By William E. Kelly
Senior crisis, budget and health access key issues
Five candidates seek to replace outgoing San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who represents District 4: Bonnie Dumanis; Nathan Fletcher; Ken Malbrough; Omar Passons; and Lori Saldaña.
County Board of Supervisor Dianne Jacob 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.)
Candidate Lori Saldaña
“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.)
“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
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Candidate Ken Malbrough
“The county has $2 billion in reserve tax dollars just floating in a cloud of unknown use by county supervisors,” Malbrough said.
He said he pledges to “seek community input” on how these reserve tax dollars can best be utilized and would like to see them invested in “chronically neglected or underfunded areas,” such as housing and public safety in underserved communities.
“My priority is reducing our homelessness epidemic and addressing this issue region-wide,” he said. “Providing access to health and human services is the primary and more affordable method to avoid the pathway to homelessness and incarceration.”
Malbrough said the lack of affordable housing for low- and middle-income families in the workforce, the homeless, the disabled, seniors, as well as veterans, also needs to be expanded.
“But first we must convince our citizens that this is a challenge and opportunity to better the lives of human beings, not just an issue that presents a bad optic for the region,” he said. “I would identify the population and predicted growth of homelessness in the region, convene stakeholders to determine roles, responsibilities and funding sources for a county-wide plan to address these goals.”
Malbrough has served as a Deputy Fire Chief, something he feels makes him uniquely qualified to be a county supervisor.
“No other candidate has the relevant applicable leadership experience I have leading an organization with such a large number of personnel and a budget in the hundreds of millions,” he said. “Heading up any large state or city agency, including a fire or police department with the many labor, political, fiscal and bureaucratic challenges provide the actual, practical and directly relevant experience I have had for 31 years at every level.”
He included his 12 years of engaging the community while serving on various planning groups, working with developers, elected officials and other area leaders, often with opposing views of his own.
“I will not have to learn on the job,” he said. “I will not be taken by surprise by any unexpected disasters, fires or outbreaks and epidemics. As a Deputy Fire Chief and community leader, I have worked in virtually every part of the county that I propose to lead as county supervisor.”
“Citizens need good access to health and human services,” he said. “It is the primary and more affordable method to avoid the pathway to homelessness and incarceration.”
Malbrough stressed that the county must “lead the way” in providing the wraparound assistance to health services.
“I would push the board to approve financing to update its website with state-of-the art, user-friendly technology to work with mobile and desktop applications; increase staffing and training and provide outreach to the community to inform them of the services HHS provides. This includes utilization of social media tools, like Facebook and others.”
Malbrough said his plans would also include neighborhood cleanups conducted with an “aggressive environmental health mobilization” and “community benefit agreements” which would address the areas impacted by the homeless population. He also stated there should be a phased timeline on these efforts that is strictly enforced, with community updates and progress reports provided by his own staff.
With regard to the housing crisis, Malbrough believes that having more housing “stock” in the San Diego region would be the “best way to reduce and stabilize” increasing housing costs.
“This can be accomplished by identifying vacant land owned by the County of San Diego; updating all current county community plans and applicable zoning with community input; consider the funding of programmatic environmental impact reviews — a huge developer cost and construction delay issue; synchronizing agency development services and department procedures region-wide; identifying commercial and private lending sources willing to provide reasonable financing in underserved communities for development; and ending the current practice of allowing developers to opt out of providing affordable housing by simply paying a fee.”
You can follow Ken Malbrough’s campaign at kenmalbrough.com.
Candidate Bonnie Dumanis
Former San Diego District Attorney and candidate for County Supervisor Bonnie Dumanis stated that elder abuse remains a serious problem in our county.
“Scams from strangers and undue influence from family and ‘friends’ result in devastating financial losses,” Dumanis said. “Families worry about the potential for abuse of their loved ones in assisted living, skilled nursing or those living in their own homes with or without hired help having their needs neglected because of cognitive problems, depression, hoarding behavior or other concerns.”
Dumanis said she views older adults as a “valuable resource” and emphasized that they should be treated with both dignity and respect.
“I recognize the ‘gray tsunami’ upon us and have witnessed the devastation of elder abuse, neglect and financial scams,” she said. “As the primary caregiver for my aging parents, I have seen older adults treated differently and understand they have fewer options. The attention paid to their specific needs and the quality of those options depends on the funds available.”
Dumanis pointed out that as district attorney, she partnered for many years with supervisors Dianne Jacob, Greg Cox and Ron Roberts to put seniors first.
“Those efforts significantly beefed up the DA’s elder abuse unit, adding two deputy district attorneys, five investigators, two paralegals and expanding our mission to elder residential facilities to make sure every branch in the county has a dedicated elder abuse attorney,” Dumanis said. “I support the monitoring of those facilities and holding accountable those accused of physical or financial abuse or neglect.
“Living and working in District 4 [Hillcrest, Talmadge, Mid-City, North Park, Golden Hills and Downtown] for 40 years has given me great insight into the needs of the district enabling me to develop relationships with residents and leaders of all ages and backgrounds, law enforcement, businesses and groups that serve our seniors,” Dumanis said, further addressing her experience. “Those and other countywide relationships are resources for the ideas and feedback that gets things done!”
“My priorities for addressing senior challenges include creating greater awareness about elder abuse and increasing penalties for abusers,” she said. “Monitoring the care provided by assisted and skilled nursing facilities and paid caregivers and funding the DA’s elder abuse team at needed levels is part of that.”
Dumanis said she intends to continue to work with and “encourage” not only the DA’s office but the Sheriff’s Department to “maintain vigilance of crimes impacting older adults” and wants the County to fund the County’s Aging and Independence Services “to expand education of older adults and their families about all forms of elder abuse, signs of self-neglect and how to alert officials.”
She said she supports “proactive, preventive measures,” like the “Take Me Home Registry,” which helps reunite those with dementia who become lost back with their families, and strengthening Project CARE (Community Action to Reach the Elderly), an all-volunteer program that focuses on supporting older adults who live alone, offering them daily phone calls, which also trains service industry personnel — postal employees, utility workers, bank tellers, as well as clergy — to recognize signs of a problem.
“I want the incidences of self-neglect and isolation reduced,” Dumanis said. “I support more neighborhood intergenerational programs and believe they need to be developed and incentivized to encourage community partners to participate, and community centers, where all ages can interact, need to be promoted.”
As an example, Dumanis suggested a program which would involve youth sharing their technical knowledge with seniors to help them “stay connected” to not only their community, but the resources available to them.
“Many county library branches promote intergenerational programs,” she said. “Perhaps school libraries could also provide a setting for that healthy interaction. Another example is Broadway Heights, where adults and youth work together on civic projects to benefit their area.”
Dumanis said the limited number of affordable housing available impacts everyone, and listed this as one of her top priorities.
“Building affordable housing and providing placement assistance is crucial,” she said, adding that bureaucratic delays increasing time and cost, and that the streamlining of the approval process is needed.
“This is a regional issue and the County must take a leading role in identifying available development sites in all five districts that considers accessibility to libraries, community centers, fire stations, hospitals, etc.,” she said. “We must strive for more walkable and self-contained neighborhoods with easier access to grocery stores, transportation, restaurants and businesses. The same is true for any community. … The LBGTQ-affirming housing for older adults in our community needing services and care is an example and funding for such efforts need to be leveraged.”
Finally, Dumanis offered positions on other relative topics, such as access to reliable transportation for seniors, stating that Uber/Lyft are often not an option since seniors may not use smart phones, and that 211sandiego.org could be a source; and regarding food and nutrition, she stressed a need to create awareness and encourage enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Candidate Nathan Fletcher
Candidate Nathan Fletcher, a US Marine veteran and former state assembly member, started out by saying that there is a “desperate need” of more year-round mental health facilities, nurses, social workers and childcare providers throughout the county.
“We must also take real action to tackle the homeless and public health crises,” he said. “I have called on the County to put the $150 million they offered for a Chargers Stadium into an Emergency Action Fund.
“We have much to accomplish in our region, we need to support public safety, protect the environment, create smart growth opportunities in areas that can support it, and ensure that our most vulnerable populations that include children, the elderly and homeless populations are getting quality service that provide them a better quality of life.
Fletcher identified a number of areas he sees as needing attention, including more transit opportunities; housing that includes “wrap-around services”; better support to caregivers; targeted mental health care; more adult protective services; expanding career training; and establishing a partnership between the city and the county regarding senior centers.
“Maximizing County services and programs can work to support a safe, healthy San Diego,” he said
“I’ve dedicated my life to taking on the status quo and making a real difference in people’s lives,” Fletcher said. “I served in the Marines. In the legislature, I passed over 30 laws to reduce carbon emissions, invest in renewable energy, expand healthcare coverage, close corporate tax loopholes, protect homeowners and advocate for kids.”
Nathan says, “I have been a staunch supporter of stronger environmental protection and conservation measures to conserve water, preserve sensitive habitats and expand California’s renewable energy portfolio. I’ve remained active fighting for what I believe in and I: joined the environmental movement in advocating for the statewide plastic bag ban; stood with union janitors in their fight to win a fair contract and decent wages; worked hand in hand with labor to help pass the local minimum wage increase; founded a Veterans Foundation to help our returning heroes get the services and support they need and worked to advance progressive causes and elect progressive Democratic candidates.” Fletcher declared, I’m more ready than ever to put my proven experience to work delivering real results to build a brighter future for all of San Diego.”
One of his biggest concerns are the status quo approaches that are “leaving our most vulnerable neighbors” — the sick, elderly and children — at risk.
“For too long, the County has stood by letting people go without vital health resources, stepping up to protect our environment, and not fighting for better services for our children and seniors.” Fletcher said. “I will be a critical voice for those who need it most when I come into office.”
Fletcher said the county needs to provide “high quality programing” for its senior residents, “so they can age with dignity and a high quality of life.”
He also addressed the homeless issue, promising to use best practices found in other urban communities around the country, including creative approaches and the “Housing First” initiative; his support of the First 5 program for children; and his commitment to enforcing a strong Climate Action Plan.
“I will ensure that the County leads our region with a comprehensive creative approach to problem solving,” Fletcher said. “We can accomplish this by creating coalitions with our local partners, academia and nonprofits who work to support San Diegans. Additionally, my office will have robust constituent services that will support community requests in an expedited matter. I want voters to know that they have an advocate in me and that I will work tirelessly to address their ideas and concerns and lead San Diego in a progressive direction.”
—Bill Kelly 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.