Holden has a keen focus on job creation and education
At age 28 Pasadena Councilmember Chris Holden followed the footsteps of his father and ventured into politics at the local government level. Twenty-three years later, the second longest-serving member in the history the Pasadena City Council is looking to broader service by running for a seat in the 41st Assembly District.
Q. What drove you to run for state assembly?
A. It was a good time to step forward and take my years of public service at the local level—23 plus years on the city council in Pasadena and 20 years at the Bob Hope Airport—and try to bring value to it. We have done a great job in Pasadena being a collaborative, citizen volunteer-driven city working together as a community on initiatives and projects across party lines. In a nonpartisan environment, we have been able to turn our downtown around to stimulate the business community, bring clinics and healthcare facilities into the city, improve the quality of our open space in Arroyo Seco and our park lands and just build great neighborhoods with quality services. We also run an exceptionally well-financed city. Given those fundamental successes, it seemed like a good opportunity to go to Sacramento and take it to another level.
Q. You talk about your successes in helping to revitalize Pasadena’s downtown area. How will you use those local successes to revitalize the state’s economy?
A. We are not investing back into our state at the level we should, whether it’s natural resources, education or job creation. In Pasadena, we were able to leverage resources effectively and reinvest in our community by drawing on fundamental concepts. Now granted with the city we had the benefit of redevelopment to help as it relates to stimulating the economy of our downtown and other areas. But, I also think we did a good job in terms of allocating our resources to improving and strengthening our open space element. And I think we did a great job in terms of building a health clinic for a community that was both uninsured and underinsured. When St. Luke’s Hospital closed, we used our resources to establish an urgent care clinic, which has really helped in terms of alleviating the pressures in the Huntington Hospital emergency room.
This district has the same kind of resources. We could use those resources, use those skills and talents amongst the people to really give them an opportunity to grow and flourish. From Pasadena to Claremont, we are blessed to have JPL, Caltech, University of La Verne and the Claremont Colleges. City of Hope is not in our district but it certainly provides a very important economic engine for the San Gabriel Valley. These things can be explored a little bit more to create new ideas and initiatives that would not only create jobs, but hopefully improve our environment.
Q. What is your plan to help get California working again?
A. Looking at the 41st Assembly District as an example, there are dollars that have been allocated to do infrastructure projects that will create jobs and stimulate the private sector development. While the Gold Line will create private sector jobs through contracting and construction, we have noticed in Pasadena that it also spurs local development, whether it’s transit-oriented development of residential areas around the station stops or commercial retail. When you have 2 main transportation networks in place like the Gold Line along with the Alameda Corridor, it makes the San Gabriel Valley a very attractive place to do business. There’s nothing like enterprise zones to foster the right kind of growth and development.
The other area I would focus on is the Ontario Airport. It’s underutilized right now. I think there is an opportunity, much like what was done in Burbank, to create a Joint Powers Agency to provide local governance over the airport. You get the right mix of air carriers and other related businesses and that airport could be a real magnet for job creation for the entire Inland Empire region. I’m certainly excited about being a part of helping the community envision what it could be, maybe using the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority as a model to implement local rule over the airport.
Q. Another important issue of yours is education. What are the keys to revitalizing our school system?
A. There are 2 areas I would like to see us focus. One is identifying resources for early education for every child in the state of California. It’s important for kids to get an early start not only in terms of the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, but also in terms of the social dynamics of interplay and interaction with other children. Developing those interpersonal skills sets early on is an important part of the learning process. There is so much that takes place in those first 3 or 4 years. Capturing the imagination and the innocence of these young people at that stage and get them into environments where they learn the dynamics of interplay and learn the fundamentals of what they are going to be learning in school is a priority for me.
The other is returning to the senior high school’s vocational training programs. I think we can do a better job in terms of preparing our young people who aren’t necessarily inclined to go on to higher education. We can help them to be able to step into the job market with a skillset that allows them to get a good paying job. Not only should we be providing vocational training at the high school level, but we also need to be strengthening that training at the community college level. We have a need for retraining the workforces because there are so many people who are out of work. Getting back into the workforce might require developing a new set of skills.
Q. You are a strong supporter of the Middle Class Scholarship Act, which received support from the Assembly last month. How will this help the state’s troubles in regard to higher education?
A. Right now families are struggling. For every 10 kids that graduate from our California high schools, 8 of them will move out of state for school. One of my twins is going to Northern Arizona University and one of the things they advertise is fixed tuition for 4 years. [Tuition] is one of the challenges that becomes very difficult for families who want to send their kids to college and make it work economically. This [act] is a tremendous opportunity. It is the proper placement of resources to help families who are in the middle struggling to make ends meet while also trying to allow their young person to have a college education.
I haven’t explored this with anyone, but I think that it would also be interesting to try and see if we can give some of our AP students who are high achievers an opportunity to have a break by allowing those AP courses, assuming they scored at a certain level, to apply to college credit at California schools. It might encourage those AP students to stay in state for school. We have to be creative to try and address the problem.
Q. Your opponent feels California is resource rich and that we should be tapping into our natural resources. She believes it will help put our middle class back to work. What is your take?
A. The challenge is it’s a highly risky area that has the potential to then irrevocably damage the environment we cherish now, whether it’s the ocean or within parts of our California landscape. Texas is okay with that. We are not okay with that and we want to keep it that way. It’s important that we recognize that there are industries that provide important resources to keep us going. We are not at a point yet where we can say we don’t have to drive cars. We do have to drive cars and we do have to look at alternative ways at fueling the cars. There is still a need to provide oil and to the extent we can continue to support where [drilling] is already done. Growing the industry I’m not really crazy about. We have to keep recognizing that the environment is precious. We have to protect it, maintain it and continue to put research and development into alternative fuels.
Q. As mayor of Pasadena, you enacted a living wage ordinance, ensuring that workers could earn decent pay for their hard work and contribute to the local economy. Can you talk a little about this ordinance? Would you bring something similar to the attention of the assembly?
A. At that time, the important thing for us was to recognize that there were companies doing business in the city that were not paying their workers a decent wage. At the end of the day we came up with an initiative that increased pay beyond minimum wage to something that people could actually live on or come closer to living on. We struck the right kind of deal so that the business community and the Chamber were willing to endorse the direction we moved in, and it was really because we kept everyone at the table working together. We recognized that this was an important initiative to strengthen working families’ ability to provide for their family while not breaking the businesses in the process. It’s all about the way that you approach it. If you say, “We are going to impose X on you,” people are going to go crazy no matter what it is. When you sit down and work in a collaborative fashion where everyone has a voice you are able to get places.
Q. What is the key to helping California’s economy recover?
A. We have to not only look at protecting our businesses and keeping it profitable for them to stay here, while also finding ways to make it easier for new businesses. I know incentives aren’t the end-all or the silver bullet to solve the problem. And in some instances there are states we are not going to be able to compete with. We can’t give away land as public policy, per say. We are going to have to look at new production, manufacturing opportunities that become a good fit for the state. We are going to have to look at how we can stimulate the import/export opportunities using our ports. With LA and Long Beach we have 2 of the largest ports in the world. We have to look at what kind of trade relationships we can foster and encourage development growth opportunities with Pacific Rim countries, like South Korea as an example. How can we utilize resources like the Alameda Corridor project as a way to move the goods to distribution? That’s maybe where the San Gabriel Valley has an opportunity to thrive.
If I am blessed and able to represent this district in Sacramento I am going to do it as a local elected official. It’s what I’ve been for nearly a quarter century. That’s what I know and in order to feel like I am doing the right thing, I have to keep the cities connected to moving the agenda forward.
Find out more about Mr. Holden’s vision if elected to the state assembly by visiting www.holdenforasembly.com.