By Vicky Boyd
The San Joaquin Farm Bureau has endorsed two incumbents and two newcomers for the November general election as well as opposed Proposition 19, which would expand property tax breaks Californians 55 and older receive when buying new homes.
In addition, SJFB reaffirmed its opposition to Prop 15 – the split-roll property tax measure that removes Prop 13 protection for business and industrial property owners. Although agricultural ground would remain protected by Prop 13, buildings, dairy barns, farm and ranch improvements, and mature orchards and vineyards would be reassessed at today’s market value.
Kenny Watkins, a Linden-area cattle rancher and walnut grower who chaired the SJFB Endorsement Committee, said they asked candidates a wide array of questions focused on farm-related issues.
“We stuck to the (Farm Bureau) Policy Book and what people were interested in and what’s affecting ag,” Watkins said. “We’re the Farm Bureau, and we just tailored the farm issues to the candidates.”
Of course, Endorsement Committee members asked all candidates their positions on water and Prop 15. They also queried candidates about their stance on asking the governor to pause minimum wage increases and the ag overtime rule in light of coronavirus pandemic-induced economic struggles.
In addition, committee members used the interviews to get better acquainted with candidates they didn’t know as well.
Due to the pandemic, the interviews were conducted by Zoom video conference this year rather than in person as they have in the past.
“It actually went better than I thought it would, but there’s something to be said about shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye,” Watkins said. “But I was surprised it worked as well as it did.”
After the interviews and research, the committee approved by majority vote a list of recommendations to forward to the SJFB Board of Directors. Only candidates or ballot measures with at least a two-thirds majority vote from the board receive the SJFB endorsement.
The endorsees are State Assemblymen Jim Cooper, District 9, Democrat; State Assemblymen Heath Flora, District 12, Republican; Carlos Villapudua, District 13, Democrat; and Robert Rickman, District 5, San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. The SJFB Board also approved the Endorsement Committee’s recommendation to oppose Prop 19, described by some as the “portable property tax break.”
Jim Cooper for Assembly
Cooper, a Democrat who came to the Assembly in 2014 with 30 years of law-enforcement experience, represents District 9 comprising southern Sacramento County and the Lodi area. Within his district is $2.7 billion worth of agriculture.
Cooper sits on several Assembly committees, including the Public Employees Retirement and Social Security Committee, Governmental Organization Committee and Insurance Committee. He also chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 4 on State Administration and the Assembly Select Committee on Community Law Enforcement Relations and Responsibilities.
An Elk Grove resident, Cooper said the SJFB endorsement means a lot to him as it has since the Farm Bureau first threw its support his way in 2014.
Probably the biggest issue facing his district is water, and it’s always going to be. Cooper said he’s had ongoing conversations with California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot about how devastating tunnels – whether two or one – would be to the San Joaquin Valley.
“I’m absolutely advocating for more storage capacity,” Cooper said. “I toured the Sites Reservoir site in 2014, and they haven’t even begun construction on that. It’s doing a disservice to the California ag industry, which is our No. 1 industry.”
Another bill Cooper helped defeat but which he believes will be reintroduced is Senate Bill 54 or the “California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.” It would have required all single-use plastic be recyclable or compostable by 2032.
Hard hit would have been fruit and vegetable growers who field pack using plastic wrap, plastic bags or plastic containers, he said.
In his time in the Assembly, Blodgett said, Cooper has been a leader within the Capitol’s ag coalition, which comprises both Republicans and Democrats. His ability to reach across party lines also impressed the Endorsement Committee, Watkins said.
“He’s very approachable and a good guy to work with,” Blodgett said.
Over the years, Cooper or an aide also has attended and participated in Farm Bureau events, such as the annual VIP/Media Night.
“He comes to the Annual Meeting and talks to members,” Watkins said. “He’s been really supportive.”
Since joining the Assembly, Cooper has engaged the ag community and has been open to the Farm Bureau, said SJFB President David Strecker.
“He’s obviously someone who’s educated himself on ag and some of the water issues going on in the state,” Strecker said.
Based on what he believes his constituents need, Cooper also has voted against party lines on some major issues, most notably when he opposed the ag minimum wage and ag overtime.
“He took a bit of flack for that, but he saw what the results would be,” Strecker said. “Even if it’s something that we don’t agree with, we still seem to have really good conversations with him.”
Based on the current economic situation, Cooper said he plans to push for a pause in the ag minimum wage increase and ag overtime threshold.
“I wrote a letter a few months ago when the pandemic started pushing for the off ramps built into those bills for when we have an economic downturn,” he said. “With how deep this recession is, I believe we need those off ramps.”
Heath Flora for Assembly
A small businessman and volunteer firefighter, Flora is no longer a political newcomer, having been first elected to the Assembly in 2016. The Ripon Republican represents District 12 – an area east of Highway 99 to the Sierra foothills and from Galt to south to Turlock. It also includes Manteca and portions of Tracy.
Flora is vice chair of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, vice chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and a member of several other committees, including the Assembly Agriculture Committee.
In receiving the SJFB endorsement, Flora said ag “is something that represents the values that I hold dearly. It’s been something that’s been very important to our candidacy, and quite frankly we’re doing what we can to legislate, represent and protect ag the best we can.”
Water continues to be a huge issue and battle within his district, and he doesn’t foresee any resolution in the near future.
What also concerns him are some of the governor’s executive orders, with the most recent one banning sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and light duty trucks by 2035. In addition, off-road vehicles and equipment will have to be zero-emissions by 2035, where feasible.
Under the governor’s order, the State Air Board also will write regulations to require that new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles be 100% zero emission by 2045, where feasible.
Because the action was still so new, Flora said he didn’t know about options to oppose it. But he certainly planned to look into those.
“Fighting executive orders is certainly more challenging than the legislative process,” he said. “I know the ag community will be really, really concerned about this.
“When you talk about issues affecting ag, water is No. 1, but you have pesticide regulation and the current business climate across the state, which is harmful. This is just a big shot across the bow.”
With an agricultural background, Flora has been a friend of the ag community, enabling Farm Bureau to talk with him about several different issues, Strecker said. But Flora also has broadened his perspective.
“He seems to have a good grasp on everything that’s going on,” Strecker said. “He’s been very adamant about the firefighters and first responders and how they’re dealt with and how they’re paid. He’s good for the community. He’s not just concentrating on one thing – seems to be very community oriented and engaged for the betterment of the whole community.”
Carlos Villapudua for Assembly
Stockton Democrat Carlos Villapudua is opposing Kathy Miller for the District 13 Assembly seat vacated by Susan Eggman, who is running for state Senate. District 13 includes Tracy, the Delta and Stockton.
A former San Joaquin County supervisor for District 1 from 2006-2018, Villapudua unsuccessfully ran for the same Assembly seat in 2018. Afterward, he made a one-year commitment to serve as CEO of the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and he also became a partner in Western Pacific Truck School.
Villapudua said he wasn’t one to gather endorsements just to name drop, but he considered the SJFB’s support very important.
“To have the San Joaquin Farm Bureau endorsement, that’s something I want to brag about, because if you look at where we live, we live in a beautiful country,” he said. “Farm Bureau’s endorsement to me means a lot because in our community where we live, three out of every five jobs is ag-related. That’s humongous, that’s huge.”
Should Villapudua be elected, he said one of his goals is to educate his colleagues in the Capitol about the importance of agriculture and its contributions to the local, state and global economies.
Part of that educational process will involve water and its importance to agriculture and the economy overall. Any discussions of water will include flood control, groundwater recharge, ensuring the region has groundwater and ensuring residents have clean drinking water, he said.
“I want to make sure they understand the importance of our ag community, so I want to give folks from different parts of the state a tour of Assembly District 13 – not just see it on paper but literally to understand it,” Villapudua said.
Having met with San Joaquin County farmers over the year, he said they face a never-ending slew of regulations coming out of Sacramento that are prompting some to sell or go out of business.
“It’s always a constant battle,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re also fighting against regulations that are job killers, and we need to make sure we’re protecting our ag community from regulations.”
One of those is the governor’s recent executive order that would require zero-emission medium- and heavy duty trucks by 2045, where feasible.
“It will kill our economy,” Villapudua said. “We need to make sure our transportation is vibrant, even more so now as our economy is trying to uplift and get businesses open. We cannot be without our transportation economy now. The governor really needs to sit down with our trucking industry and understand how important it is.”
Strecker said it was refreshing to talk to Villapudua because it appeared his two years away from the supervisors has given him a different outlook.
“Now that he’s been in the private sector, it’s given him a good perspective on how businesses are being affected and hurt by this pandemic,” Strecker said. “He sees the importance of getting this economy back on track and starting to help our community and not just ag.”
Blodgett said the Endorsement Committee also factored in the sources of donations for both candidates.
“We’ve had experience with Carlos and Kathy, and both haven’t had a 100% record with Farm Bureau,” Blodgett said. “The big issue is where their campaign money is coming from. Carlos has been working with Jim Cooper and Adam Gray and has been reaching out to them and working with them to get donations. He’s bringing in funds (from donors) who are a lot more business friendly.”
Robert Rickman for Supervisor
Tracy Mayor Robert Rickman is running against Tracy Councilmember Rhodisia Ransom for San Joaquin County’s Fifth Supervisorial District seat, which is currently held by Bob Elliott. Last year, Elliott decided not to seek reelection to instead run for the District 12 Congressional seat currently held by Josh Harder. Elliott lost in the primary.
District 5 encompasses the southwest portion of the county and includes Tracy, Mountain House and a southern part of Manteca.
A California Highway Patrol sergeant, Rickman has served on the Tracy City Council since 2010 and has been mayor since 2016.
With his family on his mom’s side owning a dairy, Rickman said he was “deeply honored” to receive SJFB’s endorsement. His two teenage daughters are following the family ag tradition by being active in FFA and 4-H.
One of the top issues for the county is always water, including water storage and the proposed $16 million single-tunnel Delta Conveyance Project, Rickman said.
“We need to make sure we’re advocating for and talking to our legislators, both state and federal, about the need to build new storage because you can’t grow the ag economy without water,” he said. “One of the things we’re always trying to do is make sure we have adequate water supplies. The tunnel doesn’t add any new water. If we’re serious about our water storage, we have to start building new reservoirs and raising our dams like Shasta.”
New water storage also goes hand in hand with conservation and groundwater recharge during wet years, he said.
Although the county has more than 900,000 acres of agricultural land, sprawling urban development – such as Tracy Hills, Mountain House and River Islands in Lathrop – is threatening that.
“They’re trying to convert productive ag property,” Rickman said. “Let development occur in the cities.”
Another growing issue in San Joaquin County is homelessness, which he said has been classified simply as a housing issue.
“And it’s not,” Rickman said. “It’s just an underlying problem. It’s also a substance abuse issue and a mental health issue. We need reach-around services for these individuals next to facilities that can take care of these problems.”
In addition, Blodgett said the Endorsement Committee questioned Rickman about the Forward Landfill, Williamson Act and taxation.
Watkins said Rickman has really reached out to talk to the ag community and listened. “He seems to be the best candidate based on our Policy Book,” Watkins said. “He’s open to conversation.”
Strecker described Rickman as a local person who has a lot of ties to the Tracy community. As mayor of Tracy, Rickman has had to grapple with the city’s growth from a large farming community to what is becoming an urban bedroom community.
“But he knows where the roots of Tracy come from,” Strecker said. “He’s already looking above and beyond Tracy, and he’s looking at the entire county now. He’s educated himself very well on some of the issues that affect ag directly in our county.”
No on Prop. 19
Described as the “Property Transfer, Exemptions and Revenue for Wildfire Agencies and County Amendments,” Prop. 19 would allow residents who are 55 and older, disabled or displaced by wildfires to carry their existing lower property tax rates to new homes anywhere in the state.
The measure would remove the requirements that the replacement property be of equal or lesser value, that it be in their current county or a handful of participating counties, and that such a transfer occurs only once. Instead, the measure would allow three such transfers to anywhere in the state and for any priced house.
It also would narrow the tax benefits of familial inheritances by requiring children or grandchildren to inhabit homes passed down to them if they wanted to claim lower tax rates. Otherwise, the home would be reassessed at current market value. Under Prop. 58, passed in 1986, parents can pass along their primary residence to offspring without triggering a reassessment.
Millions of additional tax dollars, derived annually from ownership changes and home sales, would go to newly created funds for counties and firefighting, according to ballot measure language.
The California Realtors Association supported a similar measure on the 2018 ballot, and voters rejected it decisively. At the urging of Realtors and a firefighters’ union, the Legislature supported a revamped 2020 version that drew wider support, eventually sending it to the ballot.
While Blodgett said he sympathizes with those who have lost homes in wildfires, he said SJFB remains concerned about Prop. 19’s potential impact on agriculture and its unintended consequences.
“If they’re not getting taxes somewhere, they’re looking to get taxes somewhere else,” he said.
Watkins agreed, saying the measure “just creates a bigger mess. Again, it’s taxes and more taxes.”
Strecker said, “It’s just another thing that’s not going to help the economy even if we weren’t in the middle of this pandemic. It’s not good for the entire state. The last thing we need is (a new tax) on top of everything we already have.”