by Morgan Hurley
District 4 of San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors has been without a supervisor since late March of this year. District 4 is the smallest and yet the most densely populated supervisorial district within the county, and it includes Hillcrest.
The very public fall from grace of Supervisor Nathan Fletcher at that time was a huge disappointment to our community. He and his wife, former assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, were huge allies to our community, often appearing at various local LGBTQ events and always supporting our many organizations.
As chair of the board of supervisors, Fletcher very adeptly led our region through the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Mpox outbreak. He had just announced his bid for the state senate at the first of the year, and since he’d already served in the state assembly, his career trajectory seemed limitless. That is, until he fell victim to his own libido and it ended that career.
Fletcher’s poor judgment not only got him in trouble with his wife, family, colleagues, and constituents, it forced a special election – estimated to cost $2 million – to fill his seat for the balance of his current term, which was to end in 2027.
On Aug. 15, the special election pitted four candidates against each other: City Council President Pro Tem Monica Montgomery-Steppe (D), Janessa Goldbeck (D), Amy Reichert (R), and Paul McQuigg (R).
Since no one got 50% of the vote during that election, the two top vote getters – who happened to be a democrat and a republican – now move to a run-off this Nov. 7.
The current make-up of the Board of Supervisors is two women, Nora Vargas (D-1) and Terra Lawson-Remer (D-3), and two men, Joel Anderson (D-2) and Jim Desmond (D-5). Vargas is the only person of color (POC).
Two candidates will be on the ballot Nov. 7 for the vacant district 4 seat, Monica Montgomery-Steppe and Amy Reichert. So regardless of who wins, the board will consist of three women and two men after the election. Both women identify themselves as allies of the LGBTQ community.
As a public service to our readers, LGBTQ San Diego County News reached out to both Montgomery-Steppe and Reichert with the same set of eight questions, all which our editorial board came up with.
We are publishing their answers in this issue in their entirety, with only minor edits for clarity and grammar.
—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at [email protected].
[LGBTQ San Diego County News (LGBTQ SDCN)]
Do you think our county government is currently headed in the right direction?
[Amy Reichert (Amy)]
No. San Diego is at a crossroads. From Hillcrest to Southeastern San Diego to Spring Valley, community members are sharing with me how shocked, disappointed and powerless they feel about the sudden drastic decline in just the past five years in San Diego. Homelessness, public safety and cost of living are causing people to suffer and it is the direct result of the failed policies of our current elected officials.
As supervisor, I will enhance transparency, community engagement and accountability. We need a change of direction, not higher taxes at the hands of career politicians. I’ll work to ensure efficiency and that our government is responsive to the needs of our diverse community so that everyone knows they have a seat at the table, not just special interests.
[Monica Montgomery-Steppe (Monica)]
The County has made a lot of progress in the last several years. Unfortunately, we have experienced a set back, which is why we’re having this election in the first place. People are suffering from real impacts that affect them every day, such as rising gas prices, high housing costs, and many other factors that contribute to our high cost of living. We also see serious social issues that lead to disparities in health and human services.
The County Board of Supervisors have the ability to work together to leverage funds and resources to make a positive change in our region, but we have to take a new approach and hold ourselves accountable to the people we serve. I believe we have all the tools to move in that direction.
[LGBTQ SDCN] What do you see as the most important priorities/duties of the Board of Supervisors?
[Amy] A county supervisor has one job. Serve the people of San Diego, not special interests. The organizational chart for the County clearly shows that it is the people at the top then the Board of Supervisors. But the reality is, special interests are at the top. People do not feel seen, people do not feel heard.
As Supervisor, I will work regionally with stakeholders and people with lived experience to address homelessness, improve public health, foster economic development, lower the cost of living and ensure public safety. I’ll also focus on promoting sustainability and environmental protection, which are vital in our region.
[Monica] Our first issue will be rebuilding trust in the County government. At City Hall, I have led the region toward equity in economic opportunity, public safety, and neighborhood services. I want to build on that work, but first we need to ensure and rebuild trust with the residents so that there is greater community participation and representation in the issues we face.
The major issues I will focus on initially are: Increasing economic opportunity for all, including the region’s most vulnerable; investment in neighborhoods and communities, from housing to healthcare resources; and, building a holistic public safety infrastructure that works to prevent crime and homelessness.
[LGBTQ SDCN] HIV still continues to be a health challenge for many, especially those in the LGBTQ community. How would you prioritize HIV funding and care in the region if elected?
[Amy] I’ll prioritize increased funding for prevention, education, and treatment programs. We must reduce stigma, provide accessible healthcare, and engage in public awareness campaigns to combat this health challenge effectively. We need to protect vulnerable communities and ensure they are receiving a dignified, holistic approach to prevention and treatment.
Before making decisions regarding funding, I would consult with those directly affected by HIV to guarantee the decisions being made best serve the LGBTQ community. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the San Diego LGBT Community Center for making remarkable strides in this field, and I am dedicated to ensuring support for community based organizations who are doing great work for our LGBTQ community.
[Monica] San Diego has taken some proactive steps and had some early successes in addressing those affected by HIV. Like other public health issues, we can’t rest until everyone who needs help receives it. HIV can disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups more and inequities and discrimination can create barriers to care.
Public health is one of my biggest motivators for pursuing this role as County Supervisor. As someone who has relied on public services for health reasons myself, I know firsthand how lifting folks up when they are in a time of need sets them up to succeed in the future. We need to increase access to affordable healthcare including HIV care, especially for underserved communities, by making it accessible and ensuring it is funded.
[LGBTQ SDCN] Homelessness is considered by many to be one of the biggest issues currently facing our region. How do you plan to address this crisis?
[Amy] Homelessness is indeed one of our most significant challenges for District Four and the humanitarian crisis is heartbreaking. I’ll advocate for a comprehensive approach that includes affordable housing initiatives, mental health services, and job training programs. Collaboration with community organizations is key to providing long-term solutions.
I am the only candidate with a plan for homelessness and the only candidate that supports the Unsafe Camping Ordinance. It is not compassionate to allow people to sleep and die on our streets. It is not fair to the community that they do not feel safe walking across the Vermont Street Bridge.
We need to do better for those individuals who are ready for help – people who lost their housing because the rents are too damn high, domestic violence victims, foster care youth who age out of the system, for the elderly, the disabled and LGBTQ kids who are kicked out of their homes.
When it comes to the segment of the unhoused population that is severely mentally ill, struggling with severe addiction and committing crimes, there must be accountability, enforcement and mandatory treatment so the cycle of arrest and return to the streets only to be arrested again is replaced with treatment, recovery and hope. With this population, my plan for the chronic homeless who are committing crimes, struggling with severe addiction and/or mental illness is shelter first with treatment.
We learned a lot from housing people in the Convention Center during the pandemic. We learned we need a regional response. We have the resources to have enough shelters, mental health services, and tools necessary for recovery – we just need to allocate the budget with a proactive, comprehensive plan rather than the current piecemeal approaches.
[Monica] Data from the Regional Task Force on Homelessness shows for every 10 people who make it out of homelessness, 13 experience homelessness for the first time. Prevention is at the forefront of our region’s policy-making needs. The County needs to devote resources toward the issue, period. Criminalizing homelessness, without providing a sufficient amount of shelter, is not the solution. In fact, it exacerbates the problem by creating an endless cycle of poverty and preventing the vulnerable families and youth from finding stable housing.
Regional coordination is key, and requires an in-depth knowledge of how municipal government works. I am the candidate in this race with the proven expertise needed to facilitate the regional coordination necessary to solve these issues. At the County, I would continue championing tenant protections, subsidies, and other solutions.
We also need to push the state and federal governments to create a sustainable, on-going source of funding to increase the supply of shelter beds, permanent supportive housing, and case workers to assist the unsheltered population. I will continue working with my peers at the state and federal levels, and hold the region accountable for leveraging every tool in our toolbox.
Additionally, it is imperative the County review all opportunities of county-owned land that can be used for donations or subsidies, encouraging non-profit developers and housing service providers to provide low-cost to no-cost homelessness solutions.
[LGBTQ SDCN] We are currently experiencing a national blow back regarding LGBTQ rights and seeing growing attacks on trans rights, especially legislatively. California, and specifically San Diego County, is a bastion of support for these individuals. How do you plan to support these individuals?
[Amy] I am proudly endorsed by Gina Roberts, a transgender woman and San Diego County Commissioner for Human Relations. No one should ever be discriminated against because of their gender or because of who they love. I will never tolerate any hateful language or harmful legislation that discriminates against the trans community and the LGBTQ community. San Diego County is a beacon of support for LGBTQ individuals. I’ll continue this legacy by advocating for inclusive policies and supporting legislation that safeguards LGBTQ constitutional rights. It’s essential to foster a welcoming and protective environment for everyone in our great community.
[Monica] I firmly stand in support of LGBTQ+ rights and safety, and use my platform to speak out on this topic, just like I have on other progressive issues. I will take any opportunity to vote in support of protections the County can provide to ensure discrimination has no home here. In my current capacity, I have used my platform to lift up and honor black trans lives, partnered with the Black LGBTQ Coalition, and provided discretionary funding from my District 4 office to various LGBTQ+ causes across the region.
Most recently, I have supported additional funding for an LGBTQ+ youth shelter run by the San Diego LGBT Community Center in my capacity as budget chair. I will continue this work, and even broaden it, at the County. For example, one of the most critical county services is youth services with foster youth and youth who come in contact with the criminal legal system. These particular youth are often LGBTQ+, Black, Latino, and AAPI, and are systematically locked out of the economic systems that would allow them to thrive. I am committed to creating equitable economic access programs that allow these youth to have the same opportunities as their peers.
[LGBTQ SDCN] Fentanyl and opioid abuse/overdoses are another crisis the region is facing. What would you do to tackle this issue if elected?
[Amy] Fentanyl is the number one killer of people 18 to 45 in San Diego County, The youngest victim so far in San Diego county has been just 13 years old. The County of San Diego will receive a $100 million dollar “opioid settlement.” With these funds we need to invest in Narcan, which reverses the effects of overdoses and saves lives. Shockingly, some of these funds are also allocated for “safer smoking supplies” – yes, crack pipes. It is cruel and inhumane to offer someone a crack pipe that they may later use to overdose on fentanyl. We need to make sure that money is going toward treatment. San Diego has prosecuted 503 fentanyl dealers and as a result, fentanyl deaths have leveled off, but the crisis has not been averted. As county supervisor I would work regionally with law enforcement as well as the federal government to support enforcement. Last week, I received the endorsement of the San Diego Police Officers Association. Protecting San Diego from fentanyl and supporting evidence-based treatment programs will be my top priority.
[Monica] One of my top priorities for our region is to build a holistic public safety ecosystem that properly funds our first responders while also investing resources in our community to mitigate and prevent public health issues. That includes supporting a holistic and strategic regional plan to protect and support those who need it most.
Any death from fentanyl is one too many. And, support services for those seeking treatment and those at the highest risk of overdose are time-sensitive. The recent opioid settlement in which the County will receive a total of 17 annual payments should be used to address accessibility to these services. Specifically, I would focus on building capacity at existing facilities to ensure our services are timely and investing in services that meet people where they are.
Access to substance use disorder services is a literal matter of life or death, so supporting these services includes equipping them with adequate staffing to avoid burnout and turnover. To close these staffing gaps, I would advocate for collaboration with regional universities in social services and addiction treatment programs.
In addition, community-based harm reduction methods must take part in the solution. Settlement funds should be used to educate youth and others on the dangers of illicit fentanyl and the signs of an overdose through curriculum and campaigns. This means community education on the proper use of medication-assisted therapy, as well as drug disposal systems.
[LGBTQ SDCN] Twenty people died while in Sheriff’s custody in 2022, leading the San Diego County jail system to be considered one of the deadliest in the State of California. What ideas do you have to make our jail system safer?
[Amy] San Diego County’s jails have gained notoriety for having the highest rate of inmate deaths in the entire state, which is utterly unacceptable. Many individuals arrested on minor charges, clearly exhibiting signs of mental distress, have been placed in situations where they committed suicide, were murdered in jail, or did not get proper medical and mental care.
According to reporting by the Union Tribune, more than a third of people jailed in April were on psychotropic medication for a mental health disorder. Our local jails were not built – nor are they staffed – to deal with people who are struggling with severe mental illness.
From my own experience working at Juvenile Hall for the County of San Diego in the 1990s, I was surprised by the lack of mental health services for children in custody and I am concerned that in the past 25 years not much has changed. We need significant changes in jail management, processes, and access to mental and medical care for inmates.
Our Sheriff’s Department is short staffed by 250 deputies. We are now seeing dangerously low staffing levels, 16-18 hour work shifts, and the requirement to work on days off, leading to historically low staff morale, burnout, early retirements, and on-duty injuries. We must protect the mental health of our jail personnel so they can be equipped to handle the growing mental health crisis in our jails.
Immediate steps to curbing jail deaths must include promptly modifying booking criteria, exploring alternatives to custody, ensuring continuity of care, providing pre-release counseling, implementing opioid and alcohol withdrawal protocols, promoting restorative justice in corrections, immediately implementing suicide prevention protocols, and expanding the use of drug, homeless, and veteran courts.
[Monica] There are a variety of issues that need to be addressed to make our jail system safer. We need to approach this issue like all others — with humanity for the people we serve — and this includes those who are in jail. The County Supervisors do not have oversight of the jail system or the Sheriff because that is an elected position. Where they do have influence is over the budget. In the reports, the issues identified include mandatory overtime for sheriffs and lack of appropriate medical professionals and care for those in custody.
As an elected official, I expect to be held accountable, just as I hold others who are tasked with public service accountable. Addressing the issue of jail deaths will require a strong Board of Supervisors who are willing to face the Sheriff, Deputy Sheriff’s Association, and county contractors, head on to make the change. I am the only candidate in this race and one of a handful in our region with a proven history of holding law enforcement accountable.
[LGBTQ SDCN] Why should you be elected the next Supervisor for District 4?
[Amy] I believe I’m the right choice for the next Supervisor for District 4 because I bring a pragmatic, inclusive, heart-centered approach above all. Everyone is welcome and everyone matters in District 4. We cannot keep electing the same kind of leaders who receive $1 million during this special election from special interests and expect things to change. I have received zero special interest money from PACs and when I become supervisor the only people I will be beholden to are the people. My experience and dedication to our community will enable us to address these critical issues on Day 1 to make positive changes, and build a stronger, more equitable San Diego County for all residents. I will be laser focused on local issues to get things done. I will never be partisan, I will be for the people. San Diego deserves better.
Here is my word: How I have campaigned is how I will govern. I made a vow to never name-call my opponent. As you read this, you probably have received several expensive deceptive hit pieces about me in your mailbox. If you have any questions, I am here to serve. My email address is [email protected] and my website is AmyforSanDiego.com.
[Monica] As I’ve shared, I am experienced in governance and take an approach of an inclusive, community-governance model, which invites the people closest to the pain to the table where policy decisions are being made. I currently represent over 160,000 San Diegans and oversee the City Council process for the City’s $5.2 billion budget. I am the only person in the race who has been in negotiations, managed budgets, passed laws, and created, reformed, or strengthened government programs. In short: I’m the only one who has taken a vote and had to stand by it.As the largest government agency in San Diego with responsibility for human services, I am committed to changing the way that resources are delivered to those who need them most and ensuring all San Diegans are treated with dignity and respect. To learn more, visit monica4sandiego.com or email [email protected].
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