Senator candidates debate in local forum amid cheers and jeers

Gonzalez, Guerrero discuss issues of taxes, environment, childcare and housing ahead of June 4 special election.


Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune

Thirty-third District state Senator candidates, Lena Gonzalez and Jack Guerrero, debated Monday night at Veterans Park during a candidate forum to discuss issues related to taxes, climate change, childcare and housing– among other issues. The forum, hosted by the Wrigley Association, allowed residents to learn about the candidates’ stances on certain policies ahead of the June 4 special election.

The following is Part 1 of this story. Part 2 is available here.

If Monday’s impassioned, full-house crowd at Veterans Park for a candidate forum was any indication of local voters’ mindsets heading into the June 4 special election for a new state Senator, then the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The Wrigley Association hosted a debate between the two candidates vying for the 33rd District state Senator position, previously occupied by current California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.

Voters will choose between candidates Lena Gonzalez, 1st-district Long Beach councilmember, and Jack Guerrero, Cudahy councilmember, to represent the areas of Cudahy, Bell, Bell Gardens, Lynwood, Maywood, Signal Hill, Paramount, South Gate, Vernon, Walnut Park, Huntington Park and most of Long Beach, with portions of the cities of Lakewood and Los Angeles– per the website.

The forum on Monday, May 6, featured the two candidates, a plethora of supporters for both potential Senators and members of the Wrigley Association. Alan Burks, president and director of architecture at Environ Architecture Inc., was the moderator for the event and directed audience questions via notecards to the candidates.

The candidates made their opening remarks– Guerrero presenting himself first upon winning a coin flip– and soon Burk shared questions from the audience, the first of which inquired about the candidates’ stances on gas tax.

Gonzalez answered first, admitting that she is supportive of gas tax, despite its “divisive” reputation with residents, because the money helps support infrastructure.

“We know that there are 380 bridges that will be done or completed in the next year because of this gas tax,” she said. “[…] It’s more complicated in California. We’re a high cost-of-living state. But not only that, we pay for a little bit more because we do things like refining our oil to reduce smog emissions. Is that so bad, that we have to pay 26 extra cents because we want to deter these emissions? No, I don’t think it’s bad. […] I think it’s an important tax for us to do.”

Guerrero retorted, saying that transportation infrastructure “is absolutely imperative,” but that the issue isn’t a matter of a lack of funding, but rather a “mismanagement” of said funds.

“What we’re doing is basically feeding the beast on mismanagement and big government that is purposely diverting funds that they were required to implement for development and infrastructure,” he said. “I also think that the gas tax is very regressive, as I mentioned at the outset. In fact, it’s the second highest in the entire state of California. And it’s poor people and working people, like those that I represent in the city of Cudahy as a councilmember, who bear the greatest brunt when they have to drive to work, when they have to feed their family and make ends meet.”

In regard to climate change, Guerrero said he is aware of the impacts of long-term mistreatment of the environment, but said that current California policies that aim to rectify the problem have “deleterious consequences for poor people.”

“[…] Disproportionately what happens with a lot of environmental laws is that people from disadvantaged communities like mine are the ones that pay a disproportionate price for this kind of legislation,” Guerrero said. “But I have alarming concerns about some of these proposals on the table, because there is very little appropriation of funds that come from taxation for environmental purposes ostensibly that go to working families or working communities like the ones I represent.”

Gonzalez added that the pocket of downtown Long Beach that she represents has high asthma rates, in addition to the area of Wilmington. In her argument, she referenced Senate Bill 100 (SB 100), which sets a zero-emissions policy for Californians heading into 2045.

“We need to continue looking at policies that are in place for soil contamination and resources that have been put forth and ensuring that we’re actually enforcing all of these issues,” she said. “[…] We will get there, and we will be very ambitious to ensure that we’re turning the curve.”

She concluded that SB 100’s goal of 2045 can be fast-tracked to 2030 if lawmakers are ambitious in their approach, as aforementioned.

When it comes to opportunities for children to have access to early education, Gonzalez said universal preschool is something that needs to expand across the region, specifically in areas like Long Beach and southeast Los Angeles.

“As a mother who has a young child in childcare, and I pay a great load for that early education opportunity, I would want to see free early education and expand opportunities across the state of California for the children who do not have access,” she said. “We can absolutely pay for this. I know that we can. […] And I know [California] Gov. [Gavin] Newsom and I look forward to supporting that budget in applying more funds for both parents and students in these very high-need areas.”

Similarly, Guerrero said he supports early childhood education, citing a few studies that show how investing in education at an early age for kids yields dramatic benefit for them academically in following years. However, Guerrero again criticized the method at which the State distributes funds for these issues.

“At present, over 60 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District funds do not go to the classroom, do not go to teachers– it actually goes to pensions, to excessive compensation for executives, to mismanaged consultants that are charging $250 an hour,” he said. “[…] We cannot give a quick launch to a failed administration to continue to abuse and misuse public resources.”

When it comes to rent control, Guerrero said the idea is “well intentioned,” but that the application of it has negative effects on affordable housing.

“What happens under rent control is that the supply of housing is subverted,” he said. “We have less people interested in lending out their homes under rent-control regimes because it’s not profitable to do it. This is just the simple rules of supply and demand that have these deleterious consequences on people. If we look at every failed experiment on rent control, you see that it doesn’t work. It’s well intentioned, but it doesn’t work. It reduces the supply of housing, and it shuts people out of the system from getting affordable housing.”

Gonzalez said the average median income of $72,000 in the state of California has not changed in nearly a decade. She added that people have to live on assistance to “make ends meet.”

“[…] What we did in the city council, and what I look forward to providing in the state senate if I’m elected, is looking at ways that we can find tenant protections,” she said. “[…] There are opportunities for us to provide protections for people who are seniors, people with disabilities, because we know it’s even more difficult for people to find housing after they’ve been displaced or been kicked out. […] We are not producing enough affordable housing for them to be going on to their next step. I believe that there’s more we could do on the tenant-protection side.”

For more information about both state Senator candidates, visit and