San Diego Leaders Reflect on Deanna Spehn’s Lasting Impact on Community, State

November 17, 2022

SAN DIEGO – City and county leaders, public officials, and community groups have issued statements commemorating the life and legacy of Deanna Spehn, longtime district policy director for Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego).

Deanna, who had worked in the Legislature for 20 years for Senator Atkins and former Senator Christine Kehoe after serving for nearly a decade at the City of San Diego, passed away late last week and was described by them in official statements as “…kind and honest, and tirelessly committed to her career,” and “…thought deeply about what builds strong, vibrant communities and she participated fully in the civic life of our city.”

Deanna was steadfast in her commitment to improving life in San Diego and for all Californians, with much of her work focused on environmental policy, transportation, agriculture, workers’ rights, and open space. The following are remembrances from those who knew and worked with Deanna throughout her storied career. To read more about Deanna and for additional tributes, click here.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone – in any line of work – who loved what they did more than Deanna Spehn. She truly loved the San Diego Community and she dedicated her life to making it a better place. Like so many, our entire team at EDC will miss her guidance, counsel, wisdom, and constant presence in our work. And more than anything, for me personally I will miss her kindness and friendship.”

Mark Cafferty, President & CEO, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation

“Deanna, a conservationist and knowledgeable staffer in the State Capitol, understood what needed to be done and made it happen! She was the staff architect along with Senator Kehoe`s political leadership that developed the San Diego River Conservancy. Without Deanna`s leadership, insight and knowledge of State Government, the River Conservancy would not exist today… She was a quiet and kind leader, with a keen sense of the art of political leadership along with the knowledge of how to protect San Diego River’s resources. She also understood the need to educate our young people in how to conserve while telling stories about the land and the Native peoples... A tribute to Deanna is that the river is now in a better place and will be even better because of her.”

Ben G. Clay, Chair, San Diego River Conservancy

“Deanna Spehn lived a life full of purpose and progress and will be terribly missed.  She was a passionate member of the Tierrasanta community and played a pivotal role in making California a better place for all people. Deanna’s legacy will live on through the relationships she forged, stories she wrote and the transformational policies she helped Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins craft for our community. Lorena and I are saddened by Deanna’s passing and our hearts go out to her family, friends, colleagues, and Senate pro Tempore Atkins.”  

Nathan Fletcher, Chair, San Diego County Board of Supervisors

“Most San Diegans will never know the impact that Deanna Spehn had on their lives, but they experience it every day. Through her decades-long career in local and state government, she shaped public policy around the most complicated and weighty issues – from water, transportation, environmental protection and more. She did this all the while serving as a leader in her own right in her community of Tierrasanta.  The City of San Diego and the State of California are better because of Deanna’s service. All of us owe her a debt of gratitude. My heart is with Deanna’s husband, Richard, and all her family, friends and colleagues.

Todd Gloria, Mayor, City of San Diego 

“Deanna never took her eyes off the true purpose of public service. She helped to craft and carry transformative pieces of legislation to protect not only some of California’s most prized possessions — our climate, air, open space, oceans, and coasts — but also its people — our workers, LGBTQ communities, and other underrepresented individuals. Exceptional policy expert, climate leader, and a true public servant – Deanna is already sorely missed, but her impact continues to be felt today and will be for generations to come. Thank you, Deanna Spehn, for all you’ve done for our communities. Rest in peace.”

Terra Lawson-Remer, San Diego County Supervisor, District 3

“Deanna was a dear friend and colleague to the Chamber and business community. We relied on her knowledge and expertise for countless issues. She was a trailblazer for women in politics and respected by so many of us. Her lifelong dedication to making San Diego a better place benefits all of us. She will be missed greatly.”

Jerry Sanders, President & CEO, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce