February 17, 2004 > Interview with Alberto Torrico, Candidate for District 20 State Assembly
Interview with Alberto Torrico, Candidate for District 20 State Assembly
TCV: Can you tell our readers something of your background, what you are doing currently and some of your successes that relate to the position of State Assembly.
AT: I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I lived in the Tri-Cities since 1980. I grew up in Fremont, attending Horner Jr. High School and Irvington High School. I went to college at Santa Clara University and law school in San Francisco at University of California at Hastings. Out of law school, I got a job as an attorney representing labor unions. I worked in Oakland and later, Los Angeles.
Beginning in the year 2000, I got a job with the Valley Transportation Authority as an attorney in labor relations, representing both management and labor. I have worked in both the public and private sector. I had moved back to Newark and in 2001, I ran for and won a seat on the city council of Newark in a very hotly contested race. Now, I am the Vice Mayor. My law practice at this time is in Fremont.
I ran for the city council on three main issues. People were very concerned about our schools - making sure the city and the school district forged greater partnerships and the city re-committed to after-school programs for the kids. The city has now fully funded a host of programs at the high school, in large part staffed by city employees. To spite budget constraints, we have continued our commitment to after school programs at Silliman Center and the Community Center. We can do this because we balance our budget. We are proud of that. We have a $2.5 million surplus this year. We have a $30 million reserve.
The second issue was traffic. In a city like Newark and the Tri-City area, this is a problem. When I grew up, you could get across town in 10 or 15 minutes. These days, you can't get anywhere in that time. In Newark we were concerned about people bypassing 80 and 84 to get to their destinations. In particular, people were concerned about traffic at our schools. I am proud of the fact that we are addressing that. When I was elected, the city had set aside money to fund crossing guards at all of our schools. We had not implemented that. The problem was to develop a system for hiring the crossing guards. I met with the Superintendent and a couple of school board members. We brought our traffic person in and they brought theirs in and through a series of meetings, we worked out our differences. The next school year, we had crossing guards at every school in Newark. Another part of the traffic piece is that we have educated our citizens that there are ways in which they can get stop signs, stop lights and speed bumps in the neighborhood. I would like to see more synchronized lights in the Tri-City area. This encourages people to drive at or below the speed limit.
The third area is affordable housing - and housing in general. I don't take credit for all these things. We work together on the council and some of these things were coming anyway, but I believe my campaign galvanized our council. Since my election we are one of the few cities in Alameda County that has a housing element that has been approved by the State. That means our plans meet with state guidelines and we will be providing enough housing for residents coming into our area. We are proud of that. A lot of people think affordable housing is urban projects - they are not! Affordable housing is for working families - trying to help young families buy their first house. I am proposing we expand first time buyer programs - grants that help people put down payments on homes. The hallmark of America is being able to buy your own house. My parents were immigrants and worked two and three jobs, whatever they could. They told us (the kids) that we had to get an education. I, the oldest, was the first to go to college, to law school. My brothers all went to college too. We all bought our own homes and were able to buy one for our parents. I consider myself a public servant and do this to honor my parents. We have to make it easier for people to buy homes. We can do that in Sacramento.
We need to take steps to bring jobs back to California. We have to be creative. The Democrats have lost sight of that and have allowed, at a national level, Republicans to take over the issue of values. I think we are in danger of the same thing in California. The Democratic Party is about good jobs, expanding the middle class, investing in education and making sure people can afford health care. We are not anti-business; in Newark, that is why we have a surplus.
TCV: What makes you think you can make a difference at the state level?
AT: I am hopeful of the new governor. He is practical and not an ideologue. I believe he is willing to look at different solutions. My experience in Newark shows I vote my conscience, but I also work very hard to build consensus. A proposal for a church to move into an industrial area met opposition from staff and councilmembers. I was able to help others to see how this would be a positive for the community.
I think in Sacramento, there is room for compromise but there has to be a line. The budget hasn't been in two years. The question of the budget hasn't really been called yet. I think we need to elect people who will have to make cuts that will not be comfortable and we are going to have to raise taxes. We should reform proposition 13. I am willing to phase this in and figure this out with the business community. I do not support proposition 57 and 58. I cannot accept the notion that we will tell our kids that we just couldn't fix the problem. I am talking about raising taxes on the wealthiest Californians. As Democrats we need to shine a light on the budget process and let people see what this means and that our taxes may need to be raised. We haven't made it tough enough and have not stood up. Let's get down to business.
I would like to be on transportation and labor committees. I have a good relationship with the new Speaker of the House. We need to talk about how to encourage public supported housing. We need to talk with business and labor about how to get people to work. There may be things we disagree on, but we can all agree that we need to bring jobs to California.
TCV: Do you have any solution for the Workers Compensation issue?
AT: In California we have the worst combination. Our premium payments for coverage are high and the benefits are low. Some companies pay up to 50% of their gross to Workers Compensation. Clearly they cannot survive with these payments. We have to look at how we define partial disability, at how people are treated for injury. There is fraud in the system, but the real issue is when rates triple and benefits don't the real culprit is the insurance companies. We need to make the insurance companies accountable. I have proposed a program for fair access to insurance rates (FAIR) - making insurance companies and HMO's accountable. There is no justification for these rates. I am not necessarily talking about regulation, but let's get to the bottom of this. Doctors and patients should be making life and death decisions, not bean counters.
ot bean counters.