The Toni Times | September 2021
Summer sure is coming to a tough close this year. Parts of California are once again on fire, and many of our neighbors in the state have had to flee with only what they can load into their cars as smoke and flames endanger their homes and their communities. Sadly, we have lost American military members and Afghan allies, including Marines from our own Camp Pendleton to new violence in a 20 year-old war, and refugees from that war now face an uncertain future—a future that depends on whether the rest of us are willing to tap into our faith and our humanity to help. And this is all on top of a rise in COVID-19 cases across the nation, despite best efforts to convince the holdouts who still refuse vaccines and masks.
At times like this, it is easy to get frustrated, and easy to feel helpless in the face of powerful challenges. And, at times like these, I remember that I am blessed to be in a position where I go to work every day to help find and deliver solutions.
One of the things that has always made getting through wildfires and other disasters a little more bearable is looking around and seeing all the people who are helping—neighbors donating food and clothing to each other and showing support for weary firefighters and businesses. Non-profits opening their doors to people who have lost everything. Local, state, and federal offices working together to cut red tape and get assistance out the door as fast as possible.
This September, I can’t help thinking about another late summer morning, when thousands of people fled flames and smoke, and thousands more were killed. As we approach the 20th Anniversary of September 11th, I know there is still so much grief for those lost and the survivors who loved them. I also hope there is increasing resolve that terrorism and violence can never be allowed to change the course of our nation and its institutions. And, as always, I am filled with great respect and admiration for all the first responders who run toward trouble on behalf of all the rest of us.
I remain enormously proud of San Diego and the members of our military. And I am proud that, once again, our communities are stepping up and providing welcoming and caring arms to the refugees seeking safety as the war ends in Afghanistan.
Seeing people have to flee their homes – for fire, or disaster, or war – really puts into perspective how trivial some of our day-to-day problems may seem. But there are so many real concerns, too.
In the Legislature, we have to keep an eye on every level of the problem. What can we do immediately to mitigate or end an acute crisis? How to do we enact strategies to make continued progress on chronic problems, over both the short- and long-haul? And how do we plant the seeds and fund the progress that delivers the light we need to see at the end of the tunnel?
We have been seeing a lot of that multi-tiered approach on some of the key challenges we’ve faced this year with COVID-19, with housing and homelessness, with police reform, and with climate change. So, once again, I think I want to focus on the positive—on all the people helping.
Thank you to Governor Newsom for leading California to one of the best vaccination rates in the nation. Thank you to the California Assembly for advancing SB 9 and SB 10 and other parts of the Senate’s vital Housing Package. Thank you to the families, community groups, and law enforcement for banding together to improve accountability and outcomes in public safety. Thank you to the California businesses who understand the urgency of climate change and recognize the benefits that behavioral changes can bring to their bottom line.
Just like the smoke eventually lifted from the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, and in the field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the smoke will clear from the wildfires, time will heal wounds and grief, and this virus will recede. And every Californian will have the opportunity to have a safe home and a good job. But there’s a lot of work that has to be done for to get us there. I think we’re up for it—and when I report back next month after we wrap up the 2021 legislative session— I hope to have some good progress to share on top of an already historic year.
And maybe it’s something in the air, but I also think that this particular September, I’m going to take some extra time to hold all my loved ones close.
Cheers to the future! This photo is one I will always cherish – the raising of our water glasses to commemorate the kickoff of Phase 1 of the City of San Diego’s Pure Water project at the North City Treatment Facility. Last month, I joined Mayor Todd Gloria, Congressmember Scott Peters, the Environmental Public Agency’s Administrator Michael S. Regan, and California State Water Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquival to celebrate the largest infrastructure project in San Diego history. Once complete, the project will provide one-half of our city’s water a clean, reliable, recycled supply of water by 2035.
This is a legacy project that has 20 years in the making and dates back to my time as a City Councilmember, alongside then City Councilmember, Congressman Peters. This addition to our diverse water portfolio, which has bipartisan support and includes tireless efforts of our region’s elected leaders, water authority, public utilities, and environmental advocates, comes at a critical time, as California’s droughts are lasting longer, causing deeper harm.. The project is viable thanks to the support of our federal partners, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)providing hundreds of millions of dollars to the Pure Water Phase 1 project. California also committed an additional $50 million this year, which I advocated for as part of our state budget. Pure Water also will result in good jobs for our region.
I want to thank San Diegans for doing their part to conserve water use and helping to be part of our water resiliency solution.
Learn more about Pure Water here.
With the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, there is no better time to get vaccinated than today. For weeks, we have seen COVID cases rising at a distressing rate among the unvaccinated. However, those who are vaccinated remain largely protected from the long-term harmful effects of this virus.
This pandemic has disrupted our society in a way not seen in over a century, and far too many of us, myself included, have lost family members and friends. However, we have the tools necessary to bring an end to this pandemic, all thanks to the tireless efforts of medical professionals and scientists.
While COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of mild or asymptomatic infection, a small share of fully vaccinated individuals do become infected. These rare occurrences are known as “breakthrough cases” which are to be expected, and historically known to occur with other vaccines as none is 100% effective. Some of those infections have resulted in hospitalization or death. However, data from San Diego shows that only 3% of the people hospitalized are fully vaccinated, and less than 10% of all cases are people fully vaccinated. Current data also shows that those who are unvaccinated have a 500% higher case rate than vaccinated individuals. Getting vaccinated is still the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
Everyone 12 years and older can now get a vaccine at no cost. Vaccines are safe, effective, and they save lives. Please encourage your family and friends to make an appointment and get vaccinated. The more we all do our part, the sooner we put an end to this pandemic.
San Diego County as well as the City of San Diego have resources available to help you find a vaccination site and appointment near you. Visit the County’s COVID-19 website here and the City’s COVID-19 website here.
Payments are expected to begin this month for Californians who are eligible for the Golden State Stimulus II.
Those eligible may be qualified to receive as much as $1,100 if they made $75,000 dollars or less during the 2020 tax year. This payment is possible through our California Earned Income Tax Credit program (CalEITC), which I am proud to have created when I was Speaker of the Assembly. This year’s state budget includes an additional $8.1 billion in tax cuts in the form of the CalEITC funding and Golden State Stimulus programs.
CalEITC is a refundable tax credit that has been earned by Californians who are fully employed, including members of our military. The program has been successful because it infuses cash back into the economy as recipients spend it on groceries and other essential goods and services.
For qualifying taxpayers, it helps stretch household budgets, as well as serving as an act of social and economic justice.
In 2020, nearly 314,000 claims were filed, totaling $50 million in tax benefits, with $9.9 million of that directly benefiting people living in the 39th Senate District. Our partners at 211 and United Way San Diego reported last month that they estimate that this year, about $1 million has benefited San Diegans to date. These payments can be a critical lifeline, especially in light of the pandemic, so if you or someone you know may be eligible, please pursue this funding.
To qualify, recipients must file taxes, and CalEITC payments are retroactive to the 2017 tax year. To see if you qualify, visit this website.
There also are other key deadlines for help to be aware of this month.
The State of California’s eviction moratorium expires on September 30, 2021. The Legislature and Governor agreed on a $5.2 billion relief program, allowing for 100 percent of payment of a tenant’s past-due rent, dating back to April 2020.
This is a vital lifeline for those who have fallen into need during the pandemic, by no fault of their own.
For the City of San Diego, the San Diego Housing Commission is managing the program. Any residents or landlords in need can apply for assistance through the County of San Diego’s website. You can also get more information HousingHelpSD.org.
Small Business Grants
New applications related to California Small Business COVID-19 Grants begin this month. This year’s State Budget allocated an additional $1.5 billion in funding to support small businesses as well as live venues, museums and non-profits. In total, the program has provided over $4 billion in small business grants, the largest small business state grant program in the country.
Here are some key dates to be aware of:
- September 9 through September 30: New applicants can apply for funding. Previously waitlisted applicants from Rounds 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, or 7 do not need to re-apply and will be automatically moved into this applicant pool. Grants range between $5,000 and $25,000.
- Now through September 8: Nonprofit cultural institutions of any revenue size can apply for funding between $5,000 and $25,000.
For more information, visit CAReliefGrant.com.
The 2020 Census data is out, and the numbers quantify something we have known for a long time – California would not be California without the many diverse communities that make up its Latinx population, and the cultural and historic impacts they have had on our state. The data showed that in the last decade, California’s Hispanic population became the largest ethnic group in our state, now making up 40 percent of the total population. Similar growth was seen in the County of San Diego, where the population grew to 34 percent.
In San Diego, our architecture, art, food, and neighborhoods have been greatly influenced by our Hispanic communities. From the powerful tribute to Mexican American artists and activists at Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, to our strong binational relationship with our neighbors across the border, to the many Latinx-owned small businesses, San Diego has been shaped into the region we love thanks in large part to the Hispanic Americans who call it home.
From September 15 to October 15, I encourage everyone to recognize National Hispanic Heritage Month and celebrate the innumerable contributions made by California’s Latinx communities. And I hope the effort to honor this diverse heritage and important history does not end in mid-October, because it truly is intertwined with our state’s identity.
Celebrating Balboa Park’s New International Cottages
Celebrating nine new houses within Balboa Park’s House of Pacific Relations International Cottages on August 28 was another highlight of the month. These brand new additions to the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages demonstrate a spirit of understanding, tolerance and goodwill among the many multicultural and ethnic groups represented in our San Diego community.
Two years ago, I secured $400,000 as part of the state budget for this project, to help create permanent spaces for the following nations and cultures: Chamorro, Colombia, India, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Palestine, Peru, the Philippines, and Turkey. By opening the doors to these cottages, we further open a world of compassion and inclusion.
There is also more to come for Balboa Park. This year, I collaborated with Assemblymember Chris Ward to secure a $3.7 million investment in Casa Del Prado as part of the 2021-22 state budget. And I look forward to working with Mayor Todd Gloria on planned renovations to restore our iconic Botanical Building, which was funded in 2019 through an $8 million budget allocation.
Ride MTS Free in September
This month, San Diegans and visitors have a rare opportunity to get around San Diego on public transit for free! The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) is offering free rides throughout the month of September. This also applies to riders of the North County Transit District (NCTD) on the Breeze and Sprinter.
For a “ticket to ride,” simply download “PRONTO,” the new MTS fare collection system, or getting a new card at the Transit Store or ticket machine. The PRONTO payment system is replacing the former Compass Card and Compass Cloud option.
Team Toni had the opportunity to take a ride on the new Mid-Coast Extension of Trolley Blue Line on August 24, along with U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, Mayor Todd Gloria, County Supervisor Chair Nathan Fletcher, and representatives and transportation advocates from the region. Once open, the Blue Line extension will allow a rider to go from the U.S./Mexico border to La Jolla. I can’t wait!
To take advantage of the free transit, visit RidePronto.com or call (619) 595-5636.
A Career of Service: Thank You Ed
Ed Vodrazka and his family pose for a smile upon receiving a Senate Resolution.
After 45 years of a stellar career as a peace officer/lifeguard with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Ed Vodrazka has retired from his position, and #TeamToni staff was there to deliver a special resolution to honor Ed’s years of service.
Ed made his way to Torrey Pines State Beach in 2002 and served in many vital roles, including district lead Emergency Medical Services (EMS) instructor, automatic external defibrillator coordinator, hiring coordinator, lifeguard training instructor, and interpretation instructor. In his role as an EMS educator with California State Parks, Ed taught more than 1,000 ocean lifeguards. He was named EMS Educator of the Year in July 2021 by the California Emergency Medical Services Authority. Beyond his service as a lifeguard, Ed has taught Emergency Medical Technician courses for San Diego Miramar College, maintained licensure as a registered nurse, and authored a nonfiction book recounting heroic rescues by California lifeguards.
Congratulations Ed, on your long and distinguished record of professional service and your outstanding civic leadership! Wishing you and your family the very best.
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