The race for Assembly District 78 pits a Democratic Party loyalist against a little-known Republican pushing a far-right agenda.
The district’s boundaries recently transitioned under redistricting from representing much of coastal San Diego County to an inland swath of territory stretching from Mission Valley north to Mira Mesa and east to El Cajon.
Incumbent candidate Democrat Chris Ward served on the San Diego City Council before winning the seat in 2020. As a member of the state Legislature, he’s been focused on housing and homelessness, recently authoring a bill that would tax house flippers.
Republican challenger Eric Gonzales is a Navy veteran who supports gun rights and banning abortion and opposes tax increases. He also backs public education reforms to address what he calls on his website “advocates hatred for our country” and “perverse sexual health.”
The newly drawn district lines could benefit Gonzales by drawing in more conservatives from inland cities, such as El Cajon. However, the little-known candidate likely faces an uphill battle to unseat Ward.
The Union-Tribune reached out to both candidates to get there take on some of the most pressing issues facing California voters today. A recent poll found that San Diego County as well as statewide voters ranked housing and homelessness as their top concerns.
Gonzales signaled a willingness to participate but did not return a response to questions by press time. The following Q&A with Ward has been edited for brevity.
Q: From your perspective what are the three biggest issues facing the 78th Assembly District — and why?
Ward: “In my view, the three biggest issues facing my constituents are all intertwined: housing, homelessness and income inequality.
“We’re facing a housing crisis, in part due to limited supply, but also the effect of speculation is causing home prices to skyrocket. When wages are stagnant, but the cost of living continues to rise along with the price of housing, you’re going to force more people into homelessness.
“We’ve got to level the playing field for working class Californians so people are able to live comfortably and not have to worry about falling into homelessness because they have their rent raised beyond what they can afford. If you work hard and save your money, you should be able to buy a home. But the dream of homeownership is becoming harder to achieve the longer we don’t act.”
Q: The cost of housing is crushing many San Diego families. How do you propose to address this issue? How would the California Housing Speculation Act, which you introduced last month, help control housing costs?
Ward: “San Diego recently surpassed San Francisco as the least affordable city to live in in the United States. Part of the problem is supply and demand — something the legislature has tried to address by streamlining the building process to bring more housing inventory online.
“But something not many people are talking about is speculation. That’s what I’m trying to address with the California Housing Speculation Act. When you have gigantic corporations buying up a large number of homes to rent out, it takes homes off the market that could be sold to first-time home buyers. Some investors are also coming in with all offers to outbid working class Californians with the intent of selling the home months later for a healthy profit.
“This has the effect of distorting the market by driving up the prices of comparable homes in the same area. AB 1771 would serve as a tax disincentive by setting a 25 percent income surtax on the profit gained on a property’s appreciation within three years, a rate that would depreciate in full to year seven.
“This is a global problem that requires a unique solution to address. Other countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and China are currently trying to address skyrocketing housing prices by enacting anti-speculation legislation to deter the behavior. Some countries like Germany have had anti-speculation laws on the books for decades to help control housing prices. But this is a fairly new concept for California. Building more inventory is key, but it’s not a quick-fix solution. We need to think outside of the box on this to make sure we’re not allowing homes to continue to be a quick trade on the market for people to make a profit on.”
Q: Homelessness is an issue directly tied to the high cost of housing. How do you propose to address this for both those struggling to find shelter and those whose communities have become impacted by homeless encampments?
Ward: “You’re right that all of these issues are tied together. First and foremost, we have to fund more triage resources for the unhoused so we can get people the help that they need where they are at. A lack of mental health resources, substance abuse treatment and social workers has left many without hope of being able to escape the cycle of poverty.
“This is why I am proposing significant upfront and ongoing investments in a spectrum of social work professions through our state budget. Many people have simply been priced out of their apartment or home due to the rising cost of living. No one should have to live in an encampment or their vehicle simply because they lost their job or another life circumstance occurred.”
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