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How California’s gubernatorial candidates attempted to address Asian Pacific American issues

Photo via CAUSE Empowerment Facebook.


Alhambra , CA United States

The elephant in the room wasn’t U.S. President Donald Trump or current California Gov. Jerry Brown.

It was Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor and the only candidate who didn’t show up for the Asian Pacific American Gubernatorial Debate on Friday night, declining to participate due to a busy schedule.

To draw attention to his absence, the Center for Asian Americans United for Self-Empowerment, which organized the debate, included a debate podium on the end of the stage at Pasadena City College for him.

“As you’ll note, there’s a podium here marked with his name in case he decides to show up,” said CAUSE Executive Director Kim Yamasaki to laughter.

Assemblymember Travis Allen, State Treasurer John Chiang, Businessman John Cox, former California State Superintendent Delaine Eastin and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa participated in the debate. With Newsom, they make up the top six polling candidates in the California governor race.

The Asian American community makes up 16 percent of California’s population and is the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet CAUSE officials said that the needs of Asian Americans have often been ignored by politicians. “We want to be included in the discussion of issues facing California, because we want to contribute and we want to be part of the solution,” said CAUSE Board Chair Charlie Woo.

Attempts from the candidates to address the Asian Americans ranged from Assemblymember Allen proclaiming how close he was to the Little Saigon business community to Delaine Eastin’s criticism of the federal government’s policy towards family-based immigration, rebranded “chain migration” by the Trump administration. Overall, the forum provided candidates the opportunity to share their platform with a predominantly Asian American audience and explain how it would benefit their community specifically.

The top two candidates from a statewide primary election on June 5 will face off in the Nov. 6 general election. Below is a summary of how candidates addressed issues of major concern in the California governor’s race.


Citing a state population of more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants and delays to obtaining green cards due to undocumented immigration, moderator Seema Mehta asked candidates how they would address this issue differently than Gov. Brown and legislators in Sacramento. Chiang vowed to fight the Trump administration’s policies to reduce immigration based on family reunification and to lobby for federal immigration reform. He also called for protecting DACA recipients and other “sanctuary values.”

Eastin praised immigrants for their entrepreneurial spirit, starting the majority of small businesses in California. She also criticized the federal government’s demonization of “chain migration.” Villaraigosa also called for federal immigration reform and pointed out that according to some studies, undocumented immigrants commit less crime than others in the United States.

Cox called for an end to the “illegal sanctuary state” policy in California multiple times, saying that “nobody wants to live next to an MS 13 gang member.” He also called for stronger border security, criticizing Mexico in the process and said he would work President Trump on that solution. As a businessman, he supported guest worker programs. Allen also called for an enforcement of federal immigration law, securing borders and auditing the DMV to crack down on voter fraud.

Affirmative Action

Candidates were asked about their position on Proposition 209 and how it prohibits California’s public universities from considering race or ethnicity in admissions. Cox said that university admissions should be merit-based, but that there should be some special consideration for low-income students. Both he and Allen cited Martin Luther King Jr. when discussing how affirmative action takes away from admitting students based on merit. Eastin also expressed support for affirmative action policies based on income and special needs and called for making public higher education in California free.

Villaraigosa expressed support for affirmative action policies and said that he was a beneficiary of such a policy when he attended UCLA. He called on all racial groups to work together to expand access to University of California and California State University campuses and for the construction of more schools rather than prisons. Chiang also supported affirmative action and said that he had the financial experience to expand the capacity of the state’s universities so that there wouldn’t be a “false choice” between Asian Americans and other races.

K-12 Public Education

Candidates were asked about how they would address challenges that California’s K-12 public education system is facing. Eastin called for universal pre-school, making full-day kindergarten mandatory  and reinvesting in art, music and athletic programs. She reaffirmed support for tuition-free college. Villaraigosa praised the local control funding formula and its focus on students in need. He also called for added focus on classroom technology and teacher training and that California shouldn’t be 41st in the country for per-pupil spending.

Allen called for giving parents a choice of where to send their children to school, instituting testing before entering and leaving each grade and taking control of education back from Common Core State Standards and giving it to local school districts. He also called for getting “left-leaning propaganda” out of school classrooms. Chiang took the time to address his higher education plan, proposing giving more spots at California universities to in-state students rather than those who would pay out-of-state tuition and that every student should be entitled to two years of free community college. He would also create special progrms to allow students to refinance their loans. Cox also expressed support for school choice and said that the majority of state education money should be spent on salaries for good teachers.

Language Accessibility

Citing more than 40 languages spoken among the Asian Pacific American community and the lowest rates of English proficiency among U.S. racial groups, moderator Richard Lui asked candidates about the role the government has in increasing language accessibility when it comes to voter registration, utilities, emergency services, healthcare, transportation and other services.

In response, Allen proclaimed English as the language of the United States and the language of business and that it should be taught as the primary language in schools. Cox echoed the view that English is the primary language in America and that increasing economic growth would enable more people to learn it. Chiang discussed the benefits of encouraging students to learn multiple languages. Eastin talked about how she protected dual-language immersion programs as superintendent and called for expanding these types of schools.

Villaraigosa was the only one to address the language accessibility issue directly. He called for expanding language translation interpretation for the top 10 languages and using technology to provide translation services for less-common languages.

Single-Payer Healthcare

Allen vowed that California would never have single-payer healthcare were he to become governor, saying that it would quickly bankrupt the state. He called for out-of-state insurance companies to offer services in California and lower premiums through competition. He also called for pricing transparency for medical procedures so that people could shop around for the best health insurance. Cox also called for increasing competition and the supply of doctors, hospital and insurance companies to drive down healthcare costs, as well as price transparency.

Chiang said he’d fight for single-payer healthcare and said he found emergency funding for community clinics when funding was in jeopardy and therefore had the financial expertise to drive down healthcare costs. Eastin also expressed support for single-payer healthcare, while Villaraigosa said that instead of focusing on bringing costly single-payer healthcare to California, the state should find funding and cost savings in the event that the federal government defunds the Affordable Care Act.


Candidates were asked whether they would continue Gov. Brown’s efforts to reduce California’s carbon footprint and promote clean energy. Chiang pledged to make California fossil fuel-free by 2045 and that he was the one who could figure out how to finance all of this. He also said that he pushed for recognition of climate change as a threat during the Bush administration and voted against offshore drilling in California. Cox said that he would end mismanagement of environmental resources, while Eastin called for an end to fracking, a long-term water policy and other environmental policies to combat climate change. Villaraigosa said he’d continue current environmental policies and said that as mayor of Los Angeles, he reduced the city’s carbon emissions by 28 percent, its water consumption by 23 percent, increased recycling and other measures. He also called for expanding green jobs and environmental justice for the poor.

Allen said that California decreasing emissions would make no difference in lowing temperatures. He called for getting rid of the cap-and-trade program and other costly programs and use resources in a clean, efficient and safe manner. He said that California should become energy-independent and export its energy to other areas.

Affordable Housing

Candidates were asked about what they would do to address California’s extremely low housing supply and astronomical home-ownership costs. Cox called for streamlining the permitting and building processes for housing, including those mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act. He also called for lower taxes to incentivize the construction of more housing. Allen also expressed opposition to CEQA reform and cutting taxes and regulations, but expressed opposition to increasing housing density.

Eastin expressed support for making it easier for homeowners to add accessory dwelling units to their properties and called for more housing built near transit stops. . She spoke positively about using redevelopment money to build affordable and market rate multi-family housing when she was on the Union City Council Council. She also called for repealing the Costa Hawkins Act, which limits rent control in the state. Villaraigosa also wanted to bring back redevelopment and put together a housing trust fund, while streamlining permit processes and the CEQA process. He called for plans to address homeless housing, promoting accessory dwelling units, workforce housing and transit-oriented development.

Chiang said that by his second year in office as state treasurer, he increased funding for new and rehabilitated housing by 80 percent. He led a coalition to put together a $4 billion bond for housing and that he’d allocate tax credits for affordable housing. He also supported bringing back redevelopment agencies to help local governments.


Citing the fact that the Asian American community has the highest per-capita rate and value of business ownership in the country, with 32 percent of Asian majority-owned businesses in California, Lui asked what candidates would do to make California more business-friendly. Eastin said that traffic, lack of housing and lack of education investment detracted from California’s business-friendly environment and that focusing on those issues would go a long way. Allen and Cox called for cutting regulations and taxes and Chiang said that he wanted to create a one-stop shop for businesses to understand regulations and to gain access to financial incentives.

The Asian American Vote

Candidates were asked to address whether they thought the Asian American vote was important. Villaraigosa and Eastin discussed how the Asian American population could help determine the outcome of political races, especially at the local level. Allen said that politicians should think of Asian American voters not based on their identity but as citizens of California. He therefore proposed strong voter ID laws to protect the vote of California citizens. Cox promised to address Asian American voters’ concerns by addressing California’s most pressing issues in general. Chiang made an impassioned speech about Asian Americans’ political power, based on their population, educational outcomes and their rates of business ownership. “We have a profound opportunity to send a powerful signal to those in Sacramento that Asian Americans count,” he said, citing their low rates of voting.

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