January 2019 Newsletter

January 1, 2019

A Note from Toni

Swearing in Ceremony
I was humbled and honored to be sworn in as the 2019 Senate President pro Tempore by California
Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.


Every other December, the California Legislature begins a two-year session, starting fresh with a batch of new members of the Senate and the Assembly and plenty of new ideas for improving the quality of life in our state. On December 3, we began the 2019-2020 legislative session, looking forward to the next era with a new Governor, Gavin Newsom, starting work in January.

During the last two years, we made great progress on numerous fronts – bolstering our financial reserves, investing in programs that support struggling families and individuals, funding affordable housing and addressing homelessness, strengthening our world-leading climate laws, making record investments in K-12 and higher education and taking steps to prevent catastrophic wildfires and help communities recover from them when they do occur, among many others.

No matter how much progress we make, there will always be more work to do. Housing affordability remains a serious issue. At our current construction rate, we’ll be about 2.5 million homes short of demand by 2025. More than half of renters and more than a third of homeowners pay more than 30 percent of income toward housing.

The threat of wildfire is only increasing as California becomes ever hotter and drier. Since October of last year, our state has endured six of the ten most destructive wildfires in our history. Some 44 percent of California’s land area is now considered to be at elevated or extreme risk of wildfire.

The income and wealth gaps are too wide, and too many residents haven’t felt the benefits of an expanding economy.

The Legislature will attempt to meet these and many other challenges with new bills and budget recommendations. Those efforts will begin in earnest after the New Year, but a number of bills were introduced when the session officially started in December.

The first one was Senate Bill 1 – the California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2019 – which I introduced along with my Senate colleagues Henry Stern and Anthony Portantino. SB 1 will preserve some of our most deeply held values, such as our desire to enjoy clean air, clean water, protected wildlife, workplace safety and worker rights, no matter what happens at the federal level.

The bill makes current federal clean air, climate, clean water, worker safety and endangered species standards enforceable under state law, even if the federal government rolls back and weakens those standards. It directs state environmental, public-health and worker-safety agencies to take all actions within their authorities to ensure that standards in effect as of January 2017 remain in effect.

SB 1 is just the first chapter of what I believe will be an uplifting story in 2019. I draw that confidence from California’s long history of success, innovation, imagination and bold action. We are the globe’s fifth largest economy and, in many ways, the envy of the world, and with strong leadership, creativity and hard work, no challenge is insurmountable.

As always, thank you for your trust in me. I look forward to another year of representing you in our state’s capital.


Reflections on India and Bhutan

Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is incredible to see close-up. Construction began in 1632!

Last month, I led a delegation of seven senators to India and Bhutan to strengthen California’s ties with two of the fastest-growing economies in the world. We met with our counterparts in state and national government, as well as business leaders in a wide range of fields, to help pave the way for future collaboration on the many mutual challenges we face.

As the largest democracy in the world, with a trillion-dollar economy and a young, well-educated workforce, India will be a leader of global economic growth in the near future. Already, the country is growing rapidly as it invests heavily in public infrastructure and education, and I was struck throughout the trip by the many parallels between California and India.

In New Delhi, India’s seat of government, we met with officials to learn about state and national efforts to strengthen environmental protection, improve agricultural output, build transportation infrastructure such as high-speed rail, and develop clean energy resources.

Much like California, India is in the process of building a high-speed rail system to connect several of its largest population centers. They’ve encountered many of the same challenges that we have, from land acquisitions to construction delays, but they’re moving ahead. With a population of more than 1 billion, and some of the most polluted air in the world, residents could certainly benefit from a clean and efficient rapid-transit network.

In the coastal metropolis of Mumbai, India’s financial center, the delegation met with business leaders and government officials focused on trade and economic development. We discussed the vast potential that the green revolution and scientific advancement have to create economic opportunities, not only to sustain our communities but also to help us achieve our climate goals and safeguard our environment.  

Mumbai is also a center of activism regarding LGBTQ and women’s rights. In light of the recent Indian Supreme Court decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex relations between adults and the burgeoning #MeToo movement there, the delegation met with activists and journalists to discuss social and political engagement on these issues and how to create alliances across borders to support human- and civil-rights work.

Then it was on to Bangalore, India’s answer to Silicon Valley. The capital city of the southern state of Karnataka, Bangalore is a booming, global hub of technological innovation. Senators met with local government officials and learned about the persistent struggle of securing safe drinking water for millions of residents. We also met with representatives of several companies at the forefront of modernizing health care through technology in order to expand access and reduce drug prices. The struggle for clean, abundant water supply and affordable health care is all too familiar for Californians, and water and health policy will likely be important areas for collaboration moving forward.

After a whirlwind tour of India, we ventured northeast to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which shares a border with Tibet. Bhutan has gained worldwide recognition for its formalized use of Gross National Happiness, rather than the more commonly used Gross Domestic Product, to measure national development. Bhutan is also the only nation on earth with net-negative carbon emissions, and more than 70 percent of its land area is forested – a commitment written into its national constitution.

We started our trip in the capital city of Thimphu, where we met with newly elected members of parliament and learned about Bhutan’s government structure and policy priorities. In the old government seat of Punahka, we visited the impressive 17th century fortress, Punakha Dzong. We finished our trip in the valley town of Paro, where we were immersed in Buddhist history and culture.

As difficult as it can be for me personally to be away from my district, and California for that matter, I came back with a renewed sense of purpose for the work of the Legislature, our role on significant issues – not just in our state and country, but across the globe – and how important these international relationships are.

Senate Delegation
The Senate delegation with Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon Limited.

A highlight was meeting Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the CEO of Biocon Limited. Biocon has invested in a number of startup life-sciences companies, including several in San Diego and San Francisco. We will be inviting her to California to discuss the role of women in the corporate world and the life-sciences industry.

Finally, if you ever get a chance to travel to this part of the world, take time to hike up to Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan – for me it was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Tigers Nest
With my amazing guide Pema on the hike to Tiger's Nest in Bhutan.



DMV Pumps the Brakes on New Uptown Office


In early December, I received some great news from the state Department of Motor Vehicles: The DMV and the Department of General Services (DGS) have decided to pause their plans to replace the DMV field office in Hillcrest. This is a big victory for the Uptown community.

Back in September 2018, I wrote a letter to the directors of the DMV and DGS, expressing my concern that by pursuing a project that does nothing more than simply update and expand the DMV, they were heading down a road toward a lackluster project and missed opportunities.

The community, I told them, desires a more dynamic project that serves multiple purposes.

We are living in a time when our severe housing crisis demands to be part of every land-use conversation and every project under consideration must demonstrate how it will help activate the neighborhood and improve quality of life. The community wants a healthy mix of housing, retail and services on this crucial Normal Street property.

I greatly appreciate the willingness of the DMV and DGS to temporarily stop work on the standalone project and revisit the concerns and wishes of the Uptown residents and small-business owners. And I intend to work with the incoming Newsom administration to maximize use of this public asset for optimal community benefit.


Images of the Holidays

Dreams for Change
It was a wonderful turnout for the holiday party that Assemblymembers Dr. Shirley Weber and
Todd Gloria and I held this year. Once again, our generous community came through and donated
a ton of needed items for our homeless neighbors served by the incredible organization Dreams
for Change.


North Park Toyland Parade
I loved kicking off the holiday season at the 55th Annual North Park Toyland Parade! Thanks go out
to North Park Main Street for carrying on this community tradition! And I loved running into two happy


Tree Lighting
It was great to help celebrate the holiday season and see so many friends at Little Italy’s
Tree Lighting in the Piazza della Famiglia.


Pacific Beach Holiday Parade
The weather was beautiful and perfect for the Pacific Beach Holiday Parade! I’m proud to
represent this great community in the State Senate.


Social Media Corner

Toni's Top Tweet


Toni's Top Post



My Staff at Your Service

My district staff is always available to help constituents navigate a complex web of state agencies.

Recently, a nurse in Pennsylvania who was moving to San Diego to accept a job at a local hospital contacted my office because he was having issues getting his nursing license transferred to California. He had already put the deposit down on a home in Pacific Beach and had given notice at his previous job.

My staff worked with both states’ professional licensing departments, as well as the constituent’s state senator in Pennsylvania, to successfully transfer his license to California. It was great to connect with a Senate colleague in another part of the country, especially when it’s in the process of giving a new constituent some needed peace of mind. At the same time, we helped address California’s nursing shortage, even if it’s just by adding one more nurse – every little bit helps!

If you’re having trouble working out an issue with any state agency, please call my office at 619-645-3133, and my staff will do everything in their power to help.

My District Staff
Pamela Ison: District Director
Deanna Spehn: Policy Director
Jason Weisz: Senior Field Representative
Toni Duran: Field Representative
Chevelle Tate: Field Representative
Ryan Trabuco: Field Representative
Tylisa Suseberry: Executive Assistant / Scheduler
David Rolland: Director of Media and Editorial

Where to Find Me Online
Twitter: @SenToniAtkins
Facebook: facebook.com/SDToni/
Web: senate.ca.gov/atkins


My district office is located at 1350 Front St., Room 4061, San Diego, CA 92101.

Around the District

World AIDS Day
I was honored to participate in San Diego’s World AIDS Day Tree of Life ceremony,
remembering those we’ve lost and recommitting ourselves to the fight against HIV/AIDS.


Urban League of San Diego
Thank you to the Urban League of San Diego County! I was proud to be recognized along with
so many incredible community-driven women. I appreciate everything this amazing organization
does to create opportunities for success!


UCSD Health
Congratulations to UCSD Health and the Antiviral Research Center on the opening of a new
clinic in Hillcrest to promote sexual health as part of the Good To Go program. Everyone
should get tested!


Run Women Run
Run Women Run is an incredible group that has been encouraging, supporting and training women
for civic leadership for a decade. Always great to see activist Judi Ki!

San Diego Community College District
I was pleased to congratulate the San Diego Community College District and our first-rate
colleges – City College, Mesa College and Miramar College -- on running career
education programs that were recognized as 2018 Gold Strong Workforce Stars!


Nicky Awards
It’s always a great time at the annual Nicky Awards. I was excited to present the Harvey Milk Civil
Rights Award to the San Diego History Museum for its current exhibition LGBTQ+ San Diego:
Stories of Struggles and Triumphs