As a longtime former middle school teacher, Fran Pavley thought she would focus her energies on education when she got elected to the California Legislature 15 years ago.
But Robert Hertzberg, who was then Assembly speaker, gave the Southern California politician some advice. “He said we have several champions on education, we need you to focus on the environment,” Pavley said.
Pavley took Hertzberg’s advice. She became internationally recognized for her fight for clean air and energy, first in the state Assembly and now in the state Senate.
And on Thursday in Los Angeles, Gov Brown — who is building his own legacy as a fighter against global warming — is scheduled to sign into law Pavley’s latest landmark bill, SB 32. The bill requires the state to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. It intensifies and extends anti-carbon emission legislation that Pavley co-authored a decade ago, AB 32.
In her first year in the Assembly back in 2001, she authored the Clean Car bill, Assembly Bill 1493, which went on to become the national model for vehicle emissions standards.
Now, she is nearing the end of her final year in the Senate, forced out by term limits.
Pavley, a Democrat who represents the 27th senate district including parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, credits her success to staying focused on broad goals and not micro-managing solutions.
“I’ve always been a big-picture person,” she said.
Herbert Gooch, political science professor at California Lutheran University, said Pavley is an excellent example of a local leader who built her way up to greater heights. She grew up in Sherman Oaks and maintained strong relationships with her local community. “She never lost sight of those roots,” he said. “Those close kind of roots gave her credibility to step into the statewide and national arena.”
“For many people, it seemed like she accomplished something almost impossible,” he said.
Pavley, 67, taught middle school for nearly 30 years, finishing out her teaching experience in Moorpark. She began her political career in 1982 by becoming the first mayor of newly incorporated Agoura Hills. She served four terms on the city council before getting elected to the state Assembly in 2000. She served three terms then was elected to the state Senate.
She said she will continue to advocate for the issues she cares about but does not plan to seek any other elective office. “I’ve been in office since 1982,” she said without elaborating further.
Gooch said her legislative successes with clean air bills are particularly impressive since they come in a state where the oil industry is so powerful. “For many people, it seemed like she accomplished something almost impossible,” he said.
Pavley said her interest in the environment came from her love of the outdoors. For many years she took students to outdoor education camp. She also served on the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Coastal Commission.
In her free time, she likes to go walking on the beach with her husband and dogs and hiking in the mountains.
She also has personal motivations for fighting for clean air.
“Growing up in LA in San Fernando Valley, going to school in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember how polluted the air was, I remember how many times you couldn’t see the mountains,” she said. “I remember the days you couldn’t go out for recess because of red flag alert days, the air was so bad.”
She points out that clean air is not just an environmental issue but a public health issue. She said that air quality is a top priority for health care officials in the Central Valley as well as Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside.
“Parents are so concerned about their children,” she said. “In Fresno, one out of every five children carry an inhaler to school because they’re asthmatic.”
She said one of her proudest achievements of her career was the Clean Car bill. She said it was an honor to stand with President Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden in 2009 when he announced that her work would become the basis of new national standards.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” she said.
Pavley is also proud of her less publicized work fighting to reduce exposure to toxins for children, to aid people with disabilities and autism and to help guide dogs. She is excited about her sustainable groundwater management act, approved in 2014. According to the state groundwater website, for the first time in history, the state is “empowering local agencies to adopt groundwater management plans that are tailored to the resources and needs of their communities.”
Amy Moy, vice president of public affairs for the California Family Health Council, appreciates Pavley for her recent sponsorship of Senate Bill 999, which ensures that California women have access to a year’s supply of birth control. That bill is also awaiting a signature from Gov. Brown.
“Senator Pavley’s belief in the work she does shines through,” Moy said in an email. “Pavley is willing to listen to and work with different stakeholders to get the best bill possible passed.”