State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, hosted an informal question-and-answer session with the local business community Friday as the Valley Industry Association hosted its annual State of the State event inside the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center at College of the Canyons.
Wilk, who’s close to being termed out after serving two terms in the Assembly, and in the midst of his second term in the Senate, joked with a congenial crowd about how confident he was in his ability to take any question.
“And the reason for that is, I learned last year that if you can’t recall Gavin Newsom, you can’t recall anybody,” he said, garnering laughter from across the room.
“So, I can say whatever I want, and you can’t do anything about it,” he said with a smile.
Responding to questions from VIA board member Ed Masterson, Wilk spoke openly about what he considers some of the problems with “business as usual” in Sacramento as he approaches the tail end of nearly a dozen years in the state’s capital, the limit under California’s Constitution.
One of the first questions was from local Jersey Mike’s franchisee Steve Youlios asking if Sacramento is ever going to give small-business owners like himself a break, ahead of minimum wage increases for some areas taking effect July 1, including in unincorporated areas of the SCV.
Illustrating his view that the state’s economy is controlled by labor interests, Wilk talked about the process behind the creation of a wage council for the fast-food industry. It was signed off by the governor, and then the industry successfully supported a referendum expected to be on the ballot next year, Wilk said.
In response, Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, authored a bill to revive the Industrial Welfare Commission, with the whole point being to “expedite increasing the pay and trying to circumvent the voters having a say in what the policy ought to be,” he said.
“So, is there some relief in sight, anywhere?” Youlios followed.
“No, there’s no — not until you see different people in those seats,” Wilk answered.
While admittedly not a Newsom fan, Wilk acknowledged the governor was able to find cuts in the state’s latest budget, which faces a $32 billion deficit projected for the 2023-24 fiscal year, starting July 1.
In terms of home ownership, the Southland Regional Association of Realtors asked about first-time homebuyers’ assistance, with former SRAR President Nancy Starczyk pointing out last year the state set aside $500 million. After $300 million was accounted for in 11 days, the state held the other $200 million, she said. This year, the organization is hoping for $1 billion to fund the California Dream for All Program, which helps first-timers with their down payment.
Wilk said only three people control the state’s budget process, and it bodes well for the program that State Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, is the program’s creator. Ultimately, if it’s possible in the budget, he was hopeful it would get done.
“We’re not gonna really know until October what our real numbers are because of the delay in paying taxes, and I think the governor’s overall pretty prudent,” Wilk said. “I mean, I would have had different priorities with some of the spending — but, in terms of, we didn’t raise taxes, there’s a lot of programs that were unnecessary that we pared back, (Newsom)’s clawed back some things — so we’ll see what happens as the year progresses.”
He also took a jab at Newsom, noting how many of his colleagues secretly chide the governor’s aspirations for higher office “because he has nothing to run on,” adding he thinks that’s why Newsom has become engaged on homelessness.
Wilk also spoke about the need to work with the other side as a member of a super minority in the Legislature.
Sandra Cattell, chair of the local Sierra Club, thanked Wilk for his work on Cemex. The multinational mining company is trying to build a massive sand-and-gravel mine in Soledad Canyon, upstream from where the Santa Clara River pours into the city’s aquifers.
Wilk worked with Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, and staff to follow up on a bill he’d previously proposed to mandate the state water board to re-notice Cemex’s application to use 322 acre-feet of water from the river each year, a decision the company is trying to appeal.
Wilk said he was confident the water board would do the right thing, but he also said it was great working with Schiavo on the bill, even though they were on different sides of the aisle.
“The day after (the bill) came out of the Assembly, then the water board said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna make you go through this’ — and so we decided we’re gonna keep pressing forward on it.”
Speaking on behalf of Schiavo, her legislative director, Andrea Rosenthal, highlighted the efforts from the 40th Assembly District representative particularly relevant to the business community.
Schiavo was initially scheduled to cohost the talk with Wilk as the SCV’s primary Assembly representative. However, she stayed in Sacramento for the swearing-in of new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Salinas.
Rosenthal mentioned AB 464, which she described as a measure to address homelessness and the workforce, by making it easier for a homeless person to obtain a driver’s license and access certified documents and records, which is scheduled for a hearing next month.
Another bill she mentioned was AB 1217, which would be an expansion of a licensed footprint, sales of alcoholic beverages to-go, and delivery privileges that were used to support restaurants during the pandemic, as well as zoning changes that allowed businesses to have more control over their outdoor space, according to the legislation. It’s also scheduled for a hearing next month, Rosenthal said.
Wilk and several other speakers opened the event by praising the contributions and leadership of COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook, who recently celebrated 35 years with the college.
In accepting a series of recognitions, she cited a Walt Disney quote about Disneyland, noting the magic is in the people, not the place, when it comes to the college.
Wilk, who worked with Van Hook for years as a member of the college’s governing board before being elected to the Assembly, said Van Hook’s abilities will no doubt continue to inspire for generations, as she’s taught so many who will no doubt influence others, continuing her positive impact.
“You’ve always been so supportive and wonderful, and you’ve always helped us with your inspiration and your advice,” said David Cantrell, chair of VIA’s governing board, as he presented Van Hook with a gift. “You’re definitely somebody that we can go to when we have questions.”
Van Hook said there were four training majors when she first joined the college in 1988, and now there are dozens that have come from partnerships through organizations like VIA, which was one of the first of such relationships that she formed when she arrived at the campus.
She added: “And for me, Santa Clarita is a place of possibilities — for people, potential partnerships, programs and places — but it’s because of all of you that that is true. The magic is in the people.”