REGION — To Kara Chine, being a great leader isn’t about being the most popular, charismatic or making the most noise. It’s about being able to make the hard decisions that pay long-term dividends and take the heat for their mistakes.
That’s why this June and November, Chine said she’ll be voting for Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear for State Senate.
Blakespear, who is running in the state’s newly-drawn 38th District, has been mayor since 2016, which is when Chine moved to Encinitas as a schoolteacher. After the Parkland Florida shooting incident in 2018, Chine, who has two teenage children, said she quit her job and got involved in advocating for gun violence prevention. That’s how she met Blakespear, who has long championed gun control legislation.
“I’m volunteering for her campaign because I’m a mom of teens, she’s a mom of teens, and we share the same lens on the world,” Chine said. “She’s given voice to gun violence prevention efforts, suicide prevention, she sees the world the same way I do as a mother of teens and protecting their future is her main focus.”
But for some of the mayor’s constituents, Blakespear’s become a prime example of local officeholders acquiescing to state overreach, particularly on issues of homelessness and housing control.
Blakespear has come under widespread criticism for her support of ballot measures (Measure U, Measure T) seeking to circumvent Proposition A in an effort to adopt a state-certified housing element.
Proposition A, also known as the “Encinitas Right to Vote Initiative,” was a grassroots effort to reclaim local control over the city’s housing density requirements, requiring a public vote on any increases to zoning density and building height above two stories or 30 feet.
After voters rejected both ballot measures, which were interpreted as direct attacks on the voter-approved initiative, Blakespear and the city filed a lawsuit seeking to “invalidate, or carve-out, a portion of Proposition A,” namely “decisions on density, related to housing supply,” according to court documents. The mayor had argued the law unduly restricted the city’s ability to develop affordable housing projects. However, a judge denied the city’s request, writing in part: “The city does not have the authority to amend Proposition A’s requirements; only the voters have that authority.”
Catherine Blakespear has served on the Encinitas City Council since 2014. Courtesy photo“She sued to remove our voting rights,” Leucadia resident Dean Turney said in an op-ed. “The greatest threat to local democracy, ‘delegitimizing’ our local elections, and restricting voter rights, is Catherine Blakespear.”
Steven Golden, a longtime Encinitas local, said that he thinks that Blakespear is pushing aggressively on affordable housing because she is beholden to special interest groups, particularly housing development firms, that he said have influenced her policy stances. Golden also blamed Blakespear for what he called a widespread increase in crime and homelessness throughout the city.
“She’s [responsible] for the homeless parking lot and for homeless hotels that drew more transients to the area, [as well as] a level of crime we have never seen before, thanks to her,” Golden said. “She has a general complete disregard for what Encinitans want or desire.”
But Chine expressed her view Blakespear’s decisions were correct, even if hard at times.
“She’s been my mayor for the last five years so I’ve seen some of the things that she’s done locally that will translate well to improvements at the state level, things like homelessness and finding solutions for that,” Chine said.
While Blakespear’s policies expanding affordable housing access, in particular, have come under fire from many Encinitas residents, Chine said the mayor has simply done what had to be done under the circumstances.
“I get that a large contingent of Encinitans wants to keep this town as funky as possible, and so many people don’t want anything to change here, but ultimately all beach cities are required by our state to create affordable housing in our communities,” Chine said. “Encinitas has kicked the can down the road for a lot of years. [Blakespear] is in between a rock and a hard place, you have the state suing Encinitas for not doing enough, so she’s got to approve more affordable housing solutions, it’s really not an enviable position to be in.”
In an interview with The Coast News, Blakespear made it clear she’s more than proud of her record as mayor and intends to take the same approach that allowed her to succeed locally to the state level.
“Some people have questioned why I’m seeking state office,” Blakespear said. “What you have to realize is that at the state level, I’d have the opportunity to positively affect 40 million people, and I want to work at a level where policy makes such a difference. In the [state senate], being able to work on systemic problems that need attention, I’d like to bring the experience and wherewithal to forge a path forward to accomplish real things and make a difference, and I’ve already been able to demonstrate that at the local and regional level,” she said.
As a state senator, Blakespear pledged to tackle homelessness by pushing for greater investment in combatting underlying systemic issues, such as mental illness and drug addiction. She also emphasized that she’ll continue to push for affordable housing solutions on a statewide level, as she’s done in Encinitas.
“All of our communities need to do better, we need to provide more housing,” Blakespear said. “Do have a housing crisis in the state, and it’s incumbent on all cities and local governments to focus attention on solving this problem. The reality is that the impact of local government decisions over the years has been this housing crisis we have now, so we need more involvement at all levels, we need more investment at the state level, and we need more communities to say yes to housing, it’s a key part of the solution.”
Presently, Blakespear has raised more than $500,000 and has received numerous endorsements from public officials, labor unions, PACs and other organizations.
Matt Gunderson (R)
In December, Matt Gunderson announced his candidacy and quickly became the Republican frontrunner. Up to this point in time, Gunderson has raised over $450,000 in campaign contributions, according to campaign manager Stephen Puetz.
The political newcomer has also received the full breadth of Republican party support both at the regional and statewide level; Gunderson has been endorsed by current District 38 State Sen. Pat Bates, Congressman Darrell Issa (CA-50), Supervisor Jim Desmond and the county, state and regional GOP coalitions.
Gunderson is a former car dealership owner in Orange County where he’s lived for more than 20 years. On the campaign trail, Gunderson has heavily emphasized his view that the state legislature is out of touch with voters on issues such as the cost of living, homelessness, and public safety.
“We are in a state where the cost of living is such that we are expected to accept that our children and grandchildren will ultimately live somewhere else, and that’s a real problem, it’s just not the California dream,” Gunderson said. “Generically speaking, as a state we’re overtaxed, overregulated, and we’re not dealing with crime, homelessness, or education with real common-sense solutions.”
Blakespear criticized Gunderson for “parroting an anti-government, anti-Sacramento approach that isn’t solutions based.”
“It’s not a solution to say that we need less regulation, it doesn’t create an opportunity for more prosperity,” Blakespear said. “I don’t think that he brings any policy experience to this position either. I’ve served in local government, I’ve had relevant job experience, I’ve represented people who elected me. There has to be more to a candidate than just rhetoric and a lot of platitudes. You need to be able to create policy and I have been creating policy and I have the relevant job experience.”
Blakespear also expressed her view that Gunderson represents the extreme right-wing of the Republican party and is backed by pro-Trump national party interests, a claim based, at least in part, on two $250 donations to Gunderson’s campaign from former Speak of the House Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, a childhood friend of Gunderson.
Puetz fired back, arguing that Blakespear’s comments show how disconnected she is from the interests of District 38.
“To talk about Trump and national interests backing [Gunderson], I mean it’s a bizarre blanket talking point,” Puetz said. “This man has been a small business owner in his community, that’s it. Her criticism of him, aside from name-calling, is that he’s opposed to Sacramento.
“Well yes, he’s opposed to policies from the state that make the lives of families tougher, make gas prices more expensive, and make food more expensive. Yes, he’s absolutely opposed to those policies. The vast majority of people in this district do not believe that everyone’s problems are solved by more government. It just goes to show that she’s incredibly out of touch.”
Puetz went on to say that Gunderson’s approach to governance, in direct contrast to Blakespear, will emphasize transferring power back from state authority to the hands of individual municipalities, who better understand the character, needs and wants of their communities.
“She thinks that Sacramento has the solutions to Southern California’s problems, and that’s the huge difference between the two of them,” Puetz said. “Gunderson doesn’t believe that the stuff coming from Sacramento is making our lives down here better but worse, it’s making it harder to work, harder to raise a family, harder to start a business. Blakespear, on the other hand, wants more taxes, not less; more regulation, not less; more Sacramento involvement in our communities, not less.”
Joe Kerr (D)
In January, retired Orange County Fire Capt. Joe Kerr entered the race to challenge Blakespear in the Democratic primary.
To date, Kerr has raised approximately $120,000 in campaign funds and has been endorsed by a number of labor unions and public officials including the Orange County Labor Federation, Apprentices Local 250, Congressman Mike Levin (CA-49), and Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley. (Levin has made a dual endorsement of Democrats Kerr and Blakespear).
While Kerr acknowledged he’s the underdog in the primary, he expressed confidence that he’ll prevail, framing himself as a centrist candidate he believes District 38 voters are looking for in the race.
“I feel great about winning this race, in fact, I feel better every day about it,” Kerr said. “This is a pretty even district politically that has a lot of people that don’t necessarily associate with either party. You have people who are big supporters of public safety, who want lower taxes, who’re concerned about property values, and issues of that nature. My campaign has taken a poll out in the field that was very very encouraging for us to be honest, it showed what’s important to voters and it showed us a pathway to victory.”
Kerr has held other municipal posts in government aside from his tenure as a firefighter including his current position on California’s Regional Water Quality Control Board for Region 8. The retired fire chief touted a track record that he says shows an extensive history of working across the aisle with both Republicans Democrats to accomplish meaningful policy solutions.
For instance in 2006, when Kerr was serving as an executive with the California State Firefighters Association, he says that he worked closely with then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pre-fund retiree healthcare for firefighters without costing taxpayers additional dollars.
More recently, Kerr said that he worked with former Gov. Gray Davis to establish the largest wildfire alert system in California ever developed.
Blakespear expressed doubt about Kerr’s candidacy, framing him as a political outsider with no real experience in the office.
“(Kerr) doesn’t have a broad base of experience with issues outside of firefighting. He seems like a single-issue candidate by and large,” Blakespear said.
Kerr said that he would put his “work product in the last 20 years against a hundred Blakespears.”
“I know how to fund local government without one penny of new taxes, I streamline efficiencies, and I make things work for the benefit of the citizens,” Kerr said. “I know how to pass legislation, get it signed and bring tax dollars home to local communities. I have vast experience working with both sides of the aisle, and that separates me from opponents — I’m neither on the extreme left or the extreme right.”
Ballot Designation Controversy
Blakespear filed a complaint on March 16 with the Secretary of State’s Office alleging Kerr misrepresented his professional status on his ballot designation in forms filed with the state.
The mayor’s complaint argued Kerr should not be allowed to designate himself as a “Retired Firefighter” on the ballot because he has held more recent occupations since his retirement that supersede his firefighting experience.
However, Kerr’s campaign consultant Melahat Rafiei informed The Coast News that as of March 25 the complaint had been dismissed by the Secretary of State, allowing Kerr to retain his ballot designation as a retired firefighter.
Blakespear’s campaign manager, Kevin Sabellico, released the following statement regarding the accusations against Kerr.
“The law says a candidate may not use “retired” if they have a more recent, intervening occupation,” Sabellico said. “The candidate in question retired from the Orange County Fire Authority over a decade ago, and since then he has engaged in a number of business ventures. The rules are very clear that he must use his more recent occupation, not the one from his past that he thinks would appeal most to voters.
“The candidate in question is free to refer to himself as a retired firefighter in his stump speech, his website, his mailers, and anything else of his choosing. But the law says he can’t call himself a firefighter on the ballot.”
Kerr denied any fraudulent misrepresentation, arguing that he meets the criteria for being a retired firefighter set by state law.
“My response is that I am literally a retired fire captain, and I have documentation to prove that,” Kerr said. “I meet or exceed all five criteria required under the law. I was recruited last year to come out of retirement as a fire captain, but that doesn’t change my designation status.”
Kerr also questioned Blakespear’s motives for filing the complaint, calling it “political grandstanding” on her part that serves no constructive purpose.
“I mean you have to ask, ‘Why is she doing this?’ Firefighters are respected, and I see this as an attack on the California fire service,” Kerr said. “It’s political grandstanding, it’s purely for political gain. This is bigger than one candidate when you deny someone their entire life’s work to use the word ‘retired’ it doesn’t just affect me but every professional worker and retiree. It has a chilling effect on people running for California politics.”
Sabellico denied any nefarious motive, characterizing the complaint as an inquiry meant to ensure that the primary candidates are held to the highest ethical standard possible in front of voters.