News, music, movies & restaurants from the editors of the Silicon Valley's #1 weekly newspaper.
Serving San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Fremont & nearby cities.

February 28-March 7, 2007

home | metro santa cruz index | columns | nūz

Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs


This week, as Nūz resumes its interviews with potential candidates for the district 27 state Assembly seat now occupied by John Laird, there's a new development in the race. While candidates Ryan Coonerty and Emily Reilly (both previously interviewed) and Greg Sellers (interview coming soon) continue building their initial campaigns, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mark Stone, who Nūz previously reported was considering a bid for the 2008 seat, has decided instead to run for re-election as District 5 county supervisor.

In a Feb. 22 press release, Stone cites the recent California Chamber of Commerce/California Teachers' Association initiative extending term limits, including for Laird, and says that he's "unwilling to embark on a speculative campaign when that campaign would only serve to confuse voters on the term limit initiative and may draw support away from Assemblymember Laird."

So Nūz is continuing with those who are running, and our candidate this time is Barbara Sprenger. A lifelong Californian with a several-year sabbatical--living in London and in West Virginia--under her belt, Sprenger has also co-founded a high-tech company building energy-efficient capital equipment, worked on green housing projects and steadily participated in community causes.

Among them: Sprenger has been a Santa Cruz County First Five Commissioner, served on the prejudice-busting San Lorenzo Valley Equity Committee, helped found San Lorenzo Valley's Youth First (creators of the SLV Teen Center and Skatepark), served as financial analyst and steering committee member of Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) in Felton, gotten elected twice to the SLV Unified School District's Board of Trustees and has been named a United Way Community Hero.

All of which led to "a very clear moment when I decided to run for Assembly," Sprenger says, when "two things hit me at once: first, the public agenda in the state had changed; people seriously want to be part of building a better state again; second, it struck me that California doesn't need to wait for the rest of the country to get to work. We're big enough--as the eighth largest economy in the world--to have the wherewithal, yet small enough to build consensus around solutions."

That, combined with the pride Sprenger felt when, in July of 2005, lengthy community work cohered in Felton's attempt to take control over its water supply, provided the motivation to take on a campaign.

"Seventy-five percent of the people of Felton had voted to take our water system public. We had worked for more than two years to bring different groups --the town, the water district, the county--to a common plan. If any group walked away, the whole thing failed. And we succeeded."

And what would Barbara Sprenger like to launch into if elected to the Assembly?

On the health-care front, she would work toward health coverage for all Californians through a single-payer system. Within the current system, the first step is to "stop health insurance companies from refusing coverage to anyone or charging different rates to different people, except for broad age category pricing." And what would that do? "In effect, insurance companies would have to offer a standard insurance product, and anyone could buy--rather than the current situation in which consumers must sell themselves to the insurance company. Insurance companies would have to compete for our business, rather than us competing for them to take us." That, for efficiency purposes and ethical reasons, would include undocumented immigrants, because "the same arguments for insuring children hold for adults."

In energy policy, Sprenger would start with "very low-interest, simple loans for energy-efficient and alternative energy retrofits and construction." Even in a wealthy state, "for many people the cost of solar panels, on-demand water heating, improved insulation and hybrid cars is a greater investment than they have the ability to make, even though it saves in the long run." They also push forward the inevitable future: "The loan repayments would cost less each month than the amount saved on utility bills, making it possible for many more people to make these important changes now."

And in the matter of ever-delayed political reform, Sprenger wants to "make it illegal to use paid signature gatherers for ballot initiatives." The ballot measure process, she points out, "was designed to give people more power against large moneyed interests." Instead, those powerful lobbies have taken over the process, "put millions into initiatives, starting by paying signature gathering companies. We then, she notes, "have ballots with 20 propositions, lots of fine print and decisions made by 30-second commercials." Hence the law she proposes: "If signature gathering had to be done by volunteers, only those issues that were really important to the public would get on the ballot, and big money would become less powerful in state governance."

In fact, Barbara Sprenger says she would immediately get to work on that issue in general. "I'll work to stop the inordinate amount of power of big money in Sacramento and to return governance to the public's interests." And why does big money dominate? "Because in order to reach the 250,000 people in an Assembly district or the 36 million in the state, it takes mailers and television advertising and radio and staff. Large industries and their lobbyists want access to legislators to protect their interests, so they put lots of money into these races."

And this is just part of a greater reform Sprenger has in mind. "I'll work to start a change of structure to move power back to local government, closer to where regular people can have some power." With some exceptions, such as those involving local housing restrictions, "I want to work to rationalize the system so that power is returned to the local government entities, where people can have more control in the systems that affect their daily lives."

And overall, says Sprenger, "I'll work to improve environmental protection, affordable housing, education, health coverage and governance structure." And in doing these, she sees more than simply government-initiated actions. "The private sector can be given incentives to build entry-level housing instead of McMansions," she notes, and cites that oft-ignored category of entry-level housing: that which is neither built through sprawl nor subsidy, but affordable by design." In addition, "we can have strong new industries around green technologies. Our nonprofits are efficient in meeting social needs of the underrepresented. And I know how effective our volunteer groups are because I worked in volunteer organizations that focused on prejudice reduction and building a teen center and gaining local control of water."

She also notes the power of local elected school boards: "I served for eight years as an elected school board trustee through declining enrollment and declining state funds--and we came out the other side to balanced budgets, high test scores, strong staff relationships and healthy new buildings."

And while universal health care is Sprenger's most desired Assembly legacy--along with planning to propel a first-ever statewide study of future land and water supplies--she sees herself as being able to make a mark on many other issues, as well.

"I've lived under a national health-care system and lived on welfare," she points out, referring to her time living in London and West Virginia, "I built and grew, from scratch, a startup that developed equipment to meet one industry's need"--equipment, in fact, adapted from the electric car industry--"to meet the Clean Air Act, and built green housing from the ground up."

"So," says Barbara Sprenger," looking back over her years of life and community service, "I have a perspective on these issues."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

Send a letter to the editor about this story.