California State Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) seems like a man who really could tell you his life story in three minutes flat. He demonstrated his mastery of the elevator pitch before a crowd of about 35 people at a forum hosted by the Menlo Democrats club.
Also in the spotlight was former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who represented District 22 in the legislature from 2002 to 2008. The two candidates face off in November for a seat in the newly formed state Senate District 13, which includes most of San Mateo County and portions of Santa Clara County, such as Palo Alto and Mountain View.
The pair took turns answering four questions fielded by club president John Woodell over the course of 30 minutes in a back room at the Menlo Hub Tuesday night, July 17.
First up, high-speed rail. Hill said he refused to support the newly passed high-speed-rail bill until it incorporated electrification of Caltrain, provided stand-alone value to the Central Valley where the first segment will be constructed, and guaranteed a two-track design. He voted in favor of the bill, although rail watchdogs question whether the guarantee really exists.
Lieber had a different perspective. "It's a bad bill," she said. "It's a bad deal for the Peninsula." She suggested that given the state's economic struggles, there are higher priorities like education and the environment.
The discussion then turned to restoration of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. An offshoot group of the Sierra Club wants to put an initiative on the November ballot that would create a plan eventually leading to draining the reservoir to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. San Francisco draws heavily upon the reservoir and supplies its water to other parts of the Peninsula.
"I understand why they want to, but the Bay Area relies on water from the Hetch Hetchy," Lieber said. She suggested a focus on levees instead, commenting that levee failure could lead to salt water intrusion that could wreak havoc on the Bay Area's water supply.
Hill voiced concerns over San Francisco getting to decide what happens to the water supply serving residents all along the Peninsula.
"Do we have a voice in that? Yes," he said. "But we don't have a say." He said one of the first pieces of legislation he would author, if elected, would be a bill guaranteeing that all Bay Area communities that rely on the reservoir would get a say in its future.
Job creation was up next. Both candidates agreed that jobs are good, but had different approaches.
Hill, who chairs the state Assembly's biotechnology committee, advocated streamlining regulations for the biotech industry by removing redundancies, for example, to stimulate an innovative economy. People need "the right education and the right environment for job creation," he said.
"I think it's good to talk about all those values. It gets you endorsed by business lobbying groups," Lieber said, hinting that her lack of endorsement by those same groups was a plus. Since the current Legislature has cut funding for education, she said, it's time to ask business owners to give a little bit more to their communities. She also suggested focusing on renewable energy for job creation.
Finally, the candidates shared how their "educational journeys" influence their policies. Both overcame early academic difficulties by attending community colleges, which Lieber described as the "engine of opportunity." She would like to see curricula emphasize individual and entrepreneurial creativity rather than multiple-choice tests.
Hill, who flunked out of UC Berkeley his first year, turned to the College of San Mateo to regroup before going back to the university.
"To me, the community college system really saved my educational career. I wouldn't be here if they didn't take everyone," he said.