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Proposed State Bill Would Require Cities to Prioritize Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety

An individual seen cycling along the Santa Ana River near Orangewood Avenue in Orange, CA.
Wikimedia Commons
An individual seen cycling along the Santa Ana River near Orangewood Avenue in Orange, CA.

State senator Anthony Portantino spoke with KVCR’s Jonathan Linden to discuss his new bill(SB-932), which would require cities to take concrete steps to prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Jonathan Linden: You’re listening to 91.9 KVCR news, and I’m Jonathan Linden. State senator Anthony Portantino represents California’s 25th State Senate District, which includes the cities of Burbank, Pasadena, San Dimas, and Upland. This year he’s introduced several new pieces of legislation, including Senate Bill 932, which requires cities to take concrete steps to prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in their city. To start, Senator, can you tell listeners more about SB 932 and what some of your motivations were in writing it?

Anthony Portantino: Well, in the past 16 months, I’ve become an avid bike rider; I’ve changed my life around. Obviously, many people during COVID-19 made some choices, and I made a choice. And so, I have been riding almost every day, started with five miles, and now I’ve got up to 37 miles a day and ride in the Capitol and ride at home and have turned my life around. And the second part of that equation is the more I’m out there on the street, the more I see the need for traffic safety and pedestrian safety and bike safety. The intersection right in front of my house is probably the most precarious one that I have to navigate. But I’ve probably driven through 15-20 cities since I’ve been riding and see which cities are doing a good job and which cities aren’t. And so, it’s given me a whole new understanding of the issue.

Jonathan Linden: And what specifically do you think cities could be doing to add more safety to cyclists and pedestrians?

State senator Anthony Portantino speaking during the 2021 groundbreaking of the Armenia American Museum in Glendale, Ca.
Office of state senator Anthony Portantino
State senator Anthony Portantino speaking during the 2021 groundbreaking of the Armenia American Museum in Glendale, Ca.

Anthony Portantino: Well, first and foremost, many cities have actually created plans but then haven’t implemented them. So, I think that’s a big piece of the challenge is when we want cities to plan for bike safety, we don’t want them just to put it on the shelf. And so, we want them to take advantage of opportunities to implement, whether that’s traffic calming, whether that’s light synchronization, whether that’s creating more trails, whether it’s creating more dedicated bike lanes and traffic calming in concert together. One thing I’ve noticed is the signalization, some signals don’t know you’re there, and so they don’t change. That creates a problem, and then there are cities that have created these bike plans and actually implemented them. So, I think it’s a combination of the engineering, it’s a combination of the will, it’s a combination of reimagining communities to make them more bike and pedestrian-friendly. I was on with some UCLA students last night, and they were talking about how do we go forward from a big picture, and I said that one of the challenges in California’s is we’re largely built out, so we’re really talking about retrofitting communities, we’re talking about reimagining what a community is. Third Street Promenade at one point in Santa Monica had cars on it and now, it’s pedestrian-friendly, they reimagine that shopping area. When we used to do shopping centers, they used to be indoors, so people had air conditioning, and now, of course, there are outdoor promenades, so we reimagined those spaces. And I think that’s what we have to do with bike and pedestrian safety, is look at a community and say, you know what, we built this community to accommodate cars, and now we want to build, we want to retrofit the community to accommodate pedestrians and bikers.

Jonathan Linden: And your district is very unique because it includes cities like Burbank, Pasadena, but you also got parts of the Inland Empire like Upland and San Dimas. Have you had these conversations with local leaders about how they can be improving lanes, at least specifically here in the Inland Empire, which is a very car-dependent area?

Anthony Portantino: So, what I’ve done is I’ve reached out to a number of the cities and said, Let’s do community rides, starting there. So, we did one in South Pasadena and with Bike San Gabriel Valley. I’ve reached out to Claremont and made the same offer. So, I’m starting there. I’ve also joined a large bike organization, Pasadena Athletic Association, which has 400 members, and I’ve done a number of community rides with them. So, I think part of it is creating that awareness. There are some councilmembers who are bikers, I know Sam Pedroza who was on the Clermont City Council for a long time, is an avid bike rider, and so starting on the grassroots level. The other piece of the San Gabriel Valley is the Gold Line (Los Angeles Metro Rail). You know, we want to complete the Gold Line all the way out to the Ontario airport. Again, if you’re in Pasadena and you have a choice of driving to LAX or taking the Gold Line to Ontario airport, I think you’re going to take the Gold Line to Ontario versus driving to LAX. So, mass transit and light rail is also important in how we reimagine the San Gabriel Valley. So, a couple of weeks ago, I had a package to pick up in Monrovia, which is like five communities away from my house. And I said I’m going to drive east, on my bicycle, and I went through the Foothill communities that I hadn’t ridden through: Sierra Madre, Monrovia, Duarte, and Arcadia, hadn’t done that route yet. And you know Arcadia, frankly, was very bike-friendly. And then I learned that several years ago, they had applied for a grant and got it and put up a lot of bike-friendly things, but other communities around it aren’t as advanced. And that’s one of the factors that the bill, those communities that are doing well, and we have a data matrix in the bill, to track injuries and fatalities. You’re gonna have less leeway if you have unsafe streets by an objective diagnostic metric. And then we’re also going to allow there to be a private right of action brought against those communities that don’t address those hotspots. So, we think the bill is pretty strong because it’s not just going to say plan, it’s going to say do, and then it has accountability.

Jonathan Linden: And, Senator, is there any other bills that you would like to share with our listeners today?

State senator Anthony Portantino speaking on the floor of the California State Senate.
Office of state senator Anthony Portantino,
State senator Anthony Portantino speaking on the floor of the California State Senate.

Anthony Portantino: Well, I also introduced a comprehensive gun safety bill recently; I don’t know if you saw that. But like many parents, I was struck by what happened in Michigan, where a school was made aware of a credible threat of gun violence and then didn’t act upon it. And then, obviously, that shooter went and killed people. And so, I have a bill that says, when you register your kid for school, you have to disclose whether there’s a weapon in the house and whether it’s properly stored. I actually wrote California’s safe storage bill, and so we have robust, safe storage with consequences. And this would require parents to disclose whether their guns are stored according to the law and whether their child has access to those guns. And then the second piece of it is, under California law, school districts can search a backpack and a locker, they had that ability already, but what this would do is say if you’ve been notified of a credible threat, you must investigate it, you must do that search. And I think if I’m a school administrator, I like that, because right now I’m sort of hesitant because I say well, wait a minute, this doesn’t happen in our community, this only happened somewhere else, or, you know, I don’t want to anger the parents, because, you know, what if we’re wrong. So, blame me, I’d rather error on the side of the child and school safety, and you know be blamed for making you have to search. Again, if there’s a credible threat, and if you know about the credible threat. And then the third part of the bill requires school districts to educate parents about the importance of safe storage. So, I think that’s a very important bill; I’ve got a bill that’s getting a lot of interest because the governor is dyslexic, as am I, on dyslexia screening. There’s a study out of Texas that (shows) seven out of 10 inmates in a particular prison are dyslexic. There’s a huge social justice component; if you’re a suburban kid, and your parents have access to pediatricians, you get screened in first grade; if you have learning issues and reading issues, we can get you the proper care. If you’re someone else who doesn’t get screened until your (in) eighth or ninth grade, by now, you’re not reading. And it oftentimes leads to other problems, and so if we can screen in first grade everyone, for who’s at a predisposition for dyslexia, we can intervene where it’s easier and efficient to turn folks into readers and help those kids. So, I’m really passionate about that issue, and then obviously, mental health education has also been a passion of mine. We have a bill to require 75% of school personnel to be trained in Mental Health First Aid; we all know how important, regular first aid is. You know, we train people for CPR; we should be dealing with mind, body, and soul at the same time and having mental health first aid. A father called into one of our hearings tragically and talked about his 14-year-old daughter, who turned in her journal as an English assignment, got an A on the journal, and then two weeks later killed herself. And he said, I don’t blame the teacher for not seeing the suicide warning signs in the journal; the teacher wasn’t trained. What I’m saying is, let’s train those teachers, let’s train those staff and administrators to see the warning signs of teenage suicide. It’s just like, with the mass shooting, I don’t want to see a grandma having to read about their grandchild shot, and I don’t want to see a parent having to read about their child in the paper committing suicide. We’ve got to do better by our kids, and that’s my goal as a legislator. I legislate as a dad, and whether it’s bike safety, gun safety, or mental health safety, I err on the side of the kids.

Jonathan Linden: And just to go back a little bit to your bill about gun safety and them having to register if there’s a gun in the house. I’m sure you’ve already addressed this issue, but you know, gun activists, I’m sure, are not very happy about this. During our conversation here, I just looked up something from the NRA, and this is pretty typical of them, but they’re saying this is another attack on the privacy of lawful gun owners. What is your response to gun advocates who say that’s just a breach of privacy and too much information to be sharing with the government?

Anthony Portantino: Well, first of all, a lot of the enthusiasts are saying we’re going to go into their homes, which were not, we’re not going into anybody’s home. And we’re not making this information available to the general public. What this information would be is available to the school district and to law enforcement, at which time there is a credible threat. Because if your child, God forbid, if my child God forbid, was involved in one of these threats, I’d want to know if they had access to guns, and I want the school to intervene before the tragedy took place. And so, if you’re a law-abiding citizen, and you’re a hunter, and you’ve got your gun properly stored and locked up, you should not be afraid of this bill. Let me say that, again, if you’re a law-abiding citizen and you’ve got your gun properly stored and locked up, you should not be afraid of this bill. This is just to create tools to make our schools safer, and if it prevents one child’s death, and somebody else gets angry because they have to check a box on a form, I’m sorry, but I’m willing to protect that one child’s death from somebody’s discomfort from having to check a box on a form.

Jonathan Linden: And Senator, is there anything else you would like to share with listeners, whether it be about SB 932 or any of your other bills?

State senator Anthony Portantino seen on the floor of the California State Senate with fellow senator Susan Rubio.
Office of state senator Anthony Portantino
State senator Anthony Portantino seen on the floor of the California State Senate with fellow senator Susan Rubio.

Anthony Portantino: Well, I think a lot of these things all work in concert together, you know for me, treating students from a holistic perspective, making sure that mental health is treated the same as physical health, making sure that we understand during the pandemic, that we have to do more for our students, not less. It’s a fundamental responsibility of government when you send your kids off to school, that’s a safe haven, they spend most of their time there, every parent expects their kids to be on the playground and have a smile on their face and be in the classroom with their hand up and come home with an education and have that smile, and not have lockdowns and lockdown drills and have to worry. And when there’s a text message on your phone that there’s an incident that you worry if your third grader has been caught up in or not. And this is largely an American phenomenon; they don’t have these instances in other countries. And we know 90% of the time, there’s advanced warnings to these things. And we know that 60% of the time, the gun comes from the family, so it’s not like the data doesn’t support the need for this stuff. So, what my request for your listeners would be to take a step back and think about why this makes sense, why it makes sense to screen kids for dyslexia in the first grade and train teachers and other staff to see that, why it makes sense to look at mental health as equal as physical health. And then look at gun safety as making a community safe and then on top of it making our streets safer, because if your kids riding their bike to school, they should be able to ride their bike to school and not have to be run over. As we have more and more e-bikes out there, as we’re getting more and more out of our cars and we’re putting more of our effort into outdoor activities in a state that’s Sunny 80% or 90% of the time, society needs to change with these new attitudes. It’s no different than urban planning from the 20s where they put the ball stadium in the middle of downtown and then in the 60s, they said let’s move them into the suburbs out of town, so we had more parking, and now what are we doing? We’re revitalizing downtowns by bringing ball stadiums back to downtown. Society changes, and we as policymakers, we should change to accommodate those societal changes to the best that we can.

Jonathan Linden: Well, State Senator Anthony Portantino, thank you so much for taking some time to join me today.

Anthony Portantino: Absolutely, happy to be here, Jonathan, I’ll come back again if you want me.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 91.9 KVCR in San Bernardino, California. He joined KVCR in July 2021 and served with the station till October 2022.