Denise Diaz

As a Long Beach-based publication, we’d like to ask why you are the best prepared candidate to represent Long Beach’s interests in the State Senate?

The reason I would be the most qualified and viable candidate is, not just my work as a current council member but my work for the past 15 years for an entire district. I went to local schools throughout the 33rd District: Cal State Long Beach, South Gate, Lynwood, so I know the needs of education equity that is desperately needed in our district. Also, the numerous health factors that occur in our community. I’ve been implementing environmental awareness in my community, especially in the southeast and the passion, the drive, the hunger for equity and change that I have.

If elected, what would be the focus of the first piece of legislation you would propose?

Definitely education equity. I still have youth being taught out of bungalows, I have graduation rates still at 40 percent and those numbers are unacceptable for me.

Is there a particular endorsement or supporter which is especially relevant or meaningful to you? Why should voters give that specific one particular attention when considering your candidacy?

I am the only candidate that is the candidate of mayors: the mayors of Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, South Gate, Vernon, all supported me because they feel that Sacramento has overlooked them and overlooked the southeast. So, having these key community leaders supporting me and being there day-to-day, weekends, whether it’s last night having stuffing parties (for campaign mail), it’s them seeing that I am capable of taking on that task and that commitment.

Similarly, how would those endorsements or supporters impact your decisions or voting record if you were elected?

It’s the support that they have from their own constituents that is going to get me there. For example, just in South Gate we have 5,000 high propensity votes, the city of Bell Gardens has 3,000 high propensity votes, the city of Huntington Park has 2,500 high propensity votes. So, this comes down to a numbers game and numbers don’t lie.

How would you remain focused on the diverse and differing needs of the many cities you would represent and not forget about the needs of local government once you are in Sacramento?

We do need quarterly meetings with key agencies from our LGBTQ community, from law enforcement agencies, and that hasn’t been done. That’s one thing I implemented: I told the law enforcement I needed a sit-down. Also, school districts: I have Long Beach school district, I have LAUSD, I have Lynwood, we need to have quarterly the meetings to see what’s going on in each district, whether it’s school board, whether it’s the law enforcement, whether it’s the LGBTQ community, the immigrant community. [We need to] be accessible and be on the ground.

How would you address climate change?

Just by living in our district, we lose 10 years of our lives, right? A recent study came out that communities of color have an additional 40 percent of air pollution. Currently, what I did as council member in South Gate, like I had mentioned to you, I started a Community Environmental Action Team after finding out that South Gate has four Superfund sites, so with that we collaborated with AQMD and we put air quality monitors throughout South Gate. We have 32 of them. So that’s what I did on the local level, now on a statewide level, we really need to implement more focus on that. The asthma rates are alarming in my district. [We need] more green space. We are going to have two new parks in South Gate. We’re going to have the urban orchard, which is a one-of-a-kind park, it’s going to be a storm water capture. So, as we know, green space are natural filters, we need to implement more of that. We need more green space in our communities and kept up parks because when we go to Bell Gardens, when we go Cudahy, these parks are not well kept up.

Some state leaders and legislators support action for the state to control local housing development.  This is a responsibility traditionally managed by local cities and their citizens. Should the state control local housing development?  What do you think of the governor suing a city on their housing policy as has occurred with Huntington Beach?

So that’s interesting, actually I was just having this conversation with my city manager. And the reason I am saying the “southeast” is because we are extremely dense communities. The city of South Gate, the last Census states that we are 95,000, but the police department is estimating about 115,000. Huntington Park is another one that is having difficulty, so with that, we lose local control when we don’t have these legislators who understand what is going on. What I do believe in is expanding Section 8; I think that’s needed. Also, student housing, affordable housing is definitely needed. It comes down to the issue of accessibility and supply, right? I do believe in giving incentives to certain developments to come into our town, but what people need to know—and I want to  welcome them to my community—it’s where are we going to build? So the governor doing that, [my question is]: Where are we going to build, where’s Huntington Park? Where’s Cudahy? Where’s Maywood? It absolutely makes no sense. So I invite them to walk the streets of our communities before implementing these laws which affect us.

What do you think should be the state’s role in preventing and solving the homelessness crisis?

What’s key is mental health. There’s two things I am going to focus on and I am going to focus on two main aspects: one officer, a caseworker, that just focuses on immigrant affairs and the other one on mental health. It’s a growing epidemic that is so needed, so that is key. And also wages, people are living paycheck to paycheck. I mean the cost-of-living is skyrocketing and I am seeing more and more people just sending me private messages and telling me like, ‘Oh there’s this family that’s living out of their vehicle,’ and how do we work with that?

Police use of force issue is a hot-button issue in this state and nationwide. There are competing use of force bills in the legislature right now. What is your position on use of force reform and do you support the pending legislative reforms?

I think what we have to understand is: I implemented a sensitivity training in our police department, which was key. But secondly, officers are not the police officers that we once had: now they’re having to deal with numerous things. When I’ve gone on ride-alongs, they have to be mediators, therapists and they are dealing with a lot of homeless individuals out there that do have mental health issues. So that’s something that we really do have to look into: how are we there for both our community and our public safety officers, right?

I’ll be honest, the city of Bell Gardens next week is going to have now cameras on each police officer. I think it’s key to implement that just to see what is going on in the streets and like I mentioned to you, sensitivity trainings are definitely needed, but we know when they go out there, they are dealing with individuals that do have mental health issues.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is pursuing a one-half cent sales tax measure that would raise about $1.4 billion each year to pay for clean-air projects such as zero-emission cars, trucks, trains and cargo equipment.  What is your position on this given that a major freeway corridor, the 710, runs through the district?

Like I mentioned to you, we worked with them, we added 32 air quality monitors throughout South Gate,  thanks to them. We also implemented a program in five schools in South Gate just to educate our youth on the air quality that’s occurring. The 710 corridor feeds our entire country, but it is killing us. We lose 10 years of our lives because of it. So, what happens, there is these vehicles that are costly for our community. My community is making less than $40,000 a year. So, when they wanted to make it all green, who’s going to afford that? Let’s make it accessible and at a price range that our community could afford. The charging stations, where are they at? They are either down here in Long beach, there’s one in South Gate, but other than that, my communities do not have charging stations.

Similarly, what is your position on proposed plans to widen a 19-mile stretch of the 710 freeway through much of the district?

I oppose it.

Is there anything else about your candidacy you’d like voters to know?

Yes, I think our candidacy is, if you start following us on social media, it really is a grassroots campaign. If you look at who is giving me money, it’s local businesses, it’s mom-and-pop shops, it’s friends and families doing bake sales and I might be the candidate with the least amount of money, but we have been able to make it. And I think we definitely are going to make history. And people get astonished or amazed at how we have been able to get so far with such little money, but when you believe in someone, I think we are going to make it through, we are.

← Al Austin