There are two candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot running for this four-year state Senate term: Democratic Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Republican small business owner Matt Gunderson. Here are Blakespear’s answers to a 14-question survey The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board emailed candidates.
Q: Why do you want this job and what would be your top priority?
A: 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 and focus on the environment, particularly ensuring a clean, reliable water supply for our state.
There are two candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot running for this four-year state Senate term: Republican small business owner Matt Gunderson and Democratic Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear.
From our opinion team: 2022 General Election Guide
Between now and early October when voting gets underway, The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board is planning to publish dozens of candidate Q&As and nearly two dozen commentaries connected to a handful of San Diego city ballot measures and seven state propositions on the Nov. 8 election. Keep checking back as we fill in this voter guide.
California State Senate District 38 candidate Catherine Blakespear on the 2022 election
California state Senate District 38 candidate Catherine Blakespear met with The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board ahead of the 2022 general election.
Our region deserves to be represented by a state senator who is effective, reasonable and responsive to constituents, just as I’ve been during my three terms as mayor of Encinitas. My experience in local government, as a small business owner and as a mom makes me the most qualified candidate to be the leader our coastal district needs. 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, made Encinitas the first city in San Diego County to provide 100 percent renewable energy to residents and businesses and improved transportation options, with a particular focus on biking and walking infrastructure.
Q: What is the biggest accomplishment of your career?
A: My biggest accomplishment as mayor is managing the city’s economy and balancing the budget year after year, earning the highest possible credit rating and keeping businesses open during the pandemic. Encinitas is a city that’s earned a reputation for doing bold things, and as mayor, I’ve been able to continue that and make sure that we are responsibly investing in our future.
The city’s transportation infrastructure has been transformed during my time in office, with numerous examples of protected bike lanes, separated walking and biking paths, roundabouts and a railroad undercrossing. During my final State of the City speech earlier this month, I highlighted the once-in-a-generation project on Interstate 5 that added a vehicle lane in each direction, a new bridge over the San Elijo Lagoon, a bike bridge under the freeway and pathways connecting Solana Beach to Cardiff.
I’m also proud that our city is one of the safest cities in California. In fact, Encinitas is safer today than it was when I took office. According to safewise.com, Encinitas is the safest coastal city in the county. In addition, I have championed governing from a place of compassion — offering help to residents who need it. And I have focused on environmental improvements that reduce our carbon footprint and single-use plastics, while investing in restoring our tree canopy and responsibly creating water reliability.
Q: Assess what the state is doing now to address the changing climate. What would you support to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California?
A: I support strong action to preserve and protect our environment for future generations. Under my leadership as mayor of Encinitas, our city is a statewide leader when it comes to our environmental commitments. Encinitas was among the first cities in San Diego County to become part of the community choice aggregation program, San Diego Community Power. Today, Encinitas is the only city in the county that gets 100 percent renewable energy as the default. We’ve also adopted an ambitious building electrification ordinance, built barrier-protected bike lanes to offer safe alternatives to driving, and limited gas-powered leaf blowers, single-use plastics and foam containers. Encinitas residents’ green waste from their kitchens and yards is now turned into fertilizer and renewable natural gas at a state-of-the-art digester.
For my leadership on environmental issues, I received the Climate Courage Award from the Climate Action Campaign in 2020. I’ve been endorsed by the Sierra Club, California Environmental Voters, the Climate Defenders Action Fund and Hammond Climate Solutions.
In the state Senate, I will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the state. We need to look at all the areas we emit carbon and make them more efficient and carbon-neutral, including how we light our buildings, transport people and goods, raise farm animals, manage our trash and plastic pollution, and manufacture goods. I support the governor’s ban on fracking, which will take effect in 2024.
Q: Assess what the state is doing now to address the drought. What would you do differently?
A: Clean drinking water is critical for sustaining life. We need to ensure that all Californians have access to reliable water sources. As the vice president of the San Dieguito Water District and a previous board member of two wastewater districts, I understand the complexities associated with recycled water and water treatment. Drought conditions associated with climate change need to be recognized as serious threats that will likely become worse as less water flows from Lake Mead, and as climate change results in a diminished snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.
California has made great strides at water conservation, but we have not adequately addressed the long-term challenges of aridification. We have to rapidly increase water recycling programs and move away from putting potable water into the ocean, and instead reuse it for watering plants and for human use.
I support investments in infrastructure that will help water districts maintain adequate supply for all regions, including more capacity for reservoirs to capture stormwater before it flows into the ocean. The desalination plant in Carlsbad, which produces about 10 percent of our county’s fresh water, is an example of an investment that recognized the need for water independence and water reliability. We need to remain focused on creating and strengthening the water infrastructure that is vital for our prosperity and make investments that reflect this commitment.
Q: The California Air Resources Board has adopted a policy that would ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles in the state by 2035. What would you do to ease the transition to electric vehicles and ensure affordability, equity and practicality?
A: As chair of the San Diego Association of Governments, San Diego County’s transportation agency, I made sure we did our part to incentivize electric vehicles and to make it easier for families to adopt them. As part of our county’s regional energy strategy, the board set a goal of placing 40,000 fast-charging stations throughout the county by 2030. With more than $20 million in incentives and rebates to accelerate installation of these stations, we will make our region a leader in investments in electric vehicle charging. At the city of Encinitas, we transformed a regular parking lot into an electric vehicle charging station where members of the public can rapidly charge their electric cars. In all sectors, we need to accelerate our transition off of fossil fuels and into renewable energy. Investments in transit and biking and walking infrastructure are critical to achieving this.
I also supported the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a $7,500 tax credit for new electric vehicles. I’m optimistic that with continued incentives from the state, advancements in technology and infrastructure to support the conversion to electric vehicles, we can achieve our emission-reduction goals and save money.
Q: What can the state do to get more people to use public transit?
A: I believe in making public transportation a reliable, safe and convenient option, while also maintaining a safe and litter-free network of freeways and roads. Not only will this reduce emissions and relieve congestion on our freeways, but it will also help small businesses and improve our quality of life.
And let me be clear: I do not support a mileage tax or any kind of road-usage charge. I co-authored a commentary in The San Diego Union-Tribune in December stating my opposition to the proposed road-usage charge, and my opinion has not changed. In fact, I recently sent a letter to SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata urging him to implement the policy voted on by the Board of Directors, which instructed staff to remove the road-use charge from the plan.
As mayor of Encinitas and chair of our region’s transportation agency, I’ve increased clean transportation options for families, including the addition of carpool lanes, protected bike lanes, walking paths, free transit for youth and even a new free shuttle service to the airport. We recently completed the Blue Line trolley extension on-time and under-budget, finishing one of the largest infrastructure projects in San Diego County history.
The recently adopted regional transportation plan contains numerous improvements to our transit network, including a central mobility hub, which will provide a direct transit connection to the San Diego International Airport, relocate the train tracks on the Del Mar bluffs into a tunnel, and substantially increase route frequencies of buses and trolleys countywide.
Q: Housing affordability is a huge issue in California. What can you do to help renters or homeowners who are struggling now?
A: 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, which includes creating a housing plan that provides for low-income housing. 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. It’s worth noting that the Housing Element Update has resulted in 334 new affordable housing units that are already built or currently underway in Encinitas.
Our city has also led the way by cracking down on illegal vacation rentals, streamlining the permit process for ADUs (accessory dwelling units 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 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.
Q: More and more resources are being dedicated to the homelessness issue, yet California has more homeless people than ever. Do you see progress? What solutions are working?
A: Fundamentally, we need to lead from a place of compassion for people who don’t even have the basic necessity of shelter. We need a system that recognizes that housing is a human right and there’s a corresponding obligation to use it. Our public spaces like parks and sidewalks should not be filled with homeless people sleeping in tents.
Homelessness is a multifaceted problem with solutions that rely, at base, on providing more homes. We also have structural problems around our economy, where people working one minimum wage job or living on one meager Social Security check can find themselves unable to find an apartment they can afford.
We need a strategy to address each cause of homelessness, which starts with better health care for people with mental illness and those battling addiction. I support strengthening our conservatorship laws so our law enforcement officers are not simply chasing homeless people from one place to the next. I also support CARE Court, the bipartisan effort that Gov. Gavin Newsom just approved, which sets up a new branch of the judiciary that will help severely mentally ill people enter a treatment program.
One of my proudest accomplishments as mayor was spearheading the creation of a safe parking program for residents who lost their homes and temporarily needed a safe place to sleep in their vehicles. This program helps people and hurts no one. We need more solutions and interventions to help people help themselves.
Q: California’s crime rate is going up. Do you blame recent criminal justice reforms, other factors or some combination? How would you keep Californians safe?
A: As a mayor, public safety is my No. 1 priority. I’m proud of the fact that crime is lower in Encinitas now than it was when I was sworn in as mayor in 2016. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the problem. Crime is going up across California, and it’s causing real pain for victims.
One of the biggest priorities for the Legislature should be closing loopholes that criminals have exploited in recent years, especially when it comes to organized retail theft. I support Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin’s bill, which would address this by giving prosecutors more flexibility to charge defendants for all alleged crimes in a combined case.
I support funding the police — period. That means ensuring law enforcement officers have the tools, training and resources they need to prevent crime and to interact compassionately, safely and effectively with the public. That includes training on how to deal with those who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Our county’s Psychiatric and Emergency Response Teams and Mobile Crisis Response Teams are successful programs that can serve as models for the state.
Q: How would you help California students who suffered from learning loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: As a mother of two teenagers, I experienced firsthand the difficulty that school closures brought for households like mine with two working parents. Between learning loss and mental health issues from social isolation, there is no question about the importance of in-person education in our children’s lives. I will work to make sure that school districts have enough staff, cleaning supplies and rapid tests to keep their schools safe and open.
We know that students who suffer most from learning loss are kids who are low-income, speak English as a second language, have a learning disability or have an unstable home environment. I believe hiring additional counselors will help those students receive the appropriate services they need to thrive.
There are also some things we can do to help every student. Research shows that teenagers aren’t getting enough sleep, so I was a strong supporter of pushing back start times for schools, which is now 8:30 a.m. at the earliest for grades nine-12. I also supported the policy that allows all students to have free lunch, since food-insecure students are obviously not able to learn on an empty stomach.
I strongly believe that we need to increase the transportation services we offer in California. Only 9 percent of students take the bus to school — the lowest in any state. Students can’t learn if they aren’t at school to begin with. I will work on this issue in the Legislature and make sure school districts have the funding to provide busing.
Q: The state has had giant surpluses in recent years yet there are worries about a potential recession. How would you ensure the state is prepared to weather an economic downturn? What will you do for Californians who are struggling economically now?
A: I support fiscally responsible budgeting, just as I’ve done for the past eight years as a City Council member and then as mayor of Encinitas. At a time when the surplus is high, such as it is now, we should be cautious about committing general fund money to ongoing programs. Instead, we should prioritize programs that require one-time funding, like infrastructure projects that increase business activity and will have a strong return on investment for years to come.
We also have an obligation to use some of our historic surplus to help families who are struggling now. I supported the middle-class rebate that gives families up to $1,050 depending on their income and how many dependents they have.
That being said, we should remember the budget cuts that had to be made during the last recession and work proactively now to avoid having to make those painful decisions in the future. I support directing some of the state’s surplus towards reserves, including the rainy day fund, that will help us mitigate a future downturn in revenue.
Q: California has the nation’s most strict gun laws and among its lowest gun death rates. What is your philosophy toward gun legislation? Have you or your family been directly affected by gun violence?
A: As we saw in Orange County just recently, the threat of gun violence is a problem that affects every corner of this country. That’s why when I became mayor, I joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns so I could be part of the solution. I supported efforts to ban gun shows from state lands such as the Del Mar Fairgrounds. At the local level, I’ve enacted a ban on ghost guns and a safe storage ordinance, which requires firearms to be kept behind a locked door, outside the reach of children and other people who shouldn’t have them. Lastly, I’ve supported red flag laws that allow prosecutors to temporarily take people’s guns when a judge deems them a danger to themselves or others. These policies are a major factor in making Encinitas one of the safest cities in California.
I’m glad that your question appropriately mentions our gun violence prevention laws in California do, in fact, make us safer. I support gun violence prevention measures, including universal background checks and closing the gun show loophole. Additionally, I believe all gun owners should be required to buy insurance in the event that the guns they own hurt or kill someone. It’s simply too easy to access firearms, and the suffering and tragedy that result from gun violence should be borne by irresponsible gun owners.
I’ve been endorsed by Safer California PAC and recognized as a “gun-sense candidate” by Moms Demand Action because of my strong support for commonsense gun violence prevention laws.
Q: What is your position on Proposition 1, which would establish the rights for Californians to an abortion and to contraceptives in the state Constitution?
A: I proudly support Proposition 1, and I will always stand in support of a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion. There is no more central decision to somebody’s life than the decision of when, whether and with whom to have children. As more states enact restrictive laws that compel women to give birth regardless of the consequence to them personally or the circumstance that led to the pregnancy, the more important it is for California to stand with women and their right to make this most fundamental decision about the course of their life. As the only candidate in this race who is 100 percent pro-choice, I am proudly endorsed by Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice California.
I have repeatedly challenged my opponent to identify his position on Proposition 1 and condemn the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, which so far, he has refused to do. Instead, he accepted the endorsement of Californians for Life, an extremist anti-choice organization fighting to outlaw abortion in California from the moment of conception. My opponent won’t trust you 100 percent of the time with your own body, and you shouldn’t trust him either when you make your choice on Election Day.
Q: Why should voters elect you over your opponent?
A: My experience as a three-time elected mayor, a small business owner and a mom makes me the most qualified candidate to be the leader our coastal district needs. I am a fourth-generation resident of San Diego County and the 38th District, and I have the track record that families can depend on.
I am also a lifelong Democrat, making me uniquely positioned to work with our governor — who has endorsed me — and other Democrats in the Legislature to get the resources our district needs.
My opponent is a Trump supporter who has never served a day in elected office, despite multiple attempts in different states, the first of which was a run for the U.S. Senate in 1994, where he ran in Wisconsin on a far-right platform that included cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare and hiking taxes on seniors making more than $150,000.
When he came to California to open up his three car dealerships in Orange County, he received a $600,000 tax break at the bequest of his father-in-law, then a state senator, that even two Republican City Council members slammed as “corporate welfare.”
His dealerships have been sued 61 times for alleged fraud, breach of contract, refusing to pay workers, denying them overtime, preventing them from taking bathroom breaks, and even discriminating against and outright mocking disabled employees. And after allegedly failing to pay his legal fees, his own lawyer even sued him.
My opponent’s greed, dishonesty and radical views make him uniquely unqualified to represent us in the state Senate.