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California Focus: Gavin Newsom wants to take California to infinity and beyond

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Picture a California where it’s illegal to drive on freeways, now populated instead by layer upon layer of robotic drones. A California where new housing is mostly placed near rapid transit and bus stops and people actually do shift from their cars onto trains and buses. A California where high speed rail enables home ownership in remote locations for many thousands who can’t afford to buy now. A California where self-guided drone taxis are common.

Gavin Newsom, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor and the former mayor of San Francisco, sees all this and much more change in California’s not-so-distant future.

Sitting with him can feel a lot like talking with Alvin Toffler in 1970. Back then, the futurist in a pre-Internet time forecast a long era of very fast change that could drive some people crazy, a worldwide information-based economy, chatrooms and devises that would remind people of their appointments. “Future Shock,” Toffler called his book covering these subjects and more.

“Mobility in California will change radically,” said Newsom, the leader so far in every poll on the governor’s race. “We can have automated vehicles that interact with other new technologies like the hyperloop and other things like flying drone taxis, which are being tested in Dubai right now. All these things can interact with high speed rail very well.”

Newsom believes California’s bullet train, now under constant attack even as construction continues in the Central Valley, will be built out. “We need to finish the first segment, from Bakersfield to San Francisco. Get that done and we might be able to draw private investment and more federal money to finish the line,” he said. “I think we’ll see huge prosperity along the route between the Central Valley and the Silicon Valley. But we do need to prove ourselves.”

How about another statewide vote on the project, as some high speed rail opponents demand? “That train has left the station,” he said.

But Newsom brings more to an interview than high-tech razzle-dazzle talk. Among his first acts as governor, he said, would be to change the state budget to promote much more pre-natal and early-childhood care. “I’m profoundly interested in this and it’s very underfunded,” Newsom said. “This is so important because that’s when most of human brain development takes place.”

Newsom also wants companies to do more for contract workers who get few benefits as they move from firm to firm and project to project in today’s economy. He supports a recent state Supreme Court decision calling for companies to give those mobile workers more benefits, saying “Businesses need to do something for their employees’ future.

“There is no silver bullet that will wholly solve the displacement from future technology, but the right solutions can help ease the transition and protect the workers most vulnerable… to automation,” he said. “It’s the job of the next governor to get ahead of this disruption and smooth that transition.”

The candidate also pledges fiscal discipline like what outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown has imposed. “We don’t need to be profligate to be progressive,” Newsom said.

And he pledges to go after corruption in state government wherever he can, citing information technology procurement as a potentially fruitful area. “It’s manifest in many (state) requests for proposals that they are designed to be filled only by a single source,” Newsom said. “It’s an incumbent protection racket.”

Newsom also indicated he will look hard at agencies like the scandal-ridden Public Utilities Commission and the Energy Commission, which often favors large corporations over small operators in awarding grants.

And Newsom indicates there will be no letup in California’s resistance to policies of President Trump if he’s elected. “I’m a big fan of (state Atty. Gen.) Xavier Becerra,” he said, “especially because of how quick he’s been to lead on this.” But he stopped short of endorsing Becerra.

It’s when he discusses the state’s possible future that Newsom seems most animated. “I’ve prided myself that we’ve always been able to look around the corner, from same sex marriage to marijuana legalization and gun safety. Californians should demand this kind of forward thinking from our next governor.”

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.