by Photo by Sarah Berjan

San Diego County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Nora Vargas highlighted accomplishments made in her first year of office and during a pandemic that brought unprecedented challenges.

As the first woman of color and immigrant elected to the County Board Of Supervisors, Vargas has created 42 equity-centered policy initiatives and has appointed 18 commissioners that reflect the diversity of her constituents residing in District 1. 

Her constituency changed as of Dec.14, 2021, when the San Diego Independent Redistricting Commission adjusted district boundaries under a new map, which does not include the cities of Coronado and Point Loma. Under the new changes, Vargas now represents the East Village in Downtown San Diego, Golden Hill, South Park, and La Presa. 

During her first year in office, Vargas held 84 community engagement events, 10 community budget hearings & forums, and 320 community meetings and round tables. Vargas said that she is grateful for "the outpouring of support and input we've received from residents along the way to ensure the county is responsible for their needs."  

Vargas has served as the Co-Chair of the COVID-19 subcommittee, where she fought to provide access to health care for the community. 

“This has been a very difficult year for many, and as my heart goes out to everyone who lost someone because of this pandemic, I can assure you that it is each of you that helped shape my priorities,” Vargas said. 

Although the south county region was among the hardest to be hit during the pandemic,  her work with local governments, non-profit organizations, faith-based groups, and organizations ensured access to COVID-19 vaccines and testing. 

By November 2021, San Diego's south county region was leading in vaccination rates as 92 percent of eligible residents were fully vaccinated, and 99.9 percent of residents had received at least one dose. 

“We're gonna keep at it, keep working to ensure that use cases continue to go down, and progressing in the right direction,” Vargas said 

Under her leadership, seven-county testing sites opened and established 12 vaccination sites in District 1. The second county-wide super station was established in the south county. 

During the pandemic, her office worked with firefighters and first responders to ensure home-bound seniors and individuals could receive their vaccination at home. Vargas launched several other initiatives to ensure the most impacted communities had access to vaccines or testing. 

Vargas serves as the Chair of the SANDAG Transportation Committee, as well as the chair for the Air Pollution Control District, along with serving on various other regional, state, national boards, and committees. 

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Vargas to the California Air Resources Board, otherwise known as the "clean air agency" of the state government.

Her office introduced a budget equity tool that intentionally embeds equity as a strategy in the annual budget versus an equality approach. Vargas said the first time, “we engaged our community county-wide and secured $284 million in American Rescue Plan Act Funding (ARPA) to support District 1 priorities”, which includes hazard pay for workers, rental assistance, mental health, and more. 

Additionally, Vargas spearheaded the creation of the Office of Economic Prosperity and Community Development. San Diego was one of two counties in the state that didn't have this office until 2021. 

To further develop the region, her office directed the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to explore funding opportunities to support local businesses at the state and federal levels. 

In addressing the impacted businesses during the pandemic, Vargas also introduced Microenterprise Home Kitchens, along with colleague Joel Anderson, to uplift traditional food entrepreneurs that are usually women, immigrants, people of color, and others facing barriers such as the average start-up cost of $400,000. 

Vargas has also championed transformative policies in binational health, economic and environmental, and educational efforts relating to the pandemic. Additionally, her office has introduced various housing initiatives, programs, and funds to assist and protect people experiencing housing instability or homelessness.  

“Our communities deserve everything. They deserve to have access to all these things, it doesn't matter to your zip code shouldn't matter,” Vargas said. 

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