Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is running for governor of California this year, and our colleague at our sister paper the Metro in San Jose, Jennifer Wadsworth, caught up with him at a recent event at the Laborers' International Union in Silicon Valley, where Newsom talked about education, the tech sector, income inequality, cannabis, affordable housing, Trump and more. Will Gav be guv? He's facing off against former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (who just nabbed the endorsement of San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo), California State Treasurer John Chiang and Delaine Eastin, the former California state superintendent of public instruction and the only woman in the race. The latest polls have Newsom and Villaraigosa running neck and neck in advance of the nonpartisan June 5 primary. We interviewed Villaraigosa last month, and before election day we're aiming to give Mr. Chiang and Ms. Eastin the same opportunity to make their case to our readers.—Tom Gogola
The Bohemian: Bay Area cities are ground zero for income inequality. How do you think we arrived at this point of extreme poverty in the shadow of plenty, and what steps would you take as governor to alleviate those problems—both on a structural level and in the short-term?
Newsom: The only substantive way we're going to address this issue is you've got to begin at the beginning. Our interventions come too late. We're playing catch-up, we're triaging it. At the end of the day, if we don't focus on the first few precious years of a child's life, we are making a huge mistake—and we've been doing that for a generation. The science is in, it's overwhelming: billions and billions of neurons exploding at the same time; 85 percent of that brain is developed by the age of three. If you don't capture a kid by the age of three, we're going to be spending extraordinary amounts of money playing catch-up.
So we have a huge focus on prenatal care, on nurse home visits, early intervention and those first three precious years. Obviously as mayor, I did universal preschool—fully implemented it. That's profoundly important from a foundational perspective. But that's, to me, my focus: the readiness gap, and not waiting for it to become an achievement gap.
Do you think that's something California could pull off without federal funding?
We can. We'd love to see the federal government recognize what all the experts already know, but the state can amplify better behavior at the local level. Local government needs to significantly increase its investment, counties need to increase their investment, and certainly the state needs to incentivize that. And that's a big part of what we want to do, is incentivize better behavior at the local level.
I think what's happened in the past is governors have done—we've modestly invested in this space, but not to the degree that I'm committed to. This is a very specific distinction between my campaign and the campaign of others, and between the status quo and what I hope to promote as the next governor.
How do you fund something that ambitious?
It's a question of priority. We did [universal] preschool in the middle of a recession as mayor. I did universal healthcare in the middle of a recession as mayor.
So you're advocating a bottom-up approach?
It's the only way to address these issues. Otherwise, I'm just giving you platitudes, I'm just giving you political speak, I'm saying nothing meaningful, because all I would be offering is a strategy to fail more efficiently. And that's, unfortunately, what we're doing. And, you know, you just have to—there has to be a recognition and a reconciliation of the failure in our society to substantively address the importance of those critical early years.
You garner a lot of support from the tech sector, and you've championed the tech industry as a way to solve some of the inequalities we're grappling with. But in many ways, Silicon Valley has exacerbated these social ills. As governor, how would you hold the industry accountable to upholding its end of the social contract?
One of my closest friends, the godfather of my firstborn, Marc Benioff [CEO of Salesforce], is a shining example of someone who gets it and gets it done. Follow his example. He's been an unbelievable leader. He's walked his talk, on gender pay and pay equity and environmental stewardship. He just announced what they're doing with the Salesforce Tower in terms of meeting LEED Platinum levels, and the incredible water-efficiency proposals that he's advancing. My point being that on issue after issue, on homelessness, philanthropy contribution, on what businesses can do in real time—not waiting until a massive amount of wealth is concentrated and then at the end of your life you redistribute it—he has marked, I think, the type of example that others should follow.
Giving while living.
Yeah, and also, you know, amplifying the workforce to do the same individually—not just as an institution. It's a way of saying this: Look, I'm very close, as you know, with a lot of leaders in the community, and there's an empathy gap, and that needs to be closed, and I'm committed to working in the valley to address those issues. I'd like to see the kind of ingenuity, the entrepreneurial spirit put to address the issues of social mobility as it is for pushing out products and new iterations of releases.
And to see them repatriate their taxes?
Well, it's also an opportunity—don't think for a second that when I read Tim Cook's announcement [to repatriate Apple's overseas profits because of the GOP tax measure] that I didn't think of many things that he could be doing in the state of California with those dollars to address those issues.
By the way, one of the big ways is to deal with the housing crisis in this region. That's an issue that should immediately galvanize the tech community, particularly when it comes to the missing middle, to workforce housing. We've got a $4 billion housing bond that's on the ballot, but only $300 million is for people earning 60 to 120 percent of [the median income]. So there's an opportunity to reach out to the corporate sector and address some revolving loans to make up for the gaps in financing, to make up for the gap in workforce housing. I think there's a tremendous opportunity there to do this at scale—because with what we're talking about, you can't play in the margins, you can't play small ball on affordability. And that's something I really look forward to engaging with the community on.
In that same vein, how do you plan to make sure local governments are building their share of affordable housing?
They need to be held to account. In our housing plan, we want to assign sanctions for those who aren't meeting their housing element. We actually want to be punitive. You've got to be tough.
How? By withholding transit dollars. It's an amazing part of our proposal that no one has yet seemingly read. Because if they had read it, they would be critical.
I know the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has talked about that for a long time
Thank you. Yes, and we reference the MTC's work in our plan. So we're there. I was inspired by that, in fact. You're the first person I've talked to who's known that.
I interview a lot of wonky people about this kind of thing.
Would you sign a bill to repeal Costa- Hawkins [the 1995 state law which limits locally written rent-control ordinances]?