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Public Policy Newsletter Article

2020 in Review: Regional Governments Focus on COVID-19, Economic Stopgaps

  • 2020-12-03T16:00:00.000+0000
  • Author: Melanie Cohn

It’s no surprise to anyone that Biocom’s regional policy efforts focused largely on COVID-19 in 2020. We:
• Continuously monitored public health orders in 11 counties and shared updates with members
• Worked with local governments to secure essential worker status for life science employees
• Held sharing sessions, expert presentations, and workshops on all aspects of continuing life science operations during the pandemic
• Authored an EH&S handbook that was included in Biocom’s Return to Work Manual
• And, provided one-on-one services to our members for everything from securing a limited supply of KN95 masks to helping with a development permit that was experiencing delays due to the pandemic

This was all in addition to our normal regional policy activities.

With a seasoned policy staff and established offices in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, our small but mighty team continued to engage in new and varied work in these regions, all while maintaining our strong San Diego presence. While some issues – we’ve connected members with local inspectors to address regulatory questions in all three regions – are common throughout California, we continue to provide unmatched service by tailoring our offerings to the unique needs and policy challenges of each region.

With the help of consulting firm Cerrell, we started 2020 by meeting with elected offices at the city and county of Los Angeles, notably then newly elected Councilmember John Lee. We continue to engage on issues related to land use and planning, housing, business taxes, and permitting.

A standout policy activity in 2020 was October’s “State of the Bioscience Industry in Los Angeles County,” which drew 250+ attendees and was Biocom’s largest Los Angeles event to date. The virtual forum, held with the LA County Economic Development Corporation and the Center for a Competitive Workforce, featured key takeaways from Biocom’s 2020 Economic Impact Report, launch of the Why LA life science web portal, a local COVID-19 solutions panel with Takeda and Gilead, and a keynote address from outgoing Supervisor (and life science champion) Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Subsequently, Supervisor Kathryn Barger joined Biocom’s virtual LA CEO Summit in November, where she told our members, "Bioscience has not only become a staple of our local economy, but it’s been essential in the investment in STEM education in our schools. The commitment companies like yours have made to invest in the next generation of researchers and innovators has been incredible." We anticipate Supervisor Barger will be a strong ally for our industry as Ridley-Thomas takes his seat as the newly elected Councilmember for LA’s 10th District.

In September, we welcomed Biocom’s new Los Angeles Executive Director, Stephanie Hsieh. Stephanie brings to Biocom more than 25 years of experience within the biotech and biopharma industries and has a track record of leading cross-functional teams to develop and execute business and new product strategies by leveraging her deep knowledge of patent law and the regulatory landscape. With Stephanie on Board, we will continue to build relationships between policymakers and the industry to create an environment that is welcoming and committed to retaining start-up and established life science companies in the LA region.

Our exciting policy news in the Bay Area is, as of November 30th, Biocom welcomed a new Policy Associate to serve our members there. You can find out more about Mitzy De La Peña Medina elsewhere in this issue.

Our Bay Area activities began 2020 with an in-person (remember those?) life science roundtable discussion with the Mayor and City Manager of South San Francisco. During that session, we discussed the proposed Community Facility District, a specified geographic area of businesses that could be subjected to a new per square footage fee that would be directed to transportation improvements. The group also addressed commuter transportation issues, the need for additional middle-income housing, and colocation.

In San Francisco, with the help of consulting firm California Strategies we have been engaged on a variety of tax and fee proposals from Supervisors there. As a result of the pandemic and subsequent economic uncertainty, Supervisors placed several tax increases on the November ballot, all of which were passed by voters. Proposition F, the business tax overhaul, will finish the planned phase out of the payroll tax resulting in only a gross receipts tax on businesses, and will gradually increase the tax beginning in 2022. Biocom plans to pursue gross receipts tax parity language for life science companies in the new year. We continue to actively participate in the San Francisco Chamber policy and tax committees, where these issues are addressed, and the business community pursues consensus strategy.

Other Bay Area activities included a Return to Work session for Facility professionals, support for the City of South San Francisco’s request for a feasibility study on expanded water taxi service to Oyster Point, and opposition to a proposed 60% work from home mandate from the area’s regional transportation authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. After backlash from the business community, in late November MTC revised its proposal to require companies with more than 50 employees to identify and fund incentives to achieve a goal of limiting the portion of their workforce that commutes to work by car on an average workday to 40% by 2035.

In San Diego, local elected officials came to Biocom for guidance starting at the outset of the pandemic. Mayor Kevin Faulconer held a listening session with our members working directly on COVID-19, and subsequently visited several member sites to see their work firsthand. Our policy staff also assisted his office in highlighting our members’ work during regular COVID-19 press briefings. Council President Pro Tem Bry, who represents San Diego’s life science hub, looked to us to connect with members both in the roundtable and individual settings as well. The city’s mayoral candidates met with a group of Biocom board members to share their city priorities in advance of the November election.

Biocom committees hosted representatives from a variety of local regulatory agencies – air emissions and hazardous materials control, transportation, and utility providers – so our members could provide input on inspection processes and hear regulatory updates. Beginning in March, we hosted five COVID-19 sharing sessions for our Environmental Health and Safety members to share best practices on adapting to COVID-19, including employee screening and tracing, physical distancing, reporting, and other pandemic response issues relevant to this group.

We’ve had a voice in a variety of land use issues that the San Diego City Council has taken on this year – we supported: the airport’s environmental report certification, lifting deed restrictions at UC San Diego, a community plan amendment initiation for Towne Centre View, and the final passage of the plan to redevelop Costa Verde Center, which includes newly proposed life science space. Our staff is participating on the University Community Plan Update Committee – the updated plan will dictate the development of San Diego’s life science hub for the next twenty years.