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Costa Mesa mayor debates housing, environment and more with fellow Democratic candidate for state Senate seat

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Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley and UC Irvine law professor Dave Min, who are vying for the state Senate seat in District 37, speak at a debate Monday night at UCI.
(Hillary Davis)

The two Democratic candidates for the 37th District state Senate seat in the 2020 election debated homelessness and affordable-housing programs, social justice and environmental resiliency Monday night at UC Irvine.

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley and UCI law professor Dave Min broadly agreed on building more housing and responding to climate change with “green” technologies. The two are seeking to unseat incumbent John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), who did not attend Monday’s event, sponsored by Indivisible OC 48 and the California League of Conservation Voters.

Foley said she would like to see and fund more local sustainability czars like the kind Costa Mesa approved this year. She also supports modeling state legislation after the Carbon Fee and Dividend Act in Congress and outlining an “aggressive electric vehicle strategy” with more public charging stations and a movement to make electric cars more affordable.

Min said California could enhance its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund by pricing carbon and using the proceeds to fuel a new Silicon Valley in Orange County around green technology, using its renewable resources, university research, infrastructure and access to venture capital.

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“We are going to get there by exporting green technology to the rest of the world,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to save the world.”

After a question about supporting a production mandate to add teeth to state-defined residential zoning requirements, Foley said fines are already possible and cited as evidence of an enforcement-minded state government an ongoing lawsuit against Huntington Beach over what state officials described as the city’s failure to allow enough homebuilding.

“I tend to like to build partnerships and not penalize, but if people aren’t taking care of business then we have to do something to make sure that the cities are complying with their housing elements,” Foley said.

Min said he also wants to work with localities but said many council and board members are “extremists.”

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“For now we’re going to have to assume that we’re going to face a hostile opposition that is opposed to things like building affordable housing, opposed to things like implementing quality education,” Min said. “I believe that we have to penalize them if necessary.”

Foley said she would direct state funding for homelessness solutions away from counties and allot it straight to cities “like Costa Mesa, like Irvine, like Fullerton.”

“There’s a lot of cities that are actually doing the work and aren’t getting any funding,” she said.

She also said she would dedicate funding to building affordable housing and electric car charging stations.

Min agreed with putting more state dollars toward housing and homelessness.

“I’d also point out that at the state level there’s a frustration with Orange County because Orange County has a significant pool of money for mental health that could be used for homelessness. We’re not using it,” he said. “We’ve got to also equip that budget request with overrides and sticks and carrots to force noncompliant localities … to comply with the law. We have too much intransigence here in Orange County. They call it local control. I favor a lot of local control, but when it’s opposed to really important statewide priorities, we have to have levers to pull on those.”

The candidates diverged when discussing a question from moderator Aaron McCall, chairman of Indivisible OC 48, about police shootings of people of color.

Foley emphasized mandatory education and training for officers. Min said education should be part of the solution but that the real problem is racial bias and that police forces need more diversity.

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He added that stricter gun control would make officers less fearful that anybody could be armed, possibly prompting them to “shoot first and ask questions later.”

Foley called that an inflammatory and inaccurate assessment of police.

“They’re actually trained to try not to shoot first,” she said. “They’re actually trained to defuse the situation and they’re trained to try to avoid having to shoot. That doesn’t mean they always do, but that’s how they’re trained. And we shouldn’t be against the police. We need the police.”

Min said he was speaking rhetorically and apologized for offending Foley’s sensibilities — a choice of words she called sexist.

The candidates also addressed a question about the California Healthy Youth Act of 2016. The comprehensive sex education curriculum is controversial for its inclusion of LGBTQ sexual health and AIDS and HIV prevention and is not always implemented.

Min said school boards need to be forced to implement the law through penalties and incentives, even to the point of state takeover of “chronically intransigent school districts.”

Foley, a former Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustee, said districts should be forced to comply by cutting funding, not putting them under state control. She suggested voters change school board makeups.

“If it’s something that’s widespread, we have a different response,” she said. “If it’s something that’s a unique anomaly, then we would probably just want to replace the school board.”

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