There are two candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot running for a two-year term to represent this district: Democratic Assemblymember/small business owner David Alvarez and Democratic environmental advocate/businesswoman Georgette Gómez. Here are Alvarez’s answers to a 14-question survey The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board emailed candidates. Gómez has stopped campaigning, but her name will still appear on the ballot.
Q: Why do you want this job and what would be your top priority?
A: My top priority remains education. Since I was elected in June, I have secured $25 million in state funding to build a new library and expand San Diego State University’s film and television school to Chula Vista. These funds and infrastructure will serve as a foundation for a future four-year university in Chula Vista, which will be transformational for all of South County. Families living in east Chula Vista have been promised a full-service library for decades, and I am so proud to be able to help make this a reality because libraries play a critical role in our kids’ education.
As part of our budget, I voted for a historic investment in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade education with record-high per-pupil funding, and I am proud to support the first-in-the-nation universal school meal program starting this year. Next session I would like to explore school funding dedicated to promoting parental involvement and continue progress on bringing a university to Chula Vista.
Q: What is the biggest accomplishment of your career?
A: It’s hard to understate the significance of the library and university expansion in Chula Vista or the San Ysidro library and Cesar Solis Park during my City Council term. However, I think being elected to represent the community I grew up in is what I am most proud of in my career. I left with my head held high at the end of my City Council term and thought public office was behind me following my candidacy for San Diego Community College District Board in 2018. After much prayer and reflection, I decided to run for the state Assembly. The past few months of being a public servant again have been incredibly rewarding, and I hope to serve a full term.
Q: Assess what the state is doing now to address the changing climate. What would you support to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California?
A: The state Legislature passed several bills at the end of August that will help address climate change: Senate Bill 1251 will promote the deployment of zero-emission vehicles; Assembly Bill 1279 will require the California Air Resources Board to work with state agencies on reducing emissions and includes a provision for carbon dioxide extraction solutions; and Senate Bill 179 provides several hundred million dollars for wetland restoration projects.
The state should focus on developing more low-carbon domestic energy sources, and this includes natural gas and nuclear power, especially in the short- and medium-term. Eventually, we will need to transition away from natural gas and nuclear power as a source of electricity, but we need to be honest with ourselves about how long this transition will take. We certainly will need to continue relying on natural gas and nuclear power for the next 10 to 20 years at minimum, and we should focus on transitioning away from dirtier sources of energy first. The state Legislature’s move to reauthorize the continued operation of Diablo Canyon last month is a prime example. While I do understand the concerns with this nuclear power plant, without it, the megawatt math simply does not add up when the sun goes down. According to the California Energy Commission, the California energy grid would be short 1,800 to 5,000 megawatts by the end of 2025, when Diablo Canyon was initially scheduled to close. We are continuing to invest in green energy, but our economy is still impacted by supply chain disruptions, which prevent us from meeting the projected demand with renewable energy and battery storage solutions.
Q: Assess what the state is doing now to address the drought. What would you do differently?
A: We need sustainable and ongoing water conservation, not temporary reductions. We have proven we can do this. Californians have already invested in water conservation; potable water use in 2021 was about 24 percent less than it was in 1990. This ongoing water conservation makes emergency reductions of water use more difficult.
A recent report by the Pacific Institute points out that future conservation could further reduce urban water use by 30 percent to 48 percent, but these reductions will come from improved indoor appliances, reductions in outdoor water usage and investments in municipal water systems to reduce water loss, not emergency reductions in response to gubernatorial proclamations. That is why I supported Senate Bill 1157 to set new objectives for urban water use and allow our local water agencies to further incorporate water and wastewater recycling systems.
In addition to conservation, the state must work on developing drought-proof supplies. The Pacific Institute report also points to future additions of supply that could be made possible by enhanced water reuse and stormwater capture. We have made great strides on water reuse in our region. By the end of 2035, the city estimates that 40 percent of the city’s water will be supplied by Pure Water. The state should provide funding for other regions to invest in water reuse projects as well, and I hope to support this legislation next session.
Q: The California Air Resources Board has adopted a policy that would ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles in the state by 2035. What would you do to ease the transition to electric vehicles and ensure affordability, equity and practicality?
A: While we need to act to move away from fossil fuels, we have to understand the cost imposed on lower-income people who cannot afford new electric cars. We often forget that these populations are the most impacted. I do not think that the clean energy transition should take place solely on the backs of the poor, but that is what is happening now.
With this decision from CARB, the state government must provide larger incentives for purchasing an electric vehicle while also investing in charging infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods where houses usually do not have a garage or driveways. I hope to create a state fund dedicated to assisting homeowners in disadvantaged neighborhoods with installing an electric vehicle charger. We also must invest in public infrastructure like charging stations on public right of ways for communities where private properties lack space.
Q: What can the state do to get more people to use public transit?
A: Transit in San Diego works when it connects people with places they want to go. For instance, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s Blue Line Trolley connects the San Ysidro border crossing with Downtown San Diego and now UC San Diego. Because there are a lot of people who want to travel between these locations, the Blue Line has the highest ridership of all three trolley lines.
But extending the Blue Line from Old Town to UTC was not cheap. The Mid-Coast Corridor Trolley Extension project ended up costing $2.2 billion. The state should invest more funds so transit agencies can expand their service to attract more riders, but right now Gov. Gavin Newsom is more focused on high-speed rail and less focused on improving the mass transit systems Californians rely on. I support focusing money on local transit agencies. This funding could go a long way towards making mass transit a viable option for commuters.
The SANDAG 2021 Regional Plan also highlights an enormous inequity where 93 percent of low-income residents and 81 percent of minorities live more than one-half mile away from a transit stop.
We need to make transit more convenient, and I think ideas such as zonal microtransit could supplement wide-area transit such as the trolley.
Q: Housing affordability is a huge issue in California. What can you do to help renters or homeowners who are struggling now?
A: Housing costs are out of control in Chula Vista, National City and San Diego. Almost everyone is either worried about how they will be able to afford to continue to live here or how their kids or grandkids will be able to afford to stay when they grow up.
We must reduce the cost of housing by building more homes that families can afford. State laws make it too difficult to build anything in California now, including housing.
I support reform of state laws to stop special interests from holding up projects that are good for the community. I proudly co-authored Assembly Bill 2011 that will reduce regulation and streamline housing projects in abandoned commercial areas and to require those projects to offer prevailing wages.
Next session, I will be introducing legislation to bring back tax increment financing tools to enable local governments to build more middle-income and affordable housing.
We cannot rely solely on new taxes to fund housing.
Q: More and more resources are being dedicated to the homelessness issue, yet California has more homeless people than ever. Do you see progress? What solutions are working?
A: The state is spending billions of dollars on homelessness, and we can see the evidence all around us that it is simply not working. Homeless encampments are everywhere, and people are dying on the street. We must offer shelter to those who need it. But shelters alone are not enough. They don’t provide the help that many people really need. California must create more inpatient treatment options throughout the state to address addiction and mental health and change laws to require people to accept the help that they need.
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 1338, establishing the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court Program to allow court-ordered care plans to help the unsheltered, and that includes behavioral health care, stabilization medication and housing. I also voted for Senate Bill 1227 that modifies the maximum amount of time a conservatorship can be extended so we can provide additional rehabilitation services to those in need.
Q: California’s crime rate is going up. Do you blame recent criminal justice reforms, other factors or some combination? How would you keep Californians safe?
A: It is important to recognize that many of the reforms that California has adopted have not worked. Like a majority of California voters, I supported Propositions 47 and 57. Voters were promised that these reforms would be accompanied by an increase of resources focused on rehabilitation and addiction treatment, but instead these reforms have led to criminals never being arrested for crimes or being released far too early without any meaningful rehabilitation.
We need to lower the felony theft threshold back to $450 and stop the early release of violent criminals along with putting more resources into rehabilitation and supervision and support of reentry programs. The early release of thousands of unsupervised criminals caused by Proposition 57, however well-intentioned, has not worked. It has contributed to the rise in crime and dramatically complicated the homelessness crisis.
Prison recidivism rates in California are also high with approximately 50 percent of formerly incarcerated people returning to prison within three years. I voted in favor of Assembly Bill 2730, a five-year prison rehabilitation pilot program that will allow inmates who have less than two years remaining of their sentence to live in a community setting within prison grounds.
The 2022-2023 state budget also included permanent funding for bachelor’s degree programs at seven California prisons in partnership with California State University. The state is spending over $13 billion on 125,000 inmates. That’s over $100,000 per inmate annually. Research shows that helping prisoners get a good education has significant economic benefits. The Rand Corp. estimates that every dollar spent on prison education saves nearly $5 in reincarceration costs by reducing the likehood of reincarceration by over 40 percent.
Q: How would you help California students who suffered from learning loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The 2022-2023 budget enacted in August included a historic investment in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade education. It includes a $4 billion Proposition 98 General Fund allocation to support all local educational agencies to offer before, after, and summer school options for their transitional kindergarten through sixth-grade students, and an $8 billion Learning Recovery Emergency Block Grant for instruction and services to support urgent learning recovery. My children are in third- and seventh-grade, and I could see firsthand the impact of virtual learning. These funds will go a long way in allowing kids to catch up.
We also need to address the teacher shortage. A large number of teachers left the profession, both through retirements and resignations since the COVID-19 pandemic began, which has led to unusually high levels of vacancies in several districts. In a 2021 report by the Learning Policy Institute, eight out of 12 school districts in California experienced greater challenges in filling vacancies. The 2022-2023 budget includes an increase for the middle class scholarship for students pursuing a teaching credential, and I would like to explore additional incentives to educate and retain more educators.
Parents need to be involved for schools to be successful, but it is difficult for parents who are immigrants and don’t speak English to understand and engage with schools. The pandemic, which has restricted parents’ access to school campuses, has only made things more difficult, so it is important for schools to be proactive and reach out to parents. I’m active in the parent-teacher association at my kids’ school, and we had to fundraise $5,000 in order to pay for a nine-week class to help parents learn how to prepare their kids for college. The state should require that a portion of each school district’s Local Control Funding Formula funds go towards promoting parental involvement.
Q: The state has had giant surpluses in recent years yet there are worries about a potential recession. How would you ensure the state is prepared to weather an economic downturn? What will you do for Californians who are struggling economically now?
A: We should ensure one-time funds are spent on one-time expenses, and always have a healthy financial reserve for when a downturn hits. This year’s budget allocated approximately $30 billion (11 percent) of the budget to the reserves.
Starting in October and running through January, the 2022 tax rebate will give an average California four-person household up to $750. Individuals on Supplemental Security Income/State Supplemental Program, or SSI/SSP, will see an increase of $39 a month for the next two years.
Q: California has the nation’s most strict gun laws and among its lowest gun death rates. What is your philosophy toward gun legislation? Have you or your family been directly affected by gun violence?
A: Gun violence was unfortunately all too familiar to those of us growing up in Barrio Logan in the 1980s and 1990s. My brother suffered a gunshot wound to the leg after a drive-by shooting and a childhood friend died as a result of gun violence. Sadly, gun violence is now increasing again in our society. Maybe more so than before. As a father, every single time there is a school shooting, the following day it is very hard to say goodbye to my kids at morning drop-off.
The best way to reduce gun violence is to provide police departments the funding they need to increase the number of cops on the street who will deter crime, and to reform our laws to ensure that criminals who commit violent crime serve their full sentences and are provided real rehabilitation and reentry services prior to being released.
Rigorous studies have shown that hiring more police officers deters violent crime, which includes gun violence. There is strong evidence that increased funding leads departments to hire more officers and to reductions in violent crime. The relationship between increased police staffing and reductions in violent crime is so well-established that it is hard to understand why anyone would refuse to recognize that fact.
I am a lifelong Democrat, but I feel that Democrats who advocate for fewer police officers and early release of violent criminals are detached from reality.
Recently there was a mass shooting blocks away from the state Capitol, committed in part by one violent criminal who should have been in prison, not on the street. This should have been a wake-up call to politicians in Sacramento to change their approach to criminal justice, but they haven’t.
Q: What is your position on Proposition 1, which would establish the rights for Californians to an abortion and to contraceptives in the state Constitution?
A: I firmly support a woman’s right to choose. I voted yes to get this proposition on the ballot, and I will be voting “yes” on Proposition 1 on Nov. 8.
Q: Why should voters elect you over your opponent?
A: I have a proven record of getting things done and will continue to work hard to represent my community. I have deep roots in Assembly District 80, and I did not have to move into the district to be eligible to run. The South Bay communities that comprise Assembly District 80 are not always understood in Downtown San Diego, let alone in Sacramento.
I think the people of the 80th want an Assembly member who is one of them and who will look out for our community’s interest. Nobody recruited me to run, and I didn’t ask any person other than my wife for permission before I decided to run. I would be honored to earn the support of the voters to continue serving.