Ramos Prevailing In Quiet Democratic Backroom Power Contest With Gómez Reyes

In the struggle for the position of primary influence among local legislators and an inside track on the eventual leadership of the legislature itself through placement within the Democratic hierarchy in Sacramento, it appears that Assemblyman James Ramos (Democrat-Highland) is maneuvering and accelerating past Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes (Democrat-San Bernardino).
To be sure, Gómez Reyes, who is senior to Ramos in California’s lower legislative house by two years and who has acceded to an official leadership position within the party and the Assembly above Ramos, that of Assembly majority leader, on paper appears more powerful and influential than her colleague. Nevertheless, in the arena where it counts in terms of moving bills out of committee and to the floor for a vote or other action, it appears that 56-year-old Ramos is outhustling the 67-year-old Gómez Reyes.
A case in point is the contrast between two bills – one written, introduced and sponsored by Gómez Reyes and another authored, brought forth and supported by Ramos – both of which are ostensibly aimed at the same goal.
Gómez Reyes’ Assembly Bill 1000 would have required 1,000 feet be maintained between new warehouses of 100,000 square feet or more and homes, apartments and other places where people congregate and spend a lot of time, such as day care centers and schools. It would have been applicable statewide.
Ramos’s AB 1748 deals with the same topic as AB 1000, that being the proximity of warehouses to living quarters, educational facilities and the like. Ramos’s version would impose a substantially less exacting limitation, however, specifically a 300-foot buffer between dwelling units or quarters or sites where large numbers of people spend hours on a daily or semi-daily basis and warehouses of 400,000 square feet or more in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.Ramos comes across in his legislative intent as being far friendlier to corporations, developers, landowners, real estate speculators, investors and businesses than Gómez Reyes. On the other hand, Gómez Reyes, with AB 1000, put a higher priority on protecting the interest of common citizens than does Ramos with AB 1748.
This might be an outgrowth of who Gómez Reyes and Ramos are.
While both are Democrats from relatively humble beginnings, Gómez Reyes, a graduate of Colton High School, obtained an A.A. from San Bernardino Valley College and then an undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, eventually earning a law degree from Loyola Law School. As an attorney, she involved herself in environmental law and seeking social justice for impoverished clients, ones who might otherwise not have been able to afford legal representation. She did alright for herself, but by no stretch did she become fabulously wealthy.
Ramos had an even more inauspicious start in life than Gómez Reyes. He was born on the San Manuel Tribe’s reservation in 1967, in abject poverty. In the mid-1980s, while Ramos was yet a teenager, tribal elders made a commitment to pull themselves and their families up by their bootstraps, and they used both federal and state law to initiate the operation of a “high stakes” Indian Bingo parlor on their land. In 1994, they parlayed the proceeds from the bingo parlor into an investment scheme to transform the facility into a casino, which in short order proved to be fabulously successful.
By the time he was in his 30s, Ramos, freed from the straitjacket of poverty that had hung as a specter over his youth, progressed in the way that those who have seen life from the bottom and the top often do. He became the chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians before he initiated his public career as a politician by serving on the San Bernardino Community College District Board of Trustees followed by his successful 2012 campaign for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. At this point, Ramos has ascended a half-dozen to a dozen rungs higher up the economic ladder than Gómez Reyes. A multimillionaire as a member of the tribe, thanks to the now much-expanded and lucrative casino in Highland, he reportedly makes $18,000 per day in gaming revenue. This has sensitized him to the needs of other wealthy individuals in the State of California. Thus, he is more sympathetic to large scale businessmen, such as developers and operators of warehouses, than are most other members of the Democratic Party in California.
Whereas a common interpretation is that Democrats are the representatives of the downtrodden, labor and the have-nots and the Republicans speak in the statehouse for the entrepreneurial and economically enabled class, Ramos has lived into being a different model of politician in California, where the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state, the attorney general, superintendent of schools, the controller, the comptroller and insurance commissioner are all Democrats and the Democrats have a supermajority in both the Assembly and California State Senate. Since the Republicans cannot represent – or cannot represent adequately – the business community in the state, a cross section of Democrats have moved in to link up with the Republicans to make sure that feared overregulation of businesses in California does not force widespread business closures or migration of those businesses to other states, as was beginning to occur more than a decade ago. Ramos is one of those Democrats who is less ready than many of the other members of his party to sponsor and support legislation that in looking after the state’s citizens drives its entrepreneurial class into the red, eventually taking the entire economy of the Golden State with it.
Last year Gómez Reyes authored and introduced legislation that was the forerunner of AB 1000, what was designated Assembly Bill 2840, which was intended to insulate homeowners and their families from the harmful effects of the encroachment of warehouses into residential neighborhoods.
Assembly Bill 2840 ran into a buzz saw of opposition, however.
The California Chamber of Commerce and the Fontana Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill.
AB 2840 “exacerbates California’s existing supply chain problems,” Adam Regele, CalChamber senior policy advocate, said at the time.
The bill ignored “California’s robust environmental laws and regulations which already redress and fully mitigate all significant impacts from warehouse development,” Regele said. California and Southern California in particular, Regele insisted, “need more warehouses to spur the economy and alleviate critical supply chain issues. Supply and distribution chains across California are a matter of vital statewide importance.”
Fontana Chamber of Commerce President Phil Cothran said any legislation aimed at warehouses and Assembly Bill 2840 in particular would harm the prospect for generating more jobs locally in terms of construction, supply chain management, logistics, development and the transportation industries tied into distribution centers.
“Our area has worked hard for decades, if not centuries, to assure that Inland Southern California can produce jobs and grow businesses by supporting goods movement through rail, truck and trailer transport, the ports, and education programs that build a workforce,” Cothran wrote in a letter he sent to Gómez Reyes last year. “AB 2840 strips all local governments across California of their zoning and land use authority, ignores California’s robust environmental laws and regulations applicable to this type of development and exacerbates existing supply chain problems and rising inflation plaguing California by making it harder and more expensive to develop these types of projects.”
Cothran asserted that existing laws and regulations “already require qualifying logistics-use projects and warehouses to comply with a long list of local, state and federal environmental laws” and that AB 2840 “would stop job creation and limit our local commitment to provide for a good quality of life for all.” He said, “[E]xisting law already forces new projects or the expansion of an existing facility to undergo the most rigorous environmental analysis and mitigation measures in the country.”
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Gómez Reyes pulled the plug on Assembly Bill 2840, resolving to back up and regroup before coming at the issue in a way calculated to succeed, utilizing the same concepts in a bill in a slightly altered form. She withdrew Assembly Bill 2840 in July 2022, without it being taken up in last year’s legislative session. Gómez Reyes said she had elected to withhold it because of “concerns around maintaining the integrity of the bill after committee-proposed amendments.”
Indicating she would yet pursue comprehensive regulation pertaining to warehouse development, Gómez Reyes said she believed Cothran was overstating his case. She suggested there are yet gaps in the environmental regulations applied to warehouses. That is not to say that there is no need for warehousing, she said, but, she insisted, the environmental excesses that typified warehouses in the past could no longer be tolerated. “I want to be clear that my intention has never been to stop development,” she said.
This month, saying “Warehouse growth in the Inland Empire and beyond shows no signs of slowing,” Gómez Reyes introduced AB 1000, which she dubbed “the Good Neighbor Policy.”
She said AB “addresses the planning and construction of new logistics centers across California. The bill would permit local governments to approve construction of large warehouses and logistics centers of over 100,000 square feet when they are 1,000 feet from sensitive receptors such as schools, homes and daycares. Local governments would also be able to approve construction of these facilities as close as 750 feet from a sensitive receptor when specific mitigation measures are followed to reduce negative community impacts.”
According to Gómez Reyes, “The development of industrial facilities should not come at the detriment of the health, wellness and quality of life of the community. AB 1000 proposes a fair approach that will not only protect communities, but also offer a chance for a project to show its commitment to being a good neighbor. The status quo is not working for many of our most vulnerable residents, and we must find a better way to manage these large projects in order to move California forward.”
Under AB 1000, mitigation measures that would allow a project to be within 750 feet of a project include standards related to zero-emission energy, zero-emission vehicles, transportation infrastructure and operation requirements such as a commitment to reducing truck idling in adjacent neighborhoods.
In the meantime, however, Ramos aimed at steering a middle ground between the position that Gómez Reyes had staked out and that of the Republicans, who would prefer there be no regulation of warehouses at all. Ramos crafted Assembly Bill 1748 so that warehouses of anything less than 400,000 square feet would not be impacted and that those over that threshold would be forced to stay not 1,000 feet but 300 feet – the length of a football field – away from houses, private homes, apartments, condominium units, group homes, dormitory units, retirement homes, shelters, schools, preschools, pre-kindergartens, schools maintaining kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, licensed daycare facilities, health care facilities, hospitals, medical clinics, community clinics, medical centers, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, hospices, convalescent facilities, live-in housing, community centers, established community places of worship, public playgrounds, public recreation fields, public or recreation centers. Ramos designated it a “special statute,” applicable in particular to warehouses of 400,000 square feet or greater already constructed or to be constructed in the future in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, prohibiting the county governments therein “and any of the cities within those counties from approving the development or expansion of any qualifying logistics use, as defined, that is adjacent to sensitive receptors, as defined, unless the local agency imposes a minimum setback on the qualifying logistics use of 300 feet or follows an industrial guideline framework, as specified.”
Ramos touted AB 1748 as “a balanced approach to warehouse siting by allowing local jurisdictions to develop policies for their communities or follow the model set out last year after vigorous debate and hard-won compromise,” he said. “It addresses the need to mitigate vital health concerns important to all of us while protecting critical product supply chains around the globe, nation and state.”
Overly aggressive curbs on the logistics industry carry with them the potential of wreaking devastation on the community as a whole, he said.
“We saw what happens when ports and other transportation hubs are stalled for products such as baby formula, medicine, food products, and building materials are held up,” he said.
This week, the Assembly Local Government Committee took up dual consideration of AB 1000 and AB 1748. The committee could have sent both ahead in the lower house’s deliberative process.
The Assembly Local Government Committee generally concerns itself with evaluating legislation pertaining to land use, maintaining and setting up local jurisdictions, general plan processes pertaining to development, governance of special districts, local governance finance, special taxes, state mandates, the Subdivision Map Act and infrastructure financing districts, along with other issues. The committee is chaired by Assemblywoman Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry, a left of center Democrat who is normally on the same wavelength as Gómez Reyes. Its vice chair is Assemblywoman Diane Dixon, a Republican and the former Mayor of Newport Beach. The committee has one other Republican, Marie Waldron and five other Democrats – Lori Wilson, Robert Rivas, Blanca Pacheco, Tasha Boerner and Ramos. Ultimately, the committee slammed the door shut on AB 1000 and allowed AB 1748 to progress.
The writing is on the wall.
Not only is Ramos outmaneuvering Gómez Reyes in terms of competing legislation, his personal wealth, which is translated into money being employed in a political context – including sponsoring his own political career and those of other members of the legislature – has put him into a power class of his own.
If both Gómez Reyes and Ramos can lay claim to being the primary San Bernardino County or Inland Empire Democrat in Sacramento at present, the test of who really is the most powerful would come down to which of them might ultimately accede to California’s most coveted legislative spot, speaker of the Assembly. As the Assembly majority leader, Gómez Reyes is at present third in line to the speaker’s post, currently held by Anthony Rendon. Assistant Speaker Pro Tem Stephanie Nguyen and Speaker Pro Tem Christopher Ward are in front of her.
With the change in California’s term limit law that went into place with the state’s legislators elected in 2012 onward, politicians are no longer limited to six years or three terms in the Assembly and eight years or two terms in the California Senate, as was previously the case. Instead, legislators are limited to 12 years as a lawmaker in California, meaning a member of the Assembly can remain 12 years or six terms in the lower house if he or she so chooses and the voters are indulgent of that person’s continuing tenure in office. Similarly, a state senator can remain in that capacity for three four-year terms. If a politician opts to do so, he or she can divide their time in the legislature between both houses, such as four years or eight years in one and eight years and four years in the other.
Gómez Reyes was first elected to the Assembly in 2016 and is thus eligible to remain in the legislature, consecutively based upon her ability to be reelected, through 2028. In this way, she has, realistically four years to climb over Rendon, who is the fifth-longest-serving speaker in California history and the longest-serving speaker to serve his first term after the adoption of California’s term limits. Moreover, she would need to contend with Nguyen, who was just elected to the Assembly last year, and Ward, who was first elected in 2020. While she has sufficient goodwill built up with her constituents and enough funding to likely be able to be handily reelected in 2024 and 2026 if she were to seek to remain in the Assembly, she understands that at best she would have only an outside chance of acceding to the position of Assembly speaker before she retires. Consequently, she is forging ahead to run for the California State Senate in 2024. She has a better than fair prospect of succeeding in that ambition, which would make her the senior state legislator in the region during her final four years in office, perhaps even giving her the opportunity to become the president pro tem of the California Senate, the de facto leader of that body, which is otherwise titularly headed by the lieutenant governor who serves as the ex officio president of the State Senate. Despite being a lame duck at that point, she would nevertheless stand as an undisputed heavyweight within not only the party but state government in general.
Meanwhile, Ramos, who was first elected in 2018 and can serve through 2030, is the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, a powerful legislative post. He is likely to move into a Democratic leadership position in the Assembly, potentially replacing Gómez Reyes, perhaps as early as next year. With his financial prowess, his ability to vector not only his own money but the money of other members of his tribe to key allies in the Democratic Party and the Assembly, Ramos is on a trajectory to make a strong bid for consideration as a candidate for Assembly speaker before he retires, which would make him the first Native American to hold that post.
It appears in the quiet backroom power struggle between Gómez Reyes and Ramos, the latter is in command.
-Mark Gutglueck

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