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Transcript of The 2022 State of San Diego County Address

03/30/22

 

Thank you for joining us tonight.

It’s beautiful to see everyone here… in person.

Being here together… It's a sign of real progress after an incredibly difficult couple of years. We gather tonight to talk about the state of our county. Where we are, progress made and where we need to go. We’re here at San Diego’s continuing education center in Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe’s district because this is a place of progress.

Where working people and our youth get trained for good-paying careers: nursing, automotive repair, and the construction trades. That’s the progress working families need. And it’s the type of progress I fight for every day as Chair of your Board of Supervisors.

I’ve got to warn you–our 17 hour board meetings have built my endurance for long meetings. We might be here for a little bit.

But on a serious note.

I know, life has been hard for a while now. Pandemic. Deep divisions. Lingering problems. But for all the challenges around us, we also see signs of real progress. Real hope. It began with our community coming together to mount one of the most effective COVID-19 responses in the nation.

Despite threats, intimidation and acts of violence–through all of this we did not waver from doing what was right. In the face of disinformation and division, we did not give up and we did not give in. We kept moving forward.

More than 93% vaccinated. One of the lowest death rates in the nation. Half the covid death rate of the state of Florida. Let me repeat that–half the covid death rate of Florida. We saved lives. We provided swift emergency relief that local businesses, families and workers needed. Together, we are rebuilding our economy.

Our county workers didn’t flinch. They took care of us through COVID and moving forward we will take care of them. But even facing a pandemic, we never lost focus from the need to make life better for San Diego families.

Affordable housing being built with more on the way!

On homelessness, we’ve focused on the tough work for long-term solutions around mental health and substance abuse…and we see progress. We’ve raised wages on local infrastructure projects and are committed to putting San Diegans to work like never before. We are cleaning up our air and water, tackling climate change with new renewable energy that can reduce your utility bill AND reduce pollution.

Through this all you can see that:

The State of San Diego County…is STRONG.

And getting stronger. Every. Single. Day. And I’m not going to let anyone take us backwards. And for us, that’s the fundamental question:

Will we allow the forces of division to paralyze progress and drag us backwards?

Or will we come together to make the difficult decisions, tackle the greatest challenges and never lose sight of the goal to build the better future that San Diego’s working families deserve?

I choose progress. I fight forward. And I hope you will join me because I know we can do it.

We work collaboratively. Not just our board of Supervisors, but our cities, state, federal and tribal partners–along with community leaders. 94% of the actions I have brought before our board had bi-partisan support. We will have to summon that same spirit of purpose and collaboration as we tackle the challenges in front of us.

Starting with homelessness.

For too long, the response to our homelessness crisis has been inaction, empty promises or just indifference. People demand action. Then the same people oppose any solution brought forward. Encampments get moved. But people have nowhere to go. Those with mental illness get shuffled around–but no long term plan. The forces of division and opposition have held us back for far too long.

This is one of the biggest challenges our community faces today.

And if we want to build a better future, we must overcome that. We must fight forward. In the last three years, your county government has pushed past the paralysis of the past and enacted significant reforms and unprecedented investment into long-term solutions that actually get to the root of the problem. We launched Mobile Crisis Response Teams – deploying teams of mental health clinicians and counselors, not just police, to more effectively help people experiencing mental health crises on the street. It’s a landmark innovation. A first for our county. They have already helped more than 941 people and the program is growing stronger by the day.

For decades our county embraced a failed approach to addiction–this board rejected that, moving forward with a harm reduction strategy – getting them into treatment and saving lives. We’re opening new crisis stabilization centers all over the county. So those facing mental illness and addiction get started on the long-term support they need.

Progress.

Last year, nearly 500 at-risk youth were placed in supportive housing. We helped 1,420 San Diegans find permanent homes. A new shelter for the most acute homelessness cases, launched in partnership with Mayor Todd Gloria…is open and full.

Together with the Mayor, who has been an incredible partner, we will be announcing a new Safe Haven facility, focused exclusively on housing those with intensive mental health and drug treatment challenges.

Our Governor has ideas, our District Attorney has ideas. Let's be open to any approach that might make things better. But in all of this, one of the biggest obstacles we face is a shortage of trained behavioral health workers. We have a plan. It is showing progress. Together with the San Diego Workforce Partnership we’ve created a first in the nation training program for Substance Use Disorder Counselors. We are also taking those who have walked the long road of addiction to recovery and putting them to work as peer support specialists.

And there is more coming. But let me be clear.

Addressing the long-term root causes of homelessness and the shortage of workers will not stop us from doing more to get people off the streets right now. We will be placing the shelter donated by the Lucky Duck Foundation on County Land in the City of San Diego.

By July, we’ll have this new 150-bed shelter open in the Midway area in partnership with the City of San Diego AND the local community.

Let's recognize leaders in the Midway community, rightfully demanded action and courageously now–part of the solution. But the problem isn't just in the City of San Diego.

Supervisor Anderson is leading the push to identify locations in east county. Joel understands you can’t push the problem from one area to another—you’ve got to deal with it. But in all our efforts, I remain frustrated by how long progress can take.

So tonight, I am announcing our county government is providing all 18 cities in our county a standard agreement to rapidly open homelessness and support sites without delay. You provide the structures and operations and your county government will step up to provide behavioral health services… For cities with limited resources who say they don’t have the funds to set up shelters, safe parking or safe camping.

Tonight, I am announcing that our county is making available 10 million dollars in grants for cities to kick start your efforts. If your city is ready to act on homelessness, your county government is here for it. Cities— it’s your move.

COVID restrictions on our economy were lifted 9 months ago. We spent the last year getting small businesses open, cleared of COVID rules and funded to help cover the damage done. They took an immense hit and need our support moving forward. But working families are now feeling a whole new kind of pain. The cost of everything is out of control. Gas. Utilities. Rent. Even food. And wages for sure haven’t kept up with rising prices. I get it.

I grew up in a working class factory town in the South. I know the struggles families go through … because we lived them. I saw firsthand exactly how the deck got so stacked against working people. Factories closing. Jobs offshored. Unions – attacked by big corporations.

To add insult to injury, you watch the same CEOs who profit off exploiting their workers use the ill gotten gains to blast themselves into space.

Some people say local governments can’t make a meaningful difference in an increasingly global economy. But I know we can. We must. San Diego was the first County in the state to support the Governor’s proposal to give people relief from higher gas costs… We should use the state’s record surplus to provide relief to those being hit hardest. I’m proud all 5 Supervisors came together across party lines to give voice to the pain working families are feeling.

But a rebate alone won’t build back the middle class. It takes more than that.

We recently passed the Working Families Ordinance to ensure apprenticeship training opportunities and a union wage on county owned land. Our office of labor standards and enforcement is coming online to ensure fairness for our workers.

Progress. But more needs to be done.

Working with Vice Chair Vargas we will bring forward a warehouse safety ordinance to ensure our workers are protected against unfair and unsafe practices. We will explore how we can enact a living wage ordinance. And we will lean into the fight for our unionized workers. It is time to overturn the County’s outdated ban on Project Labor Agreements. PLAs ensure a job is done on time, on budget, with good wages, safety standards and local workers. More unionized workers means a stronger economy. Stronger families. A stronger San Diego. It also means less homeless–I’ve never met a senior with a pension living on the streets.

So many of our efforts – rent subsidies, affordable housing, public assistance – are at their core about poverty.

Some openly embrace the practice of blindly subsidizing greed, but I say in San Diego we should fight to ensure that no one who works full time lives in poverty. I know housing costs too much. I can’t wave a magic wand and unwind the failed housing policy of the board before I got here.

They didn’t build housing–an average of just over 600 units a year in the seven before I joined the board. But I can fight with every fiber of my being to build more homes working families can actually afford. The failed housing policies of the past just aren’t working–we have to fight forward for real change. State leaders like President Pro Tem of the Senate Toni Atkins are leading the fight–passing vital housing legislation to make our job easier.

This year alone we are on pace to issue more than 1,600 building permits for new housing in the unincorporated region of our county. Up almost 50% from the year before. We are getting out of the decades of litigation that bogged down progress. We made the tough decision to implement a change in how we approve housing and in doing so green lighted 4,000 units of housing that can be built cheaper. And faster.

But our region's housing can not be met in the unincorporated areas alone –too rural, too much fire danger. Which is why we are taking swift action to convert underutilized county-owned land–in urban areas–into housing. 1,000 units underway and more locations being made available.

Since we know this approach works–building affordable housing on government owned land, let’s do it at scale. Not 100 here or 300 there. And not just the county, working together with Supervisor Lawson Remer, we will bring every government agency who is committed to tackling housing to the table. Bring your surplus land and let’s put together a package to master plan 10,000 units of affordable housing.

The San Diego Foundation has agreed to step up with a 10 million dollar philanthropic pledge to organize and jump start this initiative. We thank the foundation for their help during COVID and we thank them once again. Their leader Mark Stuart is here. Thank you Mark, Susan Guinn and everyone at the San Diego Foundation.

No discussion of economic opportunity is complete without addressing…quality…affordable…childcare. Our county has dedicated funding to launch our first childcare center for our employees. Next month, our board will consider a 10 million dollar investment in expanding childcare workforce, facilities and opportunities for all of San Diego. We partnered with Congresswoman Sara Jacobs to secure $1 million dollars in federal funding to help smaller childcare facilities expand. City leaders are working to identify properties that can be converted into new locations.

Progress. But it’s time to bring this all together.

You heard our President say, “cut the cost of childcare”. And he has proposed an overdue investment to do just that. We need Congress to act. And we need to be ready. Yes, there are those who will oppose any government action on childcare-telling families to just fend for themselves. They're stuck in the past...not understanding that the lack of affordable childcare is one of the biggest barriers to women's success in the workforce. Or that the cost of pre-school is now often as much as the cost of a mortgage.

Here in San Diego, we will move forward.

That’s why I will call a special board of supervisors conference on this issue. Co-chaired by the Labor Council and Chamber of Commerce. This issue brings folks together. It is time to align behind a regional plan which must include both affordable childcare and better pay for childcare workers

We must also do more to help children who face neglect and abuse. Over the past three years, our child welfare system has undergone tremendous reform, completing all 88 distinct recommendations from a community working group. These changes have made a difference, but we must focus more on supporting families before they reach a state of crisis. Our new Department of Child and Family Well being will consolidate multiple departments, and make crisis prevention our goal. Every child deserves a stable family. For most that will be with their birth parents.

For others, a life of love will come via adoption. Two of my family's five children are adopted. They will say, they were chosen. Their birth parents weren’t able to care for them and God chose their family. Adoption has given us the greatest gift imaginable. Our county administers hundreds of adoptions per year. I encourage you to explore this opportunity to provide a forever family to a child in need.

But we also need families who can help temporarily—folks willing to step into the breach – and be a foster parent. Make no mistake–this is one of the hardest things you can do. But talk to any foster parents they will tell you it is also one of the most rewarding. We need more. We need more foster families of color and we need those who will embrace our LGBT youth.

We also desperately need families willing to accept siblings. We don’t want to remove a child from a home. But if we have to – we never want to separate siblings. That requires homes willing to accept a bigger blessing. We need more families willing to take children over the age of eight…especially teens.

Hey look–trust me—I get it–teens can be tough. But they deserve our love.

And we need our faith community to step up. The sacred texts of all major religions remind us of the critical obligation to care for children, the vulnerable and as Matthew tells us, the “least among us”. That’s why I’m committed to re-energizing the County’s partnership with faith groups. It’s called Faith in Motion which organizes churches to recruit new foster families and just as important–mobilize their congregations to support those families–clothing, childcare, thoughtful prayers. So far, 19 San Diego congregations have signed up. But we want more.

Tonight we call on our faith leaders across denominations to answer the call. Pastor Terrel Fletcher – who did our invocation, not only has an incredibly strong name, but is an early leader. He is joined by Pastor David Ordaz from One Church in La Mesa. The commitment to children brings us together across geography, denomination, and ideology. These Pastors will help us build an army willing to care for our region’s children. And we appreciate them.

This issue is personal for me. I have yet to find any ease in discussing very painful things, but the start of my life was rough. The product of a violent and unstable biological father who wrecked a living hell on my life. I know these kids in need. Because I was one. And we have to do everything we can to do right by them. For every child out there–who through no fault of your own has landed in a tough spot. Not just your county, but the entire San Diego community will have your back. Our “framework for the future” outlines our commitment to fighting for racial justice and equity.

Standing with the API communities against hate crimes. Driving change because “Black Lives Matter”. Always being there for the LGBT community and in particular the trans community who are facing hateful discrimination across the country. I’ll never understand the hostility towards someone based on their identity….it’s just wrong. For our trans community, I want you to know–we love you. Just. As. You. Are.

Our commitment ensures we embrace our immigrants and refugees –those fleeing oppression and tyranny. We have welcomed those from Central America, Africa, Afghanistan and now Ukraine. But we need the outpouring of support we see for Ukrainian refugees….for ALL refugees. As a county we will redouble our efforts with our federal partners to establish a permanent shelter for those fleeing violence.

There will be opposition to this. Some still want to build a wall. But that is not the San Diego I see. We are a welcoming community. And that makes us stronger.

I’m fortunate to have an amazing partner in this effort–Vice Chair Nora Vargas. An immigrant. A forceful Latina. You might know….that I have great respect for strong Latinas. I listen, respect and appreciate the leadership that Nora brings to our county. Together we will be there to fight for a more equitable, fair and just county. And we will never lose sight of the enduring obligation —to keep our communities safe. We do this by never retreating in the fight for racial justice and needed reforms to our criminal justice system.

And we do this by never retreating in the fight for a San Diego where every family is safe from violent crime. We took action to outlaw ghost guns, the untraceable, unserialized firearms that are among the biggest threats to public safety today. And let’s be clear…despite what you might have heard, we never stopped funding public safety in San Diego County.

Please–get your news from reliable sources that tell you the truth.

We need law enforcement. We value and appreciate them. That support will never waiver. And neither will our commitment to civil rights and the need to build trust between communities and law enforcement. We fight for both because that’s how we truly build a better San Diego that’s safe.

If we want to talk about keeping people safe, we need to talk about the opioid crisis. Last year more than 1,000 San Diegans died from an opioid related overdose. A 16% increase from the year before. But this year over year increase goes back more than a decade. Every…one…was someone’s child.

Twenty three year old Alex Nava had his entire life ahead of him. Known for an amazing smile, an infectious sense of humor and his love of family. A skateboarding injury led to an oxycontin prescription. That led to addiction. Overdose. And a year later, death. It will crush your soul to hear his Mom Lisa say our only priority as a parent is to protect our children.

And that she couldn’t protect Alex. Lisa founded the Addiction Awareness Initiative, a support group for families impacted by addiction. Representatives from the Nava family are with us tonight. Your county grieves with you, loves you and we want you to know: It is in the memory of Alex and every other life lost, that we fight back.

Our county is among the leading plaintiffs in the legal action against Purdue Pharma, the drug company that knowingly addicted millions of Americans to make billions for themselves. We took them to court to demand justice and we are putting every drug company and dealer that’s hurt San Diego families on notice–we won’t hesitate to come after you too. We stand on the verge of a settlement that could bring $100 million dollars to our County to repair the damage they’ve done.

When this happens, we must swiftly implement a plan to invest these funds. Starting by tackling the supply. 80% of those addicted to heroin started by abusing a prescription drug — often left overs in a cluttered medicine cabinet. So let's clean out those medicine cabinets with these drug deactivation disposal bags – mail one to every home in the County. Take any medication, put it in this pouch, add some water and throw it in the trash.

We should require new opioid prescriptions be accompanied by one of these as well. Lower the supply, lower the risk. San Diego was among the first to embrace Naloxone, an overdose reversing medication, for widespread use. We are distributing more than ever before. But in that moment after you save a life, let's transform it. “Project relay” in New York, dispatches peer support specialists to anyone in an emergency room recovering from an overdose.

We need this here. We need more treatment centers, and must better use the healthcare system we have. Far too few local physicians have completed the simple steps necessary to prescribe life saving treatments. Let’s do better. Together with Supervisor Anderson – whose East County district has been hit hardest by the opioid crisis, we will be launching a series of convenings across San Diego County.

The goal is simple – bring these ideas and any others to the table. Identify the best uses for opioid settlement funds and develop a comprehensive plan. These actions won’t bring back a life, but if we do this right, it could save one.

Something else we won’t back down on is tackling climate change. It is actually real and caused by humans. It feels silly to need to say that, but sadly there remain folks who aren't sure. Or don’t care about the threat. Our sea levels are expected to rise up to a foot by the middle of this century. This means significant flooding in San Diego Bay, Mission Bay, Imperial Beach, and La Jolla Shores. Disrupting our entire way of life.

We’ve witnessed the erosion of our bluffs in Del Mar threatening to collapse a vital rail connection. We remain in a drought, we’re seeing more intense storms, heat waves and flooding. All of this motivates us to act.

And you can see the progress:

–A new Climate Action Plan is underway - with a pathway to 100% renewable energy.

-More than 14,000 new renewable energy permits issued in the last three years alone.

-A regional decarbonization strategy

-Community choice energy to fulfill the promise of cleaner energy and lower cost.

The urgency is now. The progress is real. And we can’t allow anyone to drag us backwards. Let’s keep fighting forward. Realizing that agriculture is not just a vital part of our economy but our environment–you want to cut greenhouse gas emissions–then let’s grow more of our food locally. And understanding the path to a greener environment MUST also be a path to a more prosperous middle class.

The fossil fuel industry has simultaneously wreaked havoc on our planet while also providing a lot of really good paying union jobs. To the workers watching tonight who are nervous about this transition to a green economy – we’ve got your back. We must ensure that tomorrow’s clean energy jobs continue to employ today’s energy workers – with the same pay and benefits.

But we need you to join us in the fight to save our planet–it's the only one we’ve got. Standing together we can protect the jobs that feed your children and the planet they will inherit. And while we try to change the future, we can’t escape the present.

As our climate gets hotter and drier, the smallest ember can fly miles, land on a rooftop or in a dry canyon, and that’s all it takes to start a wildfire. We have seen historic fires throughout our state. Our county fire service has to respond to wildfires in north and east county with single-engine helicopters which means they can’t fly at night or carry as much water as necessary to confront today’s threat.

Fifteen years ago, Supervisor Diane Jacob pushed for dual engine firefighting helicopters in our county's air response arsenal. She was right, but folks didn’t listen. We must take emergency action to appropriate 15 million dollars to obtain our first dual engine fire fighting helicopter.

We are working with Members of Congress Scott Peters and Darrell Issa on other fire preparedness needs, but this one is urgent. Let's act now. We must protect our environment to truly enjoy the outdoors. We have great weather — a natural advantage in San Diego that not even a politician can screw up.

John Muir said “keep close to nature’s heart…and break clear away, once a while... Wash your spirit clean.” It's true. And I want you to do that in a county park. Not just our neighborhood parks–although we have built 13 new ones in the last three years. But really embrace the outdoors at one of our regional parks.

Some of my greatest memories with my family are the times we have spent together outdoors: Listening to them complain the entire way up Iron mountain. And then watching their wonder at the incredible view from the top. Sitting around a campfire telling stories, before settling into your tent.

Now, some of you might question. Yes, my wife does indeed get in a tent. She is a warrior and a little bit of a princess but one hell of a camper. These are experiences that bring us together – provide perspective.

These opportunities exist in our regional parks: Agua Caliente County Park–geothermal heated natural springs, campsites and cabins. Skys free of light pollution and full of stars. Flinn Springs County Park–shaded oak groves, a year round stream and grassy meadows. Lake Morena County Park–camping and fishing in the shadows of the Laguna mountains. Sweetwater regional park–tent and RV camping at the top of the summit–fishing, hiking, horse riding and the new bike track.

Starting this summer, we will launch an aggressive monthly campaign to highlight our regional parks. Let’s face it–there is a barrier to your first time camping, fishing or even hiking. It’s a lot of stuff. A night under the stars sounds great but you have to find a tent, figure out how to put it together. So let your county government remove the barrier. The joy I watch in my children experiencing the outdoors is a joy I want every child in San Diego to have.

Tonight, I am thrilled to announce our new “Outdoor Experience Program” designed to facilitate first time experiences for San Diego families. Not only will we cover your admission into the park, we’ll provide all the gear, instruction and assistance any individual or family needs. And if you can’t get to the park on your own–we will cover that as well.

1. Day and night hiking

2. Rock climbing

3. Fishing

4. Kayaking and canoeing

5. Mountain biking

6. Camping

This program will break down barriers and open up the wonders of the outdoors for all of San Diego. And finally. I promise this is the last item.

Our veterans.

I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to give back to my country. But the Marine Corps gave me far more than I could ever give back. It taught me commitment, believing in something bigger than myself. A lifelong dedication to service and sacrifice. Tonight, we are honored to be joined by military leaders, veterans and their families. Please stand so we can thank you.

The military is a part of our community. Our culture. Our economy. And it always will be. This year, the Marine Corps recruit depot celebrated 100 years of making Marines right here in San Diego. I graduated from boot camp there 25 years ago, earning the title Marine. Two years ago, I watched with incredible pride as my son graduated from boot camp there, earning that same title. Boot camp is tough. You never forget your drill instructors. I mean never. I recently ran into one of my former Drill Instructors.

I had immediate flashbacks to what that man had done to me. The anxiety was real. I did a quick assessment: Proper shave, shoes polished, standing with good posture. Oh no, definitely failing on the hair cut. It took me a minute to appreciate how our circumstances had changed.

My drill instructor had retired after two decades in the Marine Corps and gotten hired…as an Adult Protective Services Specialist for….the County of San Diego. That’s right. He works for the county now.

Oh how the tables have turned.

It crossed my mind to find a county park. Have him climb the rope. Over and over and over. But of course I didn't because he is still my drill instructor. Please welcome Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Patrick Cassao.

Thank you for what you did for me and the work you now do for our seniors. Veterans make great workers but sadly only make up 6% of our county government workforce. We can do better. Together with fellow veteran, Supervisor Jim Desmond, we will ask our colleagues to adopt a more aggressive approach to hiring veterans–with a goal to double the number of them in our county workforce. We'll even look for a few drill instructors.

Everyday, for the rest of my life. Everyday, I think of the friends I lost in war. They gave their life because their country asked them to. They did it for each other. A bond between that transcends political party, country of birth, religion or race. We have always answered the call. With a relentless focus on always accomplishing the mission. I never once went to my commanding officer and said, “You gave me an order to do something, but you know…it was hard”. No–we got the job done. Trusted each other. Knowing that our individual contribution was a part of something bigger. And that others were counting on us. San Diego, we have got to take some inspiration, some motivation and honestly some accountability from that same spirit.

Tonight, we end the state of the county address right back where we started. The fundamental question about what we chose to do here. Do we allow the forces of division and status quo to slow us down or do we bravely chart a path forward–tackling our most pressing issues. And it doesn’t mean we can solve our problems overnight. But it does mean, we can fight like hell to drive progress everyday. And it doesn’t mean we will always agree. But it does mean that we will never lose sight that there remains something bigger than our differences that holds us together.

The love of our children, our neighbors…the basic belief that the path to a more perfect union requires us to ensure justice, fairness and opportunity. For all.

And the obligation for a better San Diego–that doesn’t just fall on your county government and your board of supervisors. It falls on us all. If we can seek out our “better angels”, embrace the fight to confront our most challenging problems and never be afraid to drive bold solutions. If we can do that, then the state of our county will continue to get stronger.

Every. Single. Day.

Thank you all.