Joan Buchanan: A legislator all our own
State Assemblywoman heads off to Sacramento Jan. 7 in her new role as Pleasanton's sole legislator because of newly-aligned political districts. For her first two terms in the Assembly, Buchanan represented only a sliver of the city with the 15th Assembly District comprising about 15% of the city's northeast side. Now she has it all in an alignment that puts Pleasanton in the same district as Livermore, Dublin, San Ramon and Danville. It's a change Pleasanton business, civic and political leaders have sought for years since earlier realignments, initiated by the State Legislature largely along party lines, split Pleasanton into three districts.
Some thought that was better because we had three representatives in Sacramento to hear our pleas, whether on school, land use or local appropriation issues. But that seldom made a difference since each of the three was beholden to much larger population areas and constituencies, than the voters in Pleasanton represented. In other words, it didn't matter if all of the voters in their separate districts cast their ballots for the officeholders, it was the voter strengths in Hayward, San Leandro, Fremont, and, in the case of Buchanan, even Stockton and Elk Grove, that put them in office and kept them there.
Buchanan, who lives in Alamo and served 18 years on the San Ramon Valley school district board, is well-known in Pleasanton even when she had just a sliver of the city. Now, she's already more active in speaking engagements at the Pleasanton Chamber, PTA organizations and at municipal forums. That's good because as chairwoman of the Assembly's Education Committee, her hand is on the pulse of school issues that affect Pleasanton directly. She's already looking at a facilities bond issue that could go to voters in November 2014, asking for their approval of what's likely to be a $5 billion bond issue that will provide needed funds to rehabilitate older schools and build new ones.
If approved, those funds would be available about the time the Pleasanton school board completes its own facilities pla. That plan will likely call for at least one new elementary school in a city facing a 10,000 population growth because of newly-approved high-density housing. The current state school facilities bond will run out of money next year and should have been replaced last month, but Gov. Jerry Brown didn't want a bond measure on the ballot when he was seeking voter approval of Proposition 30, a tax issue that voters approved.
Speaking of taxes, Buchanan says that even with the Democrats' new super-majority status in the Legislature, she's confident there won't be a rush to increase taxes for now. That'll be a problem because more money will be needed to balance the state's budget, which she expects to face as much as a $2 billion shortfall. That seems small because there was a $26-billion shortfall when Brown took office two years ago, and last year it was still $13 billion. But Buchanan points out that all of the politically "acceptable" cuts have been made to trim that deficit, so finding revenue to provide another $2 billion will be difficult.
One area where Buchanan thought spending could have been curtailed was the Legislature's decision to fund transitional kindergartens in the public school system. Buchanan has long been a supporter of early childhood education, but she wanted to delay the new program and use those funds to pay for class size reductions. Transitional kindergarten, which is now free but optional for parents, also doesn't serve all children. Only children blocked from entering kindergarten this year because their birthdays fall in November are eligible. Next year, it will be for those with October birthdates, and finally with those born in September. That leaves children born in the other nine months left out of the transitional program, which was another reason for Buchanan's opposition.
Buchanan knows about children. Besides her school board service, she has five of her own: Jenny, Chris, Steven, and twins David and Lindsey, all ages 35 to 29 and long out of the house and on their own. She also had two grandchildren, which is one of the reasons she leaves Sacramento Thursday afternoons when the last Assembly session and committee meetings end and comes back to her district office in San Ramon. Then she spends and then as much of the weekend as a popular local politician can with family.