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Newsom comes to Oakland in town hall meeting

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom wrapped up another town hall meeting Tuesday night, this time coming to Oakland to field questions from a crowd of 200 attendees. Despite a largely friendly audience, he was repeatedly addressed by constituents concerned with redevelopment in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.

The March 10 event was one of several county “conversations” Newsom is embarking on throughout the state of California in the coming months as part of a potential run for governor of the Golden State. He set up his exploratory committee last July.

Newsom focused heavily on his accomplishments as mayor and repeatedly spoke of the need to stop merely talking about issues and reform. “You’ve got to manifest it. You’ve got to take action,” he said. “We’re not just dreamers. We’re doers. We’re innovators. We’re entrepreneurs.”

He said the main concerns he’s heard from California residents include access to affordable and quality healthcare, cuts to education, the declining job market, environmental preservation and prison reform.

Among his most important goals, achieving a universal health care system that invests in prevention instead of merely treating sickness, which he says will save the state money in the long run. He also called the current K-12 model “antiquated,” and said the state needed to fund universal preschool. Under his tenure, San Francisco has implemented versions of both programs.

Additionally, he said the state must reliably reduce its C02 emissions. “Already [San Francisco has] rolled back C02 levels six percent below 1990 levels,” he added.

One man brought up cuts to public transportation, which Newsom called a “critical issue” and used as a platform to discuss the importance of a high-speed rail system from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Another asked what he would do to bring jobs back to the Bay Area, and Newsom said despite the state’s current 10.1 percent unemployment rate and foreclosure crisis, developing economic and workforce strategies while investing in biotech and greentech industries will result in growth.

A woman asked if Newsom would extend municipal city identification cards issued to undocumented workers to the rest of the state. The ID cards were approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2007, and Newsom said all people had a right to identification and drivers licenses, but so-called “sanctuary cities” should not protect criminals.

Pegah Zardoost, a first-year student at UC Berkeley, said she came to the meeting because she is concerned about state budget cuts to public higher education. Fewer funds often mean higher tuition and fees, and she doesn’t want to see low-income students priced out of education. “I don’t want public education to become private education,” she said.

Her parents both work at community colleges, and she said in about ten years the cost per unit has gone from $11 to $20.

When she asked Newsom about his thoughts, he responded, “This is alarming, what’s happening. The success of California is our ability to attract talent. Our ability to educate. Our ability to compete.”

“It’s beyond me that they can balance the budget on your backs,” he told her.

Yet several Bayview residents demanded attention when they addressed Newsom throughout the meeting, complaining that Lennar Corporation wasn’t correctly monitoring air quality and pollution in its redevelopment activities. Bayview is located near shipyards abandoned by the Navy and toxic chemicals have been found there. One woman described her son’s nosebleed just that morning.

Newsom said it was a specific issue that he didn’t want to detail, but said the city has received $340 million in the last four years to clean up the toxic material found in the area, plus $82 million recently from the federal government. He said he was serious about addressing the problem, but that it wasn’t merely the fault of Lennar.

San Francisco resident Christopher Mohammed said the community wants nearby children to be tested for any contaminants, but that Newsom and his administration are “more concerned with liability issues than the health in the community.”

Newsom concluded the meeting by acknowledging some of the dissenters. The people of San Francisco “have very high standards,” he said, and being their mayor “prepares you for something in life.”