EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final interview in a three-part series highlighting primary candidates in the 38th State Senate District race. This series offers each candidate an uninterrupted platform to share their positions on local issues.
ENCINITAS — In an interview with The Coast News, Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, running for State Senate in District 38, spoke proudly of her record as an elected officeholder and shared some of her policy positions on issues ranging from affordable housing to green energy solutions for public transportation.
The campaign trail
In the newly drawn 38th State Senate District — formerly the 36th District represented by termed-out State Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) — Blakespear is facing off in the June primary against Republican challenger Matt Gunderson and retired fire captain Joe Kerr (a Democrat).
Up to this point in the race, Blakespear has raised nearly $600,000 to date, the most of any candidate in the campaign. She’s received a number of endorsements at the state and regional level, including the California Democratic Party, San Diego County Democratic Party, California Teachers Association, and Laborer’s International Union of North America. Additionally, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath, Mike Levin (D-49), and Assemblyman Brian Maienschein are among the more than 100 elected officials that have endorsed the Encinitas mayor so far, per Blakespear’s campaign website.
“Yeah, it’s been great so far, I’m honored to be supported by so many individuals across the 38th District, and the small donors have really been what’s powering this campaign, we’re not relying on the pockets of special interests and I’m quite proud of that,” Blakespear said. “We’ve been to every city in the district so far, we’ve held house parties, spoken with small business owners, and last year plus the past few months we’ve really raised our profile in knowing all parts of the district.”
The Encinitas mayor said that her endorsements reflect the groundswell of support that she’s receiving for her campaign at the hyperlocal, regional, and state levels.
Blakespear talked about the demographics of District 38, expressing that she feels that the district’s relatively center-left demographics favor her candidacy as compared to that of her opponents.
The 38th, which runs from San Clemente as far south as San Diego, leans slightly blue, with 36% of voters registering as Democrats compared with 32.75% as Republicans. The new district includes more coastal areas concentrated in San Diego County than the 36th, which had much more of an Orange County bent.
Blakespear asserted that in her record as mayor, she’s proven her capability to work in a bipartisan fashion, finding common ground with those across the aisle to deliver meaningful policy results for constituents.
“As a three-term mayor, I have balanced budgets in my city, I have listened to constituents across a wide range different political viewpoints, I have a pulse on the things people care about and that unquestionably helps me be stronger elected at the state level,” Blakespear said.
“I think we need people at the state level delivering real results, finding common ground that people can believe in, and I’ve done that as mayor, and my record as local official demonstrates that I’m that person. Just as a few examples, I’ve built more affordable housing in this city; I’ve enacted gun violence prevention measures; I’ve created a greener transportation system, and we’ve focused on environmental protections and things that are important not only to me but to residents throughout this district of all political stripes.”
When it came to the environment, Blakespear talked about not only her accomplishments as mayor but her role as the chair of SANDAG in leading the way toward greener energy and transportation solutions for the entire region.
The mayor pointed out that Encinitas recently became the only city in San Diego County to start offering 100% renewable energy as the default option for both its residential and commercial customers through San Diego Community Power (a regional community choice aggregation program).
Blakespear also touted the eco-friendliness of Leucadia Streetscape, a 20-year-long project underway in Encinitas intended to make the city more pedestrian-friendly while encouraging alternative modes of transit.
“Environmental preservation is really important to me and to voters and all residents in this district,” Blakespear said. “I’ve personally focused a lot of time, energy, and effort in local office on the transportation network in general.”
Blakespear pointed to her regional accomplishments as well during her tenure as SANDAG’s chair, especially her efforts in helping facilitate the passage of SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan in December, which allocated $162.5 billion in development and improvements to the region’s transportation system and transit lines to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or GHGs, over the next 30 years.
And in November of last year, SANDAG opened the Blue Line Extension, a $2.1 billion, 11-mile extension of the UC San Diego Blue Line’s fixed rail transit system that connected the U.S./Mexico border with San Diego’s university community.
“The things we’re doing at SANDAG are very visionary,” Blakespear said. “I mean, we’re looking ahead 30 years to have a transit system that works for people that’s cleaner and greener, and making sure that our regional plan lays out the roadmap for that really important accomplishment.”
While not taking all the credit for these accomplishments, Blakespear said that her work on both projects demonstrates her singular ability to collaborate and problem solve at the legislative level.
“These things were not easy to do, they were things that required a personal know-how, an ability to work together to generate a consensus, to make sure that the details are ironed our and are in line and make sure that something gets over the finish line,” Blakespear said. “My governing philosophy is operationalizing the aspirational. That’s my goal and the person I want to be and that’s what I think I’ve demonstrated myself as in elected office. That’s what you want in an elected official, someone who takes feedback, who does a lot of research and is in line with public sentiment, but who also finds a way to move forward.
“I feel like government can sometimes do a lot of admiring the problem but the real question is what are you going to do about it, and those are the things that motivate me — housing affordability, environmental degradation, homelessness, and gun violence, these are things that need solutions, not just talk.”
Local control and affordable housing
When it comes to debates over local control of housing and zoning regulations vs. state authority, Blakespear emphasized the proactive role that she believes state government should foster policies that promote affordable housing.
“One of my top priorities is to increase affordable housing, and we need to have housing that’s available to all income levels throughout all communities, we shouldn’t be segregating and concentrating poverty in areas that don’t have affordable housing,” Blakespear said. “What we want is for middle and low-income families to live and work in California, we want communities to be vibrant, we want people coming back to these communities, we want people who make minimum wage to be able to live in your community.”
Blakespear argued that while local control over housing is important, it should not conflict with the state’s push toward expanding access to affordable housing for low-income and middle-income residents.
“The state needs to prioritize building more affordable housing, and yes we do need all levels of government to work together to solve the housing crisis,” Blakespear said. “If somebody’s position is that I don’t want the state to work on this and I just want this to be in the area of local government, what I hear is that I’m not going to be willing to work on this crisis at the state level. What we need is an all hands on deck approach, we need more money from the federal government, etc.”
Blakespear did not take an explicit position for or against Senate Bills 9 and 10 (Gunderson and Kerr both oppose these policies).
SB 9 required cities to allow additional residential units onto parcels zoned for single-dwelling units. SB 10 allows local agencies to adopt an ordinance allowing up to 10 dwelling units on any parcel, at a specified height, if the parcel is within a transit-rich area or urban infill site. Both laws were signed into law last year and were intended to give developers more flexibility in building more affordable units on their properties.
Blakespear emphasized that any long-term solution to homelessness has to look at the question of affordable housing first, although she also acknowledged the significance of finding solutions on issues such as mental illness and drug addiction as well.
“We see this terrible crisis of people living unsheltered on streets and it’s a real problem, and with homelessness as a particularly acute problem, we have to see that it’s connected to housing,” she said.
“Of course also people need mental health treatment or drug addiction treatment, but we have to recognize the importance of the connection between the transition from low income housing to being the middle income, and that with low income people not having any place they can live, that this is actually creating pipeline of poverty of people into living on the street, don’t know if that for many people connection is clear, I think a lot of times people think of homelessness as a mental health or drug addiction problem only.”
Blakespear said that she supports reforming what many have characterized as outdated state laws on conservatorships, which allow for the mentally ill or drug-addicted to be entered into treatment involuntarily, as well as the expanded utilization of mobile crisis response teams to address issues related to homelessness.
Blakespear also said she supports Governor Gavin Newsom’s CARE Court initiative launched in March, a new framework that would require counties to provide comprehensive treatment to the most severely impaired individuals while also holding patients accountable to treatment plans.
“Housing is a human right and we have a corresponding obligation to use it,” she said. “People are dying on our street and we’re letting that happen, and it’s also negatively impacting the quality of life for those enjoying our public spaces, so nobody wins on that. And no, I don’t think one level of government can solve this.”
Taxes and regulations
On fiscal policy, Blakespear said that her advocacy as a state senator would be to fight for policies that reduce the cost of living for Californians, particularly on issues such as inflation and taxation.
“I certainly don’t think we should be increasing taxes on families that make less than $400,000 a year. Inflation and gas prices are hitting the middle class very hard, there’s no question, so we all have to take this seriously.”
Blakespear did not pledge to avoid voting for any tax increases if elected and did not go so far as to call for the repeal of the gas tax, as Gunderson and Kerr both did.
However, she did say she supported Gov. Gavin Newsom’s gas tax rebate proposal, an $11 billion package that would provide up to $800 of relief per registered vehicle owner in the state. Blakespear argued that repealing the gas tax completely would benefit gasoline enterprises more than it would individual families, while also having undesirable environmental consequences as well by encouraging more vehicle usage.
“Instead of removing the gas tax, I think it’s better to have a rebate that goes directly to what families can spend on what they want, and we really don’t want to incentivize using gas and driving, so having a system where the money can be used as a family wants is a much better way to organize this,” Blakespear said.
When it came to questions about regulation, Blakespear said that as a former small business owner herself, she fully empathizes with small business owners frustrated by what many perceive as excessive red tape coming out of Sacramento.
As a policymaker, she pledged to take a business-friendly approach to governance that would balance the needs and wants of entrepreneurs with the need for a responsible regulatory framework.
“I’ve been a mayor for what will be six years now and on the council for two years,” Blakespear said. “I was also a lawyer and when I moved back to Encinitas I opened my own law firm and I was a small business owner, so I hired, networked, made payroll — I understand what it means to own a small business and what it means to provide income to other people, I understand what belt-tightening looks like.”
The mayor talked about her own track record in office of listening to the concerns of business owners, especially when it came to the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As mayor, when the pandemic hit we cut the red tape, we made it easy for businesses to stay open and receive grants from the city, to operate outdoors in the city right-of-way, and it’s been a fantastic success allowing them to stay in those spots,” she said.
“Recognizing that our businesses know what’s best has been important, and we’ve been nimble, we turned on a dime to make those things happen, so we recognized the importance of having good relationships in the business community…and then also listening to the business community to talk through potential solutions…when it comes down to it, providing opportunities for small businesses to thrive is in everyone’s best interest.”
On public safety, Blakespear acknowledged that the issue is prominent for many Californians concerned by rising crime rates in many major cities and emphasized that she’s proud of her own record on the issue as mayor in Encinitas.
“I’m proud of the fact that crime is lower in Encinitas than it was when I took over as mayor in 2016,” she said, adding that “Encinitas is overall a safe community, has been, and will continue to be.”
Specifically, Blakespear touted policies she’s spearheaded since 2016 such as actively removing illegal guns from circulation on the streets, banning ghost guns earlier this year, and passing a safe storage ordinance in 2019 to encourage responsible gun ownership.
Blakespear also said that she supports legislation that would “close the gun show loophole” by banning the sale of firearms and ammunition on all state property (effectively ending gun shows on state fairgrounds).
Blakespear acknowledged that Encinitas has seen a significant uptick in property crime since the pandemic. Property crime rose by 37% in 2021, per SANDAG’s latest crime report released last month. However, she said that the City Council has been taking a proactive approach by looking at different policies the city can utilize to address the issue.
One such policy that was borrowed from the city of Carlsbad earlier this year was to make it illegal to own a catalytic converter without proof of ownership, an attempt to combat the rising scourge of catalytic convert thefts in Encinitas and across the country.
Blakespear said that such actions demonstrate her commitment to public safety as a top priority — an approach that she said she would carry with her as a state legislator.
“I think that public safety is critical and it’s the highest priority of every community. It’s our largest budget item as a city…and we have a great relationship with our Sheriff’s Department. I am someone who believes that yes, we should be funding and not defunding the police.”