Tuesday, March 2, 2021
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A Conversation With California’s First Gen Z Lawmaker

Good morning.

Recently, I spoke with Alex Lee, who was elected last month to represent his San Jose-area district in the State Assembly after Kansen Chu, the incumbent, said he wouldn’t run again.

Mr. Lee, 25, beat out a crowded field in the Democratic primary for the seat and has made headlines as California’s first Generation Z lawmaker. He’ll also be the first openly bisexual person to become a state legislator.

Here’s our conversation, edited and condensed for length and clarity:

Congratulations, first of all. Tell me a little about yourself and your background — and also how you decided to run for State Assembly of all offices. State lawmakers in California of course have a lot of power, but I don’t think people always realize it.

I’m 25 years old, the same number as my district right now, which is a fact I like. But when I started running this campaign in June 2019, I was still working for Assemblymember Evan Low in his field district office. And before that I had worked in the State Capitol for State Senator Henry Stern.

And both were young record-breakers of their own. Henry was the first millennial in the State Senate, and Evan was the youngest Asian-American state legislator before me.

I felt like we have a Democratic ultra, super majority, right? We have all the executive positions. And yet we can’t seem to do the things that are big and progressive. We haven’t gotten universal health care, or even close to it. We haven’t guaranteed housing for everyone. Wealth inequality is out of control. There’s something deeply wrong about that. And I think that frustration in the system drove me to run.

What are your top priorities?

The theme of what will hopefully be my first term is going to be housing security and affordability, and getting corporate money out of politics. On Dec. 7, which is swearing-in day, I’m going to introduce a bill to prohibit candidates in California from taking corporate money or business entity money and to build a publicly financed election system to incentivize people to opt out.

What’s your approach to housing?

The big picture is figured out: the three P’s. It’s the production of housing, the preservation of existing affordable housing, and protection of working families and renters.

My ultimate goal is to lean on public social housing as a strong alternative means for the production of housing. Right now, the for-profit market has basically a monopoly on housing production. And cities and localities basically can only negotiate within those confines.

I am also keen to get rid of Costa-Hawkins.

You represent Santa Clara County, Silicon Valley — cities that have not historically been particularly friendly to even multifamily development. What do you say to constituents who are hesitant about denser development?

I’ll be honest — it’s not the easiest conversation to have because everyone has some opinion about it. But every single person in my district does have the same wants. What they want is for housing to be affordable for their kids, for themselves, or their grandparents or families.

[Hear more from Gen Z in their own words.]

How has being Gen Z — and I’m talking specifically about growing up as a digital native, living through this era, not just being in your 20s — shaped the way you think about these issues?

Look, I live at home and I am going to live at home, I think, for the foreseeable future. But it’s funny because I always see the comments saying you’re 25, you’re not Gen Z, and then there’s all these different questions about —

Do you identify as Gen Z?

Yes, yes I do. At the end of the day, it’s an arbitrary social construct, but it’s an important frame of mind. We are a generation that has grown up and understood that we are being screwed over.

When we think about the millennial generation, I think there are a lot who cling onto that 1990s hope that you can work hard and it will all work out. And that is kind of changing. Not to be completely reductive.

But I think there’s a different relationship once you understand the world is utterly screwed unless we do something about it. Why not go down swinging as hard as we can and go fight the big fight?

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Track coronavirus cases in California.

  • San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, went to a socialite’s birthday dinner at the French Laundry the night after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ill-conceived visit. And San Jose’s mayor, Sam Liccardo, admitted he violated pandemic restrictions and went to a family Thanksgiving dinner with people from five households. Bad looks, a columnist wrote. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • The captain of the Conception, the dive boat that caught fire off the coast of Santa Barbara, killing 34, has been charged with seaman’s manslaughter. [The New York Times]

  • Representative Mike Garcia, a Republican, has won a full term in the House for the seat vacated by Katie Hill. It was the last House race to be called in the state in a good year for Republicans, who claimed four seats they lost in 2018. [The New York Times]

Read more about the battle for the 25th House District. [The New York Times]

  • California’s median home price hit $712,430 in September, closing out four months of record highs. [The New York Times]

  • House-flippers have been enlisting formerly homeless people to guard vacant houses in yet another symbol of a broken real estate market. [The New Yorker]

  • Over the weekend, California Highway Patrol officers forcefully removed activists who were in vacant houses owned by Caltrans in El Sereno. [LAist]

  • Renters are increasingly untethered from offices in coastal areas. So they’re heading to the Inland Empire, where rents are also rising. [The Orange County Register]

  • Salesforce said it would buy Slack for a monster $27.7 billion. It’s the latest in a spate of deals by tech companies aimed at capitalizing on the shift to remote work. [The New York Times]

  • The Cal State University application deadline has been extended to Dec. 15 in recognition of difficulties prospective students are facing in the pandemic. [The California State University]

If you missed it, read a conversation with the university’s new chancellor. [The New York Times]

  • Los Angeles decided to shut down a coronavirus testing site at Union Station for a film crew working on a reboot of “She’s All That” starring the TikTok star Addison Rae. Residents and community organizers were outraged, and the city reversed the decision. [The New York Times]


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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