Rent subsidies, social equity among issues raised in county budget hearing

San Diego County Administrative building.
(John R. McCutchen)

Public hearings on San Diego County’s proposed $6.4 billion budget continued for a second day Wednesday night, with many of the 110 speakers calling for more social justice programs, less funding for law enforcement and rent subsidies for people affected by the public health crisis.

While the planned 2020-21 fiscal year budget is a 2.5 percent increase from the previous year’s, cutbacks are proposed in all areas except Health and Human Services. The budget includes one-time federal CARES Act funding that is part of $100 million budgeted to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

The outbreak and the shutdown of many revenue-generating businesses, events and programs has been devastating to the economy nationwide, with San Diego County no exception. The proposed budget calls for cutting 100 vacant positions in the Sheriff’s Department and Probation Department and using $231 million from the county’s reserves over two years, with an expectation that new money will come in over three years to replenish it as the economy recovers.

The proposed budget also includes steps the county is taking to address calls for social justice across the nation.

The proposal calls for $5 million to establish an Office of Equity and Racial Justice to address systemic racism and $450,000 to increase staff members and expand the authority to the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, to provide independent oversight of the Sheriff’s and Probation departments.

Several speakers at the Monday morning meeting said the budget did not go far enough to address social justice and racism, complaints that were reiterated Wednesday night.

Many of the speakers during the three-hour public hearing Wednesday were in support of a proposal by the Invest in San Diego Families Coalition, which earlier issued a statement demanding supervisors adopt a budget that meets the public health, economic and racial justice challenges faced during the pandemic.

In Wednesday night’s hearing, speakers identifying themselves as members of working families, community organizations and faith groups asked for a $100 million rental relief program, emergency cash assistance for undocumented families, broadband internet access for low-income families, worker protections and labor standards enforcement, an Office of Immigrant Affairs and $3 million for a Restorative Community Conference program.

“The proposed budget fails to meet the needs of our working families of color,” Patricia Mendoza, member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Invest in San Diego Families Coalition, said in a statement released Tuesday. “The Covid-19 crisis has disproportionately impacted Brown and Black communities in our region because of deep and longstanding social and economic inequality. Our demands are not a wish list; they are what our communities need.”

Mendoza also spoke Wednesday night and said she had lost her job on March 26 and owes four months of rent.

The group posted a full list of demands online at https://investinsdfamilies.org/2020/07/22/fy2021-budget-demands/.

Supervisors also heard from several members of the Service Employees International Union, with some asking for a comprehensive study of wages and an increase in hazard pay, among other demands.

One speaker called the Sheriff’s Department a racist organization and demanded more funding for racial justice and anti-racist training among law enforcement.

Lori Thiel, president of League of Women Voters, San Diego, said she supported a budget that created parity between the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices because the DA’s funding was two and a half times greater.

Some people complained that the interpreter for Spanish speakers at the meeting was not translating well, and other speakers called for more services for transitional-age youth and climate change.

At least one speaker said he supported more funding for the District Attorney’s office and law enforcement and said the county is facing an increase in crime that will be made worse as more inmates are released early during the coronavirus outbreak.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was the only board member to comment on the speakers’ concerns at the end of the meeting.

“I take to heart everything we heard tonight,” he said.

Fletcher said speakers’ comments showed county residents were calling for more attention to public health, child care, equity, the environment, rent subsidies during the pandemic, access to government information in foreign languages and other issues.

While the county has made progress on those issues, Fletcher said they could do more. Among environmental issues, he said modest changes such as daily monitoring of air quality and water in bays and beaches, particularly in South Bay communities, could have a big impact.

He also said it should be easier for families to have solar energy systems for electricity and heating water, and priority should be given to green infrastructure as a way to reduce storm-water runoff.

The clerk of the Board of Supervisors can receive additional comments before budget hearings formally close on 5 p.m. Aug. 19, and supervisors are scheduled to deliberate and adopt the budget at 2 p.m. Aug. 25.

Comments can be made online through eComment, and people also can view the Chief Administrative Officer’s Recommended Operational Plan for the budget online.

— Gary Warth is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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