2023 State of San Diego County Address
Chairwoman, Nora E. Vargas
February 1st, 2023
Buenas Noches, Good evening, everyone!
It makes me so happy to see everybody’s beautiful faces.
Especially those from our county team --- our very own unsung heroes.
Will county staff please stand? Including my D1 Equity Squad.
Please join me in thanking them.
It is thanks to – ALL OF YOU – who demonstrated courage, compassion, and commitment during our most challenging time--that we can be here today TOGETHER.
All of you work so hard – and I honor you every day.
Thank you ALL for your commitment.
Thank you for spending time away from your families to serve our community. MIL GRACIAS!
It's important to me to acknowledge that this historic moment is happening while we kick-off Black History Month.
A Special thank you to our social justice advocates who have been addressing systemic racism and elevating all the work that has yet to be done.
Thank you to my niece Fatima for doing such a great job tonight as emcee and to my niece Farah for joining her on stage…aren’t they amazing?
¡Estoy super orgullosa de ustedes!
I am so proud to stand before you today as your Chairwoman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
But I didn’t get here on my own.
As my niece Fatima said, I can’t do this alone. I never have.
I stand on the shoulders of so many trailblazers that broke down barriers so that someone who looked like me could fulfill her dreams and now serve the community I love.
But tonight, is not about me!
Tonight is about US – the greater community of San Diego County.
And as your Board Chair, I want you to know ------ I SEE YOU AND I HEAR YOU.
And I will work, to make sure all corners of our community feel seen and heard.
I’m talking about the parents, neighbors, essential workers, the small business owners, the promotoras, our first responders, the childcare providers, the nurses, the nonprofit partners, and all who have felt they haven’t had a voice!
I want you to know that each of you is an important part of the fabric of our diverse county.
I also want you to know that we’re going to overcome our toughest challenges ahead by working TOGETHER.
As my she-roe, Barbara Jordan once said, “We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor.”
I know we can do this here locally in San Diego County because our community is strong and resilient. And we’ve already started to make positive change, one step at a time.
One of the first actions I prioritized as I took office two years ago, was ensuring the well-being of our tenants and protecting our renters.
This was because during the height of the pandemic, I heard firsthand the hardships families were going through trying to make ends meet and affording to stay in their homes.
As a County, we immediately worked to expand access to rental
assistance and closed loopholes to stop unfair evictions.
I’m proud to share our Housing and Community Development Department awarded $244 MILLION Dollars in rent and utility assistance to over 23-thousand households.
These were working families who could have ended up on the streets
without this emergency assistance.
Prioritizing the needs of our working families to maintain stable housing is a top priority. Moving forward, I will work with cities throughout our region to expand rental protections and continue to build affordable housing.
The challenge is still there because while employment has recovered, inflation is now causing families to go into debt.
As a county, we have a lot of work to do to build healthier and stronger communities, to create paths to economic prosperity for all, and, to enhance our community infrastructure.
We’re going to accomplish these goals while supporting local small businesses and working families, creating green jobs, and fighting for environmental justice.
At my core, I believe people should have the resources to thrive, and not just survive.
To accomplish any of this, we must start with the basics.
People need to have a roof over their head and food to eat.
Like many other counties, we have a homelessness epidemic here in San Diego.
And we must work TOGETHER to address it!
About a year ago, on a cold, damp morning, I joined one of our Live Well San Diego partners, SBCS, and local law enforcement to participate in the annual Point in Time Count that gives a one-day snapshot of the minimum number of unsheltered San Diegans.
On that given day more than 8,400 people were experiencing homelessness.
My team and I visited what many people refer to as “the jungle” in
Chula Vista, where hundreds of unhoused people live. People who feel
like they have nowhere else to go.
Many of you have been there, but for those of you who haven’t, the jungle is a stretch of land across Plaza Bonita. It’s filled with tents, lean-2’s, and other temporary forms of shelter.
Walking through the jungle, I connected with people with very relatable life stories, people like you and me.
I spoke to a woman who due to unpredictable circumstances in her
life found herself experiencing homelessness.
She was so proud to tell me that she was a former dental assistant who had a husband and kids before she became homeless.
I witnessed human suffering, and on a broader scale, I saw how years of bad policies had failed our communities.
I know this is a result of the failure to address the root causes of it for far too long.
And I know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, or political slogan that will fix this complex and layered problem.
The hard truth is that today there are nearly 100,000 families living on less than $35,000 a year – and so many of these families are merely a paycheck away from becoming homeless.
The cost of living is increasing.
The cost of housing is increasing.
And folks are not making nearly enough to support themselves and their families.
As your Board Chairwoman, I know our policies impact real people, and we must find the humanity in our solutions.
The County has made strong investments over the last two years in partnership with the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, our business community, community organizations, and advocates that are on the ground.
I want you to hear it from me!
Preventing and addressing homelessness IS a top priority!!!
That is why I declared homelessness a public health crisis, so that the County can serve as the convener between the 18 cities and unincorporated areas.
We need to create a comprehensive strategy to confront the growing
homelessness epidemic facing our communities.
Together with my colleague, Supervisor Joel Anderson, we are finding ways to streamline the creation of emergency housing through our compassionate housing solution.
Creating public/private partnerships with faith-based and community organizations to set up cabin-style shelters, and we are investing $1.5 million to launch this program.
And I’m proud to share that with Supervisor Fletcher’s leadership we will prioritize addressing veterans' homelessness and we will identify the gaps in resources to bring housing solutions for those that served our country.
Thank you Supervisor Fletcher and I agree with you. We cannot stand by and let those who sacrificed so much for our country be unhoused.
I’m also concerned that more and more of our unhoused neighbors are seniors.
We know that 24% of the homeless population counted in 2022 were over the age of 55.
Can you believe we are leaving our senior citizens on the streets and without shelter?
NO MORE. NOT ON MY WATCH!
That is why we are we are launching a THRIVING SENIORS INITIATIVE to make sure the generation who took care of us is taken care of!
We are investing $2.75 million on a subsidy program to help older adults who are a paycheck away from becoming unsheltered. Each senior in the program will receive 500 dollars per month to help pay their rent.
We are also creating a Blueprint for Senior Centers, which focuses on meeting the needs of the growing senior population.
In Partnership with the San Diego Senior Center Community Foundation, we will expand services for seniors through the Senior Master Plan and upgrade senior centers, to be a hub for services, recreation, and fun.
We live in a state that is the 4th largest economy in the world, --
In the world!
And no senior, or child, should wonder where they will lay their head at night.
As we move forward, in 2023, we will leverage federal, state and local funding with nonprofit and philanthropic partners, to develop the housing we need.
Our most vulnerable communities need access to affordable housing, and we’re going to remove bureaucratic barriers to get it done!
We know that finding housing is a growing need and can be especially challenging for our LGBTQIA PLUS youth. Many LGBTQIA PLUS youth experience homelessness because they did not have family support when coming out --------That is why this must be a priority.
As a County we are investing $7.2 million to support transitional aged youth with housing and wrap around support services over 5 years, and $5 million to support LGBTQIA PLUS individuals experiencing homelessness.
See, this is what I mean when I talk about us having to dive in and resolve issues together.
If we listen to one another, we can start to make real changes in our communities.
BUT I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE. NO ONE CAN.
The same goes for ensuring people have enough to eat. One in four San Diegans does not have access to quality, healthy food.
It’s hard to believe that this is something we have to say out loud in 2023 – no one should be going hungry!
As an education advocate, I saw firsthand, students who not only slept in their cars but also relied on the college’s food pantry to meet their basic daily needs.
Can you imagine going through school and trying to figure out where your next meal is coming from while trying to learn?
It’s heartbreaking to think about this, but it’s true!
NO MORE, NOT ON MY WATCH!
Throughout our COUNTY, we have food deserts where access to quality food is not an option.
That’s why I am committed to partnering up with food banks, food hubs, and food pantries to make sure all communities in our region have increased access to HEALTHY food.
From expanding Community Supported Agriculture for healthy and local produce, to increasing community gardens at our county facilities, we’re working to give communities access to fruits, vegetables and nutritious food that they need to lead healthy, vibrant lives.
When we talk about a healthy community, we also must make sure we’re taking care of our mental health.
Mental Health Is Health Care.
These past few years through a pandemic have been a struggle for many families. In fact, mental health issues can be a precursor to issues of substance abuse and homelessness.
That is why, with the input of our community, we are making historic investments in improving mental health outcomes.
We are working TOGETHER with schools and stakeholders to provide the services our kids need.
Last year, our Board allocated approximately $30 million for mental health services and projects that focus on Children and Youth, as well as $2 million to support homebound individuals who are recipients of In-Home Supportive Services.
After hearing loud and clear from our families and educators in San Ysidro how our students were being impacted emotionally and mentally by the pandemic, I took action and partnered with our schools to address the mental health of our students.
With county funding, we created the new Screening-to-Care initiative to provide universal mental health screening for all middle school students in our County.
This means that when we launch later this year, every middle schooler will be able to receive free mental health screenings to determine the level of support they need.
And, our county’s promotoras will work directly with parents to help us break down mental health stigma.
This is a groundbreaking step in expanding County healthcare services to ALL of our youth, whether they have health insurance or not.
We invested $3.2 million to support community harm reduction outreach teams responding to mental health crisis calls and provide transitional housing at safe haven facilities for those with behavioral health needs.
TOGETHER, WE GOT THIS!
Now, let’s talk about public safety. In the wake of devastating mass shootings in communities across the Country, we MUST work together to prevent tragic events like these!
Thoughts and Prayers are not enough.
While San Diego is still tracking below the national rate, we have a responsibility to protect our communities.
That is why in partnership with Sheriff Kelly Martinez, we are launching a Community Safety Initiative to address gun violence and public safety.
I am committed to bringing stake holders together to implement restorative justice policies and practices to keep our communities safe.
After last year’s declaration of illicit fentanyl as a public health crisis, I worked with Supervisor Desmond to create an awareness campaign in multiple languages to ensure we continue educating our high school, college age students and parents about the dangers of fentanyl.
From expanding education in vulnerable communities and making lifesaving NARCAN widely available, we are working to stop the tragic overdoses and deaths resulting from this dangerous drug.
We also need to make sure our first responders have the tools and resources they need. In fact - let me take a moment to recognize all the first responders present here today…please stand if you are a first responder….
Thank you for your service. I honor you and look forward to continuing to work with you to keep our communities safe.
As a matter of fact, you are the first to hear that by the end of the year, we will be completing the East Otay Mesa Fire Station, and these are exactly the kind of investments our community needs.
We are also taking the first step to bring much needed County resources in partnership with San Diego County District Attorney, Summer Stephan, to provide services for survivors of abuse, with the first-of-its-kind One Stop Resource Center in South County.
I am committed to ensuring our communities have the support services
they need to overcome their trauma.
These are the types of investments we need, to build healthier and stronger communities...
Because healthy communities bolster a healthy economy.
And let’s talk about how we’re going to build economic prosperity for ALL.
We know that many small businesses throughout our county were hard-hit by the pandemic and face challenging economic times.
And we know, small businesses are the backbone to a strong economy. Not only do they make up most of the businesses in the County, but they also employ nearly 60% of our workforce.
That is why I championed a division on economic prosperity and community development.
This office serves as a hub to connect businesses to resources that will help them thrive and create a diverse local economy.
I’m proud to share that as a County we have awarded close to $26.2 million dollars in grants to support local businesses.
This is real money---for real people.
From Oasis Ice Cream Parlor in Imperial Beach to Cat Café in East Village.
We will continue to create programs to help micro businesses and provide a space to bring small vendors together to connect with each other.
Working TOGETHER, we will continue removing barriers to uplift small businesses, and promote economic prosperity in all corners of San Diego County.
You can’t have a strong workforce without access to high-quality childcare.
We know that, more than 190,000 children under 12 are without childcare, forcing some working parents to choose between staying home or working.
CHILDCARE FOR ALL NEEDS TO BE OUR GOAL!
We have an opportunity to build a generation of childcare entrepreneurs and support parents re-entering the workforce.
Take Sabina’s story, tonight’s floral designer and owner of Wild Stem, Co. in the City of Chula Vista who has been working hard to keep her business and her family afloat.
She is a young mother, with two kids, and is juggling managing her business while supporting her family.
It is businesses like hers that help our local economy thrive, but we need to support these entrepreneurs by creating innovative solutions to ensure we have quality childcare for all!
And its common sense that if we want more people taking care of kids, they must be paid well for their hard work.
And I am so grateful to our brother and sisters in labor for leading
the fight and always protecting the rights of workers.
Help me thank our county unions:
SEIU 221, Teamsters Local 911,
the Deputy Sheriffs Association of San Diego County,
San Diego County Supervising Probation Officers Association,
San Diego County Deputy Council Association,
Public Defenders Association of San Diego Count,
District Attorney Investigators Association,
United Domestic Workers and the San Diego Labor Council.
Thank you for all you do.This is when we need you the most.
TOGETHER, we will create a pathway to the middle class and ensure working families can thrive in San Diego County!
We know that to grow our local economy, we need to support people from every corner of the region, we need the community infrastructure in place for people to get where they need to go.
It is the story of young people like Heidy Jimenez, who is a senior at San Ysidro High School who shared her story about how she would wake up very early in the morning to catch the trolley and then the bus to get to school.
In total it takes her 90 minutes to get to school… You heard me right – 90 minutes before she could even set foot in her high school classroom – that’s a 3-hour roundtrip in total, every single school day.
I actually went on this long journey with Heidy – and I know this is something thousands of students experience every morning in San Diego County to get to school.
And you know what-- It was exhausting!
Heidy told me it was difficult for her family to provide money for her monthly bus pass and that sometimes, she struggled to even make it to school. Like any other human being subjected to these conditions, she shared that her grades suffer when this happens.
Access to education is one of the most crucial investments we can make as a community to support our youth and prepare them with the skills necessary to perform and excel at the jobs of the future.
That’s why in honor of Heidy and thousands of students, in May of last year, we partnered with MTS and SANDAG, to launch the Youth Opportunity Passes, a pilot program that now provides no-cost transportation for youth under 18 years of age.
Since it was launched, youth ridership on public transit rose in San Diego County by 84%.
I couldn’t be prouder of this program’s success.
That is why I will continue to champion no-cost transportation for youth.
Only this time, we will expand it to offer no-cost transportation for 24 years and under, helping many college students, young adults and those trying to make it to their jobs on time.
Quiero agradecer a las madres de familia, activistas y a todos
aquellos que por años abogaron para que esta iniciativa fuera realidad.
Together, we’re transforming how people move and how we get them to work and to school.
We have a responsibility to invest in transit frequency enhancement and transportation infrastructure.
Y Como ustedes saben soy orgullosamente Fronteriza.
Y me llena de orgullo que el condado de San Diego sea un condado que le da la bienvenida a todo ser humano buscando asilo y refugio en nuestra frontera.
I am proud to have led efforts to pioneer the creation of the first welcome center of its kind in the country.
I cannot thank community partners enough. Once again – I could not have done this alone.
San Diego County is a welcoming county.
From the children that we took care of at the convention center, to those entering the United States for the first time, passing through to reach safety with a loved one in another part of the country.
WE GOT YOU!
I will continue to fight so you are treated with dignity and respect.
And we will continue to help all other immigrants living in San Diego County become citizens.
Now, many of you have heard me telling the story of when I was a little girl, I would have to wait in the back seat of my mom’s car for hours to get across the border to go to school.
This story is not unique to me, this is the story of hundreds of thousands of binational residents who commute every day and spend hundreds of hours per year, waiting at the border.
San Diego can’t wait another generation to reduce border wait times and find solutions to our border crossings.
The long idle times not only impact the quality of life of our residents but also pollute our air and hurt our environment.
Last Fall, I proudly represented our county and with a shovel in hand, helped moved dirt for the first time to kick off the construction of the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry which will ease wait times for both commercial and resident crossings.
By creating a new 21st-century border crossing for the San Diego-Baja California region, we will speed up wait times, reduce pollution, and traffic, and boost economic growth in our region.
This project when completed, will generate three-quarters of a billion dollars of travel time savings annually, and it’s going to support over 80,000 jobs.
Just a ten-minute reduction in wait time would allow more freight and people to enter --- boosting the economy by $317 Million annually.
You see, we are reimagining our binational community to develop a more efficient, innovative, and environmentally friendly border.
Not only will we be bringing new infrastructure projects, but we will be creating new green spaces.
For years, our underserved communities have lacked access to parks and recreational activities found in more affluent communities.
It is our responsibility to expand outdoor access for every resident --- access to baseball and soccer fields, and equestrian activities ----they should be accessible to all!
We know that in order to reach our climate goals, we must commit to open parks and recreational centers for all communities in San Diego.
It’s time we transform public spaces to serve our communities.
I’m excited about the comprehensive tree program. Let me tell you why!
The county of San Diego is planting 5,000 trees ensuring we target communities in need of green space.
But you know me, and I believe that we can do more together.
And tonight, I want to challenge all of you!
My goal is to get 10,000 trees planted across the County of San Diego. Now -- who’s with me?
Let me tell you why this matters -- When we plant trees, we are doing our part to ensure that we have healthy clean air for our children and families.
For decades our portside and inland high impact communities have been greatly affected by environmental racism, which led to high pollutants in our air.
I think most of you remember that in 2020, there was a fire on a ship in our port. Our communities in Barrio Logan and National City were highly impacted.
In partnership with Environmental Health Coalition, the county created a program to distribute air monitors and purifiers for Portside homes to help improve the indoor air quality for residents.
Fast forward, to last Fall, when I was hosting a California Clean Air Day event and I met Yaretzi Valdez, who suffers from asthma and was impacted by the fire.
Her mom shared that the use of air filtration equipment has changed their lives.
You see—Yaretzi’s asthma has improved so much -- she no longer has to use her inhaler!
This is a great example of how government can truly work for people.
The story of Yaretzi and all of our kids is why I will be focused this year on creating a Climate Justice Roadmap to advance clean air and clean water solutions.
I believe your zip code should not determine how long you live or whether you have access to clean air.
I’m honored to partner with Vice Chair Lawson-Remer to advance this work.
TOGETHER, we will champion initiatives to ensure our communities have a better quality of life.
One of our most precious resources is the 70 miles of coast line. This is San Diego’s signature attraction and it makes our backyard unique.
Yet we know that our Lifeguards and beachgoers are impacted by poor water quality, and I believe all our communities deserve access to clean beaches.
Our region has 11 watersheds that flow into our beaches and oceans.
To address stormwater runoff, The County is committed to implementing infrastructure that cleans water before it hits our beaches.
We all know that sea level rising impacts our County.
And I am committed to bringing funding for coastal resiliency strategies and to stabilize our economic rail lines.
Additionally, to protect the health of our residents and visitors the county made advancements in water testing technology to detect pollution in our waters.
I will continue to advocate for Binational, federal, and state funding to address water pollution, including at the Tijuana River Valley.
TOGETHER we’ll expand our efforts and work in unison to act on environmental disparities and injustices in our communities.
A critical piece to this climate justice roadmap is building a more sustainable future with the green jobs of tomorrow---with regional partners to create well-paying jobs for workers with benefits and career prospects.
This is how we can build a healthy, thriving future for our communities -- TOGETHER!
Tonight, you’ve heard the stories of many people who live in our community. I’ve also talked a lot about numbers, budget items and funding priorities.
But I know that those numbers probably don’t mean a lot to families
who are scrambling to get dinner ready for their children tonight, or
for the parents who can’t make their February 1st rent payment, or for
young people struggling to pay for college or for those dealing with
mental health issues.
Estas son las historias de nuestras familias y creo desde el fondo de mi corazón que solo juntos podemos derrumbar barreras que por años han impactado a nuestras comunidades.
It’s going to take a heck of a lot more than a speech to solve all of these challenges that we face as a community. But I want you to know that I SEE YOU, I HEAR YOU AND I GOT YOU!
And I won’t rest, and I won’t stop until we make real change. Know that this board and our county team is committed to keep fighting until everyone has a shot to achieve their own dreams!
As I said at the beginning, and I will say over and over again– none of this can be accomplished alone. But we can do so many great things together. There’s no time to waste.
So I ask you -- my fellow San Diegans who are here with me tonight:
Will you work TOGETHER with me to make San Diego County, a Better County for All?
I can’t hear you: ARE YOU WITH ME?
That’s more like it.
And I want you to know that I am ALWAYS here for you, and I’VE GOT YOUR BACK.
There’s nothing we can’t accomplish, because...
TOGETHER, WE GOT THIS!
Thank you for joining me tonight!
- Nora E. Vargas, Chairwoman
San Diego County Board of Supervisors