A new chapter in San Diego’s history is unfolding right now. For the first time ever, San Diego’s City Council and County Board of Supervisors are united in driving progressive policy that improves our region for all.
Business For Good is beyond thrilled that our four core policy action areas are also top priorities of the City of San Diego’s new leadership team.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria spoke exclusively with BFG members at our July general member meeting. He described the extent of the progressive policy shift in our city and praised BFG for our part in helping to drive that change.
“We are trying to change a number of the priorities, approaches, and hopefully have better results for San Diegans,” Gloria said. “I know that is what Business For Good has been doing for some time now.”
Mayor Gloria outlined his top priorities since taking office in December 2020. We found that they aligned seamlessly with the diligent work BFG has been doing since our inception in 2017:
- COVID-19 vaccination effort (Immigration)
- Homelessness outreach (Homelessness)
- New city budget (Small Business Investment)
- Climate Action Plan + SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan (Environmental Health)
“What I’ve observed is that the positions that [Business For Good] has taken as a business organization are now appearing in other parts of our community,” Gloria said. “So the influence you’re having in helping change the course of our city is a positive one.”
BFG Policy Action Area 1: Immigration
For obvious reasons, the COVID-19 vaccination effort was this year’s top priority for most leaders across the U.S.
But San Diego faces an additional sense of urgency surrounding vaccinations that other parts of our country do not. We are part of the largest binational region in the world.
The Tijuana-San Diego mega-region is interdependent in every way. Therefore, our region’s public health status has significant impacts on people living on both sides of the border. The policies and practices on one side inevitably affect the health and wellbeing of the other.
Put simply, the higher the vaccination rate is in San Diego and Baja, the stronger our argument is for the Department of Homeland Security to re-open the border to nonessential travel from Tijuana into San Diego. Our region’s small businesses have lost nearly $650 million in sales and about 1,900 jobs as a result of this extended eighteen-month border closure.
With declining COVID-19 case rates in both San Diego and Baja, Mayor Gloria advocated in June for a full reopening of the border so that our mega-region can return to a diverse, thriving business community.
“I’ve been spending much of my time advocating with the Biden administration to lift the restrictions on the border for nonessential travel,” Gloria said at our BFG meeting. “Certainly we cannot reopen our economy until our border reopens fully.”
He also spoke to the equity implications at the root of nonessential travel restrictions from Mexico into the United States.
“The fact that [nonessential travelers] can fly across the border—endless times, no questions asked—but [they] can’t drive or walk across the border without certain restrictions?” the mayor said. “That’s not about public health. That’s about something different.”
Mayor Gloria shared the other ways in which his administration is prioritizing progressive immigration policy and binational unity:
- San Diego and Tijuana made a binational bid for the World Design Capital 2024. We are one of two finalists; the other is Moscow. (“And if we can’t beat the Russians, I’ll be really upset,” the mayor joked).
- We converted the City of San Diego’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to the Office of Global Affairs. “The change is intended to say that this is not just about U.S.-Mexico—although that is an important relationship—but it’s also a recognition that there are tons of other bi-lateral relationships that are critical to our community and economy,” Gloria said.
- We are living out the values of our Welcoming San Diego initiative. The policy was adopted by the City of San Diego to affirm we will be a welcoming community, specifically to immigrants and refugees. “We are living out those values by housing unaccompanied minors at our convention center,” Gloria said. He also pointed out that the city was able to successfully reunite and house over 2,000 young people with their families.
BFG Policy Action Area 2: Homelessness
Homelessness is a monumental problem in San Diego County. The reasons are vast, and no local administration has addressed the situation with the appropriate action. Until now.
“Despite the pandemic and the economic slowdown, the most common thing I’m asked about is homelessness,” Mayor Gloria said. “I want to remind people that the homeless crisis was significant before the pandemic. The pandemic has made it worse. It could be even worse after eviction moratoriums and protections begin to end.”
But as Mayor Gloria pointed out, the good news is that we have a City Council and County Board of Supervisors that are working collaboratively for the first time ever to tackle homelessness through effective policy action.
“This is a great reminder that elections have consequences,” Gloria said. “With new leadership at the City Council and Board of Supervisors, what we’re seeing is an alignment of priorities and perspectives—and that’s probably best expressed by our homelessness effort.”
Business For Good members who have been fighting for a proactive homelessness policy for years are amazed by the results of this united front.
“This is the first time in my years of doing homelessness work in San Diego that I’ve been speechless—in a good way,” said Sam Mazzeo, BFG member and Homelessness Committee member. “There is a lot of real movement happening right now on the homelessness and housing front.”
Mayor Gloria outlined the concerted efforts his administration is making to revolutionize how San Diego approaches homelessness:
- COVID-19 has been the number one priority in the homeless population. “Since March 2020, our homeless shelters have been subject to social distancing, like everything else,” Gloria said. “Therefore, hundreds of beds have been off-limits and reduced.” That put a tremendous burden on the already-strained city and county homelessness resources. But fortunately, due to the passage of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, that changed in July 2021.
- The City put $10 million toward reducing homelessness this summer. In July, the American Rescue Plan granted approximately $300 million to the City of San Diego in relief funding. This money covers the city’s deficit incurred due to the pandemic. “We put $10M from our relief fund into our city budget to increase what we’re doing to help homelessness in the community,” the mayor said. “That coupled with the larger allocation from the County’s homelessness relief funds, we are seeing real progress.”
- The City launched its first-ever intensive outreach effort in Downtown San Diego. On June 28, San Diego launched an intense outreach program in downtown San Diego, where the homelessness program is particularly acute. Mayor Gloria explained that this was a month-long, highly focused outreach program designed to transition homeless individuals into housing.
“After two weeks, 291 San Diegans were transitioned from our streets to housing,” he said. “Clearly 291 people is not enough, as our last count of homeless individuals in San Diego was around 8,000. But I do think that removing 291 in just two weeks’ time shows what is possible through a collaborative effort between city and county.”
- We launched our very first non-law-enforcement-related homeless outreach teams. In March 2021, through the city’s partnership with PATH, Gloria launched a team of non-law enforcement homelessness outreach workers in every City Council district. The team has continued to scale up ever since. “This was a focused effort to establish rapport and trust with individuals experiencing homelessness and to get them to ‘yes’ in terms of accepting services from the city,” the mayor explained.
- More San Diego hotels will be turned into permanent shelter opportunities. The City is expecting a lot more money to arrive shortly from the state’s pandemic relief fund allocation. This money will help acquire additional local hotel properties and turn them into permanent shelter properties.
“We were grateful to get two such properties last year,” Gloria said. “With the larger allocation of funding coming from the state level, we are hopeful we can do more of that.” Last summer, the 400 new shelter units from the two hotels the City acquired went online in just six months’ time. Gloria said that shows that it’s entirely possible to reverse course with our homelessness problem.
BFG Policy Action Area 3: Small Business Investment
The new FY22 San Diego City Budget was finalized in August. Much of it is centered on how San Diego will utilize the $300 million in American Rescue Plan funds to jumpstart our economic recovery, provide aid to small businesses, and help our most vulnerable residents.
“[The pandemic] has had a crushing effect on our local businesses and has disproportionately affected individuals and families who rely on the service sector or simply do not have the opportunity to work from home,” the mayor’s message reads in the FY22 budget introduction.
To help combat the pandemic’s crushing financial consequences, Mayor Gloria’s office launched $12 million in COVID relief grants for small businesses and nonprofits.
“We thoughtfully crafted this program to effectively distribute millions of dollars as a lifeline for local businesses and nonprofits,” Mayor Gloria said in an August press release.
“With The San Diego Foundation’s partnership, we’re able to provide $12 million of aid as they navigate how to recover from the pandemic,” he continued. “For many of our family-owned businesses and community-based organizations, these grants are a much-needed opportunity to get back on track and rebuild their livelihoods.”
Gloria also committed to additional investments in the San Diego workforce at large through the city budget, including:
- Investing $22 million of the FY22 budget in the city’s workforce to make their salaries more competitive with other local agencies
- Allocating $1 million for summer employment for at-risk youth through the Connect2Careers program through San Diego Workforce Partnership
- Rolling out the Summer For All of Us initiative—Intended to create more recreation opportunities for youth in historically underserved communities, boost youth employment, and ensure youth are better set up for career and life success.
BFG Policy Action Area 4: Environmental Health
Last but certainly not least, Mayor Gloria’s agenda focuses on crafting intentional ways we can ensure equitable, sustainable environmental health in San Diego.
This agenda has many moving parts and covers substantial ground. But Gloria shared with BFG his top three climate priorities to dive into this year:
- Launch Phase 1 of San Diego’s Pure Water Project— “We have another water rate case coming up this year; you’re not going to enjoy that,” Gloria said bluntly. “But this will get us closer to being drought-resistant, which is fantastic.”
- Updating the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan—For the first time since 2015, the City is updating its Climate Action Plan. “This is going to be a very big deal,” he said. The goal of the update is to adopt a certified plan that reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the unincorporated area of the county. It also aims to create new policies and programs that reduce emissions associated with the operating county facilities.
- Drafting and approving the 2021 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP)— “What I really want to draw your attention to is our Regional Transportation Plan,” the mayor said. Gloria also serves as the Vice-Chair at SANDAG, the agency that is in charge of the RTP and guides San Diego County’s transportation infrastructure. In this capacity, Mayor Gloria said he will make sure the City of San Diego has a seat at the table and get our fair share of these resources.
Here is what we need to know about this most recent iteration of the RTP:
- The draft plan is posted and being reviewed now through December 2021.
- It’s known as the “Five Big Moves,” and it’s really transformational in terms of our approach to transportation in San Diego County. Unlike all previous San Diego RTPs, this plan envisions a transition to a multi-modal future with high-quality, efficient transit options.
- It will be difficult to pass the RTP. “There are many people still invested in cars and freeways who will resist this plan,” Gloria said.
- The RTP is slated to cost $170 billion over 30 years. “But remember that the status quo will still cost us $130 billion over those same 30 years,” the mayor pointed out. “And sticking with the status quo only means more greenhouse gas emissions, more traffic, more things that erode our quality of life.”
- The RTP provides excellent options for quick travel via mass transit: high-speed rail, commuter rails, rapid bus, and an expanded trolley system. “Yes, our proposed plan is expensive,” said Gloria. “But so is the plan we already have. The difference is that with the new RTP, we’d have a quality of life that more approximates what keeps us here as San Diegans.” And that’s worth doing.
If you’d like to have more chances to talk directly with San Diego’s policymakers and representatives, become a Business For Good member now!