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Supervisor hails community cooperation in response to floods

San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nora Vargas presented her second State of the County Address at Southwestern College on Feb. 21. After postponing her original date to host a day of service for flood victims from the Jan. 22 storms, Vargas said she was proud of the community and county staff that came out that day who helped more than 1,000 families start rebuilding.

“Our community has shown character, and resolve, and above all else ‘mucho corazón,’” she said.

Vargas said as a first-generation immigrant, she said that the thousands of refugees and immigrants that have come through San Diego strikes “close to her heart.”

“Since the implementation and lifting of Title 42, San Diego continues to be equally impacted by the sum of global human migration,” she said. “San Diego has seen a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers across our border. On average, 700 to 900 a day, sometimes bringing thousands in a single day. And it is overwhelming our capacity to help.”

Vargas said in September of 2023, the Board of Supervisors declared it a humanitarian crisis in the county and led the effort to allocate $6 million to support migrants through SBC, but unfortunately the money for the temporary migrant center used all the funds and ceased operations this week.

“Until the federal government comes in and supplies additional funding, many will be impacted,” she said, adding that she sent a letter to President Joe Biden for additional funding, needing around $1.5 million a month to operate the center.

Vargas said last year, the Board unanimously approved a bipartisan $80.1 billion budget, the largest in the county’s history.

“The budget that we passed is a reflection of our community’s values and it prioritized community concerns including housing, homelessness, behavioral health, environmental equity, and the expansion of health and human services programs,” she said. “We know that to truly thrive, we need to make sure that everyone, from every corner of San Diego, has a shot to build a better live for themselves and their families.”

She said homelessness is still one of the county’s top priorities, securing $22 million from the governor to ad¬dress encampments in the county, including $5 million for the south region to address the Sweetwater riverbed area known as “The Jungle,” in collaboration with the cities of Chula Vista, National City, and Caltrans.

“In addition, with the city of Santee, the city of San Diego, and Caltrans, we invested $17 million for the San Diego Riverbed which stretches from Ocean Beach to Mission Valley, San Diego, Santee, and the unincorporated areas of Lakeside and Alpine,” she said. “It is a shame that in the fourth largest economy in the world, that we continue to have fast-growing numbers of senior and veteran populations experiencing homelessness for the first time.”

Vargas said the county has kept 382 seniors housed through its rental subsidy program, and of the 800 veterans who are homeless in July 2023, 415 of them are now permanently housed. She said that providing more mental health solutions for the homelessness is part of fixing the problem, with San Diego County being one of seven counties in being the first to implement behavioral health to those who have been untreated through a civil process.
Vargas said housing is a fundamental human right and last year the board allocated $14.5 million to remove barriers to housing, bringing 151 units of affordable housing to the Chula Vista community with Linda Vista Apartments.
“These folks are going to be able to live in homes for at least 15 years,” she said. “Residents will also have services available to them through Casa Camelia. That means that more than 151 families will have a roof over their heads, and a community as well. They will also have access to resources they need to plan, and eventually, buy their own home.”

In 2023, Vargas said 750 units started construction, 500 units completed, and more than 1,000 more homes were built in San Diego County.

Vargas said working with SANDAG, they were able to extend the Youth Opportunity Pass, providing all riders under 18 able to transit for free, and the program has greatly exceeded ridership, surpassing 11 million riders in the county since the youth ridership program launched. She said this program has now been extended for the next two years.

“As of October 2023, the numbers speak volumes. Over 150,000 youth have embraced the PRONTO card,” she said.

Vargas talked about making advances in climate and environmental justice, the work being done at the Tijuana River Valley to stop the consistent pollution of the nearby communities and the long-term closures of beaches for residents and tourists.

“Access to clean air and water is fundamental to healthy communities,” she said. “Your zip code continues to determine your ability to breathe clean air and water. And that is unacceptable. Nowhere is this more evident than in our South Bay communities.”

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