Senate Leader Atkins, Former Senator Kehoe Mourn Passing of Longtime District Policy Advisor Deanna Spehn

November 14, 2022

SAN DIEGO – Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), former Senator Christine Kehoe, colleagues, and the community are mourning the passing of Deanna Spehn, a beloved policy director who served both leaders.

Deanna had a state legislative career that spanned two decades, having worked with Senator Atkins for more than 10 years in both the Senate and Assembly, and for Christine Kehoe beginning in 2002 and throughout Kehoe’s tenure in the Legislature. Deanna was a well-respected and knowledgeable advisor – prior to her time in state service, she worked for and advised policymakers at the City of San Diego for nearly a decade.

“Deanna was truly one of the most brilliant women I have ever worked alongside, and had a commitment to public service that was unparalleled. I could ask her a question about anything from an obscure transportation issue to climate change policy, and Deanna would not only know the answer, but the backstory that informed the answer and a solution for how to make it better for California,” Pro Tem Atkins said. “She was kind and honest, and tirelessly committed to her career. I adored Deanna, as did our team, and we are all devastated by her passing – we didn’t just lose a colleague, we lost a member of our family. My sincere condolences go to her husband Richard, her daughter Michaela, son-in-law, and grandchildren, and all those who loved her. Deanna was a wise, guiding light for us all.”

“Deanna was a brilliant and engaged citizen. Deanna came up through the ranks of community organizer and neighborhood publisher to master the technicalities of local and state water policy and statewide fire safety regulations. As a key aide to elected officials for decades, Deanna brought practical thinking to complicated and controversial issues; she was an outstanding listener and respectfully grasped multiple aspects of challenging debates,” said former state Senator Kehoe. “Her understanding of environmental policy and programing can be seen in open space protections, conservation plans and major infrastructure projects across our region. Deanna's progressive thinking embraced equality for all and a true love of the arts. Deanna and her loving spouse, Richard, supported a wide range of arts and culture organizations throughout San Diego. Deanna thought deeply about what builds strong, vibrant communities and she participated fully in the civic life of our city.  Her dedication to San Diego and California was surpassed only by her love and devotion to Richard and her family. I was honored to work with her for decades. San Diego has lost a citizen of integrity, insight and intellect.”

Deanna was a dedicated member of the community. She helped establish the San Diego River Conservancy, and was a tireless advocate at the city and state government level. Earlier in her career, she spent four years working for San Diego City Councilmember Judy McCarty, where Deanna was responsible for budget and environmental issues. She also served for several years as assistant to the mayor and the City Council’s Rules Committee Consultant, controlling the docket for City Council meetings. During her time working for former Mayor Susan Golding, Deanna was instrumental in the city’s efforts to develop its Multiple Species Conservation Program.

In recognition of her steadfast work and commitment, December 7, 2021 was declared “Deanna Spehn Day” by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. She was similarly honored by the San Diego City Council with “Deanna Spehn Day” on September 25, 2018. Deanna was also involved with several environmental organizations and the environmental community will also be mourning her passing. 

While Deanna devoted countless hours to her job in the Legislature, she also served as editor and co-publisher of the Tierra Times, a free community newspaper that reported on Tierrasanta community events and issues. Deanna began writing stories for the Tierrasanta Bulletin when she moved to the area 50 years ago, and started the Tierra Times in 1977 alongside three of her neighbors. It was a labor of love that was a family affair – Deanna worked on the publication on nights and weekends, and husband Richard handled the photo editing. In September, the Tierra Times, which brought attention to critical issues facing the community, published its final issue. She also was heavily involved in her community of Tierrasanta beyond publishing the newspaper, including serving on the community planning board, among other volunteer activities.

More remembrances of Deanna will be issued in the coming days. Services for Deanna will be announced at a later date.


Toni G. Atkins is President pro Tempore of the California Senate. Having previously served as Speaker of the California Assembly, she began her tenure in the Senate in 2016. As Senator for District 39, she represents the cities of San Diego, Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach. Website of President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins:

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