California Assembly District 15 candidates talk at forum on health equity

Sakura Cannestra/Staff

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As the June 5 primary elections draw closer, most of the California Assembly District 15 candidates attended a forum at 3 p.m. Saturday, discussing topics of health equity in housing and criminal justice.

Eight out of the 12 candidates were present or sent representatives — Andy Katz, Buffy Wicks, Cheryl Sudduth, Dan Kalb, Judy Appel and Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto were there, while Ben Bartlett and Jovanka Beckles both sent representatives from their campaigns.

Candidates Pranav Jandhyala, Owen Poindexter, Raquella Thaman and Sergey Piterman were not present.

The forum was co-sponsored by the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Human Impact Partners and the Public Health Justice Collective. All of the co-sponsors work in public health and equity, and therefore the questions at the forum were about how health impacts other public issues, according to Amber Akemi Piatt, one of the event’s co-organizers and a member of the Public Health Justice Collective.

One topic, housing, led to a discussion on state Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill SB 827, which was recently voted down in committee and would have added incentive for developers to build around transit stops. All of the candidates at the forum said they would have supported the bill with amendments.

“We definitely need more density in our true transit hubs,” said Kalb, an Oakland City Council member, at the forum. “The problem was that (SB 827) was a shotgun approach, and we need a more surgical approach.”

Along with questions about housing, candidates were asked what they thought of the state’s incarceration rates and costs — most of the candidates agreed that the state should release prisoners on marijuana convictions and that more rehabilitation and re-entry programs should be added in prisons. On top of that, all of the present candidates supported eliminating a cash bail system, according to a hand vote at the forum.

Sudduth, who is a longtime East Bay resident and activist, noted that the forum took a unique approach to how health care blended with multiple equity issues.

“We had a lot packed into 70 minutes,” Sudduth said. “The integration of health into housing, budget, homelessness (and) getting people to understand how they work together — that’s important.”

The forum organizers were acutely aware of their time limits, Akemi Piatt said, and the forum closed at 4:30 p.m. on the dot. While the duration of the forum may seem short, she added, the forum did touch on two topics that the event’s co-sponsors had an “appetite to do legislative work on” — housing and criminal justice.

The public health lens of the forum was crucial for some undecided voters, according to Berkeley resident and public health consultant Jeremy Cantor, who said he was drawn to the event because of its focus on public health.

“The way we see it, health is like a prism,” Akemi Piatt said. “It’s really the stopping point that you can see how communities are marginalized. … It’s just a good framework for talking about other issues.”

Sakura Cannestra is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to California State Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill as SB 837. In fact, the bill is SB 827.