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Introduction by Managing Editor Shawn Raymundo
Vote-by-mail ballots have begun to hit constituents’ mailboxes this week as California’s Primary Election is less than a month away. In an effort to give our readers more insight into the slate of candidates vying for seats in major local elected offices, we’ve given those running an opportunity to respond to some questions related to issues impacting South Orange County.
Every district-area candidate seeking office in the State Senate and Assembly, Orange County Board and U.S. House of Representatives was given three questions and asked for 400-word responses to each.
Some candidates did not submit responses to our questions. Space for their responses was left blank.
The 36th Senate District will be decided by voters in Dana Point and San Clemente, while voters in San Juan Capistrano and Rancho Mission Viejo will vote for candidates in the 38th Senate District.
Over the past year, we’ve seen inflation soar as a result of supply-chain disruptions, higher demand on goods and services, as well as impacts to the food and energy markets in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Do you have any plans or ideas on mitigating these effects for Californians, and what do you think about calls to suspend the gas tax to relieve prices at the pump?
RESPONSES: 36TH SENATE DISTRICT
Huntington Beach Councilmember Kim Carr
Rising prices are crushing families, which is why, in the State Senate, I am committed to securing much-needed economic relief for residents in Orange County and across California. I believe that we need to suspend the gas tax temporarily and use California’s $45 billion budget surplus to provide residents with gas price relief payments for each car they own. Long-term, I will proactively make investments in clean energy to ensure gas hikes do not hurt working families as significantly in the future. I am also committed to expanding paid family leave, which allows Californians to take paid time off work upon the birth of a new child or to care for a seriously ill relative.
Assemblymember Janet Nguyen
Editor’s Note: The Nguyen campaign did not submit responses to our questions.
RESPONSES: 38TH SENATE DISTRICT
Retired Fire Capt. Joe Kerr
Many daunting factors come into play surrounding the disruptions to our global supply chain, such as the need for more ships, more truck drivers, and more warehouse space. These are complex issues that cannot be fixed overnight, but one thing is certain: when fuel costs go up, all costs go up with them. Ocean shipping costs are ballooning due to the rise in the cost of fuel, and trucking companies, which is the most popular form of shipping for U.S.-based companies, have started applying fuel surcharges to offset the rising cost of diesel fuel. Addressing the cost of fuel is one way to offer Californians some immediate relief in the short term as we work on more long-term solutions. We as Californians pay the highest gas prices in the country, due in large part to our high taxes and strict environmental regulations. Much has been made about delaying the automatic 3-cents per gallon gas tax increase coming in July, but there is no guarantee that oil companies would pass those savings on to consumers. In light of California’s $68 billion surplus, the Problem Solvers Caucus in the state legislature has proposed a solution that makes good sense. They propose that California suspend the entire 51-cents per gallon gas tax, replace that lost revenue with General Fund money, and require oil companies to pass on the $9 billion tax savings to motorists. I support this idea, and as your senator I would also support SB 1322 that is currently in committee. This bill asks for transparency and accountability on the part of suppliers and aims to find out why Californians pay so much at the pump. When we know where the money is going, we will have a better understanding of how to alleviate the burden on consumers now and in the future.
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear
Inflation is hurting all families. In the short-term, I support the proposal in the California Legislature to give every taxpayer a $200 stimulus “relief” check to offset the high price of gas and other basic necessities. I also support expanding CalFresh, California’s nutrition assistance program, because I believe no family should ever go hungry.
Increased demand for gas as people get back to work, the justified embargo on Russian energy imports, and oil companies exploiting this crisis to take home record-breaking profits are some of the reasons why we’re paying more at the pump. As Congressman Mike Levin said in his recent Times of San Diego op-ed, it comes down to the Three Ps: Pandemic, Putin, and Price Gouging.
While we can’t control the Three Ps, we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by increasing our investments in renewable energy technologies, which are cheaper and more reliable.
History shows that if we cut taxes for oil companies, they won’t pass the savings onto the consumer. I support policies that will actually put money back into people’s pockets.
Small Business Owner Matt Gunderson
It is a disgrace and downright cruel that the powers that be in Sacramento have not addressed the affordability crisis in California. This predates the record rise in inflation and the ongoing aggression by the Russian Federation against a democratic sovereign nation. Taxes are too high. Simple goods like produce, paper products, and meat are much more expensive now than they were a few years ago. In addition, California has had the highest gas prices in the nation long before this recent spike. Not only do we add a 51-cents-per-gallon state tax, but the state also tacks on additional fees that brings up the total tax burden on a gallon of gas in California to $1.18. I fully support the suspension of the gas tax and the repeal of this excessively regressive and absolutely unneeded burden on hard working families in California.
In the wake of the most intense days of the COVID-19 pandemic, what are your thoughts on how the state legislature should influence daily life of Californians going forward, in terms of guidance and mandates—masks, social distancing, vaccines, or otherwise?
36TH SENATE DISTRICT
I’m pro-science and pro-vaccine and encourage everyone who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots. That said, I am not in favor of mandatory mandates. Over the course of the pandemic, California has learned a lot, including how to better mitigate infectious diseases and to develop effective response strategies that allow local businesses and schools to stay open. The State of California also issued over $2 billion in relief to small businesses impacted by COVID-19, which I was proud to support and will absolutely support again in the event of another emergency. However, in the future, we must ensure that government grant money is given out more directly, quickly, and accurately to the small business owners who fuel our economy.
38TH SENATE DISTRICT
I believe in science. Last year I was asked to come out of retirement to assist in a unified command position at one of Orange County’s vaccination super pods. I am proud to say that we helped vaccinate over 120,000 residents in one of our county’s most underserved communities. However, lawmakers are not doctors or public health administrators, and neither am I. When it comes to guidance and mandates regarding public health, those recommendations are better left to the experts. That said, I do believe it’s a policymaker’s job to balance our legitimate and often competing needs. We need to limit the spread of COVID-19 and save every life we can. Folks have to keep making a living, and kids need to go to school. In my 34 years spent dealing with life-and-death emergencies, I’ve learned to never say never. I won’t rule anything out or pre-propose a policy, but folks should know that I believe in a common sense approach to public health and I take the government’s job to balance all issues related to public health and safety very seriously.
The scientists and the doctors who developed, administered, and educated the public about the COVID-19 vaccine are the heroes of the decade. The breakneck pace of vaccine development was stunning. I’m so grateful to the millions of health care workers for all they endured, collectively and individually, throughout the pandemic.
I’m proud that Encinitas, where I serve as mayor, was one of the first cities in Southern California to negotiate a vaccine mandate with its city workforce. The vaccine remains the best tool we have to fight COVID, and we need to continue to educate the unvaccinated about the benefits of protecting others through protecting oneself.
As we enter the endemic stage of the virus, it’s important to note that COVID-19 likely will not be eradicated. Nonetheless, the rate of infections and hospitalizations have fallen to a point where things such as indoor mask mandates and lockdowns are not worth the social and economic costs. Governments should learn the lessons it can from this pandemic, and hopefully we will never experience anything like COVID-19 again.
The pandemic was hard on all of us, and unfortunately, many Californians are still struggling to recover. We must be mindful of the needs of all Californian’s when it comes to public health without dismissing the need for people to make the medical decisions that are best for their families. I do not support a California-wide mandate on vaccinations, but I do support efforts to provide easy, free access for all Californians that want the vaccine. The state’s response to the epidemic was dictatorial, and sadly, reflected a rule-for-thee-and-not-for-me mentality that only complicated the problems and led to further distrust of our elected leaders at all levels.
What’s your perspective on satisfying the need for more affordable housing in the region, and what do you think about claims that the state is overreaching on the issue—a matter some say is better handled by local municipalities?
36TH SENATE DISTRICT
I fully support building more affordable housing here in Orange County and across California, which is why, as Huntington Beach Mayor, I led in the creation of 674 middle-income housing units that allow entry-level employees, teachers, nurses, and others to work and live in the city they love. I believe the state needs to be more helpful in assisting local municipalities reach their affordable housing goals, for example, by offering incentives.
38TH SENATE DISTRICT
Housing prices are essentially driven up by a lack of supply, so if we want to bring down housing costs we need to build more housing. Regarding my viewpoint on state control vs. local control, I support the state’s approach to the problem of creating affordable housing for low-income Californians by subsidizing the construction of homes through bond funds, tax credits, and other available resources. However, when it comes to the issue of increasing density, I do not agree with the state’s desire to forcibly increase density in pre-established single family neighborhoods. I believe this is an issue of local control, and local jurisdictions know what works best in their communities. From a practical standpoint, adding pressure to our overtaxed public safety and existing infrastructure systems could cause problems down the line that have not been fully vetted. Our existing communities are engineered, built and approved using uniform building codes, uniform fire code, and in some areas the public resources code based on a very specific maximum occupancy level and usage level for that area. Increasing density in those areas will overtax our existing infrastructure, such as the water supply system, sewer system, the electrical grid, Wi-Fi bandwidth, our local city staff and public safety services, not to mention creating additional parking issues. And, speaking from a public safety perspective, putting a home behind a home also puts your first responders in harm’s way when it comes to fire and EMS, especially if you have 5 feet or less property lot lines. It’s very difficult to get personnel, EMS equipment, and/or fire equipment to an ADU, especially if there is limited access and/or radiant heat involved. Bottom line, allowing up to four dwellings on a lot designed to accommodate one is not a good solution to our housing dilemma.
Housing affordability is one of the greatest problems facing our state. I will fight to create more housing for people at all income levels, especially people at low- and very-low-income levels. I support mandating that developers build affordable housing units on site and that the affordable units are integrated into the housing project, not segregated.
As mayor, I’ve been working—and succeeding—at providing more housing options, including creating a housing plan that provides for low-income housing, limiting the overall number of homes that can transition from longer-term housing into vacation rentals, streamlining the permit process for ADUs (or granny flats), and ensuring that our planning commissioners follow housing laws.
In 2020, I received the “Ruby Award—No Place Like Home, Outstanding Elected Official” award from the San Diego Housing Federation for successfully passing a compliant housing plan and consistently articulating pro-housing policies in my city. I believe the state should be helping address the housing crisis by building more affordable housing and public housing. We need all levels of government—local, state, and federal—working together to solve the housing crisis.
Affordability in California is one of my top priorities. We must of course provide more housing opportunities to bring the cost of living down and positively impact the growing homeless epidemic, caused mostly by bad state and local policies. However, we must not sacrifice local control. The state legislature should get rid of laws that override community preferences like SB 9 and 10 and give for-profit developers free rein to build multi-story, multi-unit rental properties in suburban neighborhoods next to single-family homes. The character and safety of our neighborhoods must be protected. I fully believe in local control on all matters, and housing is no exception.