Column: Fletcher reflects on changes at the county and looks forward
By: Michael Smolens, Columnist
County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher communicates with the public in multiple ways. One of them is through what have become signature short videos in which he talks directly into the camera about county accomplishments.
They’re often paired with other videos on the same topic that give
basic details in text superimposed on various images.
They all have the same overarching theme: “We changed SD
That might seem a bit boastful, but it’s a legitimate claim.
The county government is much different than it was when Fletcher
was elected four years ago.
There have been big investments in mental and behavioral health
care, more attention to homelessness and housing, an overhauled
climate plan, a reversal on suburban-style development in outlying
areas, greater focus on poorer and traditionally underserved
communities, increased social services, better pay for county workers
and improved access to county government.
Despite some vocal critics, the supervisors and county health
officials received considerable credit for their response to the
deadly COVID-19 pandemic, when Fletcher said officials often were left
with finding the “least worst option.”
The supervisors’ actions in these areas, much of it led by Fletcher,
have resulted in many measurable improvements, though it’s still too
early to determine whether success will be achieved in reversing some
longstanding problems, particularly growing homelessness and mental
In 2018, Fletcher campaigned in part on promising to tap into the
county’s significant budget reserves, which he accused the five-member
Republican board of sitting on at the expense of services for county
residents. It was an open question how much change the newly elected
lone Democrat could effect.
The growth of some county services started before he took office,
such as the creation of the Innovative Housing Trust Fund. But that
expansion ramped up after Fletcher took office and more so when he was
joined by two other Democrats after the 2020 election. The spending
has made some conservatives uneasy, especially with a possible
He then became board chair in back-to-back years, something that
hasn’t happened since 1947-48.
“Some of it was certainly a fundamental change from how the previous
board approached things,” said Fletcher, who has endorsed Supervisor
Nora Vargas to succeed him as chair next year. “A lot of the change
was having a county that was more aggressive and assertive.”
He featured that record heavily in his runaway re-election this
The change at the county, and his role in it, no doubt will be part
of what appears to be a likely run for state Senate in 2024, when Sen.
Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, is termed out of office. Fletcher already
has created a committee to explore a state Senate bid.
When Fletcher arrived at the county, he teamed up with some of the
board’s four Republican members on various initiatives. He immediately
joined Supervisor Greg Cox’s effort to create a temporary refugee
shelter, which soon was located in the old family court building
Other than during a couple of brief interludes, the board mostly had
been made up of the same Republican members for more than two decades,
even as Democrats came to dominate voter registration in the
A former Republican himself, Fletcher had gained a reputation for
working across the aisle during his two terms in the Assembly.
His work with Cox, a South Bay Republican moderate, and Supervisor
Dianne Jacob, an East County conservative, became something of a
hallmark of Fletcher’s first two years in office. The long tenures of
Cox and Jacob ended in 2020 when voter-approved term limits kicked
The three focused on common goals and worked to achieve them,
sometimes with Fletcher working to build coalitions beyond the County
“I formed good relations with Greg and Dianne,” he said. “I have a
great deal of respect for both of them.
“I would use external pressure to build support and work with Greg
and Dianne internally.”
They had their disagreements, such as when Fletcher opposed a move
to outsource health care services at the troubled county jail. The
number of deaths among people incarcerated there remains an
embarrassment for the Sheriff’s Department and the county.
Fletcher noted there have been bumps along the way.
“We, as a county, have to move fast and when you go fast, things
don’t always go smoothly,” he said.
One thing that wasn’t on Fletcher’s — or anybody’s — agenda was the
coronavirus pandemic. For the most part, Fletcher became the face of
the county’s response, which raised his profile and earned him praise
in some quarters. He also received sharp condemnation from some people
who opposed state and local government restrictions to limit the
spread of the virus and were skeptical of vaccines developed to
protect people from the disease.
Fletcher served on a special pandemic committee with Cox, who was
board chair at the time. The new supervisor delved into the details of
the county’s response and would have played a key role under any
circumstance. But at the time, Cox was having throat problems that
made it difficult for him to talk, and Fletcher took center stage at
most of the county’s daily public pandemic briefings.
Later, board meetings became chaotic as COVID skeptics would rail at
the supervisors and other officials for hours. The meetings also
attracted some oddballs whose public comments occasionally went viral
on social media.
“Disagreeing is not inherently hostile, nor is disagreeing
passionately,” Fletcher said last week.
Some rhetoric went too far, though, with threats and racist attacks.
“That’s the stuff we have to get rid of,” he said.
Yet the supervisors’ vote to curb disruptive comments at meetings
was not universally embraced.
There has been an undercurrent through much of Fletcher’s political
career that has been apparent during his four years on the board: Many
people feel passionately about him, one way or another.
While some give him credit for being media savvy, critics say he has
an overbearing penchant for self-promotion.
Fletcher isn’t shy about pushing new policies and makes no apologies
for informing the public about them.
The case he is making is that he led a transformation of county
government. He acknowledged that what has happened might not sit well
“But I don’t think anybody would deny that county has fundamentally changed,” he said.
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