Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 30, 2011

Palo Alto's legislators tackle rail, technology, green energy

Eshoo, Simitian and Gordon united on high-speed rail

by Gennady Sheyner

When U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, state Sen. Joe Simitian and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon called a joint press conference in April to talk about high-speed rail, the occasion marked not only a turning point for the $98.5 billion project but a rare case of Palo Alto's three representatives all speaking with the same voice.

In a joint statement, Eshoo, Simitian and Gordon called for a "blended" rail system in which high-speed rail and Caltrain would share tracks on the Peninsula. They rejected the California High-Speed Rail Authority's proposal for elevated tracks and urged the authority to drop its environmental analysis for what they called a "duplicative system."

"If we can barely find the funds to do high speed rail right, we most certainly cannot find the funds to do high speed rail wrong," Eshoo, Simitian and Gordon said.

Though rail officials initially voiced skepticism about the plan for shared tracks, the proposal gained momentum as the year progressed and was one of the key additions in the revised business plan that the rail authority released in November.

High-speed rail was a common thread for the three legislators in a busy year dominated by budget woes and partisan squabbling. And while they walked in perfect sync on this issue, each followed a distinct agenda in 2011. Here are some of their legislative highlights:

Anna Eshoo

Eshoo, who will be seeking a fresh term in the U.S. Congress next year, spent much of her 2011 grappling with high-tech issues, including advocating for an auction of the nation's broadcast spectrum and opposing the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which she argued would bring unintended consequences for small companies in her tech-savvy 14th District.

On Nov. 15, Eshoo joined 10 other members of Congress in writing a letter to the House Judiciary committee, arguing that the wording in SOPA is too broad and that the act "would cause serious and long-term damage to the technology industry, one of the bright spots in our economy."

Technology rarely strayed from Eshoo's radar in 2011. In May, she introduced a bill that would require transportation officials to install broadband conduit during certain highway construction projects. And she ended the year on a high note, when the Federal Communication Commission released rules to implement the CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act, an Eshoo proposal from 2010 that requires broadcasters to turn down the volume on television commercials. Eshoo told the Weekly earlier this month that she was surprised by how much this proposal resonated with the public.

"I've never written a bill that's been so popular and received so much attention from consumers across the country," Eshoo said.

Joe Simitian

Simitian capped his final year in Sacramento by seeing 11 of his bills become law, including a seven-year-old proposal from two Palo Alto police officers to ban sales of certain cough medicines to minors.

Senate Bill 514, which aims to keep minors from getting high on DXM (a chemical in some over-the-counter cough medicine), was one of two pieces of legislation that were pitched to Simitian as part of his annual "There Oughta Be a Law" Contest. Another bill, Senate Bill 445, was inspired by Mary Minow, founder of the website Librarylaw.com. It expands California's library-privacy laws to include digital information such as online chats, email and e-books.

Perhaps his most ambitious bill of the year was SB 2X, which requires California's utility companies to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. In an April letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, Simitian argued that the bill would improve air quality, address climate change and "bring energy investment dollars, tax revenues and jobs to California." Brown subsequently signed the bill into law.

Rich Gordon

Gordon, who pledged in his pre-election campaign to bring consensus to the highly partisan Capitol, concluded his rookie year by seeing 15 of the 19 bills he authored signed by Gov. Jerry Brown — the highest proportion of any state lawmaker.

One of his bills, Assembly Bill 587, exempts volunteers from the state's prevailing-wage requirements for public-works projects. Another one, AB 1288, boosts protection for seniors with money in trusts.

Gordon also authored bills that extended existing state programs. AB 703, for example, ensured that public land trusts such as the Peninsula Open Space Districts would receive tax exemptions for the next 10 years. AB 1149, meanwhile, extends the state's Plastic Market Development program, which provides financial incentives for California-based processors of recycled plastics.

Gordon also authored AB 512, which increases incentives for local governments that generate renewable energy. Brown signed the bill into law in October.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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