San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher used Thursday evening’s State of the County speech to unveil numerous proposals, including improving mental health care, reducing drug addiction and tackling inequality.

“Our county can’t rise to its full potential if so many San Diegans are prevented from rising at all,” Fletcher said.

To offer aid to those suffering from mental illness or experiencing homelessness or other ills, he cited the need for a number of new or expanded programs to serve those in need.

Fletcher said the coronavirus pandemic increased mental health challenges and the county must build a network of comprehensive care to serve residents “in the right place, at the right time.”

One example is new mobile crisis response teams, as part of a pilot program, that Fletcher said “replace cops with clinicians” by de-escalating situations and providing treatment.

The program will be taken countywide, but more health care professionals are needed, Fletcher said.

Last year, the board voted for a crisis hub in the Hillcrest neighborhood, to help people break the cycle of drug addiction, disease and incarceration. The board also voted for harm reduction policies on drugs and use of Naloxone to prevent fatal overdoses, Fletcher said.

To Fletcher, supportive housing goes hand-in-hand with drug treatment.

He also pointed to evidence of racism’s prevalence in society, noting that a Latino child in Barrio Logan is seven times more likely to have asthma than a white child in Solana Beach.

No doubt the county will face opposition to such projects, “but we can no longer let the `not in my backyard’ nay-sayers dictate policy,” Fletcher said. “People are hurting. Neighborhoods are suffering. And we have to do better.”

Other proposals the board chairman unveiled during the hour-long speech included:

  • Increasing county contracts with local business, which would mean $75 million more for economy;
  • Establishing a workplace justice initiative to protect low-wage workers, along with opening a labor standards enforcement office;
  • Creating a San Diego film office to bring more film and television jobs to the region;
  • Shaping a new framework for jail health care;
  • Opening an office helping refugees and immigrants;
  • Expanding the county Waterfront Park in downtown San Diego to feature more amenities, including athletic courts, a dog park and chess tables, and
  • Appointing a task force with regional and tribal leadership to help finish the 52-mile walking and biking paths of the San Diego River Park, a project that began 20 years ago.

The county cannot lose its focus on public safety, but leaders can also “make justice, fairness and opportunity a core principle,” he said.

Fletcher also praised residents for their efforts to combat the COVID- 19 pandemic, which reminded him of his time as a Marine in Iraq.

“We got up and got in the fight,” Fletcher said, adding that like combat, the pandemic will “leave some scars, some loss – but also leave the legacy of a community that came together. We’ve come through the darkest winter, and are truly headed into a brighter spring.”

Fletcher said while there are still many challenges ahead, he wanted to present the progress made since the county government officially declared a state of emergency on Feb. 14, 2020 as coronavirus outbreaks began in the United States.

“We don’t strive simply to get back to normal,” Fletcher said. “We want better than that.”

Fletcher spoke while standing in the county’s emergency medical operations center, with a limited audience due to the pandemic.

Fletcher praised the thousands of dedicated workers “who responded to a pandemic that has tested us and divided us in a year that has shown us the very best of us, and sadly, the worst.”

“As I stand before you tonight, I have no doubt: The state of our county is resilient,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said he has been inspired by a restaurant owner who abided by county restrictions and a woman who delivered groceries to seniors.

In addition, he said registered nurse Michelle Pingol, who sang the national anthem before he spoke, “represents a workforce that has wowed us for a year, with their grace, their passion and commitment.”

“You did not give up your commitment and you didn’t lose hope – and neither did our county,” Fletcher said.

Residents must continue to do their part to reduce the coronavirus’ spread by wearing masks and taking other precautions, he added.

But now, “we have the hope of a vaccine present,” he said.  “The sooner everyone gets vaccinated, the sooner we get our lives back.”

San Diego County has been a leader in the number of vaccines administered, with the first “super station” opening in January.

“We are continuing to press ahead as best we can,” despite some frustrations, Fletcher said.

More than 684,000 vaccines have been administered in San Diego County, “but it’s not enough – we have to do more,” Fletcher said.

He added the county will soon begin vaccinating teachers,  grocery store workers and law enforcement officers.

Fletcher acknowledged that leading the county’s health care response has at times “been a choice of bad options and no options.”

The county has a lower death rate than surrounding counties, “but our kids still aren’t in school,” he said.

While there has been tens of millions of dollars in economic aid for communities, “it didn’t stop the pain,” Fletcher said.

“Too many small businesses on the brink, too many families pushed to the edge. We see clearly there is a pandemic of inequality that we must stamp out.”

Before Fletcher’s address, viewers heard a short introduction by a representative of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, speaking in his tribal language, surrounded by other tribal officials. The invocation was given by leaders from the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

There was also a short video presentation featuring Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer.

Note: Photo credit – Screen shot, @countysandiego, via YouTube.

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