Recently, newly installed State Senator Brian Jones of the 28th District opened a small satellite office in the Escondido Chamber of Commerce building. I dropped by to take a photo of him and his staff and to talk about the bills he is pushing—and the politics of the area and state.
The new office is located at 720 N. Broadway, Suite 110, Escondido, CA 92025.
The senator is reaching out and holding meetings in those communities that are new to him to get to know his constituents better. “We are trying to learn about the new areas,” he said.
He’s visiting a lot of places. “I was in the Assembly from 2010-2016 and represented parts of North County up into Riverside,” he said. “But the city of Escondido and the city of San Marcos are new for me. And Valley Center too. We did a town hall meeting in Lemon Grove and right now in the first part of this year we are concentrating on the new areas.” He lives in Santee and got into politics by serving on the city council.
He’s been getting an earful. “People tell me that they are taxed too high and government is unresponsive or slow to respond to peoples’ needs,” he said. “The gas tax has people a little wound up. The fire fee came up in one of my meetings today. It’s gone but people feel they paid into it for several years and didn’t get a return on it. Which is true. They didn’t. ”
“The business climate in California is a little tough right now for small businesses,” says Jones. He says people keep raising the minimum wage as an issue with him. As the minimum wage moves towards its upper limit of $15 an hour, small businesses are starting to feel the pinch. Especially restaurants as they have to give back to their servers who receive tips. “As it continues to increase between now and 2022, restaurants need a break. A lot of businesses do, but that one keeps coming up [as an issue.]”
The same is true of farm workers. They are affected by new rules mandating that they be paid overtime when they work for long hours during seasonal harvesting. “Those of us who are consumers will see this as the price of produce goes up,” he said. “Many ag producers have had to cut back on the number of workers.”
On the subject of water, Senator Jones said, “Obviously a big factor is that San Diego County residents have been doing a good job in decreasing our reliance on Northern California water. We’ve done a good job of increasing our supply from the Imperial Valley with the agreement the San Diego County Water Authority has made with the Imperial Irrigation District. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
The senator called the law coming into effect this year limiting every adult to 50 gallons per day of indoor water use “a nice gift that Governor Jerry Brown left for incoming Governor Gavin Newsom that he signed that goes into effect after he’s gone, so that Newsom has to deal with the backlash of that.”
Does he think there will be a backlash? “Absolutely! There already is! People are already having anxiety over it,” he said.
The senator also talked about bills he is working for in Sacramento. Four bills he sponsored passed last week, right before I interviewed him. Of course, for them to become law they would need to be passed in the Assembly and signed by the governor.
One bill makes it easier for private investigators, who currently have to show two forms of ID. SB 385, the Private Investigator License Cleanup, the would change that to one modernized form of ID.
Lawrence Welk Resorts asked for SB 578 Timeshare Company Updates, which permits a timeshare company to offer lodging outside a 20-mile radius of the property being presented if the consumer agrees. This lets them put up guests who visit for sales presentations at locations more than 20 miles away. “We’re loosening the restrictions on that so that they can do better business,” said Jones.
SB 663 the Veterans Organization Property Tax Exemption would extend the property tax exemption afforded to veteran organizations. It allows a portion of a veterans organization’s property used for fraternal, lodge, or social club purposes to be exempt from property tax. The measure is sponsored by the American Legion. It would affect facilities such as VFWs and Foreign Legion posts.
SB 510 the Human Trafficking on School Grounds Enhancement would strengthen penalties for crimes related to human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation on or near school grounds. This is a big problem in San Diego County and one the District Attorney has created a special department to address.
A bill that is close to Jones’s heart and is a key piece of legislation is his SB 452 Cancer Registry Patient Notification. “I’m a cancer survivor,” Jones said. “Currently in California if you have cancer your doctor reports all of your information to the California Cancer Registry, which is a bona fide organization [part of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH)] but all your personal health information and personal data, name, address and social security number all go into this database.” Registered researchers have access to this data. “There is a significant vetting of the people who have access to the data,” he said. “The problem is the doctor is supposed to tell you when he or she enters your data into this registry.”
This doesn’t violate federal HIPAA Privacy Rules, because the registry has a waiver. “The problem is either the doctors aren’t telling the patients what the registry is for, or the information is getting lost,” he said. This problem was brought to Jones’s attention recently by a constituent who had cancer and didn’t tell anyone. Yet she received a call from a university researcher who told her they were studying her type of cancer. She “freaked out” and demanded to know how the researcher got her information.
“My bill simply removes the responsibility from the doctor to the registry to send out the notification,” said Jones. “They are fighting it. They don’t want to do it. They are using the excuse that it’s too expensive. They say it will cost in the multiple millions of dollars to comply. Which is ridiculous, because they could just send an email with a brochure. We are saying they need to communicate this to the patient. They are saying it would cost too much money. Which is a tactic of a department when they don’t’ want to comply with legislation.” That bill is stuck in the Senate’s appropriations committee at the moment.
Jones is assigned to several committees. He is vice chairman of Natural Resources, which oversees parks and water and is vice chairman of the Insurance committee. He sits on the Government Organization committee, which oversees gambling, alcohol and tobacco. He is on the Governor’s Select Committee for dealing with wildfires and the subcommittee of the Budget Committee for transportation.
The Wildfire committee just had its first meeting. A lot of the discussion was on insurance in the high fire prone areas. “We’re trying the figure out what direction we are taking the committee,” said Jones. “We have heard from Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot and an insurance panel spoke to us about how the state can mitigate and prevent wildfires. There has been a lot of discussion of dead tree removal, access and emergency exits.”
Wildfire is “a big deal in just about all of my district,” said the senator.
I asked how he feels about the connection between wildfire and developments, i.e. do sprawling developments invite wildfires? Especially developments sited so that residents are potentially trapped by poor evacuation roads. Such as what happened during the cataclysmic fires in Northern California last year.
“I would say that there is some legitimate concern about that,” said Jones. “I think the majority of the developments that have burned recently are older developments. I think if we going to have that honest discussion, we also have to be honest that the state has not done a good job in managing its forests in those areas.”
He added, “What a lot of Californians don’t realize is that these forests that have not been managed have multiple hundreds of percentages more trees per acre than they had fifty years ago. In some cases they have ten times more trees than they had fifty years ago.”
This is the result of policies that discouraged natural fires from culling the forests as they did for millions of years. “Or the trees haven’t been harvested like they should have been and thinned out. Trees are a natural renewable resource that provide lumber, paper and supplies that we use every day. And if we are not cleaning the forests for those purposes we are going to continue to get these wildfires that are out of control. There is an estimate that in the Sierras currently one out of five trees are dead. When those trees are standing they are Roman candles. They go up. They burn intensely. They burn hot. They burn fast. And it’s hard to control fires in that situation. We’ve got to get rid of those dead trees.”
He concedes the federal government could manage its forests better, but says state policies have hampered the feds. “State forests need to get their forests under control and it’s expensive,” he said. “We have ignored it so long that right now it’s a very expensive process. The transportation of the dead trees is a problem.” Dead trees don’t have a value. They can’t be made into lumber or milled into paper. “Because they have been dead for so long they are literally good for nothing,” he said. “They can use them in the biomass electric burners in Northern California, but a lot of those have gone out of business. The expense is transporting them from where they are to where they can be used for energy. The state government will have to subsidize those transportation costs.”
Tied to development is the issue of affordable housing, and state and local policies that make it difficult for anyone who is not rich to rent or buy housing. “I certainly wouldn’t support putting low income housing in wildfire areas!” Jones said. “There are a handful of bills coming out this year that my colleagues in the Bay Area think they have some good ideas about solving what they are calling a housing crisis in California.”
Senator Jones believes that the state instead has “a regulation crisis. A NIMBY crisis more than anything. More than anything that has increased the cost of housing in California.”
The solution, he says, “is to build more housing and shorten the time for approvals. Reform CEQA, so that it actually protects the environment, but allows things to be built, rather than an attorney employment program, which it is now. A couple of bills have gotten out of committee regarding CEQA for low income housing. It streamlines the process for developments that are a hundred units or less. It passed with controversy, but it did pass.”
Republicans are quite outnumbered in the Senate. If two special elections go their way in June, the chamber should be divided 11 to 29. Right now it is 10 to 28.
The most common question Jones is asked is if he is frustrated being in a Senate where the majority can pass anything it wants without votes from the minority?
“I’m not as frustrated as I thought I was going to be,” he answered. “I don’t have an answer as to why it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. They can pass any financial thing they want. They have three more votes than they need for the supermajority. That may why it’s not as edgy as before when I was in the Assembly because we were right at that number. If they wanted to pass anything they needed at least one or two Republican votes. For raising taxes and fees and amendments to put on the ballot, they can do it without a Republican vote.”
The senator keeps hearing rumors about attempts to weaken Proposition 13, which protects property taxes from being increased without a two-thirds vote of a district or political entity.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if in August we didn’t see something to try to amend the constitution,” he said. A proposal that keeps surfacing is the so-called “split-roll” which would peel off commercial property taxes from residential property taxes. “Which would be a disaster for the economy if that passed,” he said.
Senator Brian Jones and his staff encourages constituents to reach out if they have issues or need help.
720 North Broadway #110
Escondido, CA 92025
Phone: (760) 796-4655
Fax: (760) 796-4658