SGV Connect 108 Interview Chris and Damien Interview Senate Candidate Sasha Renée Pérez
CG: Hi, I'm Chris Greenspon here with Damian Newton for SGV Connect. We're meeting with Alhambra city council member and State Senate hopeful Sasha Renee Perez of Alhambra. Sasha thanks for meeting up with us and Damien, so good to have you here along for an in person interview. DN: Yeah, this is actually the first time that I've sat with you to do an interview. Usually, we've been doing them over the internet together. So this is exciting for me. CG: You're so tall in person. Sasha, wouldn't you agree? SRP: Yeah, absolutely. CG: Okay, so Damien, why don't you get the interview started for us? DN: All right, we'll start with a pretty traditional question here, which is, what are your top priorities if you're elected to the State Senate? SRP: Yeah. So I think you know, some of my top priorities for the state senate are really reflective of many of the things that I've worked on already on the city council level. You know, I've been a champion for issues of labor in the economy, right, passing our city's first hero pay ordinance that gave additional pay to grocery store workers, pharmacy store workers, and city workers, including part time employees to recognize the work that they put in during the pandemic, passed our city's first project labor agreement. I've been a champion on issues of sustainability, past our city's first sustainability plan, worked with Congressman Judy Chu, to get that plan funded with $670,000. And have also championed issues of transportation and infrastructure too. We're actually currently working on our first active transportation plan to create a bike lane system to improve some of the pedestrian protections that currently exist in Alhambra. So all of those kinds of issues, I expect them to continue to be priority for me, as I head up to the legislature. I think one of the things that will be different is education. My background and my experience is really in education. I've worked in education for the last 15 years, that's been my like policy expertise. I feel like I have unfinished business as I head up to the legislature. I worked on a really important Cal Grant reform bill. And it got halfway passed, it didn't get the funding. But the governor signed it and said that this is a good piece of legislation, we'll see if we can fund it in 2024. But as you guys know, there is a recession coming. And so I don't think we're gonna have funding. So I expect to have to continue to carry that legislation once I get elected. So some top line things for me. CG: Any follow up to that, Damien? DN: No, I think the the next questions are actually would have been my follow up, so... CG: Okay, well, follow up question: in the state senate capacity, what road and street works would you want to seek funding for? SRP: Right, so in my state senate capacity, you know, especially because this is a larger, more regional position, for me, my focus would be on creating more interconnectivity with public transit that we have here in senate district 25, right. There's very limited options when you're down here in Alhambra. Things like the gold line and everything, you got to connect to that up in the foothills or in South Pasadena. So creating more connectivity down here and more rail options down here in Alhambra would be really important to me. We're next to the biggest hub, which is the city of Los Angeles. And yet, we don't have many mobility options that easily connect folks there. We know that's where people go for work, we know that's the major job center. And yet, we don't create our transit that way. So there's a lot of investment that we have to do on the front end to make that connectivity happen. In addition to that, most of the funding that the state provides doesn't go towards active transportation, it goes towards freeway improvements. And while those things are important, we know that most cities need funding for ATP improvements. And I know this because our city has been competing for many of those grants for the last decade, and we've continued to lose out on it. It's basically like you apply for this grant; it's almost like a test, and if you don't get an A++, you fail, you don't get any money. We went through that process so many times and lost, that we actually used emergency funding from the city of Alhambra's budget in order to fund our active transportation plan. But if the state could open up more revenue sources to give more ATP funding to cities, you could see a huge impact, like bike lanes, like pedestrian protections that we've been dying to see in our local communities. DN: When we talk about that, the money that's has been made available to cities has been the 710 stuff money, you know, now that the 710 is not happening or the extension is not happening, that the money that's available, and Joe at Streetsblog's covered quite a bit sort of those struggles with Metro to get them to do active transportation funding with that. Obviously, as a state senator, or as a city council member, you don't have direct control over it. But when you look at what's going on right now in Alhambra, do you see any projects that really are crying out for that sort of funding? SRP: Yeah, well, you know, one of the exciting things that happened over the course of the last two years is Metro really adjusted its position around how we could use measure R funds. So before measure R funds could strictly be used for freeway improvements. And it's, it's a ton of money, right? But that's really restrictive, if we're not allowed to use it for anything active transportation related. Now we're able to apply it to active transportation projects. And so that's been a shift. So if you look at some of the measure R projects that we have coming down the pipeline, they include walkability paths, they include bike lanes, and that's because we're allowed to use that funding in that way. But it was a policy shift. And myself and members of active SGV. And residents from communities all over reached out to Metro to ask them to make that decision. And that was a change that happened in just the last two years. So it's really exciting. Because before, we couldn't really be that imaginative with the funding... CG: So you could start - potentially - answering this question talking about your work here at the local level. But I imagine that this is going to apply to the state level as well, or I should say a regional district level. So what's an issue or goal you're fighting for that hasn't necessarily been popular or easy for your constituents to swallow? SRP: Oh, my goodness, oh, it's housing. Undoubtedly, it's housing. Housing is probably one of the most controversial topics that we talk about. And, you know, not just with residents, it's also with other elected officials. You know, we hear people complain a lot about homelessness and the rising homelessness issue that California has been facing. And we know what the solution is, the solution is that we have to build more affordable housing, we simply just don't have enough units. But that is easier said than done, because people become very uncomfortable with the idea that, you know, you might build several units next to them, and is that going to change the character of their neighborhood? That's the first question that comes up. You know, on my council, it's been a difficult topic of discussion. I feel like my role in that is to really narrate the issue from a personal level. Because I'm 30 years old, I'm not a homeowner, I wish I was a homeowner, I would like to buy a home. My boyfriend, who's here as well, you know, he wants to buy a home with me as well. And it's impossible. I mean, there's homes that are going for 1.5 million that are right on the other side of the freeway; there's no way that I would be able to afford that. And it feels like I've been saving, and I cannot economically catch up. And I think there's a lot of people under the age of 45 that feel that same way. And it's been difficult. And then you add into that the rising cost of rent, there's very [few] units available to rent here in Alhambra. You apply for any place you're competing with anywhere from 20 to 25 people for a location, because we have one of the best school districts in LA County. So you know, we're dealing with a crisis here. But for folks that are older and might already be homeowners, they don't really see and feel the crisis the way the rest of us are. And so it's really my job to talk about that at the personal level so that people can really understand the impacts. And for me to kind of dispel many of the the myths truths that get spread around what's really happening with housing. CG: You have a follow up question in mind. Damian? DN: Well, I was gonna say a lot of our coverage around housing is also tied in with the regional homeless crisis. And so when we talk about building affordable housing, that's there's always a tie in there, too. So I was wondering if you could maybe give like a brief overview of what you see as the status of the regional crisis in the area, and maybe what is and what could be being done to address it. And housing, of course, is going to be part of that, I assume. SRP: Yeah. I think the way that I've seen the regional crisis and something I worry about is that, you know, I think that it's a growing problem, it's going to continue to get worse, right? Especially as rent continues to skyrocket. What happens when rent skyrockets. People are not able to pay rent, and then that means that they're then going to be back paid on red, that means that they're then going to be evicted. And that means that you then have somebody else that's homeless that's living out on the streets, and we're seeing that process happen over and over again. And so that's going to lead to an increase in the homelessness crisis. And so it's a there's all of these factors that are coming into play. And I think residents in particular feel very frustrated because they feel like they haven't seen their dollars being effective in resolving this right? We passed measure H, you know, we passed all of this funding, and they're asking, why hasn't more been done? Well, more hasn't been done, because we have not been building the amount of units that we need to house these folks, right? Someone that's homeless, you know, right now, the first thing that happens, you're homeless, you receive services, you're being placed into shelter. And once you're placed into a temporary shelter, which, if you've ever been in a temporary shelter is not a nice place to stay, right? You're in bunk beds, you're around tons of people. It's a very uncomfortable situation. Most people want to be in their own either apartment, maybe they're with one other person, those kinds of units, we just don't have enough of them available. And so there's this this issue, this pipeline issue where you have all these folks that are then stuck waiting for a unit that are in shelters, and eventually they give up, they go back onto the streets. And you know, I've shared this with you before Chris, I have many family members that have been chronically homeless. I've watched them go through that cycle. And it is very discouraging. It's exhausting, when you're constantly being given hope, and you're waiting, and then nothing happens. CG: So we've spoken like you said before - about your connection to Alhambra - I'm piggybacking a little bit off of the fact you said we've spoken before. But what's what's your connection to the greater district that you're running for in State Senate? What is what are these other towns matter to you? And what's your perception of them? SRP: Yeah, so I've been here for a long time. I used to actually live for a period of time, out in Glendora. That was where my parents bought their first home. And so we stayed out there for some time. My grandmother lived here in Alhambra. And so I did a lot of kind of moving back and forth between Glendora and Alhambra. So very familiar with that area. You know, I grew up going to the Rose Parade when I was little and waking up at like, two, three in the morning, to go and to get seats out on the sidewalk. And, you know, to do that, during New Year's Day is a tradition and, you know, traveling and biking to places like South Pasadena and San Marino and connecting to all of these communities. I mean, I really feel like I have deep connections here. And I think you see that reflected in a lot of my support, too. Even with Monterey Park, like I went to mark Keppel High School, which is right at the border, many of my friends, my longtime friends, even my former campaign manager for my city council campaign, we went to Mark Keppel High School together. So there's a lot of interconnectivity that I have here. And, you know, that's why gives me so much pride to be able to run in this area. It's like, getting to reconnect with people that I haven't seen in some time and getting to let them know that they get to vote for me, which is really cool, too. DN: You mentioned sort of a lot of the political support you have in your allies - it's sometimes helpful for people that don't pay attention to day to day politics, just to know sort of what your affiliations are, who supports you. I think the first time I actually saw you as an Active SGV post where you were helping with put some sharrows in maybe. So it might be helpful for people to know who are your political allies? What do you see as sort of your your base? And what groups do you regularly interact with? SRP: Yeah, I mean, I've definitely somebody that leans more progressive. And so I think you see that kind of reflected in my endorsements, too. So like Senator Caroline Menjivar who just run her state senate seat out in the San Fernando Valley, she's endorsed me. She ran an incredible race against a guy that everybody thought was going to win, because he was the son of the man that used to hold the seat. And she defeated him. And I thought that that was such an incredible story. And I supported her early on. So it's such an honor to have her support. Assemblymember Alex Lee, who I think is considered to be, you know, one of the strongest progressives, I think, in the State Assembly and also the youngest member of the State Legislature. He's also endorsed me as well. And then, you know, you see a lot of the other kind of activists right, there's many elected officials that have endorsed me, over 40 elected officials that are in the district that have come behind me. Majority of my city council, majority of Monterey Park City Council, folks out in Rosemead, Arcadia, South Pasadena, Pasadena, and then the activists, right. I mean, you have folks like Brandon Lamar, who's a civil rights activist and ran an incredible campaign for Pasadena City Council and continues to organize in his community. Alison Henry, who played a key role in passing measure H in the city of Pasadena. She's also supporting me. And it brings me you know, so much pride to have some of those folks behind me. Wesley Reutimann is also someone else who's behind me. I know you guys know Wes. He's an incredible friend and incredible ally. Wes is obviously supporting me in his personal capacity. But we've done a lot of work together. And I think what makes me really proud is the people that support me are supporting me because of my work, and because of how consistent I've been as a leader, right? It's not just because, you know, oh, you know, we went to school together or something. There's like a deep relationship there. And on top of that, a shared value system. And to me, that's really cool to be able to shared value system with somebody and for them to say, you know, you're a person we want to get behind you. And you know, you're our candidate, I have so much respect for the folks that are behind me. And I feel just incredibly honored to have them supporting me. CG: Well, like your opponents, you've got a lot going on at this point that you're on this campaign. Why is it all worth it? Why are you seeking higher office? SRP: Oh, my gosh, it's so funny, because I think a lot about this, and I'm like, this is like, the craziest thing I've ever done. Right? I mean, you have to raise an absolutely absurd amount of money, you know, traveling back and forth, not just across the district, which the district is massive, right? I mean, we're talking about an area that stretches out to like Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga, like, that's a ton of mileage that's like, easily, like three hours of traffic for me. And then, you know, traveling up to Sacramento to meet with some of these folks too. And it's a lot to take in, it's like drinking from a firehose, but I love the work. I mean, state policy is really where I began my policy work all the way back in college, and, you know, being able to make a big difference, you know, up in Sacramento as I was a young person, and to work on bills and to meet with members of the legislature, and I just thought, "Man, one day, I want to be able to do this." And it's incredible now to be in a position where I feel like I could very well, you know, be that person. I feel, and I've said this so many times, but, you know, I have the strongest record, I think of anyone that's running right now of anybody that's considering to run right now, I feel very proud of the things that I've accomplished. And I've done that by building really strong relationships with my other council colleagues and understanding exactly who they are. I think politics is part policy, but it's also like a psychological analysis of the people that you serve with, and really getting to understand what matters to them on a personal level. And I think I've done that super well. And I'm excited to be able to do that up in Sacramento. I love taking on big challenges and making things that people say are impossible making those things happen. So... CG: Well, thank you for about 18 minutes of your time. Damien, would you like to thank her as well? DN: I'd love to, yes, thank you for 18 minutes of your time and this is I believe your third or fourth time on the SGV Connect podcast, so thank you for being - I always joke at five you get a swatch. So hopefully, hopefully we have a chance to talk again soon. SRP: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you guys so much.