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Braving the Maze at State Leg Summit

I shouted “Hooray!” as I finally emerged from the elevator in front of Kip Lipper’s office in the California State Capitol. I learned the hard way that Kip’s office is in the older “historic” section of the Capitol building, and requires entry using a different elevator and set of stairs than the newer “Annex.” Suffice it to say, the secrets of the Capitol building began to reveal themselves to me on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 13th.

The 2018 State Legislative Summit was a window into the Capitol lifestyle that so many of my friends and colleagues live and breathe, but one that has remained mostly unknown to me. Organized by the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, ‘SLS’ (as it is known) is a day of meetings with the Sacramento region’s state-level elected representatives, staff, and consultants about policy issues that matter to our region.

I served on the Air Quality team this year, advocating for vital investments in clean air, transportation infrastructure, watershed protection, and more, alongside leaders from Valley Vision, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, SMUD, Union Pacific Railroad, and other members of the Cleaner Air Partnership.

Valley Vision’s Meg Arnold and Adrian Rehn

The day kicked off with a brief program focused on the statewide housing crisis with a number of powerhouse speakers. Eleni Kounalakis, candidate for Lieutenant Governor and former Valley Vision board member, spoke concisely about issues including affordable housing finance and rent control. She challenged many in the room to think differently about solutions to the housing crisis, but did it in a way that was unifying at the end of the day. University of California President Janet Napolitano talked about the power of the UC system to shape the state narrative around housing, and brought up the important issues of workforce development and the serious lack of “workforce housing.” Jeff Michael with the University of the Pacific shared some excellent insights on the new federal tax bill and how it could affect our region’s housing market, as well as the possibility of redevelopment funds coming back to California under a new Governor. Assemblymember Jim Cooper facilitated a rockstar panel as well – it really was a fantastic program!

Lunch was followed by the real meat of the event – select appointments with a bipartisan group of our region’s elected leadership in the Capitol building. Setting aside Kip Lipper’s office in the older part of “The Building,” the rest of the appointments (as well as the restrooms!) were much easier to find. By the way, I’ll never get used to calling it, “The Building.”

Our conversations at SLS went incredibly well – perhaps unsurprisingly, everyone cares about air quality! Our team listened as much as we spoke – gleaning knowledge from those in the room, following up about relevant issues or initiatives, and taking copious notes about general (but critical!) insights about the processes that guide decision-making in the Capitol.

Huge congratulations to Anna Ballard of Intel, who did an excellent job as 2018 SLS Program Chair, and the whole team at the Metro Chamber for making this year’s event possible. I know how much of a team effort that was – thank you all! The State Capitol building will always be a maze to me, but these organizers of State Legislative Summit made it a truly a-MAZE-ing experience. I’m already looking forward to SLS 2019! My homework until then: get to know that “historic” side of the Capitol like the back of my hand. Oh wait, I’ve never noticed that birthmark before…

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

Sierra College Experience Leaves Lasting Impact

He was good kid, really. Yet hard to tell by outward appearances. Long hair. Scraggly beard. Ripped jeans. Skateboard in hand.  It was probably his careless attitude and the way he disrupted the class that most perturbed the professor. This wasn’t high school after all, but college. This student had arrived late again and made a bit of a scene. It was an all-too familiar pattern.

So when the professor called him up after class, this kid knew he was in trouble. He began to stiffen up. Put up his defenses.  When the class cleared, the conversation started. 

“You really don’t care about me or our classmates,” the teacher stated flatly.  “It’s also clear you really don’t care about yourself either.  If you did, you’d take school more seriously.”  The kid had heard all this before.  It didn’t faze him.

The professor continued:  “But you have an even bigger problem.”  Now the student took notice.  “There is no one at the helm of your life.  You – your ship – it is drifting, aimlessly, on open water.  You are going nowhere.  If you think the pilot is your mom or your dad, or your friends, or someone else, you’re terribly mistaken.  It’s now or never.  You must be at the helm of your life and steer.  Otherwise you will be lost.  And so will your future.”

Jarring words that this young man could not escape. Caring parents can try to break through. Families can help. Friends can intervene. But sometimes teachers can say things in a way that penetrates.

That skateboarding kid, the one who was once not sure about his future or all that driven, graduated from Sierra College and went on to graduate from UC Berkeley and later earn a Masters degree from a Boston university.  He was recently ordained a priest.

I’m his proud father.  

Sierra College changed my son’s life.  It also changed my life for the better.  I also had a teacher who took notice of me and inspired and challenged me to think and be different.  I look back upon that moment as a major turning point in my life.

Education does this.  It not only unlocks knowledge and insights, helps us analyze, think critically, problem-solve and prepare for a career and a life of learning, education and those who practice it transforms lives.  Education in no small way democratizes hope.  Makes opportunity accessible to a small town kid like me whose father and mother never went to college.

Life turned full circle.  Now there is a way we can pay it forward.

This June Sierra College is asking property owners in Placer County to consider a bond issue that will raise $350 million to modernize the Rocklin campus and invest in facilities that will advance science, technology, engineering, and math for advanced economy jobs.  The last bond investment in Sierra College was back in 1957.

This past Monday the Valley Vision Board heard this matter and, after reviewing the issue from all sides over several weeks, voted unanimously to endorse this school bond.  They didn’t hear a passionate plea or a personal story of change from their chief executive.  They analyzed the facts and weighed the evidence.  Investing in education is investing in the human capital we need to drive jobs and business growth, draw investment, create new products and services, increase the regional tax base, and position this region for a vibrant future that touches all of us.  It’s why one of Valley Vision’s six driving strategies is to build a 21st Century talent pipeline and why we engage in a vast body of work around education and workforce development.

Sierra College is highly regarded, well run, and has put forward a thoughtful proposal with well-defined purposes and strong taxpayer protections.  Leading organizations have pulled in behind it.

William Yeats said that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  I know this has been true in my life.  Perhaps this has been true for someone you know.

Twenty thousand students experience Sierra College today – 15 times more students than what was original planned for in the late ‘50s.  Thousands more students are expected to attend the campus over the next few decades seeking purpose, opportunity and a chance to make a difference.  This is a lot of new light, and worth kindling.  Our future depends upon it.

Bill Mueller is Chief Executive of Valley Vision.