A couple of weeks ago I was waiting on the tarmac at the former Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento to welcome President Biden, who was on his way to tour some of the areas affected by our state’s latest series of devastating wildfires.
While I was waiting, I couldn’t help also thinking of other fires and other Presidential visits, including when President Bush came to San Diego County, back when we experienced some of the earliest of what have now become alarmingly commonplace disasters.
What made this visit different for me was the full sense of partnership I felt coming from the Biden Administration—not just in terms of disaster declarations and relief we need for recovery, but also in terms of leadership on climate change, which we know is causing wildfires to burn more often and longer in a drier California.
The $1.5 billion in new funding for wildfire prevention and $5 billion for drought relief we just invested were two of the high points from the historic 2021 legislative session my colleagues and I adjourned on September 10.
I am also pleased that we made the largest investment in the state’s history— some $3.7 billion dollars—to combat sea level rise, reduce pollution in our urban areas, and make our communities across the state more resilient. My legislation, SB 1, a historic bill to tackle sea level rise, was recently signed into law by the governor.
When you look at the challenges facing California, it’s clear that with our approach to wildfires and climate change, partnership has to be part of any solution. For instance, now that Governor Newsom has signed the bulk of the Senate’s Housing Package, including my own SB 9 to allow additional housing units, I’m looking forward to a partnership that ensures these bills are implemented as intended—with all protections and safeguards in place—along with all the opportunities the bills provide for more California families. I have to say it was very gracious during his visit for President Biden to congratulate California on enacting SB 9, and, by sharing his planning and zoning experiences as a young public servant, it’s clear he knows the struggle!
When I look back at how this year started, and the obstacles to be overcome, I am enormously proud of what my Senate colleagues, the Assembly and Governor did in helping small businesses, tenants and landlords, providing record funding for schools, homes and health care, and creating new work opportunities through child care and hiring credits.
At the end of my first legislative session in 2011, during the Great Recession, I am reminded of so many of the difficult cuts and hard choices we had to make then. Thanks to 10 years of responsible budgeting by Democratic legislators and governors, and with the recovery funds our federal partners have allocated so far, California had a once in a generation chance to make transformational change, and we seized that chance.
There’s so much going on. We have to get this pandemic behind us. Community safety and police accountability are still challenges in our communities. And there are others. The October sky is still smoky. But if we can pull it together and work together, our is future bright.
— Toni G. Atkins is President pro Tempore of the California Senate. Visit sd39.senate.ca.gov/contact to contact her.