On Board With . . . Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, California Assembly Speaker pro Tempore

Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Cecilia Aguiar-Curry represents California’s 4th Assembly District, which includes all of Colusa, Lake, and Napa Counties, as well as parts of Sonoma and Yolo Counties.  As Speaker pro Tem, she is part of legislative leadership, and she presides over Assembly Floor Sessions.

Transit California: You’re the lead author of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 (ACA 1), an Association-supported proposal which will place a measure on the ballot asking voters to make it simpler and faster to fund and build affordable housing and public infrastructure projects. The measure would lower the voter approval threshold of local general obligation bonds and special taxes from the current requirement of ⅔ supermajority to 55%. If placed on the ballot by the Legislature and then approved by voters, how would this amendment affect public transit?

I am hopeful ACA 1 initiatives will become a key tool to help transit to meet the future. You can’t move the amount of people California’s transit agencies need to move, and sustain the growth to help us meet our climate goals, without the capital projects and rolling stock it will take to modernize and expand our systems. The newer the technology and the greater the need is for more modern facilities, the larger the need for investment.  Local initiatives can help local entities find funding without needing to come to Sacramento to get a bond. 

Transit California: This year’s state budget includes provisions to restore $2 billion in General Fund support to the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP), commits $1.1 billion in new and previously appropriated transit funding for the newly created Zero Emission Transit Capital Program, and implements new transit accountability and reform requirements on regions and their transit agencies to access funding and extends statutory relief measures for transit agencies. How can transit agencies work with the Legislature to ensure an effective implementation of these provisions and ensure a secure future for public transit?

Respectful monitoring of the funds available through the programs is step one. Please ask for reliable timelines for the transfer of funding under each program, make sure each committee and leadership consultant, budget and policy staff, are keeping their Members up to date on progress, or the lack thereof. Transit touches so many Californians’ lives. But, it can be hard for Legislators to keep up to date on this complex issue and we juggle countless other issues that are very important to our constituents. We need consistent and EARLY engagement from transit agencies so we can be successful in making sure the state meets its responsibilities.

Transit California: You represent a district with significant metropolitan areas, including the cities of West Sacramento, Woodland, Napa, and Davis, and as well as small rural and farmworker communities in the surrounding agricultural and wildlife habitat areas. What do you see as important public transportation solutions for areas with these unique connection and ridership challenges?

I’ve got every kind of constituent, rural, suburban and urban. Each of these communities has different experiences with, and needs for, transit systems. My dream is one day having reliable connections from all of these different types of towns and cities from home to work and recreation. There’s no reason why, in 2023, someone shouldn’t be able to connect to the State Capitol or Bay Area from Davis, Napa or Sonoma. But, I don’t think many people see transit and rail as a legitimate option from those cities, never mind from Lake or Colusa Counties. We need to keep building on the foundation we have, and continue to meet the new post-pandemic challenges. That will involve local, state and federal funding partnerships and wise planning. ACA 1 should help fill the capital project and equipment void.

Transit California: You serve as Vice Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, whose members are women State Senators and Assemblymembers in California. The Caucus prioritizes budget funds and legislation that improves the lives of women, children, and families in California. How do you see public transit serving these populations, and what policies are going to help promote this vision?

Unfortunately, we still live in a world where women bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for our children’s and families’ care, which makes accessing transit much more complex. This is an excellent question, but I would respond with a question: Are there creative ways our transit agencies are responding to these needs that you can share? I would love to help promote the plans and services that your women riders are embracing and to maybe learn from some of the plans and services that haven’t quite worked out. Whether it’s programs that help women and families feel safe and comfortable on transit or programs that help accommodate women, children and families, I would love to hear more about this!

Transit California: Prior to your appointment as Speaker pro Tempore, you were the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Local Government, a committee which considers legislation related to land use, housing elements, and a variety of local governance partnership and finance policies. Can you talk about when, why, and how public transit is included in the discussion of the wide-ranging issues in this committee?

To be honest, the Local Government Committee assignment was not my first pick, but it wound up being among the most rewarding jobs I’ve done in my decades of work in local, regional and state government. My previous posts and my becoming Chair of the Local Government Committee are what led me to introduce ACA 1. Nothing comes together without resources and there will never be enough, yet we also have a huge responsibility to show the public that we are being careful stewards of their tax dollars. Local government has to balance home, work, and how we get between them as we conduct our lives. Land use and development decisions impact the transportation services we need. Local Government finance is impacted by, and impacts what kind of services we need to, and are able to provide. And, I feel like our local officials are best suited to make these decisions while also needing to fit into collaborative regional and statewide transportation network planning and funding.

Transit California: Before your work in state government, you served as the mayor of Winters, a small city surrounded by an agricultural region in Yolo County. Can you speak to transit-related accomplishments are you proud of from your tenure there, and how does your experience during your time as a small city mayor now guide your approach to statewide transit policy?

What works for Los Angeles and San Francisco may not be a good fit for Winters, Woodland or Williams. That’s the biggest lesson I learned moving from local to regional to state government. I spend a lot of time reminding my urban colleagues that SMART can work well for Sonoma and Marin Counties, and the Capitol Corridor for the southern part of my district in Yolo and Napa. But, focusing only on big city or interregional systems does not fill the transportation needs of people in small towns. We need to be planning for the systems of the future now, and that means considering rural communities’ needs in our transit systems. We diversified our investments in the SACOG region while I was on the board, and I’d like to continue working to implement programs at the state level that respect all types of local communities.

Transit California: You currently reside in the town where you spent your childhood, and you also lived for several years in the Bay Area to go to college at San Jose State University and for work. How did your early life and educational experiences shape your views of the importance of public transit?

Honestly, I never heard the word “transit” until I was in college. Then, when I went to San Jose State, I realized there was a whole world of millions of people and dozens of cities that were accessible to me because of the investments our nation and state had made in transit systems. I also realized that the same transit services that serve large, urban populations would make no sense in rural communities. That means one size doesn’t fit all. Planning for the context is essential to success. We also need to do a much better job educating people about what transportation services are available when they do travel away from home. I think part of the future health or decline in our transit services is going to be about making transit accessible to the casual rider, not just the commuter.

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