Get to know Petaluma's new state senator

Petaluma's state senator may be new to the area, but she's no stranger to politics — Lois Wolk is now serving her second and final term in the state senate after serving three terms in the assembly. She's beginning the year with a long list of projects she'd like to tackle, from finding ways for cities to fund major infrastructure projects to gun control.

The lawmaker has long represented Solano and Yolo counties, as well as parts of San Joaquin and Sacramento County. In 2012, she was elected to serve a newly re-dedistricted area that includes Petaluma and Penngrove.

The no-nonsense, energetic Democrat is perhaps best known for her work on water issues, particularly in the San Joaquin Delta. She has also devoted her time to elder abuse, healthcare and flood management issues.

She chairs numerous committees including the Senate Governance and Finance Committee and serves on other committees relevant to Petaluma, such as those on Agriculture; Energy, Utlities and Communications; Health; and Natural Resources and Water.

Among the bills she's working on this year is one that would make it easier for cities to get funding for big projects like road work and sewer improvements in light of redevelopment agencies being dissolved in 2012. The funding would come through something called an infrastructure financing district. These districts enable municipalities to channel tax dollars for specific projects but currently require a two-thirds vote of the electorate to be approved. That high threshold is often unattainable, even for popular causes. Under Wolk's Senate Bill 33, such districts could be created with a lower amount of votes, probably 50 or 55 percent.

Petaluma lost tens of millions in funding when redevelopment agencies were dissolved, with several major transportation projects in limbo as a result. Even before Wolk was officially representing Petaluma, she helped local leaders gain an audience with the State Department of Finance to argue their case for certain, urgent projects, like construction of the East Washington Street highway interchange, to which Petaluma had already committed funds. The city is now suing the state over the same issue. Wolk said many of the complications around the dissolution of redevelopment could have been avoided if lawmakers had more time to consider the bill.

She's proposing legislation to remedy that — a bill that would require all proposed laws to be in print and online for at least 72 hours before they could be voted on.

Wolk is also working on gun control legislation with Rep. Mike Thompson, describing the matter as "not for the timid."

Wolk, now a veteran lawmaker, said she never thought she'd get into politics. She started her career as a teacher, moving to Davis in 1978, when her husband took a job at the UC Davis Law School. The couple raised their children there, and through them, Wolk became active in soccer, little league, libraries and other community issues.

Because of her community involvement, she was asked to run a campaign for Yolo County District Attorney. She agreed, and her candidate lost — "badly," she said. But her work made an impression, and she soon ran another, successful, campaign for Helen Thomson, who was then running for supervisor.

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