2022 election: Q&A with Chris Ward, California State Assembly District 78 candidate – The San Diego Union-Tribune

There are two candidates on the June 7 ballot for the newly drawn state Assembly District 78, which runs through much of San Diego, including Mira Mesa, Clairemont, Hillcrest, North Park, South Park, Normal Heights, College Area, Kensington and San Carlos, and part of El Cajon. Retail sales associate Eric Gonzales, a Republican, and Assemblymember Chris Ward, a Democrat, will automatically advance to a Nov. 8 runoff election. The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board sent both a 13-question survey and is publishing Ward’s responses here. Gonzales did not respond.

If you have comments or questions about the election or any of the candidates after reading this interview, please email Editorial and Opinion Director Matthew T. Hall at matthew.hall@sduniontribune.com.

Q: From wildfires to sea level rise, the climate emergency is increasingly affecting California. What immediate steps should California lawmakers be taking to address it?

A: We are past the point of immediate “steps.” California needs to take leaps in order to protect communities from the ongoing threat of the climate crisis. It is our most vulnerable who suffer the immediate consequences of decades of inaction. Through our budget work, the state is making increasing investments to mitigate that threat, as well as the public amenities and policies to promote equity in green energy, stormwater infrastructure, urban tree canopy and access to clean water.

To make this process meaningful for communities across California, I’ve introduced a bill in the Legislature that will develop regional climate networks to mitigate climate change. As California continues to address this crisis, it is critical for local governments and regional experts to come together collaboratively and be supported for their work on adaptation and mitigation projects. To combat both the threats of wildfire and reduced biodiversity, I’ve authored legislation to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge practiced by ancestors for millennia into state protocol on conservation and land management. To expand on our commitment to renewable energy, I have introduced an act to establish community solar and storage projects as part of California’s commitment to a 50-state strategy for the same. And I will continue to lead on transformative investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while successfully transitioning high-quality jobs to work in cleaner industries, emphasizing again the importance of prioritizing environmentally impacted communities throughout our state. California has demonstrated that it is pragmatic and forward-thinking to make climate investments to support a robust economy and protect our vulnerable, and we will accelerate that.

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Q: The governor’s pleas to reduce water use have been widely met with indifference. What, if anything, should state lawmakers be doing to address drought conditions?

A: At the end of the pipeline, San Diegans have long been conscientious about our vulnerability to water supply and have responded with successful measures for diversification and reduced reliance on imported water. I have been firm that these investments should be rewarded for San Diego ratepayers as other areas of the state have lagged in reduced per capita use. Our ongoing support for recycled potable water systems, efficiencies throughout local and individual water systems, conservation strategies and local production should help urban water providers mitigate or meet their needs. But increased historic drought conditions — especially impacting the Colorado River, half of our current supply — place risk that must force contingency planning to not arrive at a zero-water situation faced by areas like Cape Town, South Africa, in 2018. State lawmakers will continue to support local needs which is why I have joined with my colleague representing Imperial County to secure $100 million for border-related water infrastructure, and the San Diego delegation to support increased local storage capacity. If multi-year drought conditions worsen, a series of triggers to more strongly request, and then require, reduced water use could be entertained to help sustain a reduced supply flow until such a time that upstream resources are replenished. The state last faced this in 2015 with increased education and restrictions, and options may be on the table to ensure water continues to be available for life-sustaining needs, depending on situations at the time. Finally, I am mindful of the water needs for our state’s agricultural providers, requiring a related but distinct set of strategies to stretch a scarce resource further without disrupting food resources or causing localized environmental harm.

Q: What would you do to address the surging gas prices in California?

A: I’ve heard loudly this year from San Diegans struggling under the weight of rising gas and energy costs, an inaccessible housing market and the impact of inflation. Our legislative work will provide significant relief to working families impacted by these daily living cost increases, while not sacrificing crucial funding for our roads, bridges or the desperately needed infrastructure improvements that have gone unaddressed for far too long. I support inquiries to both the “mysterious surcharge” paid by California users since the 2015 refineries disruptions and the lack of significant gas price reductions since oil has dropped 15 percent to 20 percent from a February peak. I wouldn’t be surprised to see conclusions that are consistent with the record profits reported by major oil companies over the past year. We should continue to support Californians’ needs to transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles through continued infrastructure investment and popular incentive programs, so that more working families are able to financially and feasibly make these important transitions for themselves.

Q: How do you strike a balance between reducing the state’s dependency on fossil fuels and addressing energy affordability issues, including the high cost of gasoline?

A: We are in the midst of multiple crises, and cannot afford to take small steps to alleviate the stress working families across California are struggling under. In 2020, coal’s total contribution to California’s electricity supply, from imports and in-state generations, was almost 3 percent. Research has proved that fracking pollutes our drinking water and triggers earthquakes. These are obscene methods of extracting fossil fuels, and we don’t need them.

We’ve entered a new decade, with new challenges that will require us to recommit ourselves to removing any dependence on coal from the energy sector. We must prioritize meaningful reductions to greenhouse gas emissions through transportation improvements, conversion to renewable energy, export of green technology and an undeterred commitment to a just transition for workers in a new green economy.

Q: How would you bring down the high cost of housing, both for homeowners and renters?

A: Our high cost of housing increasingly is the biggest stressor on a California family’s budget, threatens the next generation’s opportunities and is directly responsible for increasing homelessness across the state. Fundamentally, there continues to be too few housing units produced for our population; with low sales volume and available rental units, the costs are rising. Compounding this, other market forces may be exacerbating the pricing of homes. At both the local and state levels, I have authored and supported a variety of strategies to work on production constraints including zoning, subsidy, incentive, building code and public land utilization improvements. I introduced the California Housing Speculation Act to undercut short-term investor-buyer activity escalating the pricing of homes and give working families a fairer chance to secure home ownership. As The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board noted, we will need both conventional and unconventional strategies to stabilize the housing market, and with so much more to counterbalance previous decades of housing insufficiencies, I am working on and fighting for a wider ranges of solutions to this crisis.

Q: Homelessness is growing dramatically across the state. How would you address it?

A: California has been increasing its general fund support for low-income housing development, and this must be sustained. Creating more homes ends homelessness. Preventing a family’s or individual’s homelessness in the first place through diversion or other assistance programs is the simplest and most cost-effective means to stave the growing unsheltered population, and I have championed expanding these. The state is considering more flexible funding structures this year, models I supported as the former chair of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. A wide range of social services professions are needed to work with chronically homeless individuals where they are at — including outreach, case management, navigation and clinical specialists — and I am leading budget work to increase professional development and workforce appropriations for this important work, while also increasing the professional capacity to engage those challenged with substance use disorder.

Just last year, the state passed legislation I supported to have an integrated data management system for the first time and improve the function of the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council, now named the California Interagency Council on Homelessness. This year, I am requesting our legislative analyst begin tracking not just the dollars spent but the programmatic outcomes of our investments so accountability is held and future decisions can be modified to maximize impact. And through consistent public education, I am reminding constituents that these are overwhelmingly Californians and neighbors falling into homelessness right in our own communities — from a common denominator of lack of affordable housing, which must be built.

Q: What, if anything, should the state do to make mass transit a viable option for commuters?

A: The state should absolutely play a strong role in supporting mass transit. Viability depends on the convenience of getting from A to B in an appropriate time, and relative to a car alternative. Targeting investment on highest utility areas and supporting whole-system approaches, we must have these alternative systems to accelerate climate interests and meet the needs of a growing population without furthering congestion and reducing quality of daily living. Direct funding and federal lobbying are helpful, and state laws that impede system development and improvements need to be updated. Pairing land use, housing and transportation decisions is also essential to induce future utilization. Future ridership in turn begins to better support operational budget, leaving more capacity for public investment in new capital projects.

Q: How will you balance public health with economic and educational concerns going forward in this pandemic or the next one? What specific steps and strategies, from lockdowns to mask mandates, would you recommend or rule out if there is a new surge in deaths and hospitalizations?

A: There is much we didn’t know that we do know today, not just about COVID-19 specifically but about our own shortcomings in pandemic response and public communications. From the ability to have robust personal protective equipment and testing, to simplifying decisions and communicating them — improvements can help both our response and trust in that response. One thing that won’t change is our trust in public health officers, and our need to respond civilly to orders founded on expertise in the interest of containing a serious threat. Economic and educational concerns need to be handled simultaneously and not sequentially. Support for business and education systems could have come faster — and certainly archaic state systems like those at the Employment Development Department need modernization to meet the scale of public assistance requested. At the same time, a virulent pathogen would render an individual’s economic and educational concerns meaningless if that individual is severely harmed or dead. Public orders will likely evolve to incorporate lessons from this experience, but evaluating risk is essential, and interpreting prediction models will guide whether a lockdown or any type of mandate is appropriate to stave off overwhelming impacts to our hospitals and society. Dare I repeat the advice of 2020: We flattened the curve, and saved lives because of it.

Q: California has the strictest gun laws in the nation yet has had some of the nation’s worst mass shootings this year. What more, if anything, should be done to reduce gun violence in California?

A: Despite tragic and unacceptable mass shootings this year, we must appreciate a few facts. California remains one of the lowest incidence states in gun violence and harm per capita, in large part from our commitment to commonsense gun laws. They work, and were we to have the loose restrictions known in states like Alaska, Alabama or Montana, to name a few, our sheer population size would reason that a tripling of gun violence and deaths would be experienced. So it is essential for public safety that we think of every responsible measure we can ensure will reduce harm. Responding to the threats posed by untraceable precursor part kits, or “ghost guns,” I have joined a number of other lawmakers in strategies to reduce their flow onto our streets as we learn they make up increasing shares of illicit gun seizures. I have joint-authored legislation aimed to close a federal loophole shielding gun manufacturers and distributors from harms created by their products where nuisance or negligence occurs. And I support funding for the efforts of the offices of our attorney general, district attorney and city attorney to investigate and enforce our laws.

Q: California has adopted a number of criminal justice reforms in recent years. What would you change and why to ensure justice is equitable and effective?

A: Addressing and mending the relationship between public safety officials and Californians across the state must be a priority at all levels of government. It is essential that we equally consider the weight of responsibility that we grant law enforcement, and the weight of the incapacitating fear in too many communities that a simple misunderstanding can lead to death. The Legislature and California voters have taken concrete steps in that direction, and I hope to keep that moving forward.

Q: What single change would you make to improve California’s K-12 public school systems?

A: As the parent of children in our public schools, I am as personally motivated for their success as I am concerned in my official role for the futures of millions of California students. The single change is a simple one on paper: Prioritizing and investing in the school community will help give teachers, support personnel and administrators the full range of what they need to deliver the highest level of experience. Raising the bar above Proposition 98 levels will give local districts the ability to do more, as they stand ready to do. One small but important change for our area is the foundation of a bill I am working on this year: to ensure spouses of military service members are able to seamlessly transfer their valid teaching credentials when moving into California, helping honor not just their professional interests but supporting more teachers in the classroom that our schools need.

Q: Should taxes in California be increased? If so, which ones?

A: Taxes, of course, support the demands for public goods asked by Californians, and rates should always be carefully evaluated for who is impacted and what the consequences might be. General taxes are shared by everybody, and at a time when working Californians are struggling with cost of living, we must not add to their burden. Closing loopholes and supporting the Franchise Tax Board are important efforts to make sure fairness is achieved in our tax structure. And any tax proposal must clearly demonstrate the nexus between the taxable entity and the benefit of the intended funding.

Q: What is the most important issue we have not raised and why?

A: Income inequality is at the root of so many of our state’s struggles. Housing, health, transportation, education, crime and workplace standards, and life balance are some of the overarching issues that all have demonstrable links to one’s opportunities. Policies that support income potential and workers’ rights will help not just the individual achieve more on the front end, but also reduce reliance on public support to meet basic life needs. Nations with lower inequality have higher qualities of life, higher satisfaction in public institutions and reduced reliance on public support. California’s greatest economic potential is its people, and they must share in the productivity outcomes and success we achieve.

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