by Photo courtesy of Sarah Berjan

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously elected Nora Vagas to become the county’s first Latina chairwoman and Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer as Vice Chair, making history as the first women to serve as leaders in the county's governing board. 

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who served as Chairman for two terms, announced last month that he wouldn't seek a third term, and publicly endorsed Vargas as his successor. He also nominated Lawson-Remer as Vice Chair and re-nominated Supervisor Joel Anderson as pro-tem. 

“It has been an honor of a lifetime to serve as chair of the county board of supervisors for the last two years,” Fletcher said. “It is my tremendous honor to nominate Supervisor Nora Vargas— someone who has demonstrated with her time in office here what leadership looks like, what is possible, what can be accomplished and someone that has the vision, insight, and expertise to lead us ably and effectively. I know she will do tremendous things in the county of San Diego,” Fletcher siad. 

Vargas was first elected in 2020 to represent District 1, becoming the first Latina, a woman of color, and an immigrant on the board of supervisors in the nearly 200-year history of the county of San Diego. As a supervisor, Vargas served more than 630,000 residents in South San Diego County. 

“It is a historic moment, it is something that I don't take lightly,” Vargas said. “I just want to remind people who are watching that I was born and raised in Tijuana, the first Latina and woman of color to serve as chair of supervisors. I share this because it's important to remind folks that their county is their county.”

Vargas said she will work “with transparency and accountability,'' and let county employees know their work is respected. Vargas further emphasized she wants to ensure everyone has access to health care, clean air, and water, a green workforce, and resources to help small businesses, expressing the importance of being community-centric. 

“We're transitioning from the pandemic, and many of us are really suffering. We still have people going to sleep hungry, people who don't have shelter. We have to make sure we have more housing. So for me, it's about making sure families have first, so they have access to food and the services that we can provide in the county,” Vargas said. 

Vargas also said the board will also focus on expanding public transit and making more investments in parks. She also highlighted the opportunity of focusing on economic prosperity by evaluating how green jobs are helping communities and serving those who need it the most. 

“This is your county,” she told the audience. “These are your chambers,” Vargas said she expects people to disagree on difficult issues, but in a civil manner. 

“I know it's been tough because at times our chambers have been polarizing, but today is a new day and our communities deserve better. I plead with you. I believe we must work together to increase public participation in these meetings—we have to have different voices. When we bring different voices, we can assure all communities are being heard in the ways we deserve. I expect that we are going to have disagreements when we tackle difficult problems. That is how we find solutions, that is what democracy is all about.”

Vargas clarified that harassment, threats, anti-BIPOC, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric will not be tolerated in the chambers. 

“The reason why I came to the board of supervisors so many years ago to advocate on behalf of our communities, for me to be able to have the full analysis and to be able to have an opportunity to create, you know, a focus on an agenda that's really focused on our family first, and making sure that our communities have the resources that the to survive, not just to survive, but to thrive,” Vargas said. 

Vargas credited the support of her family and her parents to support her to where she's at today, emphasizing her commitment to “break down barriers so that life is a little bit easier”. 

“As an immigrant, navigating the American system was tough. The more I learned, the more I had mentors, and the more I had people who taught me how to navigate this system, I knew that it was my responsibility to do the same. I am thrilled to be able to be in these roles because I’ve been through a lot of the things that so many have been through,” Vargas said. 

Lawson-Remer, a Democrat representing District 3, said Tuesday’s vote was “a historic day for our county.”

In a statement, Lawson-Remer described her and Vargas’ roles as “a move that broke historic barriers to representation, (and) spoke to moving an ambitious set of initiatives focused on equity and environmental sustainability.”

In reflecting on the historical significance of her newly minted role as the country’s first Latina Chairwoman, Vargas said “Si Se Puede”, “You can do it too”. 

“If you don't see people who look like you representing you, you’re never going to believe that you can actually do it too. I think this is a historical moment for our communities, but I also think it is a day when this should now be the norm. I am the first Latina on the Board of Supervisors, but I don't have to be the only one. Hopefully, someday we will have all five members of the Board of Supervisors be women of color, representative of the  communities we represent.” 

Women have filled several leadership roles this year in the County of San Diego. Sheriff Kelly A. Martinez officially took office this month, becoming the country’s first female Sheriff. County District Attorney Summer Stephan won a second term of office. Both Sheriff Martinez and DA Stephan will serve a six-year term. 

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