Even an earthquake didn't stop the former high school teacher as he threw out challenges and accepted questions in his Los Medanos College class, Today's Wild Wild West: Governance & Innovation in California.
The 5.6 temblor that rolled out of Silicon Valley and through the East Bay went almost unnoticed by Torlakson until he asked his students why the nervous tittering. He sent an aide to get details and kept on working the class.
Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier was Torlakson's guest at the Oct. 30 session, which focused on citizen involvement through campaigns (referendum, recall and initiative).
The session was an informal question-and-answer session in which many questions revolved around the evening's theme and many more touched on housing, transportation, politics and whatever was on someone's mind.
The discussion opened with an observation by Torlakson that California is forecast to grow by another 16 million people in the next 25 years.
"We don't prepare for major increases in population in this state," Torlakson said. "We have local experts going all around the world testifying, but not in California. So we've decided to enlist some of them to do a study on what to expect."
DeSaulnier said he had just returned from a trip to Los Angeles earlier in the day, and the worst traffic congestion he encountered was on Highway 4 between Railroad Avenue and Loveridge Road.
Torlakson praised recent moves by Pittsburg officials to approve plans for a five-story building at Highway 4 and Railroad Avenue near the proposed eBART station. The state needs to reward cities for placing transit and development closer together, he said.
DeSaulnier concurred, while coming to the defense of the single-family home at the same time. "There's nothing wrong with them. It's just where you put them," he said. "There is a market for infill."
DeSaulnier urged the students to not become discouraged by government's slow response to problems. "The world has changed and it takes the public sector longer to respond to it," he said, adding that sometimes that isn't so bad because the problem can be better identified and a solution found.
DeSaulnier called term limits a mixed blessing.
"In an ideal world you get rid of people who shouldn't be there, but we don't live in an ideal world," he said. "We spend time in the Assembly figuring out how to run for the Senate. We need more vision for thinking longer down the line."
Torlakson endorsed Proposition 93, saying it could bring modest change. Slated for the 2008 ballot, Proposition 93 would reduce the number of years a lawmaker could serve from 14 to 12, while allowing current incumbents at least one extra term. If the measure passes, all 12 years could be served in one house of the legislature.
The five-week lecture series, which is open to the public, concludes Nov. 27 with an examination of stem cell research, global warming and environmental protection: California and Contra Costa in a Global Policy Context - The New Wild, Wild West. Torlakson's guest lecturers will include Assemblyman Jared Huffman and Bob Klein of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.