supplies for southern California and the governor says he's not going to sign it. So why did you move forward with it anyway? Well, my hope was that what we were saying about SB one was that it would not affect the biological opinions. That was one of the criticisms you heard concerned that it would not let us advance the best available science.

Speaker 1: 01:59 The bill specifically spoke to that and said that through regulations and agencies, we would address that. Secondarily, the bill also stated very clearly that it would not impact the voluntary water settlement agreements that had been worked on by the Brown administration that now governor Newsome would have to proceed with the bill, uh, made reference to that, that it wouldn't impact those agreements. Nevertheless, uh, water, uh, interest in particular, uh, were concerned that it would impact their ability to continue to negotiate. And frankly, bottom line, they want to change the endangered species act in a way that doesn't protect salmon, the smelt and others still had trout. Those waterflows impact those endangered species. So in fact, they want those protections rolled back in those cases. And that became the crux of a bill that was about clean air, clean water worker protections and endangered species. But since the governor said he won't sign it, why did you move it forward to his desk?

Speaker 1: 03:07 Well, I felt like there was an opportunity that he would rethink this. We had worked all year, uh, with the stakeholders on both sides. I took 75 amendments to the bill. It went through basically eight hearings if you count the two appropriations committees. And then to the floor of each house. We had done the work we needed to do. I felt like, uh, this would not impact, uh, the concerns, uh, of the water users in terms of the protections, the endangered species act, uh, in rolling back those protections was really the key. And um, you know, I felt like we had made our best case. We should make that case with the governor. It, this is one of the first times you've clashed with the governor over a major piece of legislation. Do you think this is going to affect your relationship with the governor going forward?

Speaker 1: 03:59 Um, I expect we'll have a fond relationship. We've had a good relationship. I endorsed him early. Uh, we've been long time friends. We can disagree and still do our jobs, uh, as the governor and as the legislature and I anticipate that our relationship going forward will be as good as it has been. Now speaking of water, you and San Diego, Assemblyman Todd, Gloria pushed a last minute bill ab 1290, that does an end run around a lawsuit and requires union labor agreements for San Diego's pure water project that bill will probably get signed. Why not just let that lawsuit though by city contractors move forward. Because we were in jeopardy of losing about $650 million to San Diego to our pure water project. Those are state funds that basically say if you disallow the opportunity for a project labor agreement, you're not eligible for those funds. So this would translate into increased costs to get the pure water project done that we have worked on for decades.

Speaker 1: 05:04 It would enable San Diego to be more self reliant, it would produce more water, uh, basically through a project, uh, that takes, uh, water and reuses it, purifies it and reuses it for potable drinking water. President Atkins, what do you see as your biggest wins this past legislative? Wow. Well I think you have to look at education funding. A lot of the issues that we dealt with housing, public safety as it relates to use of force and law enforcement education, clean water, SB 200 to deal with polluted groundwater, fire protection, all of those came with budget actions during the budget cycle and then attached to legislation. So I would have to say the big winner is education, highest budget amount ever to k through 12 education, 15,000 new slots for undergraduate, uh, CSU UC 15,000 new cal grants. And legislatively we approved a bond for March that would bring $15 billion to the CSU system, the UC system community colleges and k through 12.

Speaker 1: 06:16 So that is a huge investment in the infrastructure and the deferred maintenance in our school. Something we have not been able to do for more than a decade. Uh, I think housing was a big winner, two point $5 billion during the budget cycle. But you saw us pass ab 1482 which was the tenant protection just cause and rent stabilization, capping a increases annually, a 5% plus inflation with a cap at 10% to prevent rent gouging, which we have seen. So I think in addition to the a adu legislation legislation to help streamline a little bit more development because our issue is production. It was a hugely busy legislative session that tied right into what we did during the budget year for supporters. One of the biggest disappointments on housing was the shelving of SB 50. Now that's legislation that would require cities to allow denser and taller housing near transit. Transit stops.

Speaker 1: 07:17 You are criticized for not resurrecting that bill this session. You said it needs more work. What kinds of changes do you think it needs? Well, I think we have spent the time, uh, you know, I'll compare this to not moving forward a year ago with use of force that bill, uh, didn't exactly have the votes, uh, in either house. We took the year, we negotiated with uh, stakeholders, ACO Yiu advocates, law enforcement, and we got it done this year. In addition to funding to support police officer training SB 50, which is the housing bill and development that you're talking about. It is my assessment. And, and people disagree that the votes weren't actually there for that bill. I am committed to this housing affordability and development, particularly low income housing for struggling Californians is one of my top priorities. We need to make sure this bill is going to be, uh, able to do what it needs to do and has the support to get approved.

Speaker 1: 08:16 And I think the issues, a lot of smaller cities have real concerns. And so I've spent the last several months, uh, meeting, uh, with a lot of these entities that don't support the bill. I don't think one size fits all. I do think we need to figure out how to get development done and we do need to develop more housing. That is the crux of our problem. Not enough production, but we've got to do it in a way that preserves the character of cities and communities and puts money to use around planning. My SB too, which is permanent source of funding for housing, just released money for updates of community plans. We saw quite a few grants come to the county, the cities, uh, for them to be able to work on their general plans and talk about how they are going to grow. But what I would say is we've got to continue to work on this.

Speaker 1: 09:08 We've done more work on housing in the last three years than in the last two to three decades in California. Money streamlining. We did pass SB three 30 that was Nancy Skinner's bill that talks about not reducing the density that, that cities and communities cannot reduce density. It respects local government in allowing local community plans and general plans to be in place. You just can't down zone, but so it protects local control but allows for some trying to make development go faster that you can't slow down or delay and you can't down zone. So we did get some legislation done. I'm committed to this. This is a key issue, but we've got to do it right and we've got to have people who support us moving forward. So to the listeners, I would say you really need to be looking at your communities for how we can do this in the right way to protect character, but increase the density.

Speaker 1: 10:04 And we did that also through passing a number of Adu assessory dwelling unit bills, which is the easiest and quickest way to add density in single family neighborhoods while also giving homeowners, uh, the opportunity to have an investment to have a unit that they can rent out. Many times it becomes a family member with, you know, the dwelling units. So we've reduced the cost, uh, and made it easier. We had at least three or four bills on ady use this year, so we're going to continue to work very hard. I see SB 50, uh, we have in January, February, the ability to let that bill out there will be changes to it, uh, obviously, and I'll be, uh, really involved in helping make that happen. Let me change the subject for a moment. Uh, the Trump administration is revoking California's ability to set its own auto emission standards.

Speaker 1: 10:56 Right. Governor Newsome says that move is all about the president taking revenge on California for defying him on so many issues from emissions to immigration. Do you agree with that? Well, it certainly feels like we're being targeted. Uh, but you know, I try to remain focused, uh, even as I did SB one and many people were calling it Trump insurance. You know, I focused on that bill and I think the governor is focused on, uh, we, we have more than 60 lawsuits against the federal government right now and it has everything to do with, um, regulations, policies and programs that California has put into place over the last 40 and 50 years. The emission standards is a key example, a 50 year program. Governor Reagan developed the California Air Resources Board precisely to address that issue. When you see the work that you've done over four or five decades, undermined rolled, you have to do something to try and protect the values of the California voters.

Speaker 1: 12:00 Uh, this has been a lots of bureaucracy in progress really over years to put goals in place to advance these, these causes, whether it's worker protection, clean air, clean water, endangered species, our emissions goals, which is tied to pollution and climate change. Frankly, we have to stand our ground. So if you want to call it a fight with the administration, some people are doing that. I say it's all about protecting California values. Now, one big shakeup in San Diego politics is that longtime congresswoman Susan Davis says she's not running for reelection. Many people thought you might want to get into the race for the 53rd district, but you say, no, you're running for reelection in the state senate. Why is that? I have the ability to negotiate budgets with the governor and the speaker in the fifth largest economy in the world. I am committed to the work that I am doing.

Speaker 1: 12:56 I see direct impact every single day. I love my job. I get to work on all of these issues. We've talked about education, housing, clean water. We didn't even talk about fire recovery and, and uh, preparedness. I love this work. I might've thought differently three years ago, but I feel good about my decision. And uh, I thank Susan Davis for her two decades of really good work on behalf of, of Californians and she was my, she's my representative, so I thank her for her work. Do you ever anticipate running for National Office? I, you know, I don't, I don't look at the world that way. I, um, I didn't go to Sacramento to become the speaker of the assembly or the pro tem necessarily. But when those opportunities arose and I saw what it enabled me to do to be able to work directly with a governor, I have been able to negotiate for budgets with Governor Brown and now governor Newsome.

Speaker 1: 13:50 Our relationships are strong despite dis disagreements. Every now and then I know that we're acting in the best interest as we believe it, believe it and see it for Californians. I am just honored to have this job and I'm going to let it play out. A, I'm running for reelection. I don't take that lightly. I have to convince my constituents that I am still up for the job and ready to serve them and for, uh, to serve the state of California. So I'm going to be focused on my reelection on continuing to be the pro tem and working with the governor to advance all it's important to us here in San Diego County. And I've been speaking with California Senate president pro tem Tony Atkins. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Thank you. It's always good to see you. This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Maureen Cavanagh. Climate change often impacts some of the world's most vulnerable people as part of our ongoing coverage of San Diego's climate crisis. KPBS reporter Priya [inaudible] takes a look at how people around the world are climate refugees

Speaker 2: 14:53 who saying, hey, newer came to the United States from Somalia more than three decades ago to study as a foreign military exchange student. After completing his training, Nora said he felt unsafe returning to his home country because of the ongoing civil war. He applied and was granted asylum here in the u s

Speaker 3: 15:12 the country was in a blue tickle. Turmoil want to see that, but I left the country. People were divided so badly

Speaker 2: 15:20 since resettling and San Diego neuro has helped dozens of families from east Africa make a new home in San Diego, which has one of the largest populations of Somali refugees in the world. While Somalia has been suffering from civil war and political turmoil for decades, experts say drought, which causes food and security has been a main driver of mass migration throughout the region for generations. People in nurse family have supported themselves through farming, but in recent years, drought has forced them off their farms and into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Speaker 3: 15:57 They rely on the rain and if they miss one season of that rain, it's gonna be devastating on the food. On what are would be scarce.

Speaker 2: 16:12 Rom Lasa, he is the director of the Partnership for the advancement of New Americans, a nonprofit dedicated to refugee rights. She has also seen the impacts climate change has had on migration.

Speaker 4: 16:23 So what's happening and what I know that people tell us is they leave their rural communities, um, in search of food and search of water during drought, um, and they're going into other land. You'll see a lot more conflict as well, that kind of exasperates already highly volatile, you know, violence. What is already happening is violence. I'm in persecution. And then the climate crisis exasperates that

Speaker 2: 16:51 according to a recent study, Somalia is the most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. The United Nations says the drought in Somalia has caused 49,000 people to leave their homes in search of food and water. So far this year, Norris says that he's seen many able bodied men in east Africa joined armed factions simply to survive.

Speaker 3: 17:13 Well, many people, I don't know. We from that homes to seek help to find food and water. Many youths that are attracted by the [inaudible] and [inaudible] functionals like Al Shabbat or warring functionalist and this climate change also boosted the tension between the clans worldwide.

Speaker 2: 17:44 His studies show more than 17 million people have been displaced because weather related disasters like droughts, wildfires, and extreme temperatures. Rom Ramen othen is a climate sustainability professor at the Scripps Institution of oceanography

Speaker 5: 18:00 probably in about 10 to 15 years. That's going to be the biggest problem. They're going to face refugees, migration, the social undressed. That would cause if you don't have a governance system.

Speaker 2: 18:17 Newer says for too long, climate change has taken a back seat to other issues.

Speaker 3: 18:22 The international community and the local government should didn't do much and didn't give much attention about the climate change, the focusing on and war on terrorism and the piracy. But this is a really a pattern and a new issue that's affecting people's lives in east Africa.

Speaker 2: 18:49 He hopes politicians and policy makers will wake up to the reality before it's too late.

Speaker 6: 18:55 Joining me is KPBS reporter, Pria, Schriefer and Pria. Welcome. Thanks. So 14 9,000 people in Somalia this year have been forced to move from their lands because of drought. Obviously they are not all coming to the u s so where are they going?

Speaker 2: 19:13 Right. So many of them are ending up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, but the majority of them are actually staying within the borders of Somalia. So, you know, we hear a lot about urbanization that's happening all over the world. People moving from rural areas to urban areas and oftentimes that's happening because of climate reasons, because of droughts. And when you have two seasons in a row where you're not getting the right amount of rainfall, these people are basically forced to go anywhere just to try to survive, to have food and water. And then in addition to that, um, the refugee that I spoke with in my story also mentioned that many of these people are joining armed factions, whether that's the Somali military or other armed groups that are offering these people who are struggling with famine, uh, food and water, and they simply need that to live. And that's also contributing and exacerbating the political violence that you're seeing in these regions already.

Speaker 6: 20:12 Are these Somalians and millions of people like them, are they being designated as climate refugees or is that a designation that countries don't yet acknowledge?

Speaker 2: 20:21 Right. So yeah, that's not like an official State Department designation as of right now. But what you're seeing is a lot of these people initially moving for climate change reasons and then ending up in places in the Middle East like Syria. A lot of people are saying that many of the Syrian refugees that have ended up in Europe and even here in the United States originally were climate migrants. And that's how they, you know, would be classified many of these climate change experts. But once they got to those bigger cities, they were then dealing with civil wars and other violence that they also had to flee from. And, and ended up in, you know, countries like the United States.

Speaker 6: 21:00 Tell us more about Dr Rom Ramanathan is warning about climate migration becoming the biggest problem the world community is about to face. What kind of trouble does he see a rising from these population shifts?

Speaker 2: 21:13 Right. So he's saying that we're going to see this happen really rapidly. And actually, you know, I was able to find a World Bank study that projected that in the next 30 years. So by 2050, we're gonna see 140 million people move within their own countries, borders because of climate change. And there are three regions of the world that this most severely impacts that Subsaharan Africa, uh, with 86 million people, South Asia with 40 million people and Latin America with 17 million people. So the, these are huge, huge numbers, but the World Bank suggests and many of the climate change experts, including Dr Rom Ramen, often say that with concerted effort, with proactive action and uh, programs, if we look to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world, we could really cut that number down by as much as 80% or more than a hundred million people. So essentially he's trying to sort of have a call to action here and say that if we address this now we can really see those numbers dramatically decrease.

Speaker 6: 22:21 To bring it back to our border here, we've heard that climate change and drought in Central America is causing much of the migration of people across Mexico and then hoping to enter the u s has this reason been acknowledged in any way by U s officials?

Speaker 2: 22:37 Right. So actually right now today is the United Nations general assemblies climate summit. And I was just reading in the news that president Trump, uh, did actually surprisingly calm. He wasn't scheduled to come to that summit, but he did. And so people are maybe seeing that as perhaps a step in the right direction for acknowledging climate change. But his administration has notoriously tried to minimize, um, the impacts of climate change. And the EPA has actually said that, uh, water quality and ocean pollution are bigger global threats than climate change. But we've seen for the past several years, government officials saying that this is a huge crisis. The Department of Homeland Security actually put that in their 2014 planning document. They said that climate change is indirectly a fueling or it's basically considered a threat multiplier. So many of those same arguments that you heard from my rep, the refugee in my story, and Dr Rahm Ramen often that in, uh, uh, climate change is sort of a contributing to terrorist activity violence. It's increasing poverty. Many government officials are aware of this, but you know, the Department of Homeland Security in addition to the United States military are doing a lot to, uh, you know, be [inaudible] security on the border. But a lot of people would argue, critics would argue that they're not doing enough to try to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and perhaps be more proactive in that approach.

Speaker 6: 24:07 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, Prius Sri there and Priya. Thank you. Thank you. This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm worrying cabinet. Lots of filmmakers have been criticized for using the US Mexico border as a backdrop for stories about the drug war. It's become such a trope that narco fatigue is now a term locally, though some filmmakers are using the border to their advantage, making movies that have nothing to do with narcos on the new episode of only here KPBS his original podcast featuring stories that could only come from a border town. We hear from filmmakers in San Diego and Tijuana who are using the border as a valuable resource instead of a lurid prop.

Speaker 7: 24:51 Okay. [inaudible].

Speaker 8: 25:00 Omar Lopez is shooting on an old 16 millimeter analog film camera. We're at a soccer field in a quiet neighborhood. If the Quanah called colonial Lazaro Cardenas.

Speaker 7: 25:11 Is that your film camera? This one? Yeah, the 35 or do you want to know at 16. That's really cool. Where are you going to process and all that? Ah, got photo Camp Burbank.

Speaker 8: 25:24 Omar and his crew have shot a lot at this location using the nearby staircase hill and canyon as sets for their film, which takes place in a fantastical universe where only women exist. Omar is already done with the actors in the bigger shoots today. He and his stunt driver are out getting some bureau and other behind the scenes footage they need. [inaudible]

Speaker 7: 25:47 we're going to take his bug and, uh, do some shots over here on the hill and the canyon. Beautiful Red Bug over there. We're gonna go down the hill, uh, and I'm gonna write on top of the, the hood of the car and then do some closeups. Like while it's driving down the hill and then down at the bottom of the canyon. I'm going to drive behind him and uh, and get a shot at him driving through the neighborhood. [inaudible]

Speaker 8: 26:16 the road they're filming is windy and peppered with houses that seem to be just barely clinging to the cliff. After Omar gets the first shot, we head to a convenience store at the bottom of the canyon so he can get the next shot.

Speaker 7: 26:30 So this is the hood mount two a to put the camera like right on top of the hood. Uh, I'm going to follow him drives and get a shot of the car driving through the neighborhood.

Speaker 8: 26:47 This is Omar's first ever feature length film and there was never any question about where he was going to shoot it. There's really no other place. He'd rather be making a movie than here in [inaudible].

Speaker 7: 26:59 It's a different way of life here, you know, it's not so many rules and restrictions and I think people are just a lot more willing to that sort of, you know, like let's, let's do something. Let's get this done. So to spirit spills out into everything else.

Speaker 9: 27:16 Yes.

Speaker 8: 27:24 Omar was a visual artist for years before he decided that making movies is what he wants to do. He grew up in San Diego, but both his parents are from Mexico. So growing up he spent a lot of time in D Quanta hanging out with his grandma. That's why he feels so at home here. When Omar did make that switch from art to film, he says he used the city of [inaudible] as the starting point for his first full length movie. He says the city and all its quirks and problems, tenacity and hidden beauty inspired the entire plot of his film. NT Kwana also allowed him to overcome financial and bureaucratic obstacles to back in our studio in San Diego. Omar explained just how big of a role TJ has played in his movie.

Speaker 10: 28:09 No

Speaker 11: 28:10 shooting in TJ is a dream. Uh, especially for someone with, you know, no budget and no permit. It feels like a city and this is kind of like painting with a broad brush. Like it's mad. It's a magical city, but really people want to do things, if that makes sense. Like they're game the game for stuff. So all the, all the time, you know, we're shooting in industry and we can't block off streets. We didn't pay for permits and things are, so we have to wait for cars to be out of the way or people to be out of the way. And we want to be really polite about it. Cause we, we're showing up in just like suburban neighborhoods, you know, we're a small crew, but we're just really just showing up and you know, these people shouldn't have to, you know, move their whole lives for, for our shoot.

Speaker 11: 28:57 And you know, sometimes we'll, we'll be standing there waiting like, all right, this one time we're waiting like five minutes longer because we couldn't get like these people out of the back of a shot. And this woman who worked at a store right there was watching this and she came up and she said, are you guys shooting the movie? Said, yeah. Says, well these people are in your way, Huh? Yeah, but you know, what? Are you going to no, no, no, no. Hold on. Hey, I shouldn't have moved me over here. You know why she went and she was like, are you know, like our traffic control and she had no Jen, nothing to get out of it, shouldn't have vested interested in it other than, you know, she saw someone trying to do something creative and and said, you know, I, you know, she was for it

Speaker 12: 29:41 feet [inaudible]

Speaker 8: 29:48 for those who've never been to [inaudible] I should probably take a minute to try to describe it. It's a mishmash of everything. You've got shacks and shantytowns and some parts and million dollar mansions and others. You've got the beach, the desert and sparkling new skyscrapers. Next is shells of skyscrapers that were only ever have built overall. The city looks somehow both post-apocalyptic but also futuristic at the same time. In many ways. It's still in the past with chickens running around on dirt roads that cut across hillsides with apron wearing Abuela's. But the border city also gives us a glimpse of the future with its digital billboards, genre defined architecture and collision of world cultures.

Speaker 11: 30:43 It's sort of like a ready made set if you get out of the touristy areas, which is the parts that I'm more interested in, like the suburbs, everything's ready made. You can put your camera anywhere you want, you know, without a script and just like start shooting it and something will happen. Uh, and that was a, a large part of the idea of why I wanted to shoot down there. Um, it's just, it's a fantastic place, you know, like, you know, Tijuana's like it's like a place, kind of like a freedom. You know, I, I was thinking about the border wall the other day and you know, it's kind of like, for me, I'm very, very lucky, uh, with my citizenship, but it's sort of like the flip side of the coin instead of keeping Mexicans out of America, it kind of keeps America out of Mexico for me.

Speaker 11: 31:32 Uh, like, I don't know about you, but like when I cross I feel really good and like my phone doesn't work so no one can get ahold of me. And like, my chest feels bigger than my legs feel stronger, you know, there's twice as much smog and smoke, but I still like, I breathe better. I just feel good. I think it's because I feel like Tijuana is like that. It's like the, it's like freedom from everything that's over here. I feel very comfortable. I like it. Um, it's like a, like a v, you know, it's a break from the no straight lines and things in like San Diego, you know, I could never shoot this film in San Diego. It would never look the right way.

Speaker 6: 32:21 The second half of only here you'll hear from an undocumented film curator in San Diego who uses Mexican movies to reconnect to his culture. Listen to KPBS is only here online at kpbs.org/podcast or get it wherever you get your podcasts. This is KPBS midday edition.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.