By Collin Breaux
Come November, residents in South Orange County will vote on their local voices in the State Senate.
In the 36th District race, which represents those living in Dana Point and San Clemente, Democrat Kim Carr and Republican Janet Nguyen are running for office. Voters in the 38th District, covering San Juan Capistrano and Rancho Mission Viejo, will decide between Democrat Catherine Blakespear and Republican Matt Gunderson.
Carr said she is a third-generation Southern Californian who has lived in the district nearly her entire life. She grew up in Garden Grove, got her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fullerton and worked as a national sales manager for broadcast television stations.
“I’ve been active in local government for over a decade and have proudly served on Huntington Beach City Council since 2018,” Carr said. “I served as mayor in 2021, and during that time, I led efforts to respond to the 2021 oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, strengthened public safety while reducing homelessness by 35% and helped workers and businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
If elected to the Senate, Carr said she will fight inflation by fixing supply chains and cutting red tape for local businesses, reduce homelessness by increasing mental health and housing support, and defend reproductive freedom and the right of all people to control their bodies.
She is also campaigning to combat climate change and protect our beaches and coastal economy, while improving public education and lowering the financial barriers to college for students.
Nguyen, a state assemblymember, did not respond requests for comment.
In campaign materials, she said she helped pass legislation expanding health care for the homeless, mentally ill and for lower-income families.
She also said she earned an “A” rating from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association because of her work to protect Proposition 13 and stop tax increases, and she wrote bipartisan legislation to increase a renters’ tax credit to help families deal with the high cost of living.
Nguyen has previously been a state senator and was also an Orange County board supervisor and Garden Grove councilmember.
“She is the first Vietnamese American elected to the State Senate, was the first woman Supervisor to represent the First District, the first Asian American and the first Vietnamese American to serve on the Board of Supervisors, as well as the youngest Supervisor elected in Orange County history,” her website biography states.
“In addition, Sen. Nguyen was the highest-ranking Vietnamese American elected official in California and the highest-ranking Vietnamese American woman elected official in the United States.”
In response to a question about affordable housing, Carr said she championed efforts for Huntington Beach to participate in a statewide program allowing the city to purchase existing apartment buildings with zero-interest loans when she was mayor.
“These apartment units were then eligible to offer reduced rental rates for residents earning anywhere between 80-120% of the (Area Median Income). This program added 674 units of housing to help the needs of middle-income earners without having to build a single unit,” Carr said.
Carr said that she’s also been an advocate for Project Home Key, the state and county partnership that converted motels into permanent supportive housing units to help the homeless.
“I also believe a reevaluation of CEQA is needed so residents and developers have confidence in the process, and we are able to have sensible, sustainable growth without unnecessary and costly delays,” Carr continued.
CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, is a state requirement that municipalities often go through when considering new housing and developments.
As for candidates in the 38th District, Blakespear said her experience as a mayor of Encinitas, a small business owner and a mom makes her the “most qualified candidate to be the leader of our coastal district needs.”
“As your state senator, I will firmly support the reproductive rights of every woman in California, protect our communities from gun violence, champion small businesses, protect our natural resources and ensure a clean, reliable water supply for our state,” Blakespear said.
“During my three terms as mayor, I cut red tape and secured emergency grants to keep small businesses open during the pandemic, banned ghost guns and passed safe firearm storage requirements, provided 100% renewable energy to residents and businesses at no increased cost and improved transportation options, with a particular focus on biking and walking infrastructure.”
Gunderson, who started and then sold auto dealerships in Orange County, did not respond to requests for comment.
On his campaign website, Gunderson said one of the reasons he is running is because of Californians facing issues with affordability and the cost of living.
“The state is quickly becoming a place for only the über-rich and the poor. We need to return economic opportunity for a golden California back to the middle class and stop the wave of our best people leaving the state for cheaper alternatives,” Gunderson said.
“The state has a $97 billion-dollar surplus, yet (refuses) to budge on our highest-in-the-nation gasoline taxes,” he continued. “We have the highest income tax and the highest sales tax. The state and SANDAG are exploring a double tax on vehicle usage, in addition to our gas taxes.”
Gunderson also wants to address homelessness.
“The state’s one-size-fits-all, just throw money blindly at a problem (approach) has netted zero results. We must tailor solutions that address individual level causes of homelessness and supports the local organizations that are reflective of the individual needs of each of our unique communities,” Gunderson said.
“My solutions focus on accountability, compassion, and above all, transparency,” he continued. “There is nothing compassionate about allowing our most vulnerable Californians to sleep on the streets, and it is a fundamental failure of our state that we have allowed this to become such commonplace.”
Blakespear addressed affordable housing when asked about the topic.
“A lot of politicians talk about providing more housing options—but I’ve actually done it as mayor. Less than one year after getting state approval for the city’s housing plan, the City of Encinitas has approved more than half of our total assigned goal for the next eight years,” Blakespear said.
“It’s worth noting that our Housing Element Update has resulted in 334 new affordable housing units that are already built or currently underway in Encinitas,” she added. “Our city has also led the way by cracking down on illegal vacation rentals, which are a consistent problem in South Orange County.”
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.