By Kendra Sitton | Editor
On May 16, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher addressed a dozen City Heights residents while sipping coffee under the sunlit patio at Burly and the Bean. It was the second community coffee forum he appeared at that Saturday — his whirlwind day of outreach began at 4 a.m. with a flight from Sacramento and concluded with the first-ever San Diego youth-oriented budget forum.
Before he was able to get into specific policy goals, he first had to educate forum attendees about the services San Diego County is in charge of and how the board of supervisors governs them. Most of the county’s budget goes toward Health and Human Services (HHS) and he also mentioned visiting the courthouse to get married and adopting his children — both of which are under the purview of the county. While the county has a significantly larger budget and more employees than the city, the intractable Board of Supervisor as long refrained from taking up any major initiatives.
“Prior to me being elected, you had very little turnover,” Fletcher explained about county staff. “You had the same five folks that shared a general approach and ideology and background. I just said, well I think the county can do more. I think the county can take what its done and do exponentially more. It can be more committed to the neighborhood, more committed to the community and more committed to tackling a lot of the issues we face. A lot of that requires a more progressive approach, but also just a more aggressive approach.”
In the wake of San Diego’s “wholly preventable” 2016-17 hepatitis A outbreak, and with Fletcher altering the makeup of the board to include a Democrat, that reticence to take action could be changing. Since he took office five months ago, the board has agreed to the single largest jump in HHS funding in San Diego history, opened a courthouse to asylum-seekers, and on May 22, made stronger air pollution rules.
Still, it’s clear the Marine Corps combat veteran is in the minority on certain issues — the board recently voted to oppose AB 392, the police lethal-use-of-force bill, and continued to support expanding freeways.
“We don’t win them all but we’re pushing every day and we’re engaging every day,” Fletcher said.
Despite not all of his proposals passing, Fletcher campaigned for change and it is clear he is delivering it as the Republican-dominated board agreed to use reserve funds to bankroll affordable housing projects and is addressing other regional issues head on.
Although Fletcher said he is willing to work with the current board members, he is planning to campaign heavily in the next election cycle. Longtime supervisors Dianne Jacob and Greg Cox are termed out, which means a total of 3 of the 5 seats will be in play in the next election.
“I would like a board that more reflects my views. I’ll work to campaign for folks who share those and if they get elected, I’ll work with them and if not, I’ll work with whomever the people elect,” he said.
In addition to changing the makeup of the county, he is helping to raise the profile of the county on the state level and also working with City Council after what Fletcher described as years of “hostile” relations between the two entities. His entire district is in the city of San Diego, making his close relationships with six of the council members, as well as Mayor Kevin Faulconer, key in meeting the needs of his constituents since the county does not have a say in the land-use issues most likely to affect voters.
“The mayor, he finally feels like he has an ally and an advocate at the county because a lot of the things he’s pushing the county to do, I’m pushing the county to do,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher’s close relationship with Governor Gavin Newsom is another major benefit he brings to the San Diego region. The day before his community meetings, Fletcher was in Sacramento for a vote on his appointment to the California Air Resources Board, a position for which Newsom nominated him in January.
“We have a governor who actually knows where San Diego is. We get forgotten about all the time because it’s like the rest of the state can’t see south of LA. [Newsom’s] been down four or five times,” Fletcher said.
He also mentioned Newsom spent an hour in his office on a recent visit which he said was the first time a governor of California has visited the county. The pair discussed each of their policy goals.
“We’ve kind of been this sleepy beach town. We’re at that grinding inflection point where we’re changing,” Fletcher said. “I think there’s an exciting decade coming in San Diego.”
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org