Where 38th District Senate Candidates Stand on Homelessness, Housing, Environment

Most of San Diego County’s coastal communities are located in the 38th District. Top-of-mind issues include concerns for the environment, our water supply, California’s skyrocketing housing costs and the widespread homelessness problem

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With just about a month to go until Californian's June 7 primary, NBC7 is taking a closer look at key races to watch, including the 38th District state senate seat, which has three candidates vying for the job representing constituents living near the beaches of San Clemente all the way down to Mission Bay.

Top-of-mind issues include concerns about the environment, the water supply, California’s skyrocketing housing costs and the widespread homelessness problem.

The hopefuls include a businessman, a former fire captain and the mayor of one North County city.

Environmental issues like climate change and its effects are easy to see at local beaches.

Republican candidate Matt Gunderson, a former businessman and an Orange County resident, said the recent bluff collapse at Beacon's Beach in Encinitas explains itself.

“It’s evidence that we are not doing enough to maintain the safety and access to our beaches,” Gunderson said.

As for the drought, Gunderson referenced California’s surplus funding.

“For them not to allocate some of that to serious infrastructure improvements that would help the water access issue, or build reservoirs … that allow us to maintain water levels, is egregious,” Gunderson said.

Democratic candidate Catherine Blakespear, who is currently the mayor of Encinitas mayor and the chair of SANDAG, told NBC7 that her city is already reducing emissions with new transportation infrastructure plans lasting to 2050, like creating bike paths. Encinitas is currently in the process of switching over to a 100% renewable energy system called Community Choice Energy (CCE).

“People can basically opt into dirty energy, but the default is clean energy,” Blakespear said.

The mayor believes a major move is needed to have impact on climate change.

“We’re not going to be able to armor the bluffs and keep that from happening," Blakespear said. "What we have to do is collectively wean ourselves off of oil and gas, and have a more sustainable approach to living on this planet.”

Orange County resident and Democrat Joe Kerr, a former fire captain, said a priority should be reducing or controlling wildfires. He sits on a regional water quality control board and said drought conditions fuel more wildfires. Also, he believes, there needs to be improved reservoirs and storm water capacity, which has not kept up with the state's population growth.

“Complementing our firefighters," Kerr said. "Getting them the tools and the resources they need. Upstaffing the state of California is going to be high on the priority list."

Another candidate focus: California's lack of affordable housing.

Blakespear said building more housing for all income levels is necessary because it creates a vital community. She has been a staunch supporter of accessory dwelling units or granny flats.

“We have the capacity to sprinkle in density and to add more housing, and also allow the value to go to the homeowner,” Blakespear said.

Kerr approaches the housing problem from a public safety standpoint, saying that density can create problems.

“That'll have an adverse impact on the water system that was pre-engineered, the sewer system that was pre-engineered, the electrical system, the wi-fi and parking,” Kerr said.

Gunderson said adding density to single-family-home neighborhoods is disruptive.

“Government can't promise that you can afford to live anywhere that you want to," Gunderson said. "And we have to accept that some of these communities are built and they exist."

A lack of affordable housing has contributed to a homeless population that has been increasing across the state.

Kerr suggested the state can engage NGO’s and their own agencies to help with services like rides to job fairs, temporary housing and California ID card applications to help someone get back on their feet.

“Sometimes mental health and addiction go hand in hand, so ramping that back up to deal with funding for addiction, mental health and getting these folks the services they need is very important,” Kerr said.

Gunderson said simply building shelters is not enough.

"We are going to address homelessness by really getting at the core of the issues, which is mental health and addiction,” Gunderson said.

Blakespear said that a mechanism -- like a power of attorney, a judge or someone who intervenes -- is needed.

“I support the CAL Court idea, which is basically saying that people are literally dying and killing themselves on our streets, and we need to be able to move them into treatment, even if it’s against their will,” Blakespear said

The two candidates that receive the most votes in the primary election, regardless of party affiliation, will move onto the general election in November.

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