From the moment Central Coast Congresswoman Lois Capps announced her plans to retire at the end of this term, candidates looking to fill her spot began to announce their intentions to run.
KCBX is inviting each registered candidate onto Issues and Ideas in order to share their visions for the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties as well as a portion of Ventura County in the Los Padres National Forest.
Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian from San Luis Obispo is one of two Republicans currently vying for the seat.
Randol White: Welcome to Issues and Ideas.
Katcho Achadjian: Thank you.
RW: As a member of the State Assembly, you have to work with Democrats in order to get anything passed. Should you be successful a little more than a year from now, how might your bill proposals and political strategies change when you could be part of the majority in Congress?
KA: Time will tell. Even though I've been a member of the minority in the Assembly overall, but I never look at myself as the minority. I always look at myself a member of the Assembly, and my bills have gone through being able to work all concerned and that's the mentality that I'll take with me to Washington. Being a member of a majority, obviously it will have it's advantages, but not to take it for granted.
RW: One of the bills that you've had signed by the Governor had to do with ground water here in the state. We're in our fourth year of historic drought, of course, in California, and here on the Central Coast. You've been instrumental in ground water legislation, but clearly the state's water management updates are not complete. What do you believe still needs to be done to order to insure farmers, residents, the environment, and industry have a secure supply of water heading into the future?
KA: We need to do better outreach. We need to raise the consciousness of those who use water from residents to farmers. We want to make sure that our farmers are not becoming the endangered species-- that we're doing everything within our power to help them out. Just seeing agriculture as a number one industry in San Luis County, but it is also countrywide. We feed a lot of people so we need to give that a serious consideration as how to help them. Many areas if you take politics out of the water, we'll have more water than we think we have such as the Delta Smelt fish that's caused so much lack of water reaching the valley of farmers, and they've been suffering quite a bit. In the areas that suffer from true water drought, we need to put management in place, and that's my bill itself. It brings forward a local decision-makers way of managing their own water rather than having state come into your face and tell you what to do about it. So hopefully we'll do that, and those who do that, we have 1.1 billion dollars in place as an emergency fund for water which means anybody that has a shower-ready project or anything to do with drinking water or saving water, they can apply such as City of Santa Barbara just received something like two million dollars for their water project. So there's money available on the state level, and all those communities who have water management systems that in the process, they should apply for those funds while they last.
RW: Do you feel like people will play by the rules if the state doesn't step in? I'm thinking about the water district in Tracy right now that was just fined one million dollars for not obeying the state when the state said to stop pumping.
KA: It is a serious matter and people who are looking for water management, they need to be serious about it. There's no joke, and the whole idea of my bill was to help you have that local say about it even if it's considered another layer of government, but it's the local layer because you don't have the choice but to have that layer. Otherwise, there was a bill that came through after mine, and it's by Assemblyman Dickinson and Senator Pavley that says if you don't have management in place, then the state will come in and manage it for you. And last year the budget included something like 10 million dollars by the governor to have his own people, new hires, to go location to location to see who's not complying and who doesn't have management in place and they will be your management team, and you don't want to see that.
RW: The Governor's tunnel project is controversial. Where do you sit on that moving forward?
KA: I haven't supported the tunnel because of the cost and the way it's designed. I think it would be much less expensive if we take the politics out of it to strengthen the levees and deliver that water to the valley farmers ASAP, and then start thinking for the long term.
RW: Do you believe that the infrastructure that we currently have in place is as up-to-date as it needs to be? It was his father that put it in decades ago. It was controversial then, but we've certainly used it to its fullness.
KA: We have used it to its fullness, but times have changed. Every year or every time we've had a drought, it's worse than the time before, just like the economy. So we have failed to build reservoir storage. Every time it has rained, it has washed to the ocean. We haven't been able to maintain and save any of that water, so the bond measure that passed last year by California voters was 7.5 billion dollars and that has 2.7 billion dollars in it for storage. We need not to waste any time. We need not to waste that money to studies. We need to build those storages ASAP in order to save any water, especially the thought is that next year we'll have an El Niño year. We need to save every inch of that water that's possible to be saved.
RW: What are your thoughts on desalination as they are moving forward within Santa Barbara?
KA: I'm very much supportive. I was on causal commission for four years, and I was a member of the team that supported the cause by San Diego [desalinization] plant. That was a one billion dollar project. We created a lot of jobs and once it's in operation it's going to save a lot of money for every resident, probably a dollar a day is the cost once the water is delivered for you to maintain your needs in your home. It's doable. The ocean is here. We can be environmentally friendly in how we outtake the water from the ocean. It can be done.
RW: Speaking of Santa Barbara voters, they, at lease along the county's south coast, may not be as familiar with your political career, but they are part of the 24th district. Many following May's oil spill are concerned with the future of oil production in the Santa Barbara Channel. What is your vision for the industry as it pertains to oil in the channel?
KA: Unfortunately, when an oil spill takes place, it does create a devastating to the shore and the fish and the people who enjoy their time on the beach. But oil is also something we depend on. To some, we have absolutely no need for oil. I will be in support of oil drilling. And those lines that go through the coast, we want to be sure that just like your local gas station's underground tanks are double walled, and as time goes, as they age, they replacement should be double walled. And I support that they all have shut-off valves. Automatic shut off valves? Yes. The incident that happened in Santa Barbara, if the shut off valves were in place, the damage would not have been as bad as it was. And we need to go after those who caused it. If it was a maintenance problem, why it wasn't taken care of. And those who ignored it, they should be penalized criminally so that we put an end to the spills. Accidents can happen, and also in Santa Barbara it was in the local paper about a year ago, there was natural spillage, so that can happen too. And when that happens and you have us drilling for oil, maybe we will help that, but we've got to be very careful and use the best technology available for us to be sure that there's the least amount of accidents taking place.
RW: Phillip 66 is proposing a rail spur to the company's Santa Maria refinery that's just west of Nipomo. Communities along the Southern Pacific Line to the south and to the north have expressed concern, written concern, over the increase in oil trains that this project would create. If you were on the San Luis Obispo planning commission today, how would you vote on that project?
KA: I am not on the planning commission today, but I was a county supervisor and we always follow the environmental impact report which I haven't seen. That should give you some guidelines as what are the problems and how can you address them. If there addressable, fine, if not, then you have to look at where to go with those. So it's very important that the Environmental Impact Report, the CEQA, California Environmental Quality Act, those are all in place and they're studied very well before any decision should be made.
RW: PG&E's currently asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to renew it's operating permits for the two reactors at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. Are you more in the camp with those who stand behind studies that support PG&E's assertion that the plant is seismically safe or those that are expressing concern? And that includes current 24th District Representative Lois Capps, and one of your former colleagues, State Senator Sam Blakeslee who is an earthquake scientist.
KA: Well I've ben supportive of PG&E, but as a local resident, I'm also concerned. As long as it's safe and sound, I want to see it move forward, and then it become an impact on the local economy especially in San Luis Obispo County. So you've got to put it all in place and see where is the balance. But the bottom line is we want to make sure it's safe and secure. Otherwise, it will be devastating if it accidentally was to take place because personally all of my belongings are here. All of my families are here. I have no place else to go so I don't want to move.
RW: You've been busy in Sacramento. It was Sacramento's busy season, so you haven't had a lot of time to do fundraising and when it comes to the amount of money raised by the various candidates running for Lois Capps' seat, currently you're near the bottom. That won't continue, but how do you feel when it comes to transparent campaign fundraising? There's a lot of secret money in politics today. How will you make sure that your campaign is open with where the money's coming from?
KA: Today it's more transparent than it's ever been. If you want to know where each penny came from, you can just go on [unintelligible] or [unintelligible] file and find out who paid who and how much. And the regulations are so steep that we cannot take corporate money. You can only take so much. You can only give a candidate $2,700 per election, per year, but you can give twice for primary and general for a total of $5,400. Those are all in place. Any violation and you'll be penalized. Yes, I was the last one to announce, I announced April of this year, there were candidates that were running from the year before, or announced much earlier. And being busy in Sacramento did not help me to get active right away because, as I said then, my priorities were my job as an assemblyman, especially that it was budget time. During budget time, we don't even try to be with family members. That's how busy we get, and that was no surprise to us, but we were able to raise close to $100,000. But now that I'm on a little break, we'll move forward, and we have several fundraisers in place scheduled. I think the second time around will show different figures.
RW: The rules that you were just running down there when it comes to campaigns, that has to do with money that an individual candidate raises, right? But not money that might be raised by a PAC that could then support the candidate.
KA: There are different PACs. There are small PACs that can give you $5,000. There are big PACs, but usually PAC money doesn't come in until after primary is over. And those are not easy money to gain. And it all depends who the candidates are and what are the possibilities of the candidate to win or lose. They do a good study about the candidates before they spend that money. Later on there are IEs, independent expenditures, comes in the picture, but we as candidates wouldn't know who they are and why, but obviously they like you philosophy, they like your record, they like how you think, your business background, or whatever it is they're looking for. They do decision based on that and that money can be enormous against you or for you.
RW: And this is nearly a 50/50 district, so a lot of experts are saying this could be an expensive race post-primaries.
KA: Very much so. By the end of the day it could be up to six million dollars. They said this will be number one race in California and number 20 in the nation. Scary.
RW: Assembly member Katcho Achadjian running for the 24th Congressional district. Thank you so much for being on Issues and Ideas.
KA: Thank you. My pleasure.