By William E. Kelly
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series.
Six candidates seek to replace outgoing San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who represents District 4: Bonnie Dumanis; Nathan Fletcher; Ken Malbrough; Marcia Nordstrom; Omar Passons; and Lori Saldaña.
The idea to interview these candidates began last July, when I revisited San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Dianne Jacob’s 2014 State of the County address. Jacobs warned that the county’s elderly population would surge by more than 30 percent by 2025 and admitted the county is “ill-equipped to handle this rapid growth.” She also stated that as the population ages, the problems related to it will “turn more grave.”
Further, Stephen Russell, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation, calls this phenomenon “a catastrophe.” The Center on Policy Initiatives’ 2015 report “Economic Cost of SD County Ongoing Safety Net Failure,” found the county’s programs inadequate and examined the costs to families and the local economy. The findings were not favorable. (See bit.ly/2B1LbDP.)
I have since sat down with each of the candidates to address such issues. To be included in this series, each candidate agreed to focus on the challenges of an aging population, with the intention to give each an opportunity to state their priorities, objectives, goals, and plans to address and achieve them, as well as speak of the experience, qualifications and talents they offer voters.
Throughout each article, which will focus on two candidates each — to appear in Gay San Diego issues March 3, 16 and 30, the first being Saldaña and Passons — I will offer shortened links to sites that can offer further context to the candidate’s responses and assist in overall brevity.
Candidate Lori Saldaña
- Opening statement
“The largest portion of the county budget — $1.9 billion — is dedicated for health care and human services,” Saldaña said. “My priority concern is to use these funds effectively and efficiently, to provide housing, health care, and restorative care for people who are currently sick, homeless, or in temporary shelters — or at risk of entering one of those categories.”
Saldaña proposes that San Diego County emulate a plan similar to one under development in Los Angeles County that creates a “Restorative Care Village” managed by Health and Human Services. (See bit.ly/2HPMji6.)
“The aim is to support people as they recover their health and to provide career counseling, jobs training and supportive housing during medical recovery and other assistance to integrate people back into our communities,” Saldaña said.
“My objective is to keep all people safe and healthy by reducing homelessness in the short term and eliminating it in the long term,” she said. “I favor using Prop 63 to fund supportive housing and health care for those with long-term disabilities, mental illness, addictions and support a bond measure to provide a permanent source of local funding for housing and health care services. (Learn more about Prop 63 bit.ly/2BUxRVU.)
- Saldaña’s supervisor qualifications and commitment to seniors
“On a personal level, I was a caregiver for older adults in my family: my mother and grandmother,” Saldaña said. “I lived with them for one year as they recovered from surgeries, and arranged for in-home care as I did research at UC San Diego.
“Based on this experience, when I served in the California Assembly, I developed a slate of caregiving bills and established a ‘Caregivers Caucus’ to work with other legislators to promote good public policy to protect funding for caregiving services; support family caregivers; and hold people accountable for embezzling or stealing funds from older adults in their care,” she said.
“As chair of Housing and Community Development, I increased funding for affordable and supportive housing; worked on updating Regional Housing Needs Assessments; and established new standards for transit-oriented development, so that people lived near the transportation they needed to maintain their independence.”
Among Saldaña’s key accomplishments, she lists serving in leadership roles during six years in the California Assembly; co-authoring the first marriage equality legislation in the nation (2005); and chairing the Legislative Women’s Caucus. She also served as Assistant Majority Whip; Speaker Pro Tempore; and as a committee member on the Judiciary; Taxation and Revenue; Water, Parks and Wildlife; Natural Resources; and the Elections and Redistricting committees.
In addition, Saldaña was appointed to the Assembly Ethics Committee to investigate sexual harassment and other complaints; co-authored AB 32 requiring California reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; developed new standards for promoting energy efficiency in commercial buildings; and proposed zero-net energy residential standards.
Her volunteer work included serving as a founding board member of the first “Earth Fair” celebration in Balboa Park (1990); chairing the San Diego/Imperial Counties Sierra Club (1995-97); and being appointed by President Clinton to the Border Environment Cooperation Commission, tasked with improving water quality in San Diego and along the U.S./Mexico border.
“As County Supervisor, I will apply research-based solutions to county policies, based on my work as an Environmental Policy Research Fellow at the UCSD Center for US/Mexican Studies, and a professor of Information Technology for the San Diego Community College District,” Saldaña said.”
Candidate Omar Passons
- Opening statement
“In addition to my focus on children and seniors, my priorities include the homeless crisis, lack of affordable housing, making our economy more inclusive, protecting our environment, responsible regulated cannabis access, reforming our criminal justice system to focus more on prevention, and enhancing our disaster preparedness systems,” Passons said.
“My highest priorities relate directly to the impact these challenges have on those with the most potential and those who are our future, children, and those who have given the most to our community, seniors,” he said.
- Passons’ supervisor qualifications
Passons grew up in the county foster care system with 100-plus foster siblings.
“I know what strong support from regional government can mean and what happens when it is lacking,” he said of that experience.
“Whether children live with their biological or adoptive parents, or in foster care, our entire society will improve if they are better armed with early childhood development and support.”
With regard to his unique professional qualifications, Passons addressed his education and career history.
“Nearly 40 percent of the county’s budget is in health and human services and I am the only candidate with a master’s degree in Public Health who evaluated the proper use of funds and implementation of these programs working with officials in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“In addition, 84 percent of the land area of the county and over 500,000 people are under the county’s land-use control and I am the only candidate with a professional background of more than a decade as a land-use and construction attorney focusing on these issues.”
Passons worked in public health and social service evaluation at the federal level before going into law.
“One of the lessons those experiences taught me was that we must be thoughtful about having information before making claims about what can be accomplished by when,” he said. “Your question about goals and objectives requires experience in long-range planning and action. Goals point us in a direction while objectives measure our progress towards those goals. Our county ought to have a goal of making sure that the more than 60,000 people with dementia in our region have access to appropriate care and their families have access to support within their communities.”
- Passons’ commitment to seniors
“My foster/adoptive 84-years-young mother gave of herself throughout life in San Diego but could not afford to live out her years here. I saw up close how challenging the system is when she broke her hip several years ago. We struggled to piece together the care and support needed,” he said.
“Our society’s collective failure to adequately support our seniors is a massive crisis that we must address. Over 240,000 senior citizens in San Diego County can’t pay their basic bills — food, housing, health care and transportation. That number will more than double over the next decade if we do not act — and it is my view that we must shift our thinking and our priorities.”
Fundamentally, Passons believes it is crucial to protect our seniors’ ability to age in place, foster social participation, ease the safety and availability of transportation access, and make homes more affordable. These must all be a part of the strategy. He referenced the eight domains of livability that AARP has identified and views them as core to a foundation of dignified living. (See bit.ly/2lZSnMh.)
“Our ‘Housing4All’ plan calls for specific incentives for the construction of senior living residences to increase supply while bringing down the costs,” Passons said. “I am working with public and private sector leaders and service providers to propose actions supportive of ongoing essential work, e.g. increasing affordable housing funding to augment state and federal resources; improving aging-in-place support with more resources for retrofitting seniors’ homes; increasing transportation safety and efficiency to protect the safety of all citizens; encouraging senior homes/apartments be built closer to pharmacy/medical needs; and requiring ‘Complete Streets’ design for walker/wheelchair ease of use.”
Passons emphasized that his strategy also calls for a long-term, local source of affordable housing funding in the region, to help ensure that projects like the LGBTQ-affirmed North Park Senior Apartments, developed by Community HousingWorks and located near his home, are built with greater frequency.
“Our government made it harder, and often illegal, for LGBTQ San Diegans to have families that might aid in care during a person’s later years, so this focus is an important example of the need to shift policies long term for all San Diegans,” Passons said. “That includes supporting further retrofitting for seniors so they can remain in their homes as long as possible and augmenting the Older Americans Act funding provided by the U.S. Government with regional resources focused on senior livability.
“The retrofitting issue is acute in District 4, where seniors from Clairemont and La Jolla to North Park, City Heights and southeastern San Diego have lived in their homes for decades, but lack the resources to upgrade with things like ramps, voice-assisted devices, wireless technology upgrades, and so forth.”
In closing, Passons stressed that the position of County Supervisor is “not a ceremonial one,” and that it is “too important” for voters to simply choose a “career politician” for the role.
“Instead, it requires substantive knowledge and relevant experience about the many issues we face,” Passons continued. “I have negotiated multi-party settlements with multiple attorneys as a litigation attorney and have worked with local, state and federal officials, both in public health and as an attorney and community leader. I am a Democrat who has worked with all political persuasions to improve my community and to fight for what I believe in and I bring these skills to my candidacy as well.”
Continue the series:
These interviews are not all-inclusive, so I strongly advise readers to follow up with each candidate about any additional questions they might have. You can also learn more about Lori Saldaña and Omar Passons by visiting their websites, loriforsupervisor.com and omarpassons.com, respectively.
Tune in next issue for the statements of two more candidates, Ken Malbrough and Marcia Nordstrom.
— Bill Kelly is the author of Gay San Diego’s Senior Matters column. He is a longtime local activist who currently focuses on LGBT senior issues and moderates the Caring for our LGBT Seniors in San Diego Facebook page. Access to the group is free to all seniors, their advocates, families, friends and caregivers. Reach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.