Step into the office of California State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), and have a piece of fresh fruit at the same time.
Simitian appeared at the Menlo Park Farmers Market on Sunday for “Sidewalk Office Hours”--meetings where he invites residents to share questions and solutions regarding state legislative issues. According to Simitian, he holds about a dozen of these events each year in an effort to connect with the more than 500,000 residents that he represents in the 11th district.
“In order to feel that I really represent all the citizens in my district, it is necessary that I try to meet with residents as much as possible,” Simitian said. "The topics always [vary] from year to year, but it is a great way to meet people. While some residents come very prepared with questions and notes, others just happen to be walking by and stop to ask a question.”
Simitian expected many questions to address major topics, such as the state budget and high speed rail. Menlo Park resident Morris Brown came to the market to discuss his concern for the California High Speed Rail Authority proposal.
“I am very against the high speed rail proposal,” Brown said. “Simitian is the chairman of a knowledgable subcommittee and he is is for the ‘high speed rail done right' proposal.”
The current proposal is similar to a second rail system for the peninsula and south bay, unnecessarily duplicating existing usable infrastructure. Simitian does not believe that the costs of duplication can be justified, and has called upon the High-Speed Rail Authority to develop plans for a system that incorporates the high speed rail with a 21st century CalTrain.
Another hot topic comes at no surprise--the California state budget. Simitian actually missed his Palo Alto sidewalk office hours on Saturday because he was in Sacramento at a senate meeting, voting on measures related to the state budget.
“It requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass legislature in the senate,” Simitian said. “So, while the Republicans are the minority, they have a lot of power and are in the position to make high demands. We are not even trying to raise taxes at the point, but just trying to keep them at their current level."
Simitian believes that the University of California (UC) system may be at risk if the budget deficit continues and there is no tax extension.
“This is serious and it is not a threat; if the state government cannot afford to support the UC system, then tuition and costs are likely to increase, and the quality of the programs are likely to decrease,” Simitian said. “This makes it even more difficult for the average citizen to afford quality education.”
Other Menlo Park residents came to Simitian to discuss lesser known issues such as the closing of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and the vetoing of the Cargill project, which plans to build up to 12,000 homes on the 1,436-acre bylands and has angered many Redwood City residents.
“I came here to discuss with Simitian how to lessen the aid to foreign countries and do more for infrastructure,” Menlo Park resident Pat Clark said. “ I also want to know what we can do to influence legislation, because I’m not sure if writing to our congresspeople does anything.”
Learn more about Senator Joe Simitian on his website at www.senatorsimitian.com.