The sun emerged from the clouds in time to welcome Rep. Ted W. Lieu and State Sen. Henry Stern to the Topanga Library on March 9 for a productive town hall meeting with their constituents.
The brunch-time event was hosted by the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains (PDSMM) and welcomed more than 100 residents of Topanga, Agoura, Calabasas, Santa Monica, Malibu, and the Valley, who packed the Community Room.
Award-winning singer/songwriter, lecturer, and humorist Peter Alsop opened the meeting with an original song that got the audience laughing with political jibes about “just how many issues can you worry about all at once?”
PDSMM President Dorothy Reik welcomed Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA 33rd District) to present issues he felt needed addressing now that there is a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
REP. TED LIEU
As the U.S. Representative for California’s 33rd Congressional District since 2015, Lieu’s district serves much of western Los Angeles, as well as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Bel Air, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Beach Cities.
“Thank you, Dorothy, for inviting me. Your organization not only elects Democrats, but makes sure we act like Democrats,” Lieu said to wild applause.
Regarding legislation, Lieu said: “There are really only three things Congress does—stop stupid legislation, pass legislation, and conduct oversight. Last November, Republicans ran on building the wall; Democrats ran on reducing health care costs, investing in infrastructure, and getting rid of corruption,” Lieu said. “So we are going to deliver on those promises.
“We just got HR1 passed to protect voting rights. It is a massive bill to reform finance laws and protect voting rights. This passed with every single Democrat voting for it; we had 234 votes on the floor, which is very impressive.”
“Regarding oversight, we can actually walk and chew gum at the same time in Congress,” Lieu said. “I happen to be on the House Judiciary Committee. Fun fact: Watergate was the Judiciary Committee that passed articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.”
Lieu said their committee sent out requests for documents to more than 81 individuals. “[Republicans] called it a ‘fishing expedition,’ but there are numerous scandals and we can’t just ignore it…we are going to leave no stone unturned…. We will hold hearings, interview witnesses, analyze documents, and build a record. Our investigation will either exonerate Trump and those around him, or it won’t. We will then have a conversation with the American people on how to proceed after we conclude our investigation.”
Lieu then yielded the floor to Stern, who ran through key issues for California.
STATE SEN. HENRY STERN
Henry Stern’s district (D-27th District) represents parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties that encompasses many communities from Magic Mountain to Malibu, Stevenson Ranch, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Santa Rosa Valley, and the Santa Monica Mountains. He was elected in November 2016.
Stern grew up in Malibu, attended Harvard University and UC Berkeley Law, worked for Congressman Henry Waxman, and taught in both high school and the UC system, before joining State Senator Fran Pavley’s office.
“I take for granted how progressive we are,” Stern began. “I mean, Congressman Lieu…he is out there changing the whole country,” he said. “To have him actually come in and have a real conversation and not just have his talking points written down, is a big deal.
“I am thrilled about HR 1,” he said. “It’s a brilliant opening salvo from this Congress, to go after gun violence, that precedes all other issues. To get dark and dirty money out of Congress…especially from Citizens United, at least you know who is trying to lie to you, so those names are listed out.”
Stern spoke about cybercrime and the real threat it poses to the United States and the world.
“Congress has enacted some reforms that we have put into place…about misinformation around elections…. I’m not talking fake news or what is in the eye of the beholder; I’m talking about deliberate misinformation campaigns about where to vote, where to register, and what day you are voting. Cybercrime enforcement needs to evolve in order to save this democracy, because the whole darn thing is at risk, it really is.”
Stern said that while he loves Google and social media, education and diligence is needed to protect us from cybercrime.
“This is a very complicated moment,” he said. “We are trying to hold the tech companies accountable. They are the backbone of the economy right now, for better or worse, but that is what is driving the stock market and our ability to keep investing in health care and education and all the things we do. The goal in my mind is not to break them up; Google, is like a little prosthetic brain…yet people 65 and older share 95 percent of fake news. It’s not just kids sharing fake news; it’s about all generations being manipulated, so we’ve got to get more educated as a populous.”
“We are still the third largest consumer of petroleum in the whole world here in California and we are the sixth largest producer in the county,” he said. “This is our sin, we burned ourselves down. Don’t just blame coal country, we have to point the finger back at home. Think of how much you drive…those miles all add up to about 7,600 round trips to the sun every year on the Saudi’s oil.
“Yet,” Stern continued, “if we can turn this around, we can command the whole world; command this, you move the world’s third largest petroleum market into a clean energy market. I guarantee you the rest of the world can scale off of that.”
SANTA SUSANA FIELD LAB
Stern then turned his attention to the Santa Susana Field Lab and its cleanup.
“There was a radioactive meltdown when we were building rockets,” he said. “It’s a scary thing to say but it’s right in our backyard.
“We have been sitting around for decades, debating whether to clean this thing up. We made a commitment about 10 years ago. I think this year we are going to get started, push past Boeing’s hesitation, work with [Rep.] Katie Hill to get Rick Perry to do his job and clean up the toxic field lab, put pressure on the Federal Government to pay their fair share, hold Boeing accountable, and start moving that radioactive waste off that site.”
Hill is Vice Chair of the Oversight and Investigation committee.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Susan Nissman, former Senior Field Deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, asked the first question in light of the Woolsey fire.
“We are looking at rebuilding. We know we have building standards that are being reviewed having to do with new construction but one of the things that is under the radar that I would like you to look at, support, and co-author is AB 38, introduced by [Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-2nd AD, Northern California].
“This has to do with hardening our homes, existing homes in California from Paradise all the way down to Topanga,” Nissman said. “[Some houses] more than 150 years old, don’t have the ability to be able to fight ember inclusion, which burns down the majority of homes in these wildfires. We need to adapt and I’d like to know if you can support that initiative?”
Stern said he would definitely look into it and then moderated a lightning round of more than 25 questions from the audience, ranging from Malibu evacuation, homelessness, gun safety, battery backups in high fire zones, undergrounding of utilities, single-use plastics, the state of Diablo Canyon, Aliso Canyon [methane gas storage leaks], providing arts and enrichment programs for senior citizens, Medicare for all, and why are foreign entities allowed to donate to organizations like the NRA?
Stern fielded these questions and comments, referring many complicated issues to his District Director Jeremy Wolf for follow-up via phone, letter, or e-mail.
Trevor Neilson, of the Malibu Foundation, praised Stern for his proactive approach to the Woolsey fire and recovery.
“People were evacuated and searching for something to do after the fires. A group of us came to you and asked for you to declare a climate state of emergency in the State of CA. You told us you were going to try and you just delivered!” Neilson said to enthusiastic applause.
“I’ve been in politics for 25 years, a lot of politicians say things in the moment and they don’t actually do it,” he continued. “This guy, after his own house burned down in the midst of a terrible horror in our own community, found a way to introduce the legislation which was only an idea when we asked for it. Henry, we are grateful.”
Marcia Hanscom asked Lieu, “We have a gas facility underneath Ballona Wetlands in Marina del Rey that is older than Aliso and we just had a blowout in Venice on the Marina peninsula, not as bad as the one in Aliso, but what do we do to stop the injection of gas now?”
Lieu said it was an important issue and he would look into it. “There is no reason for LA County to engage in gas storage,” he said.
Sparks flew when PDSMM Vice President Michael Goldman challenged Lieu regarding possible U.S. intervention in Venezuela regarding regime change.
“No, I am not going to defend Maduro,” Lieu said emphatically when Goldman pushed the issue. “He is an evil person. Let me finish…. He is an evil, horrific, awful person; we cannot defend him in any way whatsoever. I oppose military intervention [but] we have to work with Columbia and others and figure out a way to help the Venezuelan people.”
Toward the end of the Q&A, Harvey Wasserman invited both Lieu and Stern onto his KPFK 90.7 FM radio show and Lieu requested his staff to make sure he got booked on the show.
Lieu then had to leave for another engagement and Stern stayed on for a few more questions.
Reik summed up the meeting with an e-mail blast to PDSMM members.
“It was a love fest!” she wrote. “Topangans are beyond fortunate to have such dedicated and responsive representatives. The live stream should be up on our website and Facebook page shortly but it was more than what they said—it was the obvious connection they felt toward their constituents and their constituents felt toward them. No one’s concerns went unaddressed. After the event, Ted tweeted ‘I love my district!’ and I, of course, tweeted back, ‘And your district loves you!’”
About PDSMM. The Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains is a chartered club of the Los Angeles Democratic Party whose website states, “We strive to cultivate progressive ideals within our community by supporting reformist elected officials. We believe that awareness of current events and involvement with local officials aids in our commonly shared goal of Waging Peace. We uphold a revered reputation with such officials by continuously jumping on pressing issues and advocating for moral justice. There is no compromise when it comes to the environment and equality among all.”