Envisioning California Conference focuses on infrastructure needs

Special to the Daily Sundial

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All levels of political, business and community leaders, including state Assembly speaker Fabian Nuñez and former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, took part in the annual Envisioning California Conference to reconsider California’s infrastructure Sept. 22 and 23.

“Citizens have a right, not only to have the funds for infrastructure projects, but also the right (for) those infrastructures (to) work. It’s obvious the freeways don’t work,” Dukakis said at the event. “You have to get serious about transportation and a high-speed train is absolutely necessary towards improving California. (California needs) a 200 mph train connecting San Francisco to San Jose to the Central Valley to Los Angeles.”

In a joint effort, the Center for Southern California Studies at CSUN and the Center for California Studies at CSU Sacramento co-sponsored this year’s conference, held at the Warner Center Marriot in Woodland Hills, with the recent hurricanes and other events on the Gulf Coast partly in mind.

The director of Center for Southern California Studies and the primary coordinator on CSUN’s side was Matthew Cahn, who is also chair of the Political Science Department.

Part of the conference’s focus was on the state’s existing and emerging needs, and the ability to meet those needs both during normal times and in times of emergencies.

According to organizers, this year’s conference examines the state of California’s infrastructure, including its physical, political, social, economic and environmental systems, in an effort to align the state’s existing and emerging needs with the state’s capacity to meet those needs.

“Now with disasters such as (hurricanes) Katrina and Rita, we have to look at California through a different pyramid,” said Nuñez, D-Los Angeles. “We should be building a better California and doing it totally bipartisan. We don’t think about our poor until something like Katrina happens.”

Dukakis, a part-time resident of California and former governor of Massachusetts, spoke Friday about how he saw California change from what it was in 1998 when he ran from president to 2005.

Experts throughout the state discussed critical steps toward policy change, such as localized grass roots movements in neighborhood communities and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s long-term water resource plan for the state’s rapid growing population.

“We look at lessons learned when droughts occur and some of things that are not so apparent like endangered fish in the aqueducts,” said Steve Arakawa, manager of water resources for the MWD. “This adds to the rising costs of big water projects in the state.”

Health care and crime were also topics of debate, as well as the role nonprofit organizations play that go almost unnoticed in defining and responding to important questions concerning California’s infrastructure.

“We are the invisible glue that holds society together,” said Yvonne Chan, principal of Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Pacoima. “Safety is the number one priority in Pacoima, so we built a wall around the school and we did it ourselves. People do not see the richness in the poor.”

Another running theme throughout the conference was solutions to provide environmentally sound cleaner energy sources, and the impact these changes would have on the economy.

“We are not really looking at the long term, like what benefits we are going after,” said Ashish Vaidya, professor of economics at CSU Channel Islands. “We need an infrastructure of services and not so many roads. We need more schools and universities. We are already noticing a gap for a skilled workforce.”

Additionally, Santa Clara University’s California Legacy Project gave a spoken word presentation about increasing the understanding of California diversity in literature, history and natural history.

Dean Lee can be reached at city@sundial.csun.edu.