By Valerie Demicheva
After serving in the California State Assembly, Leland Yee became the first Chinese-American to be elected a California State Senator. Currently in his second term, he represents San Francisco and San Mateo counties. Throughout his career, Yee has supported legislation to protect children, the environment, and education. A former City College student, he lives with his wife Maxine, and their four children in the Sunset.
You and your 4 children attended City College. Why did you decide to send your children to City College?
I got a superior education when I went to City College. One of the best qualities of a junior college is that there are smaller class sizes. There are better opportunities for a student to get to know a professor, ask a lot more detailed questions, and get those questions answered. I think those are important assets for all higher education institutions. I got a much better education out of City College and wanted my kids to have that kind of experience.
City College had asked the city to cover $2.1 million dollars for basic utilities and only $250,000 was approved. Had you been mayor, would you have done that budget differently? Where should City College look for its funding?
I have a history of supporting higher education. I am the only Senator to have consistently opposed cuts to higher education and the recent fee increases. When there was an opportunity to increase funding to City College particularly, I worked with a number of other Senators to convince then-Governer Schwarzennegar that San Francisco ought to get an additional allocation for its non-credit classes. I was able to help get that for City College. I’ve been a consistent supporter of higher education. Had I been mayor, I would’ve worked closely with the chancellor, whom I know, and the President of the Board of Trustees, who I also know, to find the dollars to meet the needs of City College.
You’ve been quoted as saying you’re going to fight against administrative fat. So I’m curious, where do you see the fat in San Francisco’s government right now?
I have paid attention to some of the wasteful spending that went under on Chancellor Day’s administration. There were a number of top executives that I thought needed to be a little more concerned about how high their salaries were. There was one individual there who handles a lot of facility and developmental issues. I think that any institution should look at how they can tighten their belts and reduce costs rather than putting it on the back of students by increasing tuition.
What are your ideas for keeping big companies here?
We need to hold big businesses accountable for the tax breaks they’re given to provide benefits to the city. If they make a promise to stay in San Francisco, then I want a guarantee that they’re going to stay here. If you’re going to generate “x” number of jobs, I want to make they generate “x” number of jobs for that particular tax credit. I have a bill that would revoke credits and benefits to businesses if they don’t fulfill their end of the bargain.
Is there a timeline? How long do companies have to hold up their end of the bargain?
We would evaluate that on incremental levels – six months, a year. I think the point that you raise that part of growing this economy is new industries emerging in San Francisco. One of the most resilient industries in California is Biotechnology. They are extremely robust and well established. They are poised to do a lot more manufacturing. It is extremely important that San Francisco captures some of those manufacturing jobs within tis arena because those jobs can enlist educated individuals into that particular industry. You need to have a diversity of jobs if you’re going to keep a diversity of individuals living in San Francisco.