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Primary Election 2024: Breaking down state Assembly races, Proposition 1

 February 20, 2024 at 12:44 PM PST

S1: Welcome. In San Diego , it's Jade Hindman today. We're talking about a couple of things on your ballot. From state assembly races to prop one will break down the issues being prioritized. This is midday edition , connecting our communities through conversation. The March 5th primary is just around the corner , so Kpbs is continuing its election coverage. Today we dive into the California State Assembly. We asked two of our reporters to help break down some of the top races there. Scott , rod joins me now. He's one of our investigative reporters. Scott , welcome.

S2: Thanks for having me on.

S1: Glad to have you here. And Jacob Air , our general assignment reporter. Jacob , welcome to you too.

S3: It's great to be here.

S1: Great to have you both here with us. So , Scott , I'll start with you.

S2: They legislate , and they work with the state Senate and the governor's office to pass a state budget. So they have a pretty significant hand in determining where money goes. And there's a lot of money that flows through the state government. You know , we're talking hundreds of billions of dollars that are in the state budget. And the Assembly members have a pretty important say in how that money is divvied up.


S2: So all 80 seats will be up for election this year.

S1: All right.

S3: Housing and homelessness are going to be the other big two. And then specifically in the race , as I was covering , environmental issues and infrastructure came up , especially in Assembly District 79 , where they recently dealt with flooding from the recent storms.


S2: It's in the tens of billions of dollars. And so they're going to have to be some tough cuts coming somewhere or perhaps eliminations of some , you know , one year or two year program. So that's going to be an ongoing conversation this legislative session and then conversations about proposition 47. This is something that both Democrats and Republicans there seems to be some overlap on. And again , proposition 47 was the ballot measure that changed the threshold for when someone is charged , potentially charged with a felony for something like shoplifting or stealing. They raised the threshold from $450 to $900. There's been debate out there as to whether or not this has created or resulted in more shoplifting. Research has shown that the picture is a bit more complicated than just saying it's increased , but nevertheless , this is something where there's potentially some agreement between the two parties. And while Democrats have a strong majority in the state legislature getting some reforms passed on prop 47 seems like it definitely could happen this year.

S1: And you're reporting on Assembly District 75.

S2: It spans most of east San Diego County. So from Fallbrook out into the desert and then down to the border from Columbus Springs , a hot springs , you know , basically 50 miles west from there along the border. So it includes a pretty large stretch of the southern border. And that's made , you know , border security and immigration issues part of the debate. Usually the border doesn't necessarily enter into the conversation about state races , because that's mostly handled at the federal level. But you have the candidates in this race there making this a key issue , actually , in the race , border security , immigration policy. So that's something that's unique about this district , or I should say this in some of the other districts that that have the border.

S1: And there are quite a few candidates in this race. Republican Carl DeMaio is a familiar name.

S2: Carl DeMaio , yes , definitely has a lot of name recognition in this area. He was formerly a San Diego City Council member. He ran for unsuccessfully ran for Congress a few times as well. He hosts a radio show and people definitely recognize that name down here in San Diego and and statewide. Frankly , Andrew Hays has worked for the state Senate , Minority Leader , Brian Jones. He was the district director. He's also been he's done some school board work. So he also has name recognition down here and has a pretty sizable , you know , funding war chest. Not not quite as much as Carl DeMaio , but he's raised a good amount of money. So though those two appear to be the front runners , there is also a third. Publican Jack Fernandez , who has raised a few hundred thousand dollars for his campaign. And there are three Democrats , Kevin Joy Frew and Christy Doherty. They have raised much less money in this race. This district is pretty reliably Republican based on voter registration and past races. So most people are looking at those Republicans , and specifically Karl Demayo and Andrew Hayes , as the ones that will likely be headed to the general election after the primary.

S1: You recently reported on DeMaio funding ads for Kevin Juice. Some people , though , are surprised by that choice , considering juice is one of De Mayo's competitors and a Democrat , as you just mentioned.

S2: You know , one , um , candidate funding , uh , ads and even a whole website for another candidate , specifically a candidate of the opposite party. But this is something that is one totally allowable , as long as the disclosures are there , but also a strategy that , you know , I've seen before , it's not totally unheard of. And essentially what the play here is , is that , you know , the top two vote getters in the primary move on to the general election regardless of party. So it can be two people from the same party or two people from different parties. So if Karl de Mayo faces off against another Republican , uh , say Andrew Hayes , that'll be a tough competition for the for that core Republican base of voters. However , if he faces off against a Democrat , Karl de Mayo could pretty reliably capture that Republican voter base and probably peel off some no party preference voters as well. And that would be a much easier path to victory in the general election. So , Karl , tomorrow is kind of pushing this Democrat opponent in the primary , anticipating that it'll likely be an easier opponent in the general election. Now , whether or not this will be successful , I would say the likelihood is low. Uh , you know , just because it is such a reliably red district. But it is a strategy. It's a strategy I've seen before. So we'll see if it pans out for him. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. Something we'll all be watching. Jacob , I want to talk about Assembly District 77.

S3: Both are very different than 75 , both much more reliably Democratic. But specifically regarding 77 , that's really going to be your northern coastal communities in San Diego County. So that's Carlsbad , Encinitas , and then all the way down through parts of the city of San Diego and then Coronado as well.

S1: And Tasha Berner is in that seat currently.

S3: She is running against two other candidates. Both of those other two candidates don't have any prior experience holding office. So she is looking like the frontrunner. And when I spoke with her , she told me her goals for the district are really more or less remaining. The same environment for her was a big priority , and that makes sense when you look at issues that her district has been dealing with , with bluff failures and the ongoing issues with , I guess , stabilization along the coast , which ties into transit as well. And then outside of environment , she was talking about access to good jobs , health care and housing. And as we mentioned at the top , housing is an issue affecting everyone across the state , uh , and especially in San Diego County. So no surprises there.

S1: You mentioned the two other candidates don't have previous political experience.

S3: And then the other one is Democratic autism researcher Henny Cooper. Stein. As I mentioned , neither of these two individuals have held office before , but James Brown is running really on a platform of self informed policy. He's someone who says that he has experienced homelessness before and can provide that perspective in a position where others might not be able to do so. And then Cooper Stein is someone who actually has autism herself. She's outspoken about that and really wants to prioritize financial responsibility and budgeting in the role.

S1: You're also covering district 79 , which doesn't have an incumbent , and it appears to be a much closer race.

S3: This is parts of southeast San Diego , la mesa , El Cajon , Lemon Grove in Spring Valley. And keep in mind , this area was by far the most heavily impacted by the recent flooding. So you might see that be part of these ongoing campaigns.


S3: There's going to be three people and they're all Democrats. The first is Sdsu adjunct professor Lashay Sharpe Collins , who actually has an endorsement from Weber. Then there's la mesa City Council member Colin Parent. He's also the CEO of Circulate San Diego. And then lastly , there is Lemon Grove Mayor Racquel Vasquez. So three qualified candidates , all with some pedigree backing them and with varying degrees of. Endorsement as. Well.

S1: Well. And like you mentioned , it is a kyla Weber seat. Currently she is running for state Senate. Now what might be her aspirations.

S3: So Weber is running for the what will be a vacant seat for Senate District 39 that's currently held by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins. And as she's turning out this year , it's going to be , for Weber , at least geographically , a very similar district to what she's currently covering in the state assembly. So that might be one of the reasons she's going out for it. And the other is that Nathan Fletcher , who was planning to run due to scandals that kind of rocked his own political world , has dropped out of that race , potentially giving her a bit of a boost.

S1: And back to the race in the 79th district.

S3: And those things do matter. But along those same lines , Colin Parent , someone who's also raised a lot of money for this campaign , much like Lucia Collins , he has endorsements of his own from big time local Democratic politicians , including state Assembly member David Alvarez , as well as Congressman Scott Peters , among many others. There's a slew of other Democrats backing him as well. And then in her own right , Racquel Vazquez , she has one thing that the other two don't , and that is mayoral experience. So they do matter these endorsements. But ultimately it comes down to a multitude of different factors.


S3: Know your community , know which races that you're actually Cambodian and be a part of. And then keep in mind that these are the primary elections. So , as Scott had brought up earlier , the top two vote getters will go on to the November general. So vote now and then vote again in November.

S2: And know that there are multiple ways to vote in your races. You can mail in your ballot , you can submit it at a Dropbox. You can go in person to a vote center up until Election Day. And if you aren't registered right now , there are options for registering even up to Election Day. You can essentially cast you can cast ballot while also registering for that same day on Election day , and it'll still count. There is a process for that. And just know that there is an abundance of information out there about each candidate , including a Kpbs voter guide , which I would have to say , I think turned out pretty great this year.

S1: I'm in agreement with you on that. I've been speaking with investigative reporter Scott Rod and general assignment reporter Jacob Air. You can check out the rest of our election coverage and more again at our voter hub. That's at Scott. And Jacob , thank you very much for joining us.

S2: Thank you. Thanks.

S3: Appreciate it.

S1: Coming up , a proposition on the ballot aims to address a crisis in California.

S4: The state sort of has a dual homelessness and mental health crisis , and this is an attempt to address those things.

S1: But will it work ? We'll talk about prop one when we return. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. Welcome back to midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. Californians have won statewide ballot measure to vote on this primary. And that is proposition one , supported by Governor Gavin Newsom. It could be the first major overhaul to California's mental health system in 20 years. Here to talk more about the measure is Kristen Hwang. She reports on health care and policy. And Calmatters Kristin , welcome back. Hi.

S4: Hi. Great to be here.

S1: Glad to have you here , Kristin. So there's two parts to this proposition. The first part looks at a bond that could drastically expand mental health services. Can you break that down for us ? Certainly.

S4: So the bond like you said , this proposal has two different pieces to it. The bond measure is a $6.38 billion bond to build kind of a dual set of treatment facilities and housing for people who have mental health challenges or who struggle with substance use disorders. $4.4 billion is reserved for treatment , and then about 2 billion of I'm sorry , about $2 million is reserved for housing.

S1: And the second part of the measure would have the state redirect existing mental health funding.

S4: There was a tax passed by California voters 20 years ago , in 2004 to raise money for mental health services , because we've never really adequately funded the system. Um , and so counties have had a lot of flexibility. That tax has raised between 2 and $3.5 billion each year , um , giving counties more flexibility to do community based and sort of outpatient services for people who have mental health challenges. And the proposal in prop one is asking that counties take 30% of that existing money and use it for housing specifically , and about half of that would have to be set aside for people who are chronically homeless.


S4: I think the latest count puts the number of Californians who are unhoused at over 181,000 people , and the vast majority of those people are living on the streets. So it's the governor's sort of plea to the voters and to California residents that this is something that could make a really big dent in the state's homelessness crisis. Um , we can get into the details a little bit more about how likely that is. But certainly the state sort of has a dual homelessness and mental health crisis , and this is an attempt to address those things. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. But I mean , is the idea also and the consensus that this is the type of prop that should have come maybe 15 , 20 years ago ? Yeah.

S4: There actually , I mean , there's been billions and billions of dollars poured into homelessness and housing in the state over the years. And , um , even , um , I believe in 2018 that Californians also had a proposition put before them , asking them to divert from the same pool of money that prop one is asking to divert some of that money into building housing for the same population. And it's just building housing in California is so hard and so slow , and everything runs into a lot of bureaucratic challenges , a lot of lawsuits , a lot of not in my backyard sort of rhetoric. And we haven't been able to keep up with the demand.

S1: Our mental health system , you know , has really gone through some major changes as of late.

S4: Um , there have been changes , of course , care court was instituted , which is a way to sort of have family members and first responders can compel people who are untreated and have a serious mental illness into treatment. Um , we also have there has been separate from this proposal , additional investments into building more mental health treatment facilities. And there have been changes to the state's conservatorship laws. And so this is kind of at the state level. What the governor is proposing or saying is that this is sort of the final the end cap to to make all the puzzle pieces of everything that he's tried to institute in previous years fit together.

S1: And as we've talked about , Newsom is the biggest proponent of prop one. He's amassed a lot of support and funding more than $14 million so far.

S4: I think that city leaders are often in this sort of difficult position of , of their citizens demanding accountability. But actually the responsibility for services is on the county side. Um , and so. City politicians. There's also the really big group Nami. California has gotten behind this measure as well , so it does have a lot of support , and it does have a lot of support in the health care space , too.


S4: Um , it's certainly , you know , a problem that's intractable in California and as pre-existed his governorship in the state. Um , but he really did campaign with some big promises on reducing homelessness in California and addressing the affordability , the housing affordability crisis. And in the ensuing years , homelessness has only gotten worse. It's increased by about 40%. Um , and so I think that is , you know , of all the promises the governor has made , this is one of the the biggest sort of things that he has not really been able to make a sizable dent in. Hmm.

S5: Hmm.

S1: Well , now , the no on one campaign has only raised about $1,000 by comparison. Who is behind that ? No. One one campaign ? Yeah.

S4: The no. One one campaign is interesting. It's a very , you know , very much the definition of a grassroots citizens run campaign. Um , it's a lot of people who are working as volunteers , people who work in the mental health space. It tends to be like smaller providers. And then also the biggest advocates are disability rights advocates and people who are current users of the county services of the county mental health services.

S1: Well , and let's unpack that. I mean , why might these groups be in opposition to this measure ? Yeah.

S4: So these groups of people were it's it's kind of complicated. And it goes back to the original law that was passed 20 years ago. But these groups of people have been opposed to sort of all the recent changes to the mental health system in California. They're opposed to care court. They're opposed to what they say is an expansion of involuntary treatment in California. And they also were very involved in the crafting of the original legislation that allowed counties to have this extra revenue source to fund community services. And those can be really , you know , those are things that you don't necessarily think of as , like mental health services. They can be like LGBTQ resource centers or adult day centers or peer support. So that's someone else who also has like a mental health disorder , who's been through the system. They've , you know , lived with the challenges , and they're there to help someone else who's new to it get through the system and figure out how to make it work. And so they see this as , you know , sort of ripping away these community built services and putting it into involuntary treatment.

S1: And you mentioned the potential impact on smaller mental health providers.

S4: I've been trying to do it for for many , many weeks. Um , I think at a high state level , the Legislative Analyst's Office put out a number that said about $700 million worth of services would have to be cut because , you know , we are taking this isn't new money. The bond measure is new money , but the other half is not new money. It's a reprioritization. So at the high level , the 30% equates to roughly $700 million of that funding stream. And recently there have started to be some counties that are willing to quantify it. Monterey County has said that they might lose $12 million. Um , should this pass and a lot of the other smaller and more rural counties that don't tend to have as large of homeless populations are also saying that reprioritizing these these services wouldn't necessarily even meet the needs of their populations.


S4: And part of their argument for that is that the state is making a lot of changes to what can be reimbursed by Medi-Cal , and that this change is kind of very in line with other things that the state is doing , that the counties are just going to be able to use this money to maximize their Medi-Cal dollars. From that , we get an equal amount from the federal government. But I do think that it's fair to say , especially when the counties are saying that they might have cuts because they're the ones who ultimately implement that. A lot of the services , like Medi-Cal is medical services. So it's things like paying for counseling , paying for drug interventions or paying for medication. And a lot of the community services , the things like those LGBTQ resource centers , like those are not medical interventions , and Medi-Cal does not pay for those.

S1: And , you know , there's also concern that prop one could worsen homelessness in the state. The AP reports that rural counties like Butte would have to divert the same percentage of funds to housing as urban counties like San Francisco.

S4: And that was something that the smaller counties , you know , brought up a lot is that they have very different challenges and very different populations from the more densely populated counties in the state. So there is some flexibility written into the language for counties to be able to move money between the various mandated pots based on need. And however , that is also up to state approval. So I think I think there just is a lot of concern that sort of some of this original money was intended for prevention to to keep people stable and to prevent them from sort of spiraling into a state where they may end up homeless and they may end up unable to take care of themselves. And in certain places where they know their population is smaller , like the housing is not necessarily the biggest challenge they are. They are worried about what what will happen if they have to cut those services. Mhm.

S5: Mhm.


S4: That's a hard one to answer again because the counties are so different. I mean I've definitely talked to counties , you know , San Diego , Riverside , other ones , some of the larger ones in Southern California that have sort of more complex programs to begin with. And I think county officials are always they're always doing the math. They're seeing what kinds of funding streams they can put together for what kinds of populations. Um , and so there are a number of counties whose sort of the local priorities already aligned with what the state is proposing in this. They wouldn't see as much of a change.

S1: So what else should voters know about prop one is they fill out their ballots this year.

S4: I think it's it is important to , you know , keep in mind , on the bond measure side , that $6.38 billion bond that the estimates the administration has put out for building treatment beds is about 6800 inpatient treatment slots. And that would go a long way to addressing the shortage of treatment slots that California currently faces. We have a need for about 10,000 treatment beds in the state , and this causes problems all throughout the system. Some of these in some sort of , you know , mental health crisis. They go to the emergency room. There's nowhere to put them. They're stuck in the emergency room waiting for a bed forever. And so the bond measure could make a pretty significant impact in terms of the acute inpatient needs of the state. On the housing side , the estimate is 4350 housing units , and the number of people who are unhoused in the state is 181,000 people. So even the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office has said that it really it really would not make a dent in homelessness in the state.

S1: I've been speaking with Kristin Hwang , Calmatters health reporter. You can learn more about prop one at our Voter Hub on Kpbs. Org. Kristin , thank you so much for joining us.

S4: Of course. Thanks for having me.

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Members of the California state Assembly meet at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, June 20, 2022.
Rich Pedroncelli
Members of the California state Assembly meet at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, June 20, 2022.

KPBS Midday Edition is continuing its election coverage ahead of the March 5 primary. We dive into California State Assembly seats. KPBS reporters Scott Rodd and Jacob Aere look at some of most competitive races there.

Plus, Proposition 1 could be the final piece in Gov. Gavin Newsom's efforts to respond to a dual crisis of mental health treatment and homelessness in the state. We talk more about what the ballot measure could entail.


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