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Q&A: Rep. Mike Levin talks about the next Congress

 November 22, 2022 at 4:23 PM PST

S1: Congressman Mike Levin on his initiatives in office.

S2: I know we can achieve bipartisan progress. I know we can get big things done when we work together.

S1: I'm Jade Hindman with Maureen CAVANAUGH. This is KPBS midday edition. What you can expect if you're flying out of the San Diego International Airport for the holidays.

S3: So anybody that's going to be coming to Sandy or National Airport , whether you're flying out or picking somebody up , should really be aware of their surroundings. Look at signage , because there has been quite a bit of changes.

S1: A space where homeless people can heal after a hospital stay. And a conversation with filmmaker John Waters. That's ahead on Midday Edition. First , the news. One of the state's most closely watched congressional races has been decided. Incumbent Democrat Mike Levin has won his rematch against Republican challenger Brian Marriott , securing his third term as the representative of California's 49th District. And as control of the House shifts to the GOP , Democrats will have the challenge of furthering party policy in a highly divided political landscape. Joining us now with more is Congressman Mike Levin. Welcome back to Midday Edition.

S2: Thank you so much for having me. And happy Thanksgiving.

S1: Happy Thanksgiving. First of all , Congressman , I want to congratulate you on your re-election. But before we go on , though , I want to hear your response. As the nation is reeling from yet another shocking mass shooting , this time at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub. And there are a number of surprising San Diego ties to the shooting. I'm wondering what your thoughts are in the wake of this tragedy.

S2: Well , first , I'm thinking of and praying for the families of the victims and everyone who was impacted at the club. And obviously , our gratitude is with those heroes , including one I know as San Diego Thais who made sure that the casualties weren't even worse. But a couple of things immediately came to mind. One is the toxic nature of so much campaign rhetoric , anti LGBTQ rhetoric that really has no place in the year 2022. And I'm hopeful that Congress can actually move forward and take the legislative steps necessary to protect same sex marriage. And I hope that we can all collectively turn the temperature down on this sort of rhetoric. The second thing that immediately came to mind , of course , is the need to have comprehensive gun safety legislation. We had the bipartisan Safer Communities Act that I was very proud. We passed in the House and Senate , signed into law by the president. Most comprehensive gun safety legislation in over three decades. But more action needs to be taken by what I have seen and read the. The shooter had a AR 15. And it's my belief that we have to do all we can to get these weapons more out of our communities. We have to make sure that if you're going to establishment like that or a school or a church or anywhere else in our community , that we're safe. And so my great hope is that we can move forward on gun violence prevention legislation , knowing full well it won't be easy with a Republican House because unfortunately , far too many of my friends and colleagues across the aisle seem to care far more about what the NRA thinks than about what their constituents think when it comes to gun safety.

S1: You'll be working with a GOP controlled House.

S2: I do think that we'll have to see , first of all , whether Kevin McCarthy does , in fact , become speaker of the House. And then with the slim margin that he has , which looks like it's around seven or eight , what will he be able to do in in my hope , my expectation is that there'll be a lot of my friends across the aisle , I mean friends sincerely that I work with on a variety of issues that will want to craft bipartisan legislation that I want to see , not just investigations , but legislation , and of course , will be others in the Republican conference that are totally focused on partisan investigations. So I'm going to I'm going to seek out those who want to work with me. I want to work with other Democrats on common sense legislation , whether it be , as we discussed , for our veterans and military families or for our environment. I know we can achieve bipartisan progress. I know we can get big things done when we work together. And I know based on the campaign that we just ran and the feedback that I received from scores of our constituents , that that is exactly what they expect. And what they want to see is bipartisan progress for our local issues. And that's what we're going to deliver.

S1: Green energy has been a major focus during your tenure in Washington.

S2: Those are two historic pieces of legislation that are going to dramatically improve the sustainable path that we need to be on if we're going to hit our greenhouse gas reduction targets to curb the worst of climate change. And I'm really encouraged by the estimates that just the Inflation Reduction Act is set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. That means we have a long way to go. We have the other 60% that we now need to focus on. It won't be easy with Republicans in the majority in the House. But my focus is going to be to ensure that legislation that we have passed is deployed , and specifically that as much of the funds are deployed locally as we can possibly muster. One huge project that I've been focused on will continue to be focused on is the rail corridor connecting San Diego and Los Angeles. It's the second busiest intercity passenger rail corridor in the US , and as we know all too well , parts of it are at risk of failing. And Mother Nature always wins and blessed are collapsing , beaches are eroding. And we had Pete Buttigieg out , the transportation secretary we had. The president out and he referred to the rail corridor as well as a priority. And we're just going to follow through as aggressively and persistently as we can to ensure those federal funds come to our region.

S1: And finally , we're seeing high inflation and an overall economic downturn.

S2: Specifically , I pointed to big oil and the profits that they've made and what they've done specifically in California. Those are all factors. But make no mistake , regardless of what the factors are , I am absolutely committed to doing all we can to lower costs and working with my friends across the aisle to whatever extent we can. Where I worry is that during the campaign I heard a lot from my Republican friends about inflation , but I didn't hear much of actual plans from them other than tax cuts for rich people. And that seems to be their plans for everything. Regardless if the economy is good or the economy is bad or inflation is higher , inflation is low. They want tax cuts for rich people. And that simply hasn't worked in the past and won't work in the future. What we need to do is invest in people again , invest in the middle class , ensure that people can make ends meet. And those are the policies that I'm committed to and will continue to reduce health care costs as we have and focus on things like prescription drugs , making sure that reform isn't blocked and all the other things that we did , the Inflation Reduction Act that Republicans have said they want on the chopping block , just the same , making sure Medicare and Social Security are there for the long run rather than being used as a bargaining chip if the Republicans are threatening the debt ceiling. And so it's going to be a challenge. But I know that there are many of my colleagues and friends across the aisle that want to work together , and I'll be seeking them out every step of the way.

S1: You essentially mentioned corporate greed as one of the causes of this inflation.

S2: I looked at just my election and there were , I think , around $8 million of negative attack ads that ran against me from something called the Congressional Leadership Fund. And if you dig into who funds that , a lot of it is big oil. It's the American Petroleum Institute , Koch Industries , Chevron , Exxon. And really , they have this unlimited capacity to be able to send superPAC money to to fund attack ads. I think that and I've thought all along , we need fundamentally to reform the campaign finance system , increase transparency , accountability and get the dark money out. And I'm one of about 50 or so members that don't take corporate PAC money , which tells you that we really have a long way to go to to reduce the influence of that corporate special interest money in Washington , D.C. But I'll never give up that fight. And it's one that I hope I hope , as some of my Republican friends eventually will come around to agreeing on.

S1: I've been speaking with San Diego Congressman Mike Levin. Congressman Levin , thank you so much for joining us.

S2: Thank you for having me. Good to be with you.

S4: This holiday travel season may be the first time many people have flown in a couple of years. And if so , you may be surprised to see San Diego International Airport is very much under construction. Terminal one is slowly being replaced with a new facility which will have more gates , more restaurants and more San Diego Sun. In the meantime , though , there are some differences , especially with parking facilities. For an update on how to navigate the airport and why , it's just been named one of the top midsized airports in the country. Sabrina Lowe Piccolo is here. She's spokeswoman for the San Diego Regional Airport Authority. And , Sabrina , welcome.

S3: Thank you so much for having me.

S4: Construction began on the new terminal project about a year ago.

S3: And anybody that has been driving to the airport recently or even just , you know , passing by on harbor will notice a ton of construction activity , multiple cranes all over the airport campus , lots of construction vehicles. There's lots of fencing up. We took down the passenger bridge that was connecting terminal one to the Terminal one parking lot. So that's all now under construction. Even the entry way into terminal one is also kind of reconfigured. So anybody that's going to be coming to Sandy or National Airport , whether you're flying out or picking somebody up , should really be aware of their surroundings. Look at signage , because there has been quite a bit of changes.

S4: Before we get into how to navigate the way it is now. Can you tell us briefly what will be different about the new Terminal one ? Everything.

S3: You know , if anybody has flown out of the current terminal one , you understand when I say it's not the best customer experience. And so the new terminal one is going to be really just completely different than what we have today. You know , I think , as you mentioned , it's going to bring in a lot of that San Diego sun. We're going to have lots of windows. We're going to really capitalize on what makes San Diego so amazing. We're going to have an outdoor restaurant that overlooks San Diego Bay. We're also going to have a children's play area. We're going to have more expansive areas for the security line so that , you know , hopefully TSA can process customers much more efficiently. It's going to be a few more years before that terminal. The new Terminal one opens the first phase. We're looking about late 2025 , for the first part opening , which will be the first 19 gates. But in the meantime , you know , hang in there , pack your patience , as they say during this holiday travel season. Yeah.


S3: But really , you know , please take our recommendation and arrive at least 2 hours early for a domestic flight , 3 hours early for an international flight. You know , as I mentioned , there's lots of construction coming into the airport on Harbor Drive. So even if you're heading to Terminal two , you're probably going to run into some traffic congestion , especially at the peak travel times , you know , in the morning and and mid-afternoon. So be prepared to arrive early. Make sure that you have enough time to either get drops off or park , get to your terminal , get through security into the gate.

S4: Talk to us a little bit more about parking , because that has completely changed with the construction going on.

S3: Right now , the only parking we have available is the Terminal two Parking Plaza. And we do have valet options at both Terminal one and Terminal two. However , we got rid of the parking lot in front of Terminal one. So again , you know , we only have that that terminal two parking lot. So parking is really at a premium right now. If you make reservations in advance , at least , then you are guaranteed a spot on airport property. Another tidbit of advice that I love to give is , you know , if you have friends and family that can drop you off , that's a great option. But also public transit , you know , consider taking the MTA bus that has drop offs right in front of the terminals. We have a free shuttle. It's called the San Diego Flyer that goes from both of the terminals to the old town transit center. And Amtrak , any of those kind of things that can , you know , really help alleviate some of that traffic congestion that we're going to get so that you have an easier departure out of San Diego International Airport.

S4: Now , this past summer , we had headlines about what a nightmare it was for air travelers with delays and cancellations. People traveling around this holiday season have those.

S3: Time will tell. You know , there was a sort of a perfect storm , I think , this summer , you know , with the airlines , there was weather complications , there was staffing complications , there was an overbooking of the flights , you know , And that all came to a culmination. And we saw sort of a little bit of that meltdown over the summer. But everything that I've read and heard from , you know , any of the airline CEOs that are out there , you know , they have had said , you know , they understand that the summer was less than ideal and that , you know , they have made changes so that traveling during this holiday season will be a lot smoother. Another little tip I would like to give is make sure that , you know , you either download the airline app or have the airline website on bookmarked so that you can continue to check on your flight. You know , if you're going to be delayed or if it's canceled or any of those kind of things. So that you are understanding that before you get to the airport , the airline apps are great because they you know , a lot of them will give you the push alerts and so you can kind of keep tabs on it that way.

S4: And , of course , congratulations are in order. The Wall Street Journal recently ranked San Diego International as the second best midsize airport in the country. Now , with all the turmoil surrounding the airport over the years , I must say that came as a surprise.

S3: Of course , you know , in our hearts we feel like we are number one. But , you know , despite all of the construction and things that we have going on here at the airport , we were able to snag that second spot. So The Wall Street Journal was the one that compiled the list , and it was really focused on three things reliability , value and convenience. And they took the 50 largest U.S. airports and ranked them on 19 factors. So some of those were on time performance , the security wait times , the J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey and ticket prices. And and we're able to put this list together. So , you know , considering all of that , San Diego was ranked number second in the midsize airport category. And so , you know , we again , are very excited about that and can only hope that once the new terminal opens will be number one.

S4: Well , I've been speaking with Sabrina Low Piccolo from the San Diego Regional Airport Authority. And Sabrina , thank you and happy holidays.

S3: Thank you. Happy holidays as well.

S4: This is KPBS midday edition. I'm warring. CAVANAUGH with Jade Heineman. A trip to the hospital for someone experiencing homelessness may get them off the street long enough to be treated. But when discharge time comes. Homeless people often end up back on the streets. KPBS North County reporter Tanya Thorne tells us a solution to that problem is on the way in Escondido. When John Glasby was getting discharged from the VA hospital , he was homeless and had nowhere to go.


S4: He had been offered help before , but he lost trust thing.

S5: In some cases , seem like there's not really any help out there for single males. You know , it is just the time , man. It is hundreds , if not thousands of people out there that's in a similar situation. And it's just heartbreaking.

S4: Interfaith Community services offered Goolsby recuperative care straight from the hospital , so he gave it a chance.

S5: Very kind , caring people that kind of didn't push me , then forced me to do anything. Just basically they kind of guided me in and directed me to help , you know , with the resources to help myself. And I've over a few months there , I've actually recovered , got my confidence back.

S4: A caseworker helped Goolsbee start from scratch and work towards a brighter future.

S5: What's next for me ? I'm looking for an apartment right now. Studio probably because I don't need that much space. And being that I've dumped out of material , I don't necessarily. I don't feel like I need it. So I'll have like the basics and want to go back to school , educate myself. I want to get back into the community and give back to help others.

S4: Interfaith Hawthorne Resource Center is where Goolsbee was able to recover and regain control of his life. It's a 32 bed facility , but interfaith has much bigger plans , with a 106 bed care center scheduled to open in a couple of months in what used to be a motel. Greg Angel is the CEO of Interfaith Community Services. They've been working on the project for two years.

S5: So much has gone into this project that it just took time to bring a 1970s era budget motel to 2022 residential care facility standards.

S4: The property will offer a space where homeless people can heal following a hospital visit.

S5: Where we'll help them recover from the medical procedure , or , if it was a psychiatric hospitalization , will help them get stabilized with their mental health , and then we'll help them actually secure a stable home to move out of here into.

S4: But healing is only part of the mission here.

S5: We have registered nurses. We have licensed vocational nurses , social workers and case managers to help an individual heal and recover and then identify the strategy and complete the strategies to end their homelessness.

S4: Angel says the alternative to the space is discharging homeless people back onto the streets or to a shelter that may not be equipped to follow a plan of care. Once the new Abraham in the Leon Turk Center for Recuperative Care is open , the old Hawthorne facility will get a new mission to help homeless families.

S5: So it's more and more common that we have families with children coming to us who are living in their cars , who are finding refuge on our streets. And so this center will be a place of short term housing and support to help those families get on their feet , to support those kids and those adults and get them into homes of their own.

S4: Both centers are expected to open by January. That report is from KPBS. North County reporter Tanya Thorn , who joins me now. And , Tanya , welcome. Thanks for having me. The man you interviewed was discharged from the VA hospital , but two other area hospitals discharged homeless patients to interfaith. Yes. So Interfaith Community Services has about half a dozen facilities throughout North County that address different things. But their new Abraham and Lillian Kirk Recuperative Center is their largest project that they've taken on. So as the new facility opens , of course , they'll be working with the local hospitals like Tri City and Palomar , but they already have partnerships with the VA and Medi-Cal , which means that if someone has Medi-Cal and they're being treated in a hospital outside of North County , there's still a chance that that person could be a right fit to recover at an interfaith facility. And how does that work ? Who contacts who the hospitals or interfaith in ? Well , it's a partnership that the hospitals already have with interfaith. So if they come across someone that obviously has nowhere to go is homeless , Once they are getting discharged , then I'm sure they have like a list of resources that they can offer to this person. And interfaith has to be on that list , especially if there's a plan of care or any recovery that is needed following the discharge. About how long do patients get to stay at the center ? You know , well , it depends on the situation , right ? Someone who is getting discharged from the hospital and has nowhere to go and still needs a plan of care could be connected directly to interfaith recuperative center from the hospital where they can stay anywhere from 30 to 90 days. And of course , this all depends on how serious the recovery is. But , you know , also throughout that recovery , interfaith has caseworkers that will work with individuals to help them get their life back on track and out of homelessness. And that can be anything from helping them log back into an old email account , getting a new I.D. all the way to helping them get a job , go back to school or secure housing. Now , with housing in such short supply , how does the staff help recuperating patients , quote , end their homelessness ? You know , interfaith has been around for a long time. And like their CEO , Greg Angell , said , this isn't their first rodeo. But of course , they've had to adapt to the housing crisis. So to help their clients , they have their own transitional treatment programs where a client can go live after their recovery. And that serves as a transition until something permanent can be found. Another option is reunification with family. So helping their clients mend relationships with family that may be able to offer them a home. And this can be a reunification that happens locally or sometimes with family , out-of-state or in a different city. So I think caseworkers really try to maximize all of their options , including any affordable housing available or opportunities. Now , North County has a large share of the county's homeless population , but we've done reports that there are relatively few facilities aimed at helping homeless people in the North County. Is this new recuperative center unique in the area ? You know , it is very unique in general to San Diego. As I embarked on this story , I spoke to homeless advocates here in San Diego that have been growing concerned over the lack of attention being paid to this crisis. Homeless individuals getting discharged out of hospitals back onto the streets. So , yes , there's a lack of recuperative care beds in our entire county. Greg Angell estimates about 70 beds in our area. And while the 106 beds that interfaith will soon be opening up will help. This is a facility in North County that may not reach all of the populations needing help in our entire city. And we also have to think about how long it took for interfaith to build a center. It took two years and millions of dollars. So it's a resource that is urgently needed. And that is also , you know , building a bridge to connect people and helping them get out of homelessness. Can you tell us more about the family shelter that's opening up in the old center's facilities ? Yeah. So Recuperative care isn't Utah Interfaith. They already operated 32 beds at the Hawthorne Center in Escondido. But now that the last details are going into the new and bigger tech center , all their recuperative care will be transitioned there , meaning that this leaves a new opportunity for the Hawthorne Center. And as interfaith adapts with the times , they tell me something that has spiked in the last two years is family homelessness. So they have more families that can't afford the cost of living and are living in their cars. So the Hawthorne Center will be opening as a family shelter once all of the recuperative care transition is over. And they're going to be taking in about 10 to 14 families at a time and also help them get into a secure and stable home. Is the city of Escondido supplying some of the funds for these facilities ? You know , like I mentioned before , this was a project that took two years to build and , of course , money. We walked the property when Interfaith purchased the former motel two years ago. And back then , they estimated the project cost about $10 million. In the end , it ended up costing $15 million. That was funded with a combination of county and state funds , private donors and alone. And Interfaith notes that the former motel was causing the city problems. So they've turned that that around and have turned this blighted motel into a place of healing for our houseless neighbors. Are there ongoing support services planned for people like John Goolsby , the man you spoke with when he leaves the recuperative center ? We just when I spoke to John Goolsbee , I think he was so touched and grateful for what interfaith did for him that it seems like he's almost created a friendship with his social worker and just the people that really guided him to turn his life around. He was homeless , needed healing , and now he's talking about going back to school or getting his own place and getting a job. So beyond that , I think that relationship continues and interfaith continues to check in with their clients to make sure they're okay. I've been speaking with KPBS North County reporter Tanya Thorne. And , Tanya , thank you so much. Thank you , Maureen.

S1: The operator of California's last remaining nuclear plant is getting more than $1,000,000,000 in conditional funding to keep it up and running for five extra years. That's a way to help with the state's energy demands from Casey Acts in San Luis Obispo. Benjamin Perper reports.

S6: The announcement comes after the California legislature voted in late August to give the plant's operator utility peony a forgivable $1.4 billion loan to extend the plant's life until 2030. The federal government's new conditional $1 billion award , if approved , could cover most of that. Local supporters of the plant's continued operation , like Central Coast Congressman Salud Carbajal , celebrated Monday's news for helping keep the plant's carbon free energy on the grid. As the state faces an ongoing energy crisis , local opponents of Diablo Canyon's operations say the new funding is another step in the wrong direction. Linda Seeley is with San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace , an anti-nuclear group who has been vocal about their belief that the plant is not safe , reliable or cost effective. Seeley said the award to PGE is more evidence that local , state and federal governments are willing to keep extending the plant's lifespan , despite the fact that the extension is limited to five years.

S7: This could turn into a 20 year extension on a nuclear power plant built on fault lines. Millions of pounds of nuclear waste and all of this deferred maintenance. We could be getting ourselves way deeper into this than the public has been led to believe.

S6: PGE maintains the plant is safe and reliable. Steve Nesbitt is with the American Nuclear Society , a pro-nuclear group which has lobbied for Diablo Canyon's continued operation. On the safety question , Nesbitt says PGE will only secure a new license for the plant if the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission determines it's safe enough to keep operating.

S2: Personally , knowing what I know about the plant , I feel confident that will be the case. But I also know that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission isn't going to make such a finding unless they have thoroughly evaluated continued operation and are convinced that it can be done safely.

S6: Nesbitt praised the new Department of Energy funding , saying Diablo Canyon is essential to helping California keep its energy grid stable and achieve its ambitious decarbonization goals.

S2: I think that the Blue Canyon is a key part of meeting those goals and having a secure grid. And and I expect people will see that when the time comes.

S6: PGE CEO Paddy Poppy said in a press release Monday that though the money is conditional on the final amount could change , it's still a , quote , positive step forward to ensure electrical reliability for all Californians. Governor Newsom also praised the announcement , citing climate change and extreme weather as pressing reasons to keep the plant operating. He also said the investment can provide an onramp for more clean energy projects to come online. Diablo Canyon accounts for about 9% of the state's electricity portfolio , according to PGE. And I'm Benjamin Pepper in San Luis Obispo.

S1: Among San Diego's many ambitious climate action goals is the dramatic expansion of the city's overall tree canopy. However , a recent report from Voice of San Diego details just how far away the city is from this goal and the many roadblocks that stand in the way of a more robust tree canopy in the region. Joining me now with more on this is Emily Basim , a well accredited professional who specializes in health and the built environment. Emily , welcome. Hi.

S3: Hi. Thank you.


S3: It's important for both sustainability and health , especially , You know , as communities are expanding , development is often taking the place of natural features like trees. And this creates something known as the urban heat island effect , where there's essentially a sustained , elevated temperature in these urban environments when compared to surrounding urban or undeveloped areas. And this becomes a concern for populations like the unsheltered population who sometimes rely on shade and the outdoor environment to protect them from elevated temperatures. And then it's also important for things like greenhouse gas sequestration or improved air quality and energy savings.

S1: San Diego has a goal of doubling its tree canopy by 2030. How far along is the city in achieving this goal ? Yeah.

S3: Well , it's interesting. When I started doing this recording , I first dug into the city's Climate Action Plan in 2015. And the goal at that time was to increase urban tree canopy coverage from 13% to 15% by 2020. And most much progress has been made towards that goal at this point. And it's still around 13% and it's not even uniformly distributed. So areas like Elbow Park are very different than areas like Barrio Logan , for example.


S3: And what I found was that a lot of times the trees and areas that have the highest tree canopy coverage very closely relate to race and income. So like I said , Barrio Logan , for example , has about a 1% tree canopy coverage and it's 91% people of color and 63% people in poverty. Whereas you compare that to somewhere like Mission Hills , which has a 21% tree canopy coverage and it's 16% people of color and 21% of people in poverty. So it's it's very , very closely related when you really look at a map , how it's very connected to race and income.

S1: What kind of roadblocks are standing in the way of this eventual goal.

S3: One big issue is , is maintenance. So I think , you know , when people think of tree planting , you just think of maybe digging a hole and putting a tree in the ground. But it's so much more than that. You have to actually take care of the tree for its entire lifespan. And a lot of times funding historically has not gone into the long term care of a tree. Another one is lack of greenspace in these areas that have an urban heat island effect. They're covered in cement and asphalt. And oftentimes there's just it's hard to find places for to plant these trees , especially when you're thinking about not just the sapling , but having a tree grow into maturity , which is when you really start to see the benefits of trees. Another one is just that there is only 60% of the urban forest in San Diego is on public property. So getting buy in from public from private property owners can be a challenge as well. And then water is another big one. And just the challenges of watering trees in climates or in areas that experienced drought as well.


S3: It can't just be a one and done tree planting effort. There has to be funding that goes in. To scoping out where are places to plant trees. And the city also just for labor and ongoing maintenance for trees and caring for trees and putting funding into that as well. I also think that there's needs to be increased collaboration among the different organizations that are working towards tree planting. From what I found in my research , there have been some really great partnerships that has really strengthened the impact of tree planting. And when they're not siloed , these organizations and they're able to come together , it seems like they're they're able to get a lot more done and be much more effective.

S1: I've been speaking with Emily Basim , a well accredited professional who specializes in health in the built environment. Emily , thank you so much for your insight.

S3: Thanks so much for having me.

S4: This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with Jade Heineman. Filmmaker John Waters has embraced the titles of the Pope of Trash and the Sultan of Sleaze. He's also proud that his 1972 film Pink Flamingos , starring Devine , shocked audiences with its satiric assault on the status quo. But now he's a beloved cult figure , thanks to the mainstream success of Hairspray and the Broadway musical inspired by it. KPBS arts reporter Beth ACCOMANDO spoke with the guru of Bad Taste about his new John Waters Christmas show that he's bringing to San Diego.

S3: So you're going to be in San Diego next month for a John Waters Christmas.

S2: It's completely rewritten. I just finished writing it yesterday and now I have two and a half weeks to memorize it. It's about how everything seems like it's over there. The what's happening , it's like so much trouble and I'm going to tell you how to fix it. And it's all it's Christmas spoken , too. Can we even is that even going to work this year ? You know , everybody is despairing , including me. But I'm I believe in hope. So it's an optimistic show about the problems of Christmas.

S3: You could tour any time of the year , talk about anything , and people would come.

S2: It can , no matter what nationality or what religion or anything , it's coming at you like a steamroller from hell. And I actually like it. For me , though , it's just now how I make my living. I'm like a drag queen at Halloween , you know , if it's Christmas , I'm working. And then every once in a while , when I'm on tour , I look up and think , Oh , it really is Christmas. You know , I haven't done any shopping or that kind of thing. Where am I going to go ? Christmas shopping and airports are not good for that.


S2: Well , it made everything the pandemic made everything worse. And the scary part now is that nobody was mass anymore. And I know three people that got it last week , and I don't know whether it's still out there like a pesky crab rice used to be in the sixties.


S2: My grandmother and I used it and appropriated that and put it in female trouble in a much more dramatic way than really happened. But people all over the world always tell me about stories about their Christmas tree falling over. It happens a lot. Now.

S3: You occupy this kind of unique space where you're rebellious , you're antiestablishment , you're on the fringe , but your particular kind of challenge to authority seems to be free from the kind of hate and anger that usually fuels that kind of attitude.

S2: Yeah , because that's why I've been able to get away with it for 50 years because I make fun of the things I love , not hate. So I'm not mean spirited. And the first step is I make fun of myself for as I did in the very beginning of my career. And I still do. And that's the difference why the politically correct crowd is so self-righteous. That's how right wing people won in this last election because they're so reactionary to that. So you don't make try to make your enemy feel stupid. You make them feel smart and you make them laugh and then they'll listen to you and maybe you can change their mind. Yeah.

S3: Your stuff has so much joy and humor. Yes.

S2: Yes. It's not mean spirited and it's always said even racist like hairspray , because they were too dumb to realize it was anti-racist.

S3: Now you seem to steer clear of social media.

S2: No , I do. But I'm not interested what you had for lunch.

S3: Well , it just seems like we could use a voice like yours there.

S2: No , I would give away all my material. I just finished writing. I have to write a whole new Christmas show every year. A whole new other show. Books , movies. I'm not giving away my ideas on Twitter or whatever it's called. Only a Twitter idiot would do that. I sell my ideas. I don't care more. So I make my living. I work 10 hours a day. I'm not interested. And you know , it's Facebook. That's a lazy way to be a friend. You don't have to get your hair done. You don't have to go out. You don't have to make phone calls. Having old friends is work. You have to put out effort. Facebook is a fake friend. That's not real. Nobody likes anything. It's just a lazy friendship for slobs.

S3: Well , and it also seems like it just rewards the most extreme opinions without really being like clever or offensive in a in the way that you did.

S2: Well , I don't have to look that up , so I don't know. But I mean , I just I don't know how people have too much time on their hands. And , you know , I work 10 hours a day. I'm not really going to later. Hi. What are you doing ? Which happen ? Lunch ? I don't care. I just think it's a lazy way to be friends. It's hard to. And I have a lot of friends , but it's work. You got to call them. You got to go out to lunch. You got to see them. You got to get dressed to go out. You have to work to keep up a friendship , not just push a button and not see the people. Or it's just too easy for me.


S2: But , you know , I you know , people think I'm starting this movie tomorrow. What happened was that my book was optioned. I have to write the script to get it for the Hollywood system , cast it budget. You know , there's a lot of traps to go before that , but it's very exciting and it's real. So that's what I'm. A day. My Christmas. No , I'm going to take a week off after my Christmas talk with 20 cities this year more than I've ever had , and then start worrying that January 1st.




S2: We have been working on for three years. I'm going to star on Hollywood Boulevard. I know , I said. I'm so respectable , like a puke. But it's exciting , and it's. I'm doing the exact same thing. I haven't changed. I mean , my new book is completely insane. Is insane , expensive Legos. So I don't really think I've changed. I've been lucky enough that American humor has evolved way towards my direction and me having to go to them. But it was always because I wasn't mean.


S2: I get 20 newspaper day , I read , I get seven delivered , and I read them online. I'm a current offense hag. I ask questions , I'm nosy. You know , My friend always says , Why do you always ask so many questions ? Because I'm a writer that the writers ask questions. They want to know how other people think. And I think I've only got one life here , so I'm trying to live it every second. If I'm retired , I probably drop dead. And if I drop dead on stage , you're allowed to take selfies.


S2: They lived in L.A. They would have been used to me. They would have never listen. I go there once a year to pitch ideas. They all take my meetings. If they saw me at parties every week or so , I will talk for him next week.

S3: So I'm just curious. You've come to San Diego a number of times before.

S2: That's why we workshopped for every prayer cry baby boy. You know , because I did we did two workshops. You know , there's been some I think it was Cry-Baby that we did. There was Hairspray. It was hairspray. And so it was a great kind of experience. I played that punk rock club a lot where you right next to the airport. I used to play there a lot , so I have good memories from there. So I always have had a good audience there and there's a lot of good punk rockers there. I have some good punk rock friends there. My friend Justin Pierson lives there , so I'm excited to come back. I've had a very loyal , good audience there.

S3: All right. Well , I want to thank you very much for taking some time to talk. Okay.

S2: Okay. And I'll see you , hopefully. Yeah. The question if you've asked.

S4: That was Beth ACCOMANDO speaking with John Waters. There are still limited tickets left for the December 4th. John Waters Christmas at the Belly Up Tavern.

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