Chris Holden, one of five candidates for the 41st Assembly District, has been around politics a long time: he has been a council member in the City of Pasadena for almost 25 years, and is the son of one-time Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden.
During that time he has also worked as a commercial broker and briefly ran a Subway franchise in Pasadena.
Holden is one of five candidates in the newly-drawn 41st District, which extends south to north from South Pasadena to Altadena, then east to Sierra Madre, Monrovia and foothill towns all the way out to Upland.
Holden might be the most supported candidate among local politicans - he is endorsed by the State Democratic Party and a large number of local city council members and other local elected officials. A full list of his endorsements can be viewed on his website.
He has raised more than $200,000 to make the run for office and has about $83,000 cash on hand, according to state records. Six of his top 7 contributors, all of whom have contributed $7,800 to his campaign, come from unions or groups representing public sector employees.
Patch interviewed Holden as part of a series on candidates running for office - interviews with other candidates in the 41st Assembly race, as well as other races going on in the June 5 primary, will follow.
The below interview has been edited for length.
Patch: The first thing I wanted to ask you is the pretty standard – I wanted to ask you why you wanted to run, but especially because famously the Assembly has been a place where maybe not a lot has gotten done and the budgets take forever to go through. It seems like maybe you might be bogged down a little bit more than in the City of Pasadena so I was just curious why you want to run for the seat?
Holden: I think that the time is right. I’ve served nearly a quarter of a century on the City Council. That’s a long time. I’ve learned a lot. We’ve been through difficult challenges, budget-balancing issues of our own, down economies, looking for creative ways to rehabilitate our downtown, which we have, and so we see the success of Old Pasadena.
Looking at the regional issues that we’ve been able to be a part of, I note the Gold Line rail project, which I was a part of in 1985, looking at how the rail would make its way from Los Angeles through Pasadena and lining up to go to eastern most region of the community.
We worked through the deregulation of our utility industry and when we were confronted with that, I think I was a part of laying out a blueprint for success which looked at balancing our utility in such a way that we made a reduction in the work force, we made a reduction in the transfer of our utility to our general fund and we looked at rate increases. It was a multi-prong approach to address the issues of making our utility survive. So here we are, lowest rates and highest reliability in the industry.
I think I have the most diversified background of anyone running with certainly the longest tenure of investment in the community and I think that gives me the skillset to go to Sacramento and not be lost, be able to hit the ground running, take some important initiatives that our community cares about and advocate aggressively for those initiative at the state level as I did on the local level.
On a personal note my kids are moving into college so there’s s transitional time in terms of my personal life that allows me the flexibility to serve as well. All of that together formulates my decision to run as well as the expertise I would bring to the job.
Patch: What do you see as the key issues for getting the states fiscal issues straightened out? For example, did you think the move to transfer redevelopment money over the school was effective and what other methods can the state use to help work on the budget issues?
CH: I think that part of our challenge is we keep robbing from Peter to pay Paul. We’re taking from one good to pay for another good. Redevelopment served the cities that used it well, it served communities well, it served Pasadena in a profound way, because it revolutionized our downtown. It was also used effectively to bring a shopping center to Northwest Pasadena. We see across our community how it was also used to help auto dealers, like Symes in East Pasadena. We recognize that in our community we were able to use it effectively to stimulate job growth and the redevelopment of our communities.
But I also support public institutions – I want to see resources go to public education in a way that brings our school system from the bottom to the top. The funding doesn’t match it as a priority so we need to make sure we find out how to identify new ways for restructuring as well as generating the right kind of revenue that can go into our public schools.
We also have look at investing in new opportunities. Green technology, infrastructure improvements, and transportation projects. One of the greatest job stimulators is public transportation projects. The light rail is putting people back to work.
Also, certainly looking at community colleges to provide vocational training for these kinds of jobs as well as retraining for people who are getting back into the work force who have to get repositioned for some of these new job opportunities. That is the approach I am want to pursue as well as the ports in the Alameda Corridor and how we can increase trade with Pacific Rim countries and see more businesses do business with California. I think that is what we want to encourage.
Patch: Well it sounds like then you take the long view on the budget, because right now the conversation is more about what can we avoid cutting rather than what can we invest in.
CH: Yeah, I think the . We’re going to have to do that so we can stop the bleeding or at least slow down the bleeding so we can get to the place of looking at long-term solutions. Our budget in Pasadena is the perfect example – we had to address the structural deficit but we couldn’t do it overnight because if we did it would have wreaked havoc on our general fund and our ability to provide general services to the community we represent.
I think we have to look at the long term but we have to do some immediate short term adjustments, which the governor is proposing, and then start the discussions of pension reform, which is what we did in Pasadena --we had to move in that direction. But it came from buy-in from the employee unions, by sitting down at the common table and moving us collectively in that direction, so that there was more cost sharing, but not looking to kick people out of the program who are vested in the program – that I don’t support. But I do think that looking at ways to adjust contributions to the retirement plan I think is something to look at. Eliminating pension spiking, eliminating double dipping, things of those nature that have created an increased burden to the pensions structure, there are some things we can do there. A bureaucracy the size of Sacramento, the California budget, I would think there are some ways to make some additional adjustments.
But I’m also open to a broader community discussion about that. I’m not trying to go in and use a weed whacker to get our house in order. We have to be very thoughtful about how we do that and very meticulous in how we go about that and very inclusive. Part of what happens right now is you see Sacramento operating separate and apart from the rest of the people of the state. When you look at local government it is a very open and engaging process.
Patch: I’m glad you mentioned pension reform. I was going to ask about that – you’ve got a good number of donations from union contributions, much like many Democratic office holders. Do you think there is political will to get that work done and do you think unions are willing to be part of the solution?
CH: I think they’ll be part of the solution. I don’t think they want to be the only solution, but I think being part of the solution, there will be openness to that. I think we all recognize that collectively we are all Californians, and if Rome is burning, we are all part of putting out the fire. You know it is not just one group that is going to put out the fire; we have to look at a collective strategy where we are all grabbing a bucket and looking to extinguish the flames.
So it’s sort of the collective will, not just the unions but the business community and the residents of this state sort of recognizing, not unlike the example I used before of what we had to do locally at the [Pasadena Water and Power] utility. It was the Water and Power Department restructuring and cutting its size. It was the general fund losing that transfer that went to basic services and it was the residents saying 'OK, we’re in this too, so we’ll look at a rate adjustment that is fair and reasonable because we can see you are making some changes -- that mean we’re not the only one bailing us out of the problem.'
Right now, I think there is a problem with people feeling that Sacramento is doing its part to get its house in order so it does not fall exclusively on one group or another to bail us out of the problem.
Patch: I also want to ask you about education. It seems that increasingly there are new voices in the state party that are a little more reform oriented, a little more geared towards charter schools. Of course, traditionally teachers unions have not looked so favorably on those and it seems like there might be a little bit of a split emerging on education in the party. Where do you stand on these issues?
CH: Well I think that generally speaking as a parent, you just want to see the results. I think that as a product of the public schools -- and quite frankly, should I win, I’ll be the first graduate of the Pasadena Unified School District to my knowledge to be elected to the State Legislature. So I’m fully invested in public education. I’m the product of it, and as a parent whose children have spent most, if not all of their learning years in the PUSD. So for me it has always been, how do we get back to a place of excellence?
When I was at Cleveland Elementary, Madison Elementary, Wilson Junior High School, Pasadena High school we were exposed to vocational options whether it was home economics or business tech
We had great teachers -- not that we don’t have great teachers now -- but we also had resources where the teachers did not have to reach into their pockets to pay for things just so their teachers good have a basic classroom experience. Our goal is that our public schools are not treated as second-class in the budget process, not having to continue to go through year after year of budget cuts.
In the midst of that there is an entrepreneurial spirit amongst some that is saying 'I can do it, I can create an environment over here called a charter school where kids can become better educated.'
Well, I don’t think the numbers are necessarily showing that. I don’t think the test results are showing that. However one ultimately decides that it works or doesn’t work, I don’t know that the quantifiable data is supporting that. And if the quantifiable data does not support that, then it’s all ado about nothing. So we need to be focused on the number one priority and that is how to make our public schools the best public schools in the world. People with resources, they will find the best schools: the private schools. They are not even putting their kids in the charter schools, they are putting their kids in the best schools their money can buy, and God bless them. But the rest of the population has to rely on public education; there is no choice. And if we start splitting it up, saying here’s a different way of doing it, a charter school, and the results aren’t really any different but we’re taking resources away from the public school system then that’s a problem for me.
Patch: I wanted to ask you about the 710 Tunnel extension – it’s actually coming up at a time concurrently with the election and at least one of your opponents is a vocal opponent of it. I recall hearing you support it in the past but I’m not 100 percent sure about it, so I wanted to ask your view.
CH: Well there are really three options that are being looked at here for addressing the 710-gap closure. One is do nothing, leave it like it is, the second is to go with the surface route, which has been talked about for 40 years and the third is to look at a tunnel. When you look at the concept of a surface route, I don’t support that. My position on the surface route is that that option is dead.
I think that exploring through the EIR the environmental feasibility of a tunnel makes a lot of sense. You have tunnels that exist all over the world, and in Europe where you have ancient cities, you still have tunnels in those areas under much more challenging terrain. Addressing the issues of smoke stacks or some kind of exhaust stacks, I think is a fair question and that is where the EIR will make the determination on is that an environmental impact that can be mitigated? And if it can’t be mitigated, that will pretty much kill the project. If it can be mitigated through technology and the way in which the exhaust system would be installed it is something for us to look at. I think it is a viable alternative but I support vigoursly the community process and completing the environmental review to determine whether it is a viable solution to the problem. Because right now, when I head down Fremont [Street] in the afternoon the traffic is backed up, and as I pass South Pasadena High School I am idling two times through a light cycle, sometimes three. And that means my idling is resulting in exhaust from my car and everyone else’s, and it’s impacting the environment right now as we speak.