ENCINITAS — In a recent in-depth interview, Catherine Blakespear, a newly-elected state senator and outgoing Encinitas mayor, shared her thoughts on various state and local issues.
Blakespear, who has served on the Encinitas City Council since 2014, was elected to represent the 38th State Senate District after defeating Republican challenger Matt Gunderson last month.
As she transitions to her role as state legislator, Blakespear sat down to discuss a wide-reaching policy agenda she plans to bring to Sacramento during a episode of the Stay Classy San Diego podcast.
From day one on the new job, Blakespear said she would focus on addressing California’s unhoused crisis.
“The single biggest problem in this state is homelessness,” Blakespear said. “It affects everyone in every community. Of course, it’s horrible for the people experiencing it, but what’s resulting is that we have people living in all of our public spaces, in our parks, in our downtowns, in our riverbeds.”
The Encinitas mayor also noted the intransigence she’s encountered at the local level regarding mustering support and services for the homeless population.
“The only thing people seem to hate more than homelessness are the solutions to homelessness,” she said. “The solutions to homelessness are providing more housing, more services and support for people who are mentally ill and drug addicted people, and many communities are largely opposed to building more housing and services that help homeless people.”
Blakespear pointed to the battle over the city’s Safe Parking Lot program for the homeless as an example of how difficult it can be to convince a community to get behind broad-based solutions.
“One of the programs I’m most proud of Encinitas is the Safe Parking program, which was hard to do…we had a tremendous amount of opposition in this city,” Blakespear said. “But what I feel proud of my community for was that there was also such a rise of support for it. We had a pitched battle in our community over whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.”
The Safe Parking Program, which opened in February 2020, allows qualified persons to stay overnight in a designated area without being removed or ticketed by law enforcement. Individuals in the program are vetted and must adhere to rules and guidelines to remain in the program, which prohibits the use of drugs or alcohol while staying on the lot.
Blakespear also was critical of the existing state government for not setting mandated goals for homelessness reduction, arguing that the state needs to assert itself in outlining specific targets for its solutions, similar to how the state has set standards for municipalities regarding affordable housing numbers.
“One of the things that’s clear to me as I prepare to take on a role with the state legislature now is that if we’re going to have solutions to homelessness, they have to be mandated. They have to be goals,” Blakespear said. “One of my biggest criticisms of our current system is that we don’t have any goals — when it comes to homelessness, there are no goals.”
Blakespear proposed the state should encourage cities to zone housing specifically for the homeless in exchange for the municipality being able to reduce the overall number of units that it would otherwise be responsible for building as part of an incentive-based approach to homelessness.
“Right now, we zone for middle-income, low-income and extremely low-income, but we don’t have a zoning category for homeless, Blakespear said. “My first bill on the first day is going to be related to that, the requirements and goal setting for the zoning of homeless housing — you can offer an incentive so that, yes, there’s the carrot, and also, this is a mandate.”
On the issue of renewable energy, Blakespear emphasized that state legislators need to step up and set mandatory goals for municipalities to move towards more sustainable forms of energy, including solar and wind.
In the last couple of years, state experts have warned extreme weather events, such as heat waves, could jeopardize the reliability of California’s electric supply, risking millions of residents’ access to power. Without investing in long-term energy solutions, these same experts have warned that the Golden State will likely face more rolling blackouts in the coming years.
“Having blackouts is unacceptable in the same way that not having enough water is unacceptable,” she said. “We have to have power; it has to be on all the time — this is critical to our prosperity as a state and is essential to us being a first-world society. Saying we want all-electric cars by a certain date, things like that, these goals to force and push change are good for us. They make it so that we, as a general populace, are more ambitious with what we’re trying to accomplish. And it is possible to get energy from sustainable sources, so we should be working towards that.”
Blakespear did not express enthusiasm for more state investment in nuclear power, calling the problem of nuclear waste disposal an “existential threat” that shouldn’t be ignored.
“It’s disappointing that we haven’t found a place to handle this additional storage. There’s the idea of a consent-based process where we’re not forcing waste onto communities that don’t want it — we need to proceed with all haste if that’s an option,” Blakespear said. “Unfortunately, nobody’s raising their hand at the moment. Is there anybody willing to take (nuclear waste)? The answer is no. So without dealing with that, I think we should focus on renewables, such as solar and wind, that don’t have that major downside.”
Acknowledging the impacts of California’s ongoing drought, Blakespear also emphasized the need for better water conservation and storage at the state level. She specifically called for better recycling and capture methods to prevent the waste of potable water that can be used to sustain communities without stable water sources, such as Encinitas.
“Water is used and treated and then put back into the ocean. We are putting millions and millions of gallons of nearly potable water back into the ocean daily, which is a major water source,” she said.
“So when we think about the circularity of water, I think that is the area where we can be the most aggressive because we know that the Colorado River and the Sierra Snowpack are unstable sources, that there’s not enough water for the demands of them, so making sure local sources are being used to their best effect and recycling water and using more of it. It’s so important, but the regulations haven’t quite kept up with that, so we need some modifications in that area.”
Blakespear also said that she would push for the building of more desalination plants, which she characterized as being an essential part of the future of California’s freshwater supply.
Currently, California has 12 desalination plants, including one in Carlsbad, which supplies a third of all freshwater produced in San Diego County,
“We have a huge body of water right next to us [the ocean]…that is clearly part of the future, that we would have more desalination plants and create more water from the desalination plants that we have,” the mayor said.
In October, the California Coastal Commission green-lit a $140 million desalination plant in south Orange County’s Dana Point for construction, a project aimed at supplying water for nearly 40,000 residents in areas including Dana Point, South Laguna Beach, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
On infrastructure, Blakespear said that she intends to push for more state investment into traditional forms of public transit, specifically bus lines and fixed rail.
“When you travel to places like Europe or Japan, and you see fixed rail working at a high level, you realize, wow, we could have this — it can be such an enjoyable way to travel, and it carries so many people faster,” she said. “Now we know California is car-centric, so how do you transition that? It’s difficult. But if you say, well, we’re going to have the road network and give up on public transit and forget fixed rail, then what we’re really doing is we’re saying that we’re going to have endlessly more congestion. Solving for congestion and solving for emissions is a really important part of our transit conversation.”
Blakespear, the current chair of SANDAG, said that she’s proud of the agency’s Regional Transportation Plan, which calls for $172 billion in development and improvements to the county’s transportation system and transit lines to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or GHGs, over the next 30 years.
“This plan creates good local jobs…it creates more opportunities for alternative forms of transit such as biking and walking than we currently have. I think that’s really important and visionary, and it’s also meeting these state emission reduction goals that we have to meet.”
She also acknowledged the agency had recently been racked by controversy.
Earlier this year, an audit of credit card purchases made by the staff at SANDAG showed questionable and possibly improper spending of taxpayer money, with hundreds of thousands spent on special retreats at bars, restaurants, etc.
The agency’s independent auditor also found a lack of controls to keep credit card spending in check. Then in October, a separate audit found $290 million in SANDAG funds that may have been mishandled in contracts with vendors.
“Yes, I do,” Blakespear said when asked if SANDAG needed to do more to earn back the public’s trust. “SANDAG’s entire experience around its auditor has not matured. I hope there can be less of a ‘gotcha’ regarding the things coming out of the audit and this idea that there’s malfeasance — even though there’s not. So many of the things that came out from the audit report are improvements that should be made, but they don’t show any actual wrongdoing. There isn’t waste, fraud and abuse — there are processes that should be improved. So I think this is a difficult period at SANDAG, but we must have a high-functioning agency that can serve every city in this county.”
Blakespear was honored for eight years of service on the Encinitas City Council, including four years as mayor, during a Nov. 29 ceremony at City Hall.
“It really truly is the honor of my lifetime to serve as mayor of Encinitas,” Blakespear said.
Good Riddance to Blakespear . How convenient that after the election she addressed the elephant in the room and her political blather and spinning gets into high gear.
1) And now Blakespear addresses the SANDAG corruption by stating there was none. She ignored and failed to address the issue throughout her State Senate campaign.
2) I don’t disagree with the Blakespear proposal that many of the homeless require mental health treatment and addiction treatment that should be a baseline. Mandating housing for the homeless in exchange less overall number of units to be built is not a bad idea.
When I ride my bike in Cardiff area I see plenty of fallow land in and around the Composer District. The city should build the mandated housing near that area or more specifically , how about on Rubenstein?
What she says has no correlation to what she actually does and this applies to the entire California Democrat regime.
Homelessness has gotten worse under their single party rule, rents have gone sky high under their watch, crime has increased under their watch, prices have risen higher than the rest of the country under their watch.
They continue to screw the Middle Class, continue to bloviate about poverty yet do nothing to help the poor, continue tp push the woke/DEI agenda which just increases racism and does nothing to emplower the groups they claim to care about.
The problem is that too many folks actually think The Democratic Party cares about the little guy, now they only care about money and never ending power.
Blakespear increased the homeless population in Encinitas. What she failed to mention (of course) is that she accepted Grant money to house homeless in hotels here. We didn’t have enough homeless to fill half a hotel, they came to Encinitas from Vista, Carlsbad and other areas and as soon as the Grant money ended she dumped them all onto our streets.
Is that compassionate for them or for Encinitas?
She was corrupt at SANDAG, she is a developer puppet who approved every single project no matter how poorly they fit the area or the fact that there was no infrastructure to support them.
Her pushing of Mass Transit spending will just lead to more boondoggles. When will these people realize that this is San Diego, not New York City. It is a huge wate of money.
Until voters wise up and stop knee jerk voting for members of The Developer Party, California will continue to sink, this once great State destroyed by corrupted power hungry professional politicians like Catherine Blakespear.