ALAMEDA ELECTIONS '12: Despite similar stances, Assembly candidates show some differences

ALAMEDA ELECTIONS '12: Despite similar stances, Assembly candidates show some differences

Michele Ellson

Voters who are deciding on a new state Assembly rep for Alameda this fall are facing a choice between two self-styled progressive Democrats whose stances on major issues are nearly identical. But interviews, candidate forums and questionnaires for local Democratic organizations reviewed by The Alamedan revealed some key differences between Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta and Peralta Community College District Trustee Abel Guillen, who are running to replace a termed-out Sandré Swanson.

While both candidates have listed schools funding and jobs as top priorities if elected, Bonta has also listed public safety as another key issue he’d tackle if elected. In an interview with the Bay Area News Group’s editorial board, Bonta said that one of his first proposals if elected would be to create a state fund to supplement public safety in high-crime areas.

In that interview and in response to questions from The Alamedan, Bonta also said he’d propose a carve-out that would allow future property tax revenues to be used to redevelop former military bases like Alameda Point and Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland; the state’s top court eliminated California’s redevelopment program late last year, and with it, cities’ and counties’ ability to use future tax dollars to cover redevelopment costs. He has also proposed school facilities or public infrastructure bonds as a way to create jobs and rebuild the state’s roads and schools.

In the editorial board interview, Guillen – whose campaign didn’t provide information sought by The Alamedan despite repeated requests – said he’d seek greater investment in community colleges and more openness and transparency in government, though the newspaper chain’s editorial board challenged the level of transparency at the community college district he is helping to govern. He has also said he would seek to create green jobs to stimulate California’s economy.

Guillen’s handlers have sought to cast him as the more progressive of the two candidates, pointing to his successful effort to move the community college district’s $140 million in assets out of big banks and into local banks and credit unions, though Bonta’s disagree that Guillen is more progressive. Bonta’s handlers have argued that he has the wider breadth of experience, comparing his service on Alameda’s Social Service Human Relations Board, Economic Development Commission and Health Care District Board and the Alameda County Transportation Commission to Guillen’s six years as a Peralta trustee.

“He has a really deep understanding of very complex public policy issues,” Bonta’s campaign manager, Mark Capitolo, said. “And at the end of the day I think that’s what distinguishes Rob from another very good Democratic candidate.”

When asked by the Wellstone Club which of his political activities defined him a progressive, Guillen listed his efforts to move Peralta’s money; Bonta noted his commitment to social, economic and racial justice, workers and vulnerable people, and to education equity and adequate public school funding.

To be sure, there are many areas where both candidates are aligned. Both would seek to change Proposition 13 by creating a split property tax roll in which commercial property owners would pay based on the current market value of their property, and both would also seek to eliminate the two-thirds voter approval requirement for passage of new local taxes. Both would consider a host of fresh taxes to help balance the state’s budget, including an oil excise tax and higher taxes on corporations and wealthy Californians. If budget cuts had to be made, both would turn their shears on the state’s prisons.

Both are in favor of same sex marriage and single-payer health care, and both are pro-abortion. Both candidates would seek to reduce auto dependence and greenhouse gases; Bonta has said he would also focus on addressing anticipated sea level rise. Each has said he favors high-speed rail, though when asked, both questioned whether now was the right time to being building it. And Bonta and Guillen, both of whom are heavily supported by the state’s big labor unions, have emphasized their blue collar roots and affinity with workers, with each having walked picket lines and engaged in other efforts to support labor.

While the candidates share the same point of view on a number of issues, each has offered differences in listing their top priorities. In addition to education, Guillen has listed green jobs; elimination of the two-thirds vote requirement for new taxes; gaining universal, single payer health care; and rebuilding infrastructure as his top priorities, while Bonta’s list includes the budget, jobs and the economy; public safety; and preserving the social safety net.

The candidates have also offered differing takes on how they’d handle redevelopment and affordable housing development, with Bonta proposing the aforementioned carve-out and Guillen saying he’d look at bonds and community corporations like the East Bay Local Development Corporation as avenues for funding affordable housing.

On public employee pensions, Bonta – who is himself a public employee and future pensioner – has said he’d seek to preserve the existing pension structure but would also seek to lift caps that limit the amount of money government employees can pay into their pensions. Guillen told the Bay Area News Group editorial board that he’d seek the creation of a more independent governing board for the state’s pension system.

In addition to Alameda, the winner of the Assembly District 18 contest would represent Oakland and San Leandro.

Additional information on the candidates' qualifications and positions is available in the documents posted below. In addition to the documents posted and linked in the story, additional information was gleaned from questionnaires posted by the East Bay Young Democrats; Guillen's responses are here, and Bonta's are here.


Submitted by Bill 2-Wheel Smith on Tue, Sep 18, 2012

As I've endorsed both Abel and Rob, my comments are directed to building on Michelle's excellent story to point out the strengths that each would bring to Sacramento, not to advocate for one over the other.

I've gotten to know both candidates through the Sierra Club endorsement process and by working with both of their campaigns to build support for Alameda's new zoning, which allows the construction of economical condos, apartments and town homes for the first time in 40 years. The Sierra Club endorsed Abel Guillen.

Both Abel and Rob, and their campaign staffs, have been very supportive of Alameda's new and more environmentally and economically sustainable housing policies - policies which Rob voted to approve as an Alameda Councilman.

Both Abel and Rob are supportive of promising land use policies for urban and suburban environments. As could be expected based on where they live, Abel instinctively understands how compact development provides the 99% with more economical housing and transportation options, while Rob understands instinctively how important recreational facilities are to the suburban families who live in Piedmont and Alameda.

Both Abel and Rob support initiatives that invest in our State's future. Abel gives priority to educational facilities that will benefit all of our young people and address some of the root causes of crime in urban areas. Rob prioritizes public safety measures which would discourage crime. We need both approaches to improve the lot of many of our inner city youth who have been denied access to strong families, good schools or a safe neighborhood.

We who reside in the 18th Assembly District are privileged to have such outstanding public servants as Rob and Abel. Wouldn't voting be easier if we could vote for both?

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Tue, Sep 18, 2012


Unfortunately, we only get to (legally) vote for one candidate in the AD 18 race. :-)
In part because the local Sierra Club endorsed Rob Bonta unanimously in 2010 when he ran for Alameda City Council, I was disappointed that the Sierra Club endorsed Abel Guillen this spring. Although I agree that Guillen could be a good choice--and he might have been mine, too, had he been the only Democratic candidate on the ballot--I see no reason to believe that Rob Bonta will be any less than a champion of the environment in Sacramento.

Because I believe Rob Bonta is the best person to represent us well in AD 18 I will be voting for him. Having seen his good work in Alameda in the Health Care District Board and as Vice-mayor, I believe he is the most qualified candidate to continue and expand on the good work of Sandre Swanson on our behalf.

And my assessment includes his positions and record in environmental matters such as affordable higher-density multifamily housing, solid waste management, and transportation.

Vote for the best possible candidate in the AD 18 race--Rob Bonta.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Tue, Sep 18, 2012


Thanks for offering that information on the candidates! And Jon, thank you for weighing in.

Submitted by Leland Traiman on Tue, Sep 18, 2012

Honesty and integrity are what divides these two candidates. Like Mitt Romney, Mr. Bonta seems to take both sides of an issue and cannot be trusted. I am part of the effort to recall 18th Assembly District candidate, Rob Bonta, from his current position on the Alameda City Council because he was elected to that position with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Republican corporate developers who want control of Alameda's vacant former military base.
That political action committee made ugly attacks on everyone in the city council race except Mr. Bonta and his slate mate. (Bonta denied he was running on a slate but they had the same campaign treasurer, campaign manager and campaign workers.) Of course, the Citizens United decision of the US Supreme Court made it possible for corporate "persons" to overwhelm the electoral process with massive amounts of money because the Supreme Court equated money with free speech. If one believes, as Mitt Romney does, that "corporations are people, my friend," then this is fine. I do not believe corporations are people or money is free speech and it is not fine with me. Candidate Bonta lied to the League of Women Voters pledging to approve no more than 200 new housing units per year. (In fact, Bonta said, "200 is too much!" It can be verified on the video.) Then Councilman Bonta voted to approve 2,420 new housing units, a violation of the city charter. Councilman Bonta also tried to circumvent Alameda's city charter and tried to give away
part of our public park lands to a developer. That is why Measure D (save our parks initiative) became necessary. If one opposes the Citizens United decision and supports Measure D then it is completely inconsistent to support Mr. Bonta. Clearly, as the recall slogan says, Bonta Been Bought. Bought by big, corporate developers.

Submitted by sptrain98 on Tue, Sep 18, 2012

My perception is that Mr. Bonta is unwilling to confront the necessity of pension reform in the firefighter and police areas. I also harbor a deep suspicion of his entry into the Assembly race after a rather limited "service" as an Alameda City Council member.

Furthermore, I REALLY resent the term "pro-abortion" being attributed to either of these gentlemen. Being in favor of a woman's right to choose is NOT being in favor of abortion. It is in favor of a woman's right to choose.

Submitted by Bill 2-Wheel Smith on Wed, Sep 19, 2012


Rob Bonta's vote to change our zoning to allow the constuction of about 2400 homes did not approve the construction of a single housing unit. In fact, it is unlikely that this zoning change will allow the construction of a single unit before 2014, and likely even later. Before the units can be built, all the requirements of the City's normal development and buildling review processes must be met.

I wish that simply zoning the land to allow developers to apply to build housing units means that the housing would automatically be built. Sadly, though, for many of the 99% for whom paying for housing is a real hardship, zoning does not automatically mean that the housing will be built.