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November 25, 2021

Senator’s Virtual Stop-Over in Scotts Valley Received Favorably

It was a bit of a love-in when State Senator John Laird updated the Scotts Valley City Council on the goings-on in Sacramento last week.

With a slew of housing, wildfire prevention and social service bills moving through the upper chamber, there’s been a lot going on, and elected officials here made sure Laird knows they think he’s been doing right by local residents.

“This has been a crazy year,” Laird said Oct. 6 during the Council meeting, noting he personally had 17 bills (of 12 allowed) moving through the state government apparatus.

Laird said he managed to get 10 to the governor’s desk, and an additional two funded in the budget—which he said came out $75 billion ahead of expectations due to the post-vaccination pandemic economic recovery.

“We put half of it in reserves or returned it to people who were struggling,” he said. “We brought schools back to where they were before the pandemic.”

Laird had a first-hand look into the breakdown of the State unemployment system and says he’s been working hard to fix the Employment Development Department, which lost billions to fraud and prevented many from receiving pandemic assistance when its systems failed.

He said EDD had an unemployment plan that was never implemented. He compared such a fail-safe mechanism to when he loaned about 100 staffers to the Department of Motor Vehicles when it had a crunch while instituting high-tech Real ID licenses.

“They have to update their system,” he said, “so they’re not caught flat-footed” and surprised.

“The two most controversial bills in this session were housing,” he said, referring to Senate Bills 9 and 10, which removed some local control over the development process to help spur the creation of housing in the hopes of lessening the affordability crisis.

Laird voted for SB9 but voted against SB10.

SB9 lets people with suburban-style homes put an extra unit on their property, without homeowners having to go through the regular municipal approval process, as long as a plan meets certain conditions.

SB10 lets local governments zone land for up to 10 units as long as the parcel is along a transit corridor without having to go through the normal California Environmental Quality Act process.

But if such an ordinance goes against a voter initiative, it can still be adopted by a two-thirds vote, which Laird said troubled him.

“Thank you for all the hard work,” said Councilman Jack Dilles, adding he particularly appreciated Laid helping get a temporary penalty reprieve for the introduction of green waste collection programs, allowing communities like Scotts Valley to “take a breath and not worry about meeting all of the deadlines.”

Mayor Derek Timm commented that it sounded like a pretty “exhausting” year for the legislator.

“Thank goodness for the influx of extra dollars,” he said.

Councilman Randy Johnson said Laird’s done a good job of taking the pulse of the voters he represents.

“My compliments on really how you kind of keep your eye on the ball, when it comes to paying attention to what the needs of your community actually are,” he said, adding local officials have received literally hundreds of emails about SB9 and 10. “Local control is extremely important to local government.”

Johnson said he finds it interesting how high-density laws are popular in Sacramento, while many of the State elected officials actually live in single-family homes.

Laird also reported the only meeting he took at the end of the legislative session that wasn’t related to bills in play was with the CEO of PG&E, Patricia Poppe, following a slew of power outages in the region.

“I actually really like her,” he said. “She had this Midwestern sensibility.”

But the biggest wave of gratitude came from Councilmembers thanking Laird for helping save the city from the CZU Lighting Complex fires when firefighting resources were being held back.

“It’s a story that will never be told, probably, because you’re too modest to tell it,” Vice Mayor Jim Reed said. “We can’t thank you enough.”

So after being encouraged by the comments, Laird told of how on the second morning of the CZU Complex, he decided to start hassling people in Sacramento to get serious about fighting the blaze by texting them with each new evacuation order.

“‘There goes Lompico,’” went one. “There was one time I went, ‘There goes Scotts Valley.’

“That totally had their attention.”

Laird also described multiple initiatives he’s spearheaded to prepare California for future wildfires, including one that had just been signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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