Downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone
A view of downtown San Diego’s East Village and the inner-city neighborhoods stretching to the east. Photo by Chris Stone

True digital equity in San Diego is long overdue, but with the recent release of Mayor Todd Gloria’s strategic plan, there’s hope. The plan includes various infrastructure initiatives, laying a robust foundation for digital equity progress in San Diego.

In addition to housing and transportation needs, the mayor has made it clear that one of his administration’s main priorities is equitable digital access for all. The strategic plan’s digital priorities are an extension to Gloria’s Access 4 All program, which attempted to bridge the digital divide in the summer of 2021 by providing free wifi hotspots to students learning remotely. However, the strategic plan is only the first step to providing the digital infrastructure our students need. 

With digital equity tied to so many social systems like education and health access, it makes sense why it’s a top priority for Gloria and should be a clear goal for all our elected officials. It is their responsibility to support digital equity not only so that they can best reach and serve their constituents, but so that they can provide the essential services needed for San Diegans to thrive and participate in their communities and beyond. 

As a former educator in the San Diego Unified School District, I have seen the impact the digital divide has on students, especially those who are low-income or from communities of color. Virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the educational  divide, placing critical emphasis on the  need to secure digital access for all. 

During my San Diego City Council presidency I also saw the need to bridge the digital divide to bolster further civic engagement, which was a top priority when I founded nonprofit RISE San Diego in 2014. True digital equity can only be achieved when our elected leaders are shown how they can best advocate and create policies that aim to bridge the divide.

While it is necessary for our elected leaders to lead the way in bridging the digital divide for their communities, partnering with companies that are already doing the work is a great way to learn more about this issue. Crown Castle, a telecommunications infrastructure provider, has recently partnered with RISE through their Connected by Good program. RISE and Crown Castle are working together to educate future elected leaders about ways to expand internet access for communities across San Diego. 

Our partnership with Crown Castle will expand our training of future leaders on how to support their communities by working toward achieving digital equity. RISE offers a number of programs fostering civic engagement, leadership development, and access to business opportunities, all of which encourage dialogue and action on issues affecting urban communities in San Diego. We apply an adaptive leadership framework that empowers leaders to tackle challenges in their respective communities.

The mayor’s strategic plan to rebuild San Diego provides the perfect opportunity to address the digital divide. Gloria has placed digital equity as a top priority in the past and this plan provides practical solutions to closing the divide.

It’s time for all of our elected officials and our future leaders to learn and work together with our community leaders, service providers and other organizations to ensure everyone in San Diego has the tools to thrive as active members in our city and in the world. 

Former San Diego City Councilman Tony Young is president and CEO of RISE San Diego. The organization’s mission is to elevate and advance urban leadership through dialogue-based civic engagement, dynamic nonprofit partnerships, and direct training and support to increase the capacity of urban residents to effect meaningful community change.