State Assembly candidate Mark Stone has served as county supervisor since 2003, was a professor of law at the Monterey Naval School, and has been on the California Coastal Commission since 2009. At a Feb. 17 Town Hall on the UCSC campus, he answered questions from the audience about education and criminal sentencing, and gave his reasons for voting against the La Bahia Hotel Project.
City on a Hill Press: You voted against the La Bahia Hotel project this summer, despite its projected economic benefit of generating $700,000 a year, saying it would open the door for future problems. Can you explain your reasoning?
Stone: The Coastal Commission has a responsibility to implement the Coastal Act up and down the state of California. In the case of La Bahia, a local developer wanted to come in and change an existing hotel. The new hotel was taller than the Coastal Commission allows for, so we would have had to make an exception. When a question like this comes up, the Coastal Commission is not inclined to allow for individual changes without a clear justification or without a review of the impact with respect to the plan in general … What often happens is if we allow variance for one project, the same thing will be asked for the next project that comes in.
Audience Question: You’re talking about the need to rethink how education is financed, and one of the main factors contributing to the lack of funding for education is Prop 13, which limited California property taxes and constricted a significant source of education funding. Given that we can’t get rid of Prop 13, how would you suggest we rethink financing?
Stone: I think there are several different ways. Prop 13 did several things, one of which was it kept property taxes low, but it also … prevented us from being able to raise the property taxes on businesses and caused Sacramento to decide how money was spent on education. If the state were to set standards and then give school boards flexibility to meet the community’s standard to some extent, and then let teachers teach rather than tell them how to teach, it will go a long way for efficiency and improving the educational system. We have to change the way testing gets done so it actually benefits the kids, give school districts some flexibility, raise taxes to put more money into the school system and change the way we approve textbooks.
Audience Question: What do you think of the UC president’s proposal to have a commitment from the state for a multi-year funding program so they can predict the tuition in the future?
Stone: I think it’s a good idea. One of the problems with the way public agencies do budgets is we do them on an annual basis. We don’t have the ability to look long-term, so we make poor decisions a lot of the time, which will end up costing that institution a lot more five or ten years from now. I like the idea of multi-year budgeting because you have to look a little bit longer and look at things in terms of investment.
Audience Question: Do you think moving to a two-year budget cycle will do that?
Stone: It won’t do it all the way, but it will help. It’s going to force the institution to look a little further ahead in time.
Audience Question: What strategies do you think would ensure money is being spent well in our education budget?
Stone: Instead of telling teachers how to teach and how to use specific methods, we should take a step back and look at setting standards for performance. If we set standards … for what we expect students to achieve in a certain time, schools are going to be punished. For instance, the biggest learning problem for local schools is spelling. So we bought spelling books for the kids, but because spelling books are not covered by state textbook funding, we had to pay for them with our precious supply of general funding. If the state would simply give us more flexibility for how we teach our kids and not require us to adhere to a strict standard, we would not have this problem.
Audience Question: How do you feel about mandatory minimums for criminal sentencing?
Stone: I really struggle with that because of prison overcrowding, and [we live] in a society that is putting more people in jail for longer amounts of times. Programs that have been working really well here are community-integrated. It is delicate, though, because people get panicky about putting those folks back in the community. But those folks aren’t going to harm the community if we put more attention into monitoring them. By continuing the minimum sentencing, we’re exacerbating the problem and costing ourselves more and more money, because we have to then facilitate more offenders. It’s a way of throwing money at a system that is failing with a recidivism rate of 70 percent in California.
Interested in getting involved in local politics? Interning with a state or federal assemblymember is “the best way for students to stay involved, make a difference, and build your resume and relationships with policymakers and staffers … it is exciting and fun, with invaluable research and constituent response opportunities,” said Adam Spickler, senior field representative to Assemblymember Bill Monning, in an email.
Students can turn in internship applications this year to the office of Assemblymember Bill Monning by emailing a resume and cover letter to his Senior Field Representative, Adam Spickler, at: firstname.lastname@example.org. And next year, please send a resume to Mark Stone once he gets elected. Mark Stone will have contact information available after December 1, 2012, at: http://asmdc.org/members/a29/.