Homelessness is a major issue in our community. Early this year, my campaign released our Hope4Homeless plan to provide greater County leadership around tackling homelessness. We sat down with policy experts, homeless youth, front line service providers, and did quite a bit of research. Add that to my own experience serving Rachel’s Women’s Center as part of Catholic Charities Homeless Women’s Services Advisory Committee several years ago and a healthy amount of journalism from Kelly Davis, Kelly Bennett-Heyd, David Garrick, Lisa Halverstadt and a few other journalists and we feel good that we’d spent meaningful time understanding before writing. Then this other thing happened. Read More
We get asked regularly why our campaign shirts have the word ‘believe’ printed on the front above our Omar4SD logo. There are two primary reasons. The first comes out of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that I became aware of while on a trip with my wife to the King Memorial in Washington, D.C. a few years back.
This quote is from Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
I started the clip at the point of the quote, but it is a great speech overall. There is quite a lot to love about this speech, especially as we look at how some things in our region and our country are going right now. But for me, I deeply believe in affirming the dignity, equality, and humanity of every person. I loved this quote and wanted to carry it with us throughout the campaign.
Okay, what’s the other reason?
The other reason for using ‘believe’ as a mantra, a hashtag, a talking point, and just a point of discussion is that we want everyone in San Diego to believe in a different type of leadership and a different type of politics. We believe we can have the type of leadership that focuses on making life better rather than taking political shots at others. We believe that the residents of the County’s District 4 ought to decide who represents them, not monied interests, political parties or Sacramento lobbyists and power brokers. We believe in supporting our region’s children, in protecting our seniors, and in having honest – if difficult – public conversations about where our region is going.
Join us. Believe with us. Believe that we can focus on issues and substance rather than insider politics. Believe in what makes San Diego beautiful and San Diegans warm and welcoming people and we can and will change the course of our region for the better!
On April 4th, the University of San Diego Black Law Students Association brought acclaimed author and education scholar Richard Rothstein to the law school to share details about his book The Color of Law. The book is important for a number of reasons and in a brief conversation before the discussion, Professor Rothstein noted the same point I always stress: this is not about blame, it is about progress. None of us were alive or involved in these decisions, but understanding their effect matters to the choices we now make.
The term “color of law” has two meanings in the context of the book. It is a term of art in the legal field that means an action was taken with the force or protection of the law. Also, because the book is about government policies that intentionally discriminated based on the color of a person’s skin. This latter meaning will seem like an absurd thing to most people today, because of course it is. But we must move to deepening our understanding of why our economy is so uneven in San Diego, the impacts that has on population health in communities, and the role the County can play in getting us on the right track. To do this, taking a quick look at a couple examples from Rothstein’s book will help.
[NOTE: Visit Part I in this series to see a series of San Diego’s redline maps and the associated impacts]
Professor Rothstein highlighted one example in the Bay Area community of
Richmond. There was almost no segregation in the community before the World War II boom. As the war needs increased and people flooded to the area for work, a local company needed to build more homes for its employees to live in. The government wouldn’t provide the resources needed unless the homes were segregated. This provided shiny new homes close to work for the White families and dingy, second-rate, distant homes for the African-American families.
Another example from Professor Rothstein’s talk really brings the conversation home. One builder wanted to build 17,000 homes. Obviously no company has that kind of money laying around. To get the money, the federal government made the builder commit to not allowing African-American families to purchase or live in the homes. Not surprisingly in California, over time the homes built for white residents rose dramatically in value and those homes were not available to the African-American population. That’s wealth the families who were able to move in captured while the African-American families didn’t.
In San Diego, we have an opportunity to get our economy working for everyone in a way that doesn’t make us beholden to the sins of the past but acknowledges the role we had in creating today’s inequality. This is not a discussion about blame. It is about moving us forward and getting our economy and our communities to benefit from true, meaningful inclusion.
Supervisor Candidate Omar Passons discusses the role of local and federal government policy in stunting wealth in certain communities and the County’s role in improving economic opportunity for all San Diegans. For more details and other episodes visit www.facebook.com/blacktivision.
Throughout the campaign, we have come to know many stories of other children in and out of foster care who have shown tremendous resilience in their lives. We are featuring these stories to help voters connect with the young people our policies seek to help. “Steven” is a great example. The identifying details have been changed to protect his privacy, but this is Steven’s story:
When Steven (name/details changed) turned 18 he realized, like many transitional aged foster youth, that he was quickly running out of options for a secure place to live, a steady nutritious food source, and support services he relied on for most of his life in foster care. When basic needs such as shelter and food go unmet or are insecure it seems like college typically gets bumped pretty far down on one’s list of priorities. Not for Steven. He knew a college education could provide expanded opportunities and greater financial security. So he set his sights higher and began applying to community colleges throughout the San Diego area.
As a bright young man who excelled in high school despite facing the unique set of challenges that come with being a foster youth, Steven was accepted to the majority of schools where he applied. Steven did not let the almost yearly moves to different foster homes and new schools deter him, nor the staggering statistic that only 3% of foster youth graduate from college. Steven was able to obtain a strong financial aid package which provided funds to cover most of his tuition, books, and supplies. However, with the majority of community colleges not providing any student housing, Steven was left without a secure place to live. How would he balance the demands of being a full time student while working two jobs just to meet his basic needs?
Transitional age foster youth approaching 18 are often at-risk of falling off of a figurative cliff – going from relatively secure housing, food, and support services, into an abyss of being on their own with little to no money, no access to resources, and no real opportunity. Steven knew these odds, but through connecting with a range of nonprofit organizations and community resources such as Wesley House Student Residence, he was able to advocate for himself to find a home. That effort enabled him to pave a path to success as a full time student who also holds down two part time jobs. Steven is currently on track to transfer to a 4 year college. It is often difficult for people to imagine our most basic needs such as food and shelter not being a given in our lives. Steven’s resilience will continue to serve him well. However, our County leadership must make a commitment to providing increased access to resources and support services for those like Steven, which will serve our entire community well, too.
Learn more – Podcast Episode 2: What the County Actually Does?
Today is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the accomplishments of women worldwide and #PressforProgress. While strides have been made towards gender equality, we still have a very long way to go. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report shows us that gender parity is over 200 years away. This is unacceptable and it will take all of us to accelerate the change we need. .
My campaign has focused on the critical need to support our region’s children and our senior citizens. On their own, these are two very important issues about which I am passionate, but they are much more than that. These are also critical issues for the equal rights of women. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, approximately 66% of all caregivers are women. This means that women are more likely than men to sacrifice their careers and dreams to care for their children or their parents. This social phenomenon has placed women at a huge disadvantage. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 29% of women forgo a job promotion because of their role as caregiver, 33% decrease their work hours, 16% quit their jobs, and 13% retire early. While these are personal decisions, societal pressures and expectations of women to care for others are significant reasons why women sacrifice so much for the ones they love.
Providing high-quality, affordable and accessible child care and stronger supports for seniors would move the San Diego region more quickly towards the equality women deserve. Providing these resources would help empower women by restoring their time and increasing the financial stability of many homes. Similarly, placing more economic and social value on caregiving by paying reasonable wages to qualified individuals would help change perceptions around the idea of caregiving. I recognize my privilege as a man in our society. It is a privilege that comes with an obligation to fight for equality. Our campaign is committed to providing greater leadership that will help our children and our region’s seniors. This leadership will also support moving towards gender equality and true opportunity for women and girls in our society.
My team has been working very hard for months. So, to celebrate one team member’s birthday and thank them for showing up every day to help me fight for a better, more inclusive San Diego region we went to see Marvel’s new movie Black Panther. The movie was based on the first African American superhero comic book that made its debut in 1966. There are plenty of pieces online about the importance of positive depictions of Black characters in film and especially in earlier eras of American pop culture, so I won’t cover that ground. I did find a few things particularly noteworthy about the movie and I thought I’d share.
My first observation is about Shuri. She plays the tech-savvy sibling of King T’Challa (the Black Panther). She isn’t needlessly sexualized nor portrayed as surprisingly bright or unusually gifted – which is to say the story doesn’t make her ability to achieve seem at all out of reach. She is an intelligent, intellectually curious young person who shows how cool it can be to be “into tech.” Shuri was the hero of the first major car chase of the movie and even when the outsider CIA agent was flying a spacecraft to protect the world, he was doing so using the tech she created. Nice job, Team Panther.
The second big nod relates to the first for me. None of the women needed saving, none were scantily clad, and there was nothing particularly out of place about the elders, the general, or Shuri’s character all being women. There were men in leading roles, to be sure, but the movie didn’t feel to me to be nearly as gender-tilted as these can frequently feel. I’m a man so probably you should take my perception with a grain of salt, but that’s how it felt to me.
Finally, for those who stayed past the credits to the final scene, we were able to hear two very useful reminders. King T’Challa made the important point that we are generally better off building bridges with one another rather than barriers to separate us. As a San Diego native who is excited about Mexico’s role in our shared culture and heritage, this is something I’m happy to see at our own international border – where we quite literally have built a bridge between California and Mexico. The final note of the movie was something I am always glad to hear people reiterate. Our differences, no matter how deep or strong they feel, are never as deep nor as strong as the ties that bind us.
Many people may recall Queen Bey’s nod to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in her Super Bowl performance a few years ago. What is far less well known in many circles is the voting rights connection to the Black Panther woven into the title of this post that pre-dated both the Marvel comic and the more well-known efforts led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. In 1966, the same year that Marvel created the Black Panther character, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization was created in Alabama to create for African Americans the opportunity for a voice in political leadership. I am running for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors with the knowledge that my opportunity to represent our region’s most diverse district would not be possible without the sacrifices made in Lowndes County and many other communities.
As someone committed to our region’s youth, I am grateful for a movie that can help them believe it is okay to be excited about science and be excited to see images of humility, grace and strength in the characters of this movie. It was a fun movie with great action scenes and a classic good versus evil plot line, but it was a quite a bit more and I’m glad we took some time out to watch.
Click to view in iTunes
My foster/adoptive parents were much older than most parents because they started foster care after their own children were grown. When my mother broke her hip a few years ago, I witnessed firsthand how fragmented and difficult our system of care for senior citizens in the San Diego region can be. As a poor senior on a fixed income, my mother found it difficult to identify and access supportive services, and had to rely on her children’s help. But what about seniors without family close by?
In this episode, I discuss ways that our region can and should increase focus on senior care and housing affordability issues. I touch on elements of the domains of livability that senior advocacy organizations have identified as critical to providing for a dignified life in one’s later years, and point to solutions that can better advance the care and inclusion of our senior population. The County of San Diego runs an Office of Aging and Independence Services that administers programs and services primarily funded from federal and state sources, but I think it can and should do more.
The critical takeaway is that our population is aging and, with limited incomes and crushing housing costs, we run the risk of creating a wave of severely challenged older adults that have significant and prolonged impacts on our region’s economic and social well-being.
At the invitation of a very kind man named David Mulvaney, I joined a group of volunteers to prepare food for San Diegans who do not have enough food to eat. We met at Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego, which is at 15th and Imperial, not too far from a major transit stop and across from the Metropolitan Transit System bus yard. I had been down there before, most recently on two tours of the property by the CEO Deacon Jim Vargas while I was deepening my understanding before releasing our Hope4Homeless plan (link below). Deacon Jim is the kind of compassionate, driven person necessary for this work, as the people in need have a range of very severe issues and the politics of truly helping can get messy.
I walked up the main courtyard and saw dozens of people. The men and women I saw were someone’s brother or sister or mother or father…and they were all struggling to make it. One good reason to spend time here is that it is an important reminder that the “homeless crisis” is about actual, flesh and blood human beings living in often awful conditions and in desperate need. It is a direct, specific reminder of the human difficulties involved – the disability, the varied hygiene, the mental health struggles…and the hunger.
We were assigned to the kitchen to help prep 900 hamburger patties from big tubs of seasoned raw meat. Four of us were ‘team hamburger’ and with the help of the chef we quickly formed an assembly line to push through our task. As the four of us stood and scooped and patted and shaped hamburger, we talked about our lives. I talked about running for the County Board of Supervisors and the elements of our Hope4Homeless plan, and about my biological mother’s own struggle with mental illness and homelessness. More importantly, I listened to the three men volunteering with me from three very different life circumstances share about their companies, their life journeys, and their commitment to making a difference.
In the end, as I left and reflected on my own experience I felt the anger well up inside me. I think when we allow ourselves to face homelessness and hunger up close it can light a more consistent fire to drive change. What we are doing now as a community is unacceptable and you can really feel how intolerable it is when standing among hundreds of hungry people who are trying to survive. I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve them, grateful to have volunteered with a few very decent people, and also grateful for the very direct reminder of why I wake up every morning fighting to represent the 4th Supervisor’s District. It is not to hold down some political post or build some stepping stone to the future. It is about fundamentally changing our system in this community to improve the lives – and opportunities – of the people across San Diego County.
You can read our whole Hope4Homeless plan here.
Episode 3: The rent is killing us! Explaining Housing4All and our plan to address the housing crisis
(Click the play button below to listen to Episode 3 – 15:03 minutes)
Summary of Episode 3
San Diego is a beautiful place to live. The weather is great, the people are friendly, and there is plenty of year-round outdoor fun to be had. Add to that one of the top life sciences regions in the world, fun and economically impactful craft beer and hospitality sectors, and world class higher education, and San Diego is a highly desirable city to call home. One problem. We have a finite amount of land, too much climate-crippling sprawl, and a growing population of residents. The result? Really, really expensive housing.
In this podcast episode, we explore the basic mechanics of how our high cost of living is driven by the housing market, and specific policy steps identified in our Housing4All plan that we can take to change this. San Diego will always have a weather advantage over most of the country. We can’t rest on that advantage because if more people in the middle class cannot afford to live here, there will be no one to build new homes, no one to work in our local industries, and no one to teach our children or care for our seniors. A top-heavy economic structure hurts our long-term economic competitiveness.
You’ll hear in this podcast how I believe that specific steps, like overhauling County zoning, streamlining building processes and investing in youth construction workforce and paid internships can bring down the cost of entry level homes. My campaign was also the first of any candidacy in the region to call for a long-term, local source of affordable housing funding because we recognize that the market simply cannot solve all our housing needs on its own – no matter what the textbooks might suggest.
As a construction and land use attorney, I have spent much of my career focused on helping get things built in the public and private sectors – so I understand the challenges and our Housing4All plan reflects my background and perspective. Thanks for listening!
I received a note Friday night that the Labor Council – an umbrella organization made up of the leadership of over 100 affiliated unions in San Diego and Imperial Counties – decided to only invite one candidate in the race for County Supervisor to be considered for endorsement. I’d like to go to every organization that represents San Diegans, regardless of party affiliation or ideology. My policy positions and actions are shaped by my values and by listening to voters, so their representatives should have audience – if those leaders want one. In the case of the leadership of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Labor Council, it appears they did not want to hear me out or learn what I stand for.
Here’s the thing, though, that is completely their right to elect not to invite me in. They don’t owe me a thing. Let me explain.
It is my job to try to work with everyone, to be fair, and to be open-minded. It is the Labor Council’s job to represent their members as they see fit and to take or reject anything I say as they choose. I am a supporter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) San Diego chapter, for example. This is a group of primarily African American members of the United Domestic Workers Association, the labor union that represents in-home healthcare workers. My campaign manager and I went to their most recent general meeting on the 18th of this month. We went even though the leadership already decided to publicly support another candidate. We went because the issues in-home healthcare workers face are not less important because they endorsed someone else. We went because my values drive my actions.
The plumbers and hotel workers and caregivers and sheet metal workers and federal government employees and many others who are members of those unions deserve candidates who will fight for a better region for every San Diegan. That is what I’m doing. They will all benefit if we implement the tenets of our StrongStarts4All plan with things like affordable quality child care and after school support. They will all benefit from our campaign’s attention to making housing more affordable with an approach that recognizes, as our Housing4All plan does, we must have market and subsidized solutions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to fight for every San Diegan. I would prefer the chance to have an earnest dialogue with every constituent, but I do recognize that no group owes me the right to that dialogue. We will just keep working hard and fighting for what we believe in. Thanks for reading!