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Seven of the Inland Empire’s elected representatives split the stage at an informational legislative forum March 17.

The Redlands Chamber of Commerce organized the event, which was held at the Orton Center on the University of Redlands campus. The participants’ districts covered parts of Riverside and/or San Bernardino counties.

U.S. Representatives Pete Aguilar (D-San Bernardino) District 33 and Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) District 23, State Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Redlands) District 23, Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-San Bernardino) District 50, Assemblymember James Ramos (D-Rancho Cucamonga) District 45, San Bernardino County District 3 Supervisor Dawn Rowe and Redlands Mayor Eddie Tejeda participated. Redlands Chamber of Commerce member Jan Hudson moderated.

Democracy and civic service

Hudson asked pre-selected panelists to generally comment on democracy and civic service.

Aguilar said his participation on the United States House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol caused him to view democracy through a lens of preserving it.

“We should have, from the political perspective, never felt that losing our election meant losing our democracy. But we came close to that on Jan. 6,” Aguilar said. 

Aguilar said that the legislature needed to make sure that everyone who can legally vote is able to do so in the way that works for them (in person or by mail), and that young people should have a role in making their community a better place through public service.

Gomez Reyes said that she focuses on youth engagement into the legislative process. She spoke about Assembly Bill 230, her recently authored bill that a group of Girl Scouts requested. The bill would require public schools that teach third grade to keep a free supply of menstrual products in all restrooms. Current law, the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021, required menstrual products in bathrooms only as early as sixth grade.

From left, Rep. Pete Aguilar, Rep. Jay Obernolte, Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh and Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes

Ramos said democracy is the fact that anyone can be an elected leader for a community. He cited his own credential as the first and only Native American in the California Legislature.

“For many, being the first voice is what democracy means,” Ramos said.


Hudson asked the panelists to speak generally on infrastructure.

Ramos said that the infrastructure has to come from the local community.

Aguilar spoke to his history as campaign manager for the successful Measure I in San Bernardino County. The sales tax increase brought funding to transportation infrastructure, and contributed to the new Arrow Line passenger rail between Redlands and San Bernardino.

Tejeda said that Redlands needs a new police station, and needs to rehabilitate its wastewater treatment plant. He lauded the city’s project to upgrade two-thirds of Redlands’ streets.

Obernolte said that there is a question of what the government funds as infrastructure, and what taxpayers pay. He said that California’s revenue from the gas tax should go entirely for infrastructure, but is often diverted into transportation related projects. The text of the gas tax bill explicitly says that revenue will fund road maintenance and rehabilitation.

Rowe said that the county broke ground on the third phase of the Santa Ana River Trail Jan. 1, to build a trail from Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino to California Street in Redlands, connecting to the rest of the trail. The county will also widen Alabama Street in Redlands, and State Route 210. The completion of the widening should come by June.

From left, Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes, Assemblymember James Ramos, San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe, Redlands Mayor Eddie Tejeda and event moderator Jan Hudson

Gomez Reyes said she always questions how much gas tax revenue each of the cities in her district would receive, and that she makes sure the Inland Empire gets its share of state funds.

Affordable housing and homelessness

Tejeda said Redlands recently opened permanent supportive housing in Redlands, at the former site of the Good Nite Inn by Redlands Boulevard and Alabama. The city was able to do so with $30 million from the state’s Project Homekey. The housing, run by Step Up, has 98 rooms that can accommodate individuals or couples as tenants, Tejeda said. Homeless people in Redlands numbered 190, according to the last point-in-time count, Tejeda said.

Ramos named two bills he is bringing that would expand affordable housing. Assembly Bill 349 would allow the state to lease the closed Patton State Hospital north of Highland to a nonprofit for providing housing to the homeless if passed. Assembly Bill 42 would remove the need for tiny homes to have fire sprinklers. Ramos said that the cost of a sprinkler system could outweigh the cost of rebuilding tiny homes, and that the removal of the requirement could facilitate more tiny housing to be built.

From left, Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes and Assemblymember James Ramos

Reyes touted her involvement with Habitat for Humanity, a non-governmental organization that builds housing. She helped provide $250 million to the NGO through the state budget. $100 million of that funding is being held due to budget concerns, and she said she was working to have the governor release it.

Ochoa Bogh is the vice chair of the Senate Housing Committee. She said that the California Environmental Quality Act is an underlying obstacle to housing in the state, and that she’s working with colleagues to change the law. The act requires a process of environmental review before new building projects go through. Ochoa Bogh said the act is weaponized to prevent housing. She also said California’s licensing requirements for builders drive up costs and limit construction. Some legislators are writing bills to create an apprenticeship pipeline to ensure that there are enough licensed workers, but that for immediate relief the legislature should open the pool of people who can construct homes.

From left, Rep. Jay Obernolte, Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh and Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes

Public safety and gun policy

Hudson asked the legislators to speak on public safety.

Obernolte said that the biggest cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 45 is fentanyl overdoses, a statistic claimed by Families Against Fentanyl. (FAC said it found that number after analyzing drug overdose data from the Centers for Disease Control. However, the CDC finds fentanyl to be the chief cause of overdoses, not all deaths, at 71,000 deaths in 2021, according to a 2022 report. The Associated Press says heart diseases and cancer are leading causes of death. The Centers for Disease Control does not list Fentanyl in the top 10 causes of death for the age ranges 20 to 24, 25 to 34 or 35 to 44 in a 2021 report.) Obernolte expressed his support for the HALT Fentanyl Act, which would reclassify fentanyl as a Schedule 1 controlled drug. Obernolte is one of 93 co-sponsors for the bill.

Ochoa Bogh agreed that fentanyl is one of the biggest challenges in the Inland Empire. She has introduced Senate Bill 13, which would require people who plead guilty to possession for sale of fentanyl to be advised that they could be charged with voluntary manslaughter or murder if a person dies from the drug.  She said that the legislature is against the creation of new felonies, and that the legislature has concerns that criminals might be victims, and would better be treated with rehabilitation.

“Some of the concern…, is the fact that many of the people that were selling and dealing in fentanyl in our communities were black and brown children, and they did not want them to be incarcerated or taken to higher penalties,” Ochoa Bogh said. “There’s a huge push not to criminalize, but to have therapy and have other means by which people can care for these individuals. I bring that to your attention because I don’t think the Inland Empire feels that way”

Ochoa Bogh also expressed support for Senate Bill 14, which she co-authored, that would redefine human trafficking as a serious and violent felony, which would make the crime fall under the Three Strikes Law.

Reyes discussed Assembly Bill 325, which she wrote. The bill would extend the availability of public social and health care services to trafficking victims.

Ramos touted his recently passed law, Assembly Bill 1314, that establishes the use of an emergency alert system for missing indigenous people. Previously, there was no alert system for indigenous people, according to a legislature report. Ramos also mentioned his Assembly Bill 462, which would create a fentanyl overdose response team.

Question and answer

Hudson read questions submitted by attendees as time allowed, starting with an explanation of the government’s response to the forced closure of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. 

Aguilar said that Silicon Valley Bank is going into federal receivership, and that their financial issues were not closely watched because a stress-test oversight component of the Dodd-Frank Act was repealed under the last presidential administration. He said that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. should raise the minimum amount of deposit that is insured. The minimum has not been raised above $250,000 in decades, he said.

Obernolte agreed that the government needs to make structural changes to bank oversight, and added that the government had insured all deposits at Silicon Valley Bank beyond the minimum insured $250,000. He said it was a smart move that protected depositors while not bailing out the bank.

The forum ended with a question to Obernolte and Gomez Reyes about their response to climate change.

Gomez Reyes said it was a top priority, before pivoting to clean air, and then to responsible warehouse management.

Obernolte said that climate change is an existential crisis, and that he was a founding member of the Conservative Climate Caucus, which looks to find free market solutions to the issue. He said that the United States has to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energies, but that the government can’t get involved.

“If we use the coercive power of government to force that transition before our infrastructure is ready for it, the people that disproportionately pay the price are the people that least can afford it. It’s the working poor, the people that are in poverty,” Obernolte said, referencing long-distance commuters. He also said that a halting of domestic fuel would cause an import of foreign fuel that would increase fossil fuels through transportation emissions.

Follow Our Courts was a sponsor of this event.


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