San Diego County Board of Supervisors Nora Vargas made history Wednesday night as the first woman of color, first immigrant, first fronteriza, and the first Latina serving as Chairwoman to deliver the State of the County speech.
During her first State of the County Address, Vargas spoke on the County’s accomplishments over the past year at Waterfront Park, outside of the County Administration Center. She also highlighted there is still a lot of work to be done to build healthier and stronger communities.
Vargas also presented her plan to put families first, build healthier and stronger communities, enhance community infrastructure, and promote economic prosperity. She challenged the audience to “make San Diego County a better county for all”, stressing the importance of working together to overcome the region’s challenges.
“Moving forward, I will work with cities throughout our region to expand rental protections and continue to build affordable housing,” she said. “We’re going to accomplish these goals while supporting local small businesses and working families, creating green jobs, and fighting for environmental justice.”
Vargas noted she first worked to protect renters struggling to stay in their homes as COVID-19 pandemic caused serious economic harm and to stop unfair evictions. Working families throughout the county recieved millions of dollars in assistance from the county.
The chairwoman said she will work with city officials in an attempt to expand rental protections.
“Prioritizing the needs of our working families to maintain stable housing is a top priority. Moving forward I will work with cities throughout the region to expand rental protections and continue to build affordable housing. The challenge is still there because while employment has recovered, inflation is still there causing families to go into debt,” Vargas said.
According to Vargas, there is still a lot of work to be done to build healthier and stronger communities, create paths to economic prosperity for all, and enhance community infrastructure.
“We are 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,” Vargas said.
But to accomplish any of these goals, Vargas said the county needs to begin with the basics such as ensuring people have a roof over their heads and food to eat.
“Like many other counties, we have a homeless epidemic in San Diego and we must work together to address it,” Vargas said. “I know our policies impact real people and we must find the humanity in our solutions. The county has already made strides by investing over the last two years in partnerships with the regional task force on homelessness, our business community, and advocates that are on the ground. Preventing and addressing homelessness is a top priority.”
In addition to the issue of housing, Vargas said she is committed to providing healthy food in food deserts and increasing the number of community gardens at County facilities. According to Vargas, One in four San Diegans doesn't have access to quality food.
"It's hard to believe that this is something we have to say out loud in 2023: no one should be going hungry," Vargas added. It's also important that county residents take care of mental health, which became an especially crucial topic over the past three years, Vargas said.
She also outlined a wide variety of proposals to provide childcare for all, stable housing for working families, increased mental health services, and additional funding for local businesses.
Vargas noted that last year, the Board of Supervisors allocated approximately $30 million for mental health services and projects that focus on Children and Youth and $2 million for home-bound individuals who are recipients of in-home supportive services.
The county also 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.
In the wake of mass shootings across the country, Vargas said “we must work together to prevent tragic events like this”.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough. While San Diego is still tracking below the national rate, we still have the responsibility to protect our communities.”
The county is launching a community safety initiative to address gun violence and public safety in collaboration with San Diego County Sheriff Kelly Martinez. Vargas noted that after last year’s declaration of illicit fentanyl as a Public Health Crisis, she worked with supervisor desmond to create an awareness campaign in multiple languages to continue educating the community about the dangers of fentanyl.
Vargas said by the end of the year, the county will complete the East Otay mesa Fire station. The county is also taking the first step in bringing county resources and partnership with the San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, to provide services for survivors of abuse with a one-stop resource center in South County.—the first of its kind.
“These are the kinds of projects and investments we need to be making in our communities,” Vargas said “These are the types of investments we need to build healthier and stronger communities because healthy communities bolster a healthy economy.”
"Not only do they make up most of the businesses in the county, but they also employ nearly 60 percent of our workforce," she said, adding that she 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," Vargas said.
According to Vargas, the county has awarded nearly $26.2 million in grants to support local businesses.
“We’re going to continue to build programs to help micro businesses and provide a space to bring small vendors together to connect with each other. Working together, we will continue to lift barriers to uplift small businesses and promote economic prosperity in all corners of San Diego County,” Vargas said.
Vargas noted a strong workforce can't be constructed without access to high-quality child care. More than 190,000 children under the age of 12 are without childcare, forcing working parents to choose between staying home or working.
“Childcare for all needs to be our goal. We have the opportunity to build a generation of childcare entrepernurers and support parents reentering the workforce,” Vargas said. “It's common sense that if we want more people taking care of kids, they must be paid well for their hard work.”
Vargas said another key to growing the local economy is to have the right infrastructure to support residents, touting a partnership with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System on a program allowing people 18 or younger free public transit. Since the program's start, youth ridership has risen by 84%, Vargas said, adding she wants to expand free transportation to college-age students.
Vargas added she will continue to fight to help immigrants in San Diego County become citizens, adding she was proud to lead efforts to welcome immigrants to the county, from helping children at the San Diego Convention Center to those meeting up with their families.
Vargas shared that she remembered waiting at the border to cross into the United States, a shared experience among San Diego’s Binational community. She noted with the opening of the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry will reduce waiting times, reduce air pollution, and create over 80,000 jobs.
She mentioned the importance of green spaces and called for doubling the number of planned tree plantings from 5,000 to 10,000. The chair says she will fight for green jobs and environmental justice.
“It's going to take a heck of a lot more than a speech to solve these challenges that we face as a community. I want you to know that I see you, I hear you and I got you. I won't rest and I won't stop until we make real changes. Know that this board, and this county team, is committed to keeping fighting until everyone has a shot in achieving the American dream,” Vargas said.