Two Democrats, one Republican face off in 38th Senate District primary race

Candidates for California's 38th District State Senate Catherine Blakespear, Matt Gunderson and Joe Kerr.
(Courtesy Photos)

Lack of affordable housing listed by all three candidates as a top concern


The three candidates running for state Senate in the newly redrawn 38th district all list California’s lack of affordable housing as one of their three top issues, but their approach to resolving that situation and even their view of what voters are looking for in a candidate differ sharply.

There are two Democrats — Catherine Blakespear and Joe Kerr — and one Republican — Matt Gunderson — vying to represent the district. The top two vote-getters in the June 7 primary election will advance to the general election in November.

Prior to the recent re-drawing of its boundary lines, the 38th Senate district covered an inland area, including Escondido. It’s now becoming a coastal district that stretches from La Jolla in San Diego County to Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County — a region that has previously been in the 36th state Senate district. The area’s currently represented by Pat Bates, R-Laguna Nigel, but because of term limits she isn’t eligible to run for re-election this year.

The change in the boundary lines has created plenty of speculation among political observers over what type of candidate is most likely to prevail in an election, and the three people now running for the Senate seat each cite different reasons when asked what gives them the winning edge.

Blakespear, who announced she was entering the race before the new district lines were created, noted in an interview that she’s the only candidate who lives in San Diego County and said that’s important because three out of four of the district’s voters live in San Diego County. The 46-year-old, fourth-generation Encinitas resident emphasizes her political experience (she is in her third term as Encinitas mayor and previously was a City Council member), as well as her work on regional government boards, and the many endorsements she’s received from fellow Democrats.

And, she said, “The other thing to note is I’m the only woman in the race” and this is an election year when women’s issues, particularly the right to a safe, professionally performed abortion, are of concern to the nation’s voters.

Gunderson, 59, a former owner of three automobile dealerships in Mission Viejo and the current owner of an event rental business based in Santa Ana, stresses his practical, real work experience in the private sector when asked what makes him stand out as a candidate.

“I’m a businessman and not a politician; my perspective comes to this from a very different view point,” he said.

While he has never been elected to office, Gunderson said he is very much dedicated to public service, noting that he has just completed a 10-year term on the Mission Hospital Foundation Board, has previously served on the Saddleback College Foundation Board, and has coached many youth sports teams. He describes himself as a tough-on-crime candidate, and said he thinks California needs to do more to protect crime victims rather than “protecting criminals” through so-called criminal justice reforms.

“If you think everything in Sacramento is heading in the right direction, then I’m probably not your guy,” he said.

Kerr, 62, a retired Orange County fire captain, describes himself as the fiscally conservative, anti-new taxes, “moderate in the race” and says his extensive background in fire issues, particularly public safely legislation, gives him a unique perspective. He’s a second-generation firefighter who worked for the Orange County Fire Authority and the Orange County Fire Department for more than 34 years. He was the first president of the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association, and is a former vice president of both the California Professional Firefighters and the Orange County Central Labor Council.

When it comes to resolving California’s affordable housing, Kerr says he believes the state shouldn’t be seeking “one size fits all” solutions to the problem and should be deferring to local jurisdictions because they know best what will fit in their communities. More needs to be done to preserve single-family, established neighborhoods, rather than forcing them to accept apartment buildings, he added, saying that he’s also concerned about the proliferation of “granny flats,” or small secondary rental units on single-family home properties.

“I just don’t believe the pre-existing infrastructure was engineered for that,” he said, mentioning that his background in fire safety makes him aware of the additional burden these extra structures place on a neighborhood’s water, sewer and electric lines.

Kerr’s position on granny flats puts him at odds with Blakespear who has been a strong proponent of them as a way to increase Encinitas’ housing options. In her role as mayor, Blakespear also has pursued ways to free up available housing by reducing the number of illegal vacation rentals, and she has supported the creation of an overnight parking lot for homeless people who are temporarily living in their vehicles while they look for replacement housing.

Meanwhile, Gunderson said the solution to California’s affordable housing crisis is fairly obvious. Affordable housing is in short supply because California makes it so difficult for contractors to build new units. The state should “roll back barriers to building new housing, and let homebuilders do their jobs,” he said.

38th State Senate district candidates

Catherine Blakespear
Occupation: Mayor of Encinitas
Political Affiliation: Democratic
Prior Political Experience: Encinitas Mayor (2016-Present); Encinitas City Councilmember (2014-2016); Encinitas Traffic and Mobility Commissioner (2011 - 2014); Cardiff Elementary School Site Council Member (2012 - 2013)
Three key issues of importance to the 38th District:

  • Supporting Small Businesses
  • Environmental Protection
  • Housing Affordability and Homelessness

Matt Gunderson
Occupation: Small Business Owner
Political Affiliation: Republican
Prior Political Experience: Never elected to public office, but served 10 years on Mission Hospital Foundation Board; served on the Saddleback College Foundation Board for many years; and coached numerous community youth sports teams.
Three key issues of importance to the 38th District:

  • Affordability
  • Homelessness
  • Public Safety

Joe Kerr
Occupation: Retired Fire Captain
Political Affiliation: Democrat
Prior Political Experience: Never elected to public office, but has worked with both Democratic and Republican state legislators on public safety legislation and served on local and state firefighter association boards.
Three key issues of importance to the 38th District:

  • Affordable housing
  • Wildfires/Fire Insurance
  • Taxes