Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica's Former Mayor Rounds Out First Year in Sacramento
By Jason Islas
September 25, 2013 -- It has been nine months since Assemblymember Richard Bloom, after a hotly contested race against incumbent candidate Betsy Butler in November, became Santa Monica's first City Councilmember to make the leap from City Hall to Sacramento.
And “successful” is how Bloom -- currently back at his Ocean Park neighborhood home after the State Assembly's legislative year officially ended earlier this month -- sums up his first year representing California's 50th Assembly District in the state capital.
“I think what has changed for me is that I've got a year experience under my belt and that will make me a more effective legislator,” Bloom told The Lookout Tuesday. “I feel like I really know the system now a lot better than when I started.”
He was reflecting on the successes -- and the set-backs -- he has faced over the past nine months.
Compared to his experience in Santa Monica, where he sat on the seven person City Council for 13 years, Bloom called his new job “awe-inspiring.”
“It's a dramatically different system,” he said. “It's a lot of responsibility.”
As Santa Monica's mayor, Bloom was the symbolic head of the body that governed the bayside city.
He -- along with his six colleagues -- addressed a wide-variety of issues, such as planning for the expansion of regional public transit, the question of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in town and how best to balance the City's $550 million budget.
Now, he is responsible for representing a district that includes Brentwood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Malibu and Santa Monica.
“I felt pretty well situated to take the leap to Sacramento,” he said. “But the issues, the dollars, the scope of the job in Sacramento is dramatically different.
“Because my race lasted so long, I didn't have a heck of a lot of time to mentally prepare for the job,” he said. While the final count showed that Bloom beat Butler by 1,256 votes, it took a month to tally the votes because the race was so close.
During the month of vote counting that followed the November 6 election, Butler narrowed Bloom's lead to 79 votes.
Once the votes were finally counted, Bloom managed to jump right into his new job.
As chair of the Assembly's budget subcommittee on transportation and resources, Bloom also has oversight over massive State agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles and CalTrans.
His role on the budget subcommittee is a source of pride for Bloom, especially after the State recently adopted a budget in June with more than a billion dollar surplus.
Since taking his seat in January, Bloom has juggled about 20 pieces of legislation, eventually seven of which managed to make it through the gauntlet of subcommittees and floor votes to the desk of a “very mercurial governor.”
One of Bloom's major legislative successes actually came near the end of the legislative year.
Along with Assemblymember Roger Dickenson, Bloom introduced an emergency bill that staved off a pending financial disaster for California's public transit system. ("Santa Monica's Assembly Rep Staves Off Financial Disaster for Metro," September 19)
With the Federal government threatening to withdraw billions of dollars in support for transit construction projects because of proposed changes to transit employees' pensions, Bloom's bill secured that funding by exempting transit workers from the governor's pension reforms.
“If we had let partisanship get in the way, it would've had a dramatically negative impact,” Bloom said of the bill, which passed almost unanimously. “We're talking about tens of thousands of jobs in the Los Angeles area alone.”
But Bloom also experienced frustration.
With his first bill, AB 1301, Bloom sought to put a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking -- to extract oil and natural gas out of the ground. But the bill failed on the Assembly floor by 15 votes.
Still, Bloom hopes that he can tackle the issue again in 2014 when the Assembly reconvenes. In the meantime, he has thrown his weight behind State Senator Fran Pavely's less restrictive fracking regulation bill, SB 4.
“It's the tale of two bills,” Bloom said, comparing his experiences with the success of AB 1222 and the problems he faced with AB 1301.
“It speaks to the dynamics within the institution,” he said.
Then there is AB 391, a pending bill which would levy a $75 fee on property transfers in California in order to help pay for affordable housing construction.
The bill, Bloom said, is designed to help replace some of the billions of property tax dollars that were channeled back to cities for affordable housing production and infrastructure improvements through some 400 now-defunct redevelopment agencies (RDAs), axed by Sacramento in February 2012.
Santa Monica alone received roughly $20 million a year through its former RDA for affordable housing.
Bloom said he has learned about more than just legislation and balancing budgets.
“I was approached by advocates to help protect the bobcat this year,” he said. “I didn't even know what a bobcat looked like.”
But, after studying the issue, he realized the species needed protection. The result was the Bobcat Protection Act of 2013 (AB 1213) that, once signed into law, will prohibit trapping or hunting bobcats.
Bloom's other legislation covers issues ranging from shoring up consumer safety rules (AB 324) and expanding rehabilitation options for juveniles convicted of crimes (SB 260) to protecting victims of human trafficking (AB 694) and allowing greater punishment for criminals convicted of stealing from or embezzling the money of elders (AB 1293).
Now that he's back on his home turf, he's been busy coordinating with local officials over regional transportation issues.
Bloom is currently setting up a meeting between members of Westside Council of Governments (COG) and LA Metro Representatives to discuss developing a regional bike share system as Santa Monica begins making plans to build the County's first. ("City Council to Consider Santa Monica Bike Share Program," September 23)
He will spend the next couple of months meeting with constituents, visiting schools and “getting out to” his districts numerous chambers of commerce. Bloom is also planning a December trip to Israel.
Bloom said that he feels confident and ready for next year, though he is not forthcoming with details.
“I've got some ideas,” he said. “I'm not ready to discuss them broadly yet.”
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