First published in the July 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
With Primary Election results certified this week, two candidates — Democrats Daniel Hertzberg and Caroline Menjivar — are poised to face off in a contest to represent Burbank’s new state Senate district.
The victor of November’s general election will lead the state Senate’s 20th district, which also includes Sylmar, Sunland-Tujunga, Canoga Park and Panorama City, for the following four years.
However, as a result of the 2021 statewide redistricting process, state Sen. Anthony Portantino will continue to represent his jurisdiction, including most of Burbank, until the end of his term in 2024, meaning he and the newly elected senator will both represent the city for two years.
The race for the 20th Senate district was close, with Hertzberg winning about 30.8% of the votes and Menjivar close behind at nearly 29.8% — representing a difference of roughly 150 votes.
Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who represents Burbank and the rest of the 44th Assembly district, won her primary election race outright with more than 73% of the vote against challenger Barry Jacobsen.
Whoever wins this year’s election will represent Burbank and the rest of the district in Sacramento, writing and voting on bills addressing a number of issues including housing, the economy, sustainability, homelessness and public safety.
obit-Edmund Wardle photo
Neither Menjivar nor Hertzberg has held elected office, though the latter, a Burbank resident, would follow in the political footsteps of his father Robert Hertzberg, a current state senator whose district includes a fraction of the city. He is leaving the state Legislature after this year due to term limits.
However, both Senate district 20 candidates insisted that they bring valuable experience from other fields.
Hertzberg, who has interned for Los Angeles, state and federal politicians, started his career in the hospitality industry as a minimum-wage worker, eventually becoming a hotel business manager.
When the coronavirus pandemic resulted in him being furloughed, Hertzberg added, he felt inspired to address the economic and social issues he saw his frontline colleagues facing.
“There’s so much more you understand when you’re physically there and experience what it’s like to be a working person,” said Hertzberg, who is a renter. “I want to be able to bring my life experience to the state level.”
Menjivar, a child of El Salvador immigrants, said her dedication to civil service is evident in her history in the Police Academy Magnet and L.A. Fire Department Cadet programs.
She later enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving for seven years before working as an EMT — including at Providence Saint Joseph’s Medical Center some years back. She also received a master’s degree in social welfare and became a staff member for L.A. politicians. She is now a homeowner in Panorama City.
“I’ve been very drawn to ensuring that people get the sources that they need, responding to perhaps one of the vulnerable situations [for] a community member,” said Menjivar.
Both candidates acknowledged that housing affordability is a major issue in Burbank and the rest of the 20th Senate district. Menjivar said she supports building mixed-use developments — a combination of businesses and residences.
But, she added, she also wants to balance housing construction with the concerns of equestrians, such as residents of Burbank’s Rancho neighborhood, who want to protect outdoor space.
Still, Menjivar believes in order to keep residents from being priced out of cities like Burbank, changes will need to occur.
“We’re all going to sink together, and this water’s not going to care where we’re from, and if we don’t come together and … save ourselves, then we’re not going to get nowhere,” Menjivar said. “We’re in the process of making up for decades of not doing the right thing.”
Hertzberg said he wants to provide more opportunities for renters to become homeowners, such as by expanding home loan programs. He also supports “adaptive reuse” initiatives, such as turning offices left empty by work-from-home policies into mixed-used developments.
Hertzberg also pointed to research indicating that those leaving California tend to be working-class and middle-income residents. He believes the state needs to employ a strategy that also helps those, such as teachers, who can’t afford California’s high living costs but don’t qualify for affordable-housing programs.
“We can’t keep losing them — we have to be doing more right now to actually alleviate the issues,” Hertzberg said. “I love any kind of housing policy that just doesn’t focus on affordable and market rate, because in reality we need to focus on middle-[income earners].”
Acknowledging that teachers and other school workers are facing budget cuts sparked by a statewide enrollment decline, Hertzberg said he supports a bill authored by state Sen. Portantino’s bill that would base public-school funding based on average enrollment rather than attendance. The legislation, Senate Bill 830, would likely increase funding for many schools.
He also lauded the Burbank Unified School District’s policy of allowing the children of parents who work in the city to attend local schools. However, he emphasized that solutions will vary according to the area, necessitating a collaborative approach.
“One of the things I think kind of gets lost in the education policy discussion … is this, is a coalition-building kind of thing,” Hertzberg said. “Issues can’t be tackled by one angle, and more importantly, every city has very different needs.”
Menjivar agreed that SB 830 needs to become law. But she believes the state also needs to support educators in other ways, such as by helping young workers get their teaching credentials through a junior college and providing housing stipends for teachers, health-care workers and therapists.
“It’s not just about reallocating the funds,” Menjivar said. “It’s about how can we ensure we train our educators, we ensure that we’re addressing burnout.”
She said she also wants to see schools do more for LGBTQ youth. As a volunteer on the board of GLSEN Los Angeles — an organization that seeks to address LGBTQ discrimination in schools — Menjivar said “there’s still a lot of work to be done” in Burbank schools.
Mental health, Menjivar said, is the foremost issue of her campaign. She wants the state to help provide long-term support for those involuntarily placed in a psychiatric hospital, similar to bridge housing programs for people experiencing homelessness.
She also believes therapist teams should respond to mental health-related 911 calls statewide.
“As a social worker, I strongly believe that we’ve been very reactive to things versus being proactive at getting at the root of the problem,” Menjivar added.
Hertzberg emphasized his commitment to the environment, saying he is interested in building a California Civilian Climate Corps., an initiative floated by President Joe Biden on the national level.
Modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps. of the Great Depression era, Hertzberg believes the program would both create jobs and address climate change by cleaning up dead trees and reinforcing power lines.
“We need to be dealing with climate change emergencies, not just as they’re happening, but before they happen,” Hertzberg said.
Hertzberg has received endorsements from a variety of labor unions, including those representing firefighters and nurses as well as food, construction and entertainment workers.
Menjivar has received endorsements from the Los Angeles Times and a number of Democratic political groups, including the National Women’s Political Caucus, the California Working Families Party and the Stonewall Democratic Club.
Locally, Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony endorsed Menjivar, while Councilman Nick Schultz endorsed Hertzberg.