Politics & Government

Sacramento Assembly races: Darrell Fong talks tunnels, marijuana

Sacramento City Councilman Darrell Fong was the latest Assembly hopeful to stop by the Capitol Bureau and help us sort through the Democrat-on-Democrat legislative races spanning the Sacramento area. Here’s a lightly condensed transcript of our conversation.

What’s the main thing that distinguishes you from your opponent, (Elk Grove City Councilman) Jim Cooper?

Water policy, flood control issues – I’ve been working on this a long time. This is before I even thought about running for Assembly. This is a passion I have.

The other is about growth. We have infill projects we’ve worked on. I’m concerned about sprawl. That’s a difference, I think, that separates us. I look at smart growth in Sacramento ... do we need to have these huge houses? Transportation, the grid, being green. What do I really need? What do we really need to build and what’s sustainable?

So what bills do you want to carry?

When you first get to City Council they come around and ask what you want to accomplish and first thing I said, other than public safety, I said water. Water’s a priority for this state and a priority for our region.

I’ve been working on water since I’ve been on the City Council. I’ve been working on our water treatment plant, regional issues, I’ve formed a water ad hoc committee. I got involved with the Delta issue probably three years ago.

So this year we got a water bond and the first state groundwater regulation in California’s history. What remains to be done?

There’s going to be some issues going forward. It’s not going to stop. For the BDCP, twin tunnels, whatever you want to call it, I don’t think it’s going to stop. The governor, I think he’s going to push forward on a conveyance system.

Groundwater, I think there’s going to be a lot of cleanup. ... We have to do something to manage our groundwater but at the local level, there are control issues. I’ve heard some people talk about it, and some people are not very happy with it, but I think it was a long time coming.

Why are the tunnels a bad idea?

I don’t know where to start. If you look at the city of Sacramento, we’re talking about our historical water rights, we’re talking about control, and the issue is, if you look at how this was formed, the cities in the region didn’t have a lot of say in how the operational issues were going forth. ... It’s seriously going to impact the quality of life (in the Delta).

I don’t think tunnels are an answer, to me. But is there something else we can look at? Probably. I don’t have an answer right now.

Should California emulate Colorado and some of the other locales that are legalizing marijuana?

No.

I worked narcotics for five years, undercover, running a team. But I understand the compassion issue, too. The city right now, we’re probably an island that permits dispensaries. I was OK with that. I just wanted to reduce the numbers, but I didn’t try to stop it. There’s got to be a balance – given my background, I’m concerned about it.

If not full legalization, there’s been an idea kicking around that seems closer to fruition of a statewide system to license and regulate and tax the dispensaries we have. Would you vote for that?

No, right now probably not. The regulatory issues, the issues that come with the crime – I’m sure I’m going to get beat up on this, but I have firm beliefs on this.

There have been some other efforts in the Legislature to reduce penalties for other drug crimes. ... Would you support that type of thing? Do you think some of our drug laws are too harsh?

Archaic, I would say, some of them. I think there would be some room for change.

Public safety, obviously with your background as a cop, it’s an issue that’s important to you. What aspects of that would you tackle?

I’ll tell you right now the issue we’re facing with the Sacramento Police Department, we’re getting much more calls for mental health issues. It’s a big challenge for us.

I’ve learned in my life, 30 years as a police officer, that enforcement’s not always the best thing. I learned that pretty early in my career. If you can keep somebody out of jail, in simplistic terms, it’s better if we can prevent that.

Asian American members of the Legislature rose up, as it were, in opposition to a bill that would have changed the affirmative action law. Would you have joined that opposition?

Proposition 209 has benefited many different minorities, so I don’t think I would have changed it. There’s some things we need to do to make college education accessible for all.

Do you think the state needs to get everybody out of the Board of Equalization building? What needs to happen with that building?

Would you want your family or wife or kids to work in a place that has hazardous materials exposure? I wouldn’t.

But the state still owes $60 million on that building, what do you do?

Bite the bullet. You can’t just not do something.

Should the state just write off the $60 million, sell the land and get out?

I can’t delve into everything, I realize my limitations. That’s why I work well with the city, because I listen to staff. When they tell you certain things – this is a line that it’s not worth it to fix it – then you’ve got to move on. ... If staff tells me that it’s better to move on, and these are people that know what they’re doing – I’ve always told staff, bring me something that’s realistic.

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