Notes from Toni
Toni G. Atkins
California’s housing crisis is plunging families and individuals into poverty, threatening our children’s futures, splitting up families, making it difficult for businesses to attract and retain talent, and burdening our economy. Housing instability sends ripples throughout all facets of our society, affecting education, physical and mental health, transportation, and climate action.
I recognized this growing problem more than 20 years ago while working as a policy aide at the city level and began working to strengthen San Diego’s affordable-housing efforts after being elected to the City Council.
The governor and the Legislature gave the issue the sense of urgency it demanded in 2017, when we passed a package of 15 bills that addressed the crisis with a mix of regulatory reform and revenue measures, including my Senate Bill 2, which created a permanent source of funding for affordable housing.
In 2018, we followed up with additional measures to remove barriers in the way of housing construction, as well as significant budget funding for communities throughout the state to combat homelessness. That funding has begun making its way to projects and programs in the San Diego region aimed at connecting homeless residents with housing and preventing those at risk from falling into homelessness.
This year, we continued our progress with additional regulatory reform, protections against unreasonable evictions and exorbitant rent increases, and another $2.5 billion to address homelessness and housing instability, the largest such direct investment in state history.
But even before 2017, the state was increasing its investments in targeted housing programs that have resulted in thousands of new affordable homes.
Since 2015, the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program that I was proud to champion as Assembly speaker has used proceeds from our innovative cap-and-trade system to create more than 9,000 affordable homes near transit, including more than 1,000 in San Diego. The latest project in San Diego to receive such funding is one at 13th and Broadway in East Village that will provide 273 apartments with supportive services for people experiencing homelessness.
And thanks to the voters who passed Proposition 41 in 2014, the Veterans Housing and Homelessness Program (VHHP) has funded nearly 2,600 new homes for struggling veterans, including 323 in San Diego County. A great VHHP-funded project is Zephyr Apartments in Grantville, which opened earlier this year, providing 84 homes with supportive services and close access to the trolley.
Going forward, these are the kinds of results I’ll be looking for as our more recently passed measures are implemented, and I’ll be monitoring them closely to ensure that they are effective.
At the same time, I will be intimately involved in efforts to stimulate the production of the new middle- and lower-income housing that is so desperately needed along our transit corridors and near job centers, making sure that residents in potentially affected communities are key participants in the conversation.
Governor for a day
What an honor it was on Oct. 4 to again serve as acting governor while Governor Gavin Newsom and Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis were both out of the state. It was the third time I’ve had the privilege of being California’s top elected official for a day.
The first time came on July 30, 2014, while I was speaker of the Assembly, when the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the Senate leader were all out of the state. I used that opportunity to declare it Tony Gwynn Day in the state of California, honoring the San Diego baseball legend who had sadly passed away due to complications from cancer 44 days prior. Then it happened again in September 2014.
This time, I wanted to again highlight something positive about San Diego, so I declared Oct. 5 to be Tuna Harbor Dockside Market Day, in honor of the fresh-fish market’s fifth anniversary. When I was in the Assembly, I was pleased to author a bill that made it easier for fish markets like San Diego’s to start up and succeed.
If you haven’t been to the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, it’s a wonderfully vibrant – and delicious – experience. Visit it on Saturdays along the small pier adjacent to Seaport Village.
And in a separate act, acting first dog Joey and I announced that Oct. 12 would be Free Senior Pet Adoption Day at San Diego Humane Society and that we would cover the cost for anyone who wished to adopt a dog or cat that was at least 7 years old.
It was heartwarming to be at the Humane Society and watch as two senior dogs, Teddy and Rosa, headed out the door on their way to their new homes. I had just met Teddy the week before – what a sweet dog he is! In all, nine senior dogs and four senior cats went home with new families that day.
These actions were my way, as a devoted animal lover and enthusiastic supporter of small business owners, to say thank you to the Humane Society and the men and women who are keeping our local fishing industry vital.
Serving as acting governor is a serious constitutional responsibility, and I approach the duty intending to be a short-term caretaker without incident – and also to use the opportunity to highlight some of the special things in my home city!
Shake, rattle, and roll
California is shaking up its emergency warning system in an effort to keep residents safe in the event of an earthquake, launching a new tool that I encourage all San Diegans to use.
The statewide Earthquake Early Warning System – the first of its kind in the nation – was launched Oct. 17, on the 30th anniversary of the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake.
The tool combines a new smartphone app with traditional alert and warning delivery, using ground-motion sensors from throughout the state to detect earthquakes and notify residents so we can take precautions.
Keeping Californians safe is a priority for the Legislature and Governor Newsom, which is why we included $16.3 million in one-time funds to complete this new system in this year’s enacted budget.
Here in San Diego, where the Rose Canyon fault runs beneath Downtown and the San Jacinto and Elsinore faults cut through the eastern party of our county, it’s especially important for residents to learn more about mitigating earthquake risk and damage, especially to older homes. For tips and information, go to earthquakeauthority.com.
To learn about our new Earthquake Early Warning System, go to earthquake.ca.gov.
Natural Reserve system benefits us all
Attention, nature lovers: Did you know there is a living library of ecosystems preserved for the public good in our district?
In addition to an exceptional University of California campus, the San Diego region also is home to several of the UC’s Natural Reserves, a conservation system consisting of 41 protected sites – more than 756,000 acres – throughout the state. The reserves, which include the state’s major habitat types, are outdoor labs where scientists research everything from climate change to wildfire mitigation, as well as inspire future generations of scientists and eco-enthusiasts through tours for K-12 and college students.
In my district, the Natural Reserve System includes the Scripps Coastal Reserve, a nearly 1,000-acre coastal canyon and intertidal area in La Jolla; and Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve, a 16-acre wetland habitat that is ideal for bird watching. The reserves are ecological treasures, and we are fortunate they are part of our community!
To learn more about the Natural Reserve System, visit nrs.ucsd.edu.
Around the district
I was inspired joining UCSD’s CALPIRG students for their fall kick-off meeting! They have helped thousands of students register to vote and worked with the UC system to commit to renewable energy, among many other things.
I was pleased to join the Friends of Balboa Park in honoring retiring civic leader Stacey LoMedico, who is well-known as an effective problem solver when it came to issues in our city parks.
It was a pleasure to visit the Point Loma Association. They do so much to improve their community’s quality of life, particularly the Mean Green Team volunteers who weed, plant, and pick up trash to beautify the area.
California is setting new standards for law enforcement and its relationship with communities. I was pleased to join the California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training at their De-escalation Summit in San Diego.
It’s always great to chat with the San Diego chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies. When it comes to maintaining infrastructure in the age of climate change, there’s lots to talk about.
RISE San Diego has done a wonderful job of cultivating strong leaders, encouraging civic engagement, and supporting our neighborhoods! I enjoyed celebrating their fifth anniversary with them.
—Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.