Climate’s a priority for State Senate candidate Josh Becker

State Senate candidate Josh Becker. Post photo.

Editor’s note: This is one part of a series of stories about the candidates running for the state Senate seat being vacated by Jerry Hill. Six candidates will compete in the March 3 primary and the top-two vote-getters will go on to the general election in November. This was published Jan. 22.

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

If Menlo Park resident Josh Becker is elected to the state Senate to replace termed-out Jerry Hill, his first bill would be to create incentives for companies or people to come up with ways to reduce or remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Becker, 50, has been working for 20 years to increase green technology and energy. Through his nonprofit funding company, Full Circle, he has helped nonprofits start up, including GRID Alternatives, which installs solar panels in low-income areas.

Becker, a Menlo Park-based entrepreneur, is running against five other candidates to replace termed-out Hill, D-San Mateo, in the March 3 primary. The top-two vote-getters on March 3 will go on to the general election in November.

The 13th Senate District spans from Brisbane to Sunnyvale and includes San Mateo, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View.

The Post is in the process of conducting interviews with each of the six candidates running for Hill’s seat and yesterday sat down with Becker, who lives in unincorporated Menlo Park and has held a series of positions in the private, nonprofit and government sectors. He was the CEO of legal research company Lex Machina, which started as a Stanford project to bring openness and transparency to law. He was also a founding trustee of UC-Merced, and in 2000, co-founded the Full Circle Fund, which funds nonprofits.

Becker has lived in Menlo Park for 20 years. Becker and his wife Jonna have two children. He got his BA from Williams College and an MBA and law degree from Stanford.

Six candidates

Last week the Post sat down with Burlingame councilman Michael Brownrigg, and over the coming days will be interviewing the other candidates, Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur, Millbrae Councilwoman Annie Oliva, former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber and Los Altos resident and Republican Alex Glew. Keep your eyes out for interviews with the other candidates in the next week.

The Post asked Becker about a variety of topics, here is what he had to say about some of them, including PG&E, SB50, taxes and transit.

Traffic congestion

Becker said he has three priorities to reduce congestion in the area.

Becker said he wants to see fare and schedule coordination between the public transit systems in the Bay Area, pointing out that it took a long time just for every group to accept Clipper Cards.

The second transportation priority that Becker has is to improve east to west transit across the Bay, namely by reinstating the long dormant Dumbarton rail bridge. Becker said he wants to help San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum to get the Dumbarton Corridor on the priority list of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county Bay Area.

Becker’s third transportation priority would be to get the 42 remaining grade separations along the Peninsula completed. Grade separations are where the railroad and street are separated by a bridge or tunnel, Caltrain has estimated that it would take $11 billion to construct all 42 grade separations. About 20 of the grade separations to be done are in some stage of planning at the local level.

When the Post asked Becker how these projects would be funded, he said he would like to figure out a way for the Peninsula to get a larger cut of the state’s property taxes, since the four richest zip codes are all in Senate District 13.

Becker said that with all of the taxes the area pays, it only gets about 6% of it back, he wants to see more of those tax dollars come back to the area, which could pay for some of the transportation changes he is proposing.

Favors 1% sales tax

Becker said he is in favor of the one-cent sales tax for the nine-county Bay Area dubbed FASTER Bay Area. He acknowledged that the tax is regressive, and said he’d like to see a way to “protect lower income people,” and added that if he were in the Legislature, he may have crafted something different to fund Bay Area public transportation.
Becker says that PG&E has disproved the adage of “too big to fail.”

“They’re too big and they’re failing,” he said, adding that he would support making the utility public, touting Palo Alto, as an example of a city that runs its own power and gas.

Becker said the main question is how to raise the money for more rural areas to be able to exit PG&E.

SB50

As for SB50, the controversial housing bill slated to increase density near transit, jobs and education centers, Becker said the bill is “clearly a work in progress,” and noted that he has not supported the bill yet.

However, Becker said he has a lot of questions about the amendments unveiled by bill author Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, on Jan. 7, and said he is continuing to review the bill.