The Toni Times | November 2021
It's November, and in our house that means a couple things. First, the witch's hat goes back into the attic for another year, along with the memories of so many adorable kids celebrating Halloween while having fun and being safe.
Our first milestone in November is the start of Native American Heritage Month. It's an important time for us to remember that so much of the Native experience has been erased or replaced by happy myths that don't match reality. COVID-19 shined a spotlight on the realities and disparities regarding Native communities' access to health care, recent news stories have highlighted the tragic and shameful cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women that have gone unsolved and ignored for far too long, and the horrific discoveries of children's bodies at former Native American boarding school locations in the U.S. and Canada cry out for further investigation—and for justice.
I do have to say how pleased I am as we honor Native American culture and contributions this month, that this Thanksgiving, for the first time, America's public lands are being overseen by a Native American—Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican.
Of the many, many things I am thankful for this month, the veterans we honor on November 11 are top of the list. Coming from a military family and representing a district with a long and proud history in the defense of our nation, I am committed to ensuring our veterans get the respect they deserve and receive the services and benefits they have earned—especially having a safe, decent place to call home. Later on in the newsletter there's some good information on the gains the Legislature was able to make for veterans this year—a righteous cause I will always keep on the front burner.
Speaking of burners, do you have a favorite you'll be warming up this Thanksgiving? A Twitter poll shows the front right is people's favorite with 54% of the vote, while front left is a strong contender with 36.5%, The back burners, well, they weren't all that popular, with 4.7% each. When we do our Thanksgiving cooking this month, let's all be sure to thank the more than 5,000 farms in our region that produce a wide range of commodities from fruits, vegetables, and nuts to beef, pork, and poultry. According to the latest annual crop report, the bounty produced by our farmers resulted in a $1.8 billion economic impact in our region.
As we move closer to the start of the next legislative session in January, my colleagues and I will continue working to help ensure more families can gather safely for all their celebrations, so more veterans and all Californians will be able to have a home for the holidays, and so our society can focus less on myths about Native Americans bringing pies to Thanksgiving and more on the work that must be done to bring missing and murdered women and children home to their families. Though that work is never easy, it is one of the things I am most thankful for this month and every other month—and I am grateful to you all for that privilege.
Jennifer and I wish you all the best this Thanksgiving.
In the aftermath of the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Legislature has worked hard to reimagine police policy in California. Recently, Governor Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 2, a measure I jointly authored with my colleague, Senator Steven Bradford. The bill creates a uniform process to decertify police officers who have engaged in serious misconduct and illegally violated a person’s civil rights. It also establishes an advisory board responsible for reviewing the findings of a police misconduct investigation. After reviewing the report of the investigation, the advisory board will then make a recommendation to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) as to whether the officer in question should have their license suspended or revoked.
The Governor also signed into law several other policies to protect vulnerable communities and to provide stronger guidance to law enforcement.
- AB 490, from Assemblymember Mike Gipson, builds on California’s existing ban on the use of choke holds and carotid restraints by law enforcement and now prohibits any techniques or transportation methods that create a substantial risk of asphyxiation.
- Governor Newsom also signed into law Assemblymember Chris Holden’s AB 26, which creates a uniform baseline for what law enforcement departments must include in their use-of-force policies.
- The Legislature also has invested millions in our court systems to increase the number of court reporters in family law and civil law cases, and make temporary procedures related to remote technology in civil court proceedings permanent, thereby expanding access to the courts and fostering further equity in our justice system.
San Diego has a strong history of community policing, but there are always ways we can improve as a city, as a state, and as a society. California remains committed to preventing violence towards communities of color, eliminating systemic racism from our institutions, and ensuring everyone feels safe in our state. The more steps we take towards increasing accountability and transparency among those who are there to serve and protect our communities, the more trust we establish in those bodies. It is our responsibility as a state to provide our law enforcement officers with training to de-escalate conflict, and establish the guidelines that keep our communities, and our officers, safe.
Veterans Day is a day that means so very much to me. My family has a strong military tradition that spans generations. My father, two brothers, sister, brother-in-law, all of my uncles, cousins, and two nephews have served, or are serving, in our military.
In fact, I first moved to San Diego in 1985 to help my sister, who was on active duty at Naval Base San Diego, to care for my nephew.
For more than a century, the military has significantly shaped the San Diego region, home to the largest concentration of American military, and our military and civilian employees are a substantial economic driver for our region.
That is why I’m happy to share the news of the investments we made in this year’s budget that will benefit our Veteran community directly.
- An ongoing investment of $5.4 million in our County Veteran Service Offices to help connect veterans with the resources they need. This funding had previously been awarded on a one-time basis only. The work they do is extremely valuable: last year alone, they brought in $402 million in federal benefits for our state’s veterans.
- A $75 million allocation from the California Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention Program to build affordable housing for veterans. This is a direct result of the Veterans housing bond approved by voters in 2014.
- I’m also proud of a $25 million competitive grant program that is meant to help veterans struggling with chronic homelessness and mental illness. And Senator Josh Newman carried legislation (SB 661) to help veterans with home loans through CalVet refinance their homes to take advantage of historically low interest rates.
- And we allocated $10 million in the budget to benefit veteran resource centers in the California Community College system to help California veterans pursue higher education and support them through the process with counseling.
The representation of our veterans in the Legislature is at a historic level, and has helped heighten awareness of the need for investments that can help support veterans. They’re also helping make history – the Senate Veterans Committee now has seven members, including three women, who are veterans.
Thank you to all members of our military for your service and your profound commitment to our country.
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to recognize, celebrate and honor all Native Americans. San Diego County is home to 18 tribes that I have long seen as friends and equal partners engaged in meaningful collaboration based on respect for individual and sovereign rights. Earlier this year, the first California Native American Legislative Caucus was formed within the Legislature, with the goal of promoting equity and increasing representation.
One of the ways we are ensuring this in the 39th Senate District is in Old Town. For 20 years, a collaborative effort at the state, local, tribal and community level has been underway to reimagine a space in Old Town State Park that honors our past.
It was important to me to continue the important work started by former Senator Christine Kehoe – to transfer 2.5 acres, once the site of the original Caltrans district headquarters building, back to the state to create a new open space that honors the Kumeyaay.
The vision was to build a new “front porch” for Old Town State Park, one that paid tribute to its Native people. In 2018, the demolition of the Caltrans building began to make way for this new park.
This collaborative effort by the State Legislature, State Parks and the Old Town Working Group –comprised of local Tribal leaders – have resulted in a beautiful new gathering space. Now called, “Iipay ~ Tipai Kumeyaay Mut Niihepok (Land of the ֪First People) Exhibit Area,” the park also features a digital tour (in three languages) that will educate visitors on the Kumeyaay and the San Diego River, which ran through the site. It is a beautiful space, and it has been an honor to play a part in creating it.
History shows us a path forward to a more inclusive future, and I am grateful to all the partners who helped us get here.
Celebrating Budget Wins
(Pictured from left to right: San Diego Community College District Chancellor Carlos E. Cortez, Assemblymember Chris Ward, Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Senator Ben Hueso)
I have been fortunate to spend time in the district recently, celebrating budget wins that will enhance our neighborhoods and enrich our community.
I was honored to announce a $35 million grant to the San Diego Community College Continuing Education’s Educational Cultural Complex, home to the ECC Theater. The theater is where Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., gave her pivotal speech that influenced then-President Ronald Reagan to make MLK Day a federal holiday. It’s also the place where Stevie Wonder performed, and Maya Angelou spoke.
This funding will help the Foundation revitalize and remodel the venue as well as create a community room. Here’s a link a video from the October 1st event, produced by the San Diego Community College District, capturing the events of the day.
Fourteen years after the Witch Creek Fire burned through their community, the Westwood Neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo is finally on its way to healing.
While the homes have been rebuilt, the streets continue to show the scars and damage left by the firestorm as well as the trucks and heavy equipment that rolled through the neighborhood. Community advocates never stopped fighting for the funding to fix the streets. It was so rewarding to gather with residents in the neighborhood to celebrate $2.5 million I was able to deliver to the City of San Diego to begin the repairs. The funding allows the City of San Diego to make long-awaited repairs along Azucar Way and ten adjacent roads.
I appreciate the partnership of City Councilmember Marni Von Wilpert, and the tireless advocacy exhibited by community leaders.
Farmer of the Year
I want to congratulate Ken Altman, San Diego County Farm Bureau’s Farmer of the Year. He’s just one of the more than 5,000 farmers who keep our communities in California – and across the nation – fed. Our region produces a wide range of commodities – from fruits, vegetables and nuts, to beef, pork, and poultry – as well as San Diego-grown flowers, plants, trees, and shrubs.
In fact, San Diego County is the number one organic producer in the state. Ken, who owns Altman Farms, turned a life-long hobby into a successful family business, and Team Toni was there to honor him with a Senate Resolution for his hard work. If you’ve gone into Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart, your new favorite plant may very well be one from Altman Farms!
Counting Down to the Mid-Coast Trolley Extension
The countdown is on! The long-awaited Mid-Coast Trolley Extension grand opening is set for November 21. Built by SANDAG and operated by San Diego MTS, the Blue Line will be extended by 11 miles. For the first time, a rider can board the trolley near the U.S.-Mexico border, ride into Downtown San Diego, and continue on through Mission Bay, the VA Center, and all the way to La Jolla and the UC San Diego community. This is a welcome commuter option to improve access to growing employment, education, and residential areas. I look forward to the ribbon cutting!
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