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Six Candidates Compete for State Senate District 7

Nancy Skinner was first elected to the California State Senate in 2016. Now, the popular progressive lawmaker has been termed out, and a half-dozen candidates are competing to take her place starting with the new year. Of the six candidates vying for office on March’s ballot, half are Caucasian, and half are BIPOC. Five of the six have held significant elected offices of some form, and those same five are running as Democratic candidates.

Alameda Post - a graphic that says "CA State Senate District 7 Candidates CA Primary March 5, 2024" on top of a background of the Alameda and California flags

Three of the candidates for State Senator for District 7 are current or previous residents of Alameda: AC Transit Director Jovanka Beckles, California Labor Federation President Kathryn Lybarger, and former California Assemblymember Sandré R. Swanson—who previously held the seat Mia Bonta currently holds. Rounding out the field of candidates are Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, and—the lone Republican in the race—property management company owner Jeanne Solnordal.

The Alameda Post sent each of the candidates three questions to answer about their candidacy: What is the priority or focus of the campaign, which unique skills and qualities would the candidate bring to the office, and what are the challenges and opportunities the candidate sees for the city of Alameda now and in the future? Five of the six candidates responded—we sent multiple emails to Ms. Solnordal to no avail. Nor were we able to find a website for her campaign, so unfortunately  we cannot provide any additional information about her positions on the issues.

Three District 7 candidates are previous or current Alameda residents. Left to right: Jovanka Beckles, Kathryn Lybarger, Sandré R. Swanson. Photos from their respective campaign websites.

What is the focus of each State Senate campaign?

From the candidates who responded, it is clear most have similar ideas for the focus of their campaigns. Affordable housing topped the list of issues the candidates agree upon—all of the respondents listed creating and maintaining sustainably affordable housing as a focus of their campaign. With housing costs continuing to rise, and affordable inventory not keeping pace, this is an issue that will continue to be top of mind in the district.

Other issues that multiple candidates agreed were driving their campaigns included Universal Public safety, health care, and environmental protections—each were listed by three candidates. Swanson declared he would stop what he termed an unacceptable crime wave, calling it “organized crime,” and suggested adding “unarmed community peacekeepers to help increase law enforcement’s response time to emergency calls for help.” Arreguín declared, “I’ll address public safety comprehensively and push to hire more officers who live in the communities they serve.”

Kalb’s website touts his experience as an environmental activist on his website and he told the Post that he will take “strong action on environmental protection and the climate crisis.” Beckles wrote of the need to increase health equity by moving to “single payer plans, correcting racial and other discrepancies, [and] more access to mental care.”

Equity is a popular issue among the candidates. Arreguín mentioned that Berkeley is a sanctuary city for reproductive health and gender care, and vowed to defend reproductive rights. Beckles is prioritizing increasing income equality, funded by corporate taxes. “We can reinvest some of the money we take back from corporations into social programs that help increase earning power,” Beckles stated.

Lybarger and Kalb also emphasized the need to properly fund public education and libraries. Swanson stated that education would be his top budget priority.

Union leader Lybarger, unsurprisingly, is concerned with fair pay for workers, and wants to close the pay gap along gender and racial lines. “California brags about having the fourth largest economy in the world,” the candidate wrote, “but it never mentions having the highest poverty rate in America. Workers should never bear the economic burden while corporations get richer.”

Left: Jeanne Solnordal. photo. Top Right: Jesse Arreguín. Campaign website photo. Bottom Right: Dan Kalb. Campaign website photo.

What sets each District 7 candidate apart?

Arreguín emphasized his almost twenty-year career of public service on Berkeley’s City Council and as Mayor. He said his track record is proven, with a focus on delivering results, and noted his extensive experience writing laws, negotiating amendments, and building support for passage. He called out his collaborative leadership style as being key to achieving legislative victories. “As Mayor of Berkeley, I have come to realize that so many of our region’s challenges cannot be solved by one city, or even one county, but require leadership at the state level,” he said.

Beckles wrote: “As a Black Latina, Queer, immigrant woman, I live at the intersection of many marginalized communities. This lived experience makes my voice very much needed in the Senate.” She pointed to her 23 years providing mental health services to East Bay youths, her experience as a Teamster (Local 856) and as a former union steward, noted that she sued Chevron for unpaid taxes and damages after a 2012 fire at the Richmond refinery, and emphasized that 98% of her campaign contributors are individuals.

Kalb also feels his experience makes him a strong candidate. He touted more than thirty years of policy experience, including ten years crafting state legislation, and several years as the statewide policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. He stated that he has “built and worked with broad-based coalitions and understands firsthand what it takes to be a successful legislator at the state level.” He also mentioned that he was the recipient of local media awards in 2014 and 2016, recognizing his effectiveness as an elected official.

As president of the California Labor Federation, Lybarger stated that she is accountable to over two million union members and has spent the last decade meeting with legislators and getting bills through the legislature. She pointed out that she led a strike of over 25,000 blue-collar workers, winning them higher wages, affordable healthcare, and secure jobs. “Leading strikes and passing legislation are different ways to get something done, but both require focusing on the possible and being able to build the unity to achieve it,” she declared.

Former Assemblymember Swanson claims he is “the only former legislator running for this Senate seat.” He detailed his leadership of the fight to retain redevelopment programs and noted that he told colleagues, “The elimination of redevelopment funds would lead to more homelessness and a growing housing crisis of affordability.” He said restoring those funds is key to fixing the housing and unhoused crisis. He also spoke of his experience as Deputy Mayor of Oakland under Jean Quan, and the violence reduction strategy they successfully implemented. Finally he spoke of his commitment to education, calling for California to be in the top 10% in the nation for funding schools and teachers.

What do they see as Alameda’s challenges and opportunities?

Four of the five candidates responded to this section of the Post’s questionnaire with their views of Alameda’s needs and opportunities in the coming years.

Swanson used the section to share his family’s history in Alameda and some of his previous accomplishments for the community. “Today in Alameda you can see some of the positive developments: our environmental reserves, shoreline agreements with the Port of Oakland regarding the Estuary, housing, restaurants and shopping centers that are a result of 25 years of planning.” He said that he “understands why the residents love the city’s hometown environment, schools, shopping, beaches, shoreline, and our first responders’ reliable response to emergencies.” He did not outline any vision for Alameda’s future.

Affordable housing and services for those who are unhoused in Alameda are of great concern to the candidates. All who mentioned housing issues expressed support for constructing more housing.

Beckles said she and her wife were unable to afford to purchase a home in Alameda after many years of renting, and their son is now in a similar position. “We should build more ADU’s and build them where some of the largest unhoused populations currently live,” she suggested. She also encouraged stronger tenant protections and the repeal of the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act to allow for stronger rent control laws. She also proposed more residential treatment facilities for the unhoused and persons suffering from mental and physical disabilities.

Kalb stated, “I support dedicated funding to help create more affordable housing at all below-market income levels—including workforce housing.” Arreguín spoke of his leadership in passing a five-year countywide homelessness plan, and commended Alameda’s Mayor and Council for greenlighting the Wellness Center on McKay Avenue. Lybarger encouraged partnerships with nonprofits, philanthropists, the state, and federal government to build affordable housing. She stated, “The city has a real opportunity to make it an even better place to live that includes seniors, district teachers, and others who don’t have affordable housing and need things to change.”

All of the candidates highlighted Alameda’s need to prepare for the inevitable rise of sea levels. “The rain this year underscores the need for the island to maintain its seawalls and other infrastructure critical to flood control,” Lybarger said. Arreguín mentioned his work with ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) and the SFBCDC (SF Bay Conservation and Development Commission) on regional policies and funding. “With climate change upon us and rising sea levels, there is an urgent need to develop effective emergency and evacuation plans to safeguard residents,” Beckles warned.

Transportation issues were also on many of the candidates’ minds. Arreguín proposed increasing ferry service, pedestrian and bike connections, and public transport options. Kalb urged, “We need to work together—local, regional, state—to improve transportation options to/from Alameda.” Lybarger took an optimistic stance, saying, “Alameda is well-positioned to build out climate-friendly solutions to address congestion and access as the city densifies that also help maintain its character.”

Lybarger also called out her work with her wife, an Alameda High School teacher, to support Measure E, the AUSD parcel tax, and promised to fight for dedicated school funding. Arreguìn mentioned the inability to manage traffic in and out of Alameda. And Kalb highlighted prioritizing public safety, particularly by enacting gun laws. He stated he would prioritize “increased investments in rehabilitation in our state prisons and reentry services at the county/local level. This is critical to reduce recidivism in our communities and our state.”

Choose your candidate and vote on or before March 5

There are several ways to learn even more about candidates for California State Senate District 7 before the primary election on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Check out the candidates’ campaign websites, linked in this article, to learn more about their positions and see who has endorsed them. Get election and voting information from our 2024 Alameda Election page. Read KQED’s State Senate, District 7 Voter Guide and check out East Bay Insiders roundup of the District 7 State Senate election. And watch the video below of the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on February 5, 2024.

Adam Gillitt is the Publisher of the Alameda Post. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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