Robert Rivas Sworn in as the 71st Speaker of the California State Assembly: Championing Agricultural Climate Resilience and Justice

Robert Rivas Sworn in as the 71st Speaker of the California State Assembly: Championing Agricultural Climate Resilience and Justice

June 30, 2023 Roots of Change

Guest blog by Jamie Fanous, Policy Director, Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Today Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) will be sworn in as the 71st Speaker of the California State Assembly. First elected in 2018, Rivas grew up in farmworker housing in Paicines, CA and has served as the chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee since the fall of 2020. During that time he has been a strong champion for creating a more just and climate resilient agricultural sector and was recognized last fall with CalCAN’s Climate Leadership Award.

Paicines General Store | Photo Credit: David Jordan

As Rivas moves into his new position, I found myself reflecting on one of my early encounters with the Speaker. When he was first elected to the Legislature in November 2018 I was working as a legislative assistant for Assemblymember Mark Stone who represented the neighboring district that included Santa Cruz and Monterey. The two areas share similar challenges with rural, agricultural communities facing climate-related risks and stark inequalities. In particular, both areas face increased flood risks for the agricultural communities located near the Pajaro River which serves as the boundary between Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

In 2019 I remember stopping by the newly-elected Rivas’ office to discuss AB 489 (Stone, 2019), a bill the two legislators worked on together that provided much-needed state funding to the Pajaro River flood control project. Though the bill was signed into law and the state stepped up its support with the subsequent SB 489 (Laird, 2022), the levee improvements are still under construction.

Unfortunately, this winter’s devastating storms and the string of atmospheric rivers brought flooding that breached the levee on the Pajaro river. This displaced over 2,000 residents and caused significant damage to homes and property. Pajaro is a low-income community that is home to many farmworkers who work at local farms, including the region’s numerous strawberry growing operations.

2023 Pajaro River Levee Break | Photo Credit: CA Department of Water Resources

Yet, as the Pajaro community continues to recover and repairs get underway on the levees, it is clear Rivas’ past work has laid the foundation for creating a more flood resilient Pajaro River. By securing state resources to protect the area he has helped create a safer environment for these vulnerable communities which will benefit tremendously from the levee improvements.

In addition to delivering results to communities like Pajaro, Rivas has also supported CalCAN’s efforts to advance statewide policies at the intersection of sustainability and agriculture. During his second term he authored AB 125 (R. Rivas, 2021), a bond bill co-sponsored by CalCAN to invest $3.3 billion to create a more just and climate resilient food and farming system. He is also a co-author on an updated version of the bill this year, AB 408 by Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City) and presented the bill in Assembly Natural Resources Committee this year when Assemblymember Wilson was unable to.

CalCAN and its partners applaud the newly sworn in Speaker Rivas and look forward to working with him in this new role. We believe his dedication to create a more just and climate-resilient food system will pave the way for transformative change in California’s agricultural landscape and beyond.

Our coalition partners shared the following about Speaker Rivas:

“Assemblymember Robert Rivas has shown he cares for healthy farming systems that are good for people and the planet. His leadership is ensuring that conservation-based agriculture, with its climate and pest control benefits which store carbon and reduce pesticides, respectively, will be available to all farmers, making for a just food system.”  Jo Ann Baumgartner, Executive Director, Wild Farm Alliance

“Assemblymember Robert Rivas is a longtime champion of sustainable agriculture. During his tenure as Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, Rivas authored AB 125 and co-authored AB 408 to strengthen the climate-resilience of California’s food and farming system. His leadership advocating for increased investment in climate-smart and organic agriculture, farmworker protections, market development, and infrastructure has supported producers across the state.”  Rebekah Weber, Policy Director, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)

“As Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee Rivas has demonstrated a commitment to prioritizing equity and uplifting California’s small and underserved family farmers. This commitment has only been further illustrated through his co-authorship of AB 408 (Wilson), legislation that ensures a minimum allocation of 50 percent of resources to California’s historically underserved and most vulnerable communities and producers. It also commits resources towards addressing some of the greatest barriers farmers face, such as limited access to land, capital, and infrastructure.” – Jamie Fanous, Policy Director, Community Alliance with Family Farmers

CAFF, Jamie Fanous, Robert Rivas, Speaker of the California State Assembly