The Toni Times | October 2021
A couple of weeks ago I was waiting on the tarmac at the former Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento to welcome President Joe Biden, who was on his way to tour some of the areas affected by our state’s latest series of devastating wildfires.
While I was waiting, I couldn’t help also thinking of other fires and other Presidential visits, including when President George Bush came to San Diego County, back when we experienced some of the earliest of what have now become alarmingly commonplace disasters.
What made this visit different for me was the full sense of partnership I felt coming from the Biden Administration—not just in terms of disaster declarations and relief we need for recovery, but also in terms of leadership on climate change, which we know is causing wildfires to burn more often and longer in a drier California.
Later on in the newsletter, there is more detail on the Legislature’s wildfire efforts this year, but let me say here that the $1.5 billion in new funding for wildfire prevention and $5 billion for drought relief we just invested were two of the high points from the historic 2021 legislative session my colleagues and I adjourned on September 10th.
I am also pleased that we made the largest investment in the state’s history— some $3.7 billion dollars—to combat sea level rise, reduce pollution in our urban areas, and make our communities across the state more resilient. My legislation, SB 1, a historic bill to tackle Sea Level Rise, was recently signed into law by the Governor.
When you look at the challenges facing California, it’s clear that with our approach to wildfires and climate change, partnership has to be part of any solution. For instance, now that Governor Gavin Newsom has signed the bulk of the Senate’s Housing Package, including my own SB 9 to allow additional housing units, I’m looking forward to a partnership that ensures these bills are implemented as intended—with all protections and safeguards in place—along with all the opportunities the bills provide for more California families. I have to say it was very gracious during his visit for President Biden to congratulate California on enacting SB 9, and, by sharing his planning and zoning experiences as a young public servant, it’s clear he knows the struggle!
When I look back at how this year started, and the obstacles to be overcome, I am enormously proud of what my Senate colleagues, the Assembly and Governor did, helping small businesses, tenants, and landlords, providing record funding for schools, homes, and health care, and creating new work opportunities through child care and hiring credits.
We know there is still much to do to deliver ongoing solutions for the people of California. And we will.
When I look back to my first end of session, in 2011 during the Great Recession, I am reminded of so many of the difficult cuts and hard choices we had to make then. Thanks to ten years of responsible budgeting by Democratic legislators and governors, and with the recovery funds our federal partners have allocated so far, California had a once in a generation chance to make transformational change, and we seized that chance.
There’s so much going on. We have to get this pandemic behind us. Community safety and police accountability are still challenges in our communities. And there are others. The October sky is still smoky. But if we can pull it together and work together, our is future bright.
When President Joe Biden visited California last month to see firsthand the damage recent wildfires had ravaged on our state, I had the unique privilege of being able to talk to him briefly about what it means to all of us, as Californians, to have his support. I thanked him for coming to California, and for responding so quickly to our requests for emergency declaration and relief, and for his leadership in recognizing climate change as the challenge of a generation.
California is currently bearing the brunt of the four key scourges of climate change --- sea level rise, wildfire, drought, and extreme heat – which is why our 2021-22 state budget includes the single largest investment in climate adaptation and resilience in our state’s history.
The budget allocated over $1 billion dollars to fire prevention and protection programs, not only enhancing the state’s ability to fight fires, but vastly increasing our investment in preventative work to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires.
The budget also includes an additional $200 million dollars for forest health maintenance, reducing the buildup of dead and dying trees and flammable underbrush that feed uncontrolled wildfires. I am also immensely proud of the wage increase included in the budget for Cal FIRE firefighters and personnel, who are working on the front lines to keep our communities safe.
San Diego residents will benefit from increased funding for home and structural hardening, grants for small farmers and rural landowners in East County for vegetation management, and fire prevention and management at state parks. This includes:
- $12 million grant for the San Diego River Conservancy for on-the-ground wildfire-related investments and projects to reduce fires, smoke, and protect natural landscapes and property.
- $1 million in funding for a first-of-its-kind Native American Tribal Conservation Corps Pilot Project, which will be facilitated by the San Diego River Conservancy.
And October means Santa Anas, the traditional start of the wildfire season in the County. I am reminded of the deadly destruction of the Witch Fires and the Creek Fires. Fourteen years after the Witch Fire, the rebuilding continues. Just last month, we passed a budget trailer bill that includes $2.5 million for the City of San Diego to make road repairs and replacements in Rancho Bernardo due to damage from that firestorm.
Now is the time to make sure you have a fire-safe property. A great resource is your Fire Safe Council of San Diego County.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This photo says a million. Tony Prince, who is originally from San Diego and now lives in Orange County, captured this photo of a tide crashing over the tracks in San Clemente on September 17, as a major swell and high tide combined to stop a Metrolink train heading southbound in its tracks.
What you can’t see is the land slide that simultaneously had shifted the tracks toward the sea.
While the damaged area falls under the jurisdiction of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and Metrolink, the impact is felt in San Diego, specifically along our Los Angeles-San Diego (LOSSAN) corridor.
The rail line serves 7.6 million passengers each year, according to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), as does the Port of San Diego, to transport everything from 500 cars daily as well as lumber for construction. Officials there tell us that their rail carrier BNSF is not impacted, but if it were, it would put a burden on the trucking system in the region, and create more than 100 additional truck trips daily.
Finding a solution to this is a regional, state and national effort that has already begun. In our District, I secured $6 million in our 2020 state budget to shore up the Del Mar bluffs. The multi-phased project, which includes installing drainage devices, deep underground support piles, seawalls, and retaining walls to brace the bluffs, are critical short-term solutions that will give us time to address the long-term need, which in the near future will include moving the Del Mar tracks off the bluffs to a new route. There is also funding in our budget for our partners at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to monitor the impact of the seas on our shores and sea walls.
Watching the waves crash over the rail lines and impact transportation is also a visual reminder of the need for legislation like SB 1, the Sea Level Rise and Mitigation Act, which I authored this year to provide tools and resources for our coastal communities to address this climate change reality. The bill passed both the Senate and Assembly with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor Newsom.
(I presented a Senate Resolution to Kensington Café owner Lauren Passero and her staff)
The COVID-19 pandemic has had tremendous impact on our small businesses, especially restaurants. They are vital components of a neighborhood’s character and community, and as California builds back, it’s important we remember the vital role they play in our region.
Last month, I was happy to honor Kensington Café as the District 39 Small Business of the Year. For more than 12 years, owner Lauren Passero and her team have worked to create a family-friendly environment where community and amazing food are the focus. Their dedication to our community is inspiring.
- During the pandemic, the café partnered with Great Plates Delivered to prepare and deliver three meals a day to 60 individuals in need for over a year. Their remarkable work resulted in more than 65,000 meals for people in need.
- For the past several years, the café has also worked closely with the YMCA as a member of the Sponsor Strong Girls Program. Each year, the program – comprised of about 30 to 40 girls – holds meetings at the Kensington Cafe weekly to offer peer support, mentorships, and guest speakers who offer advice on everything from self-defense to college applications.
- Kensington Café is also a member of Kitchens for Good, a training program to help people overcome the impacts of incarceration, homelessness, and foster care and find employment. The café is a member of the Adams Ave Business Association as well as Businesses for Good San Diego.
Thank you Lauren Passero and the team at Kensington Café for your service to our community! They are dog friendly as well, so don’t be surprised if you see me, my spouse Jennifer, and our dogs, Joey and Mia sitting outside at one of their tables enjoying a meal.
The FDA has authorized a third Pfizer shot for a select group of fully vaccinated people. “Fully vaccinated” means a person has received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The California Department of Public Health issued the following guidelines for eligibility:
- They should be prioritized for people 65 and older;
- Anyone living in a long-term care facility;
- People 18 to 65 with underlying medical conditions;
- Those at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission due to occupation.
Boosters should be given six months after someone is fully vaccinated with Pfizer. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are currently authorized for emergency use.
For information on how to get a free vaccine or booster, contact your health care provider, make an appointment at your pharmacy, or the County’s website. You can also visit MyTurn.CA.Gov. (And don’t forget to also get your flu vaccine!)
In addition, the California Department of Public Health has implemented new COVID-19 guidance that applies to large, indoor events throughout the state, including here in San Diego. As of September 20, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will be required for events where 1,000 or more people are gathered indoors. Attendees can no longer self-attest to verify vaccination status or a negative test result.
This includes events like:
- Conventions, conferences, and expos
- Concerts, shows, and nightclubs
- Sporting events
- Live events and entertainment
- Theme parks, amusement parks, and water parks
- Large private events or gatherings
For outdoor events, the threshold is 10,000 people and includes:
- Fairs, parades
- Large races, marathons, and endurance events
New Cancer Center Opens in Hillcrest
(Photo courtesy Scripps Health)
There’s a brand new resource in District in the battle against cancer. The Prebys Cancer Center, located on the campus of Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego, is now open in Hillcrest. This state-of-the-art medical center is able to serve patients in central and south San Diego County, and is part of Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center, a clinically integrated cancer care program that treats patients throughout San Diego County.
Team Toni was able to take a tour of the facility last month. The $59 million facility is the second of two regional cancer hubs located in the 39th Senate District and is part of the partnership between Scripps Health and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. This new center will offer a wide variety of patient-focused treatment with state-of-the-art amenities and support services. One of the key architectural highlights: each floor of the garage offers entry into the center, so cancer patients do not have to wait for elevators.
Team Toni was honored to participate in the 32nd Annual AIDS Walk on September 25 to pay tribute to those who we have lost, and support those who are living with HIV/AIDS. Every year that I walk, I take a quiet moment to honor those I have lost, including my brother-in-law, my cousin and so many friends in San Diego.
This event remains the largest HIV/AIDS fundraiser in San Diego County, supporting treatment and research and 11 local HIV service organizations. It’s important to remember the high risk that COVID-19 poses to those with weakened immune systems. And, it reminds us that HIV education continues to be vital.
That is why at the state level, we are committed to providing necessary funds to support our LGBTQ community. This year’s budget includes a $13 million general fund allocation to the Department of Public Health (DPH) to support prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and sexually transmitted infections. With effective education and treatment to combat HIV, and efforts to prevent its spread, we can help save more lives, and instill more hope for future generations.
Clairemont Family Day
I can’t tell you how much I have missed being able to join neighbors in the District at our annual community events, many of which had to take a pause last year, due to the pandemic.
That’s why it was wonderful to see so many of you at the 32nd annual Clairemont Family Day. This event was filled with great food, music, conversations and important facts on disaster preparedness. I am so proud of how resilient our community groups have been. And I’m grateful to all of you for ensuring that we can gather safely, for good causes.
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