Ben Allen’s tough on plastics, and clear on political transparency
State senator honored for stance on environment, campaign finance
by Robb Fulcher
Democrat Ben Allen is leaning on his record of major environmental legislation, government transparency, and attention to his constituents’ needs in his bid for a third term representing the 26th State Senatorial District.
The district of nearly one million constituents stretches along the coast from Palos Verdes north to Santa Monica, where it doglegs inland to Hollywood.
“I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said. “Every single time I’m on the ballot, I believe I have to earn reelection,” he said.
But his campaign spending suggests otherwise.
Between January and September of this year, his campaign had raised $448,037, and had spent $447.
In an interview, Allen characterized the current political climate and challenges.
“There is more acrimony in our society than in 2014. It’s related to politics – the way it’s evolved, or devolved. It’s related to the pandemic, to environmental and economic challenges,” Allen said.
“There is still so much to be happy about,” he added. “The economy continues to grow, we have pretty low unemployment, a budget surplus that allowed the funding of a lot of programs that help people, and the area continues to be home to new technology development and business growth.
“The vast majority of people are still focused on how government can work to make people’s lives better.”
Allen was speaking by phone, enroute from a meeting with Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor David L. Bradley about funding to protect the Portuguese Bend slide area.
Allen recalled his first term in office.
“I read everything I could, I studied, I was so full of ideas and thoughts. I’m so much more prepared now than I was before,” he said. “There’s a real learning curve associated with this job.”
Allen chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, and the Joint Committee on the Arts.
One of his most important pieces of legislation was signed into law over the summer, marking the most sweeping restrictions on plastics in the nation.
“For far too long, plastic waste has been a growing burden for humans, and animals, and the water, soil, and air we need to exist,” he said. Allen chairs the Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee.
The legislation shifts the cost of waste management and recycling from local communities onto the producers of the plastics. It also calls for less plastic in packaging, and more packaging that can be recycled or composted.
In September Allen saw approval of his bill requiring oil refiners to disclose, month-by-month, the profits they make from refining oil into gasoline.
This will give Californians “more information about why they are paying so much at the pump amidst record gains by oil companies,” he said.
Allen said his staff was heavily involved in writing the sweeping climate legislation signed into law this year. The package of bills aims to cut pollution, achieve 90 percent clean energy by 2035, and carbon neutrality by 2045.
Allen also led a successful effort to phase out a carcinogen in firefighting equipment, and passed regulations to curtail mining pollution in rivers.
His efforts to improve public disclosure of political donors led the California Clean Money Campaign to name its “Clean Money Campion” in 2021
He authored the Voter’s Choice Act of 2016, expanding how and where people can vote.
Allen said he is now focused on “the way the rules are written” in Sacramento, and finding “avenues of transparency” to make oversight easier
Turning to education, Allen said he secured a “tweak” in a state funding formula, to assist local schools whose funding was tied too closely to enrollment numbers, which fluctuated sharply during the pandemic.
Allen said his office stresses constituent services, connecting individuals to services, and assuring funding for endeavors such as Redondo’s Seaside Lagoon, area parks, and the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy.
“We pride ourselves on high quality constituent services up and down the district,” he said.
Allen traces his approach to his job, and to life, to the influence of his parents, both educators.
“I have a deep love for learning,” Allen said. “They had a deep sense of curiosity, and there was an exposure to books and learning. We had interesting people at the dinner table. I try to recreate that love of learning with my own son.”
Allen, and his wife Melanie, an attorney, live in Santa Monica, and have a son Ezra.
Allen described his father as an avid hiker who would take him on weekend treks into the Santa Monica Mountains.
“I became really cognizant that decisions activists made, working with politicians, allowed a father and son to have those opportunities,” Allen said.
His love of education, and personal experiences, fueled his push to fund public schools in a “steady but stable” manner.
Allen was elected in 2008 to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board, “a month before the stock market went into freefall.”
“We had to figure out how to keep the lights on despite massive cuts. It was seared into my mind, the importance of building up a rainy day fund for purposes like keeping the schools stable,” he said.
“The budget is so dependent on the vagaries of the market. I don’t think it’s very progressive to balloon programs and then have to pop them,” he said.
Before his school board tenure, when he was a law student at UC Berkeley, and also a student regent, he was alarmed to see the inflating and popping of some funding balloons.
“They would pass a program, hire people, get office space, buy stationery, then pull the rug out,” Allen said.
As an aide called time on Allen’s broad ranging car interview, Allen mused upon the broad ranging nature of his Senate duties.
“One of the fun things about this job is that you get to work on so many issues,” he said. ER