CRISTINA OSMENA: An open letter to future of California’s 14th Congressional District

I wish I had more than a day to ponder the fourteenth district before my deadline for this paper approaches. (Francis runs a tight ship.) In many ways, the district I got to know so well when I campaigned in 2018 is fascinating and fun to think about. It is home to some of the most dynamic industries in the world, maybe even in the history of the world. The City of South San Francisco, the place I typically think of as the home of Auntie Em’s and Fort McKinley, shares the distinction with Boston as one of the epicenters of the biotechnology industry. Think about that: it is this industry that has been front and center in addressing the problem of the pandemic.

It is in this district that I came across a scientist who explained to me in January of 2020 the significance of the Wuhan Lab and the virus that likely escaped from it. It is in this district that YouTube was born and bred, where Twitter censors its users, where video games push the limits of technology. Alternative forms of energy and transportation spend their nascence here (before inevitably moving to lower tax regimes). The fourteenth congressional district along with the one below it houses the epicenter for the modern Renaissance. Mediocrity is eaten for breakfast here. Mistakes are devoured for lunch. By the time dinner is ready to be served, there is nothing left but that which is both brilliant and lucky, that which will change the world.

Like any place in the past that has been the locus of tremendous change, it is not without displacement and pain. The locals are priced out of their own homes. The rapid inflation that comes with an influx of talent makes the poor poorer and exacerbates the problem among the least fortunate. I imagine that is what happened in Renaissance Florence and Renaissance Venice, even in New York in its heyday.

The Bay Area is in a tough situation. It would be hard to lead it in a straightforward manner if that really were the task at hand. There are so many competing interests, so many narratives that conflict. It is fortunate for any politician in the area that they only have to play to three entities: two unions (the California Federation of Teachers and the SEIU) and the Democratic Party. Win over support of these three factions and your job is almost a certainty. There is no need to pay attention to the Bay Area’s remarkable place in history or the unfortunate who become the economic victims of the history-making fortune building part of the population. A politician can pay lip service to these entities, wrap his or her messaging with a nice social justice bow and be done with the matter. It is only those three above entities that matter. Serve their needs and the politician can spend the rest of their time sleeping…or day trading.

When I learned that Congresswoman Jackie Speier had announced her retirement from politics after serving as a Representative since 2008 (it was a special election in 2008 that brought her into office), I thought of this dynamic and how it reflected on her legacy as a Congresswoman. At the federal level, her legislative legacy included a few renamed post offices, a tax break for Pinoys donating to Typhoon Yolanda victims, and a voting record eerily aligned with the “whatever Nancy wants” ethic. I would imagine that a rubber-stamping job as a legislator might get a little boring. I would imagine that Speier looked at the prospect of having to travel between SFO and Washington DC (if she wasn’t travelling by private jet) following a year and a half of Congressional sessions by Zoom and she thought, “I think I’ll stay in Hillsborough full time.”

I hope the next Representative will be able to incorporate some of the dynamism of the district in his or her execution of the job. I hope he or she will reach out to the constituents and avail of the great minds that live there as well as address the crisis of inequality that is becoming untenable.

Just a wish list in loving memory of one of the most interesting years of my life.