Nathan Fletcher Proposes Assistance To Asylum Seekers As First Act On Board Of Supervisors
Nathan Fletcher is now the lone Democrat sitting on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
He was sworn in on Monday.
Fletcher represents District 4 on the board of supervisors. The district includes most of the central city of San Diego from La Jolla to downtown, from Ocean Beach to Encanto.
Fletcher joined KPBS Midday Edition on Monday after he was sworn in to talk about his priorities on the board.
Below is a transcript of that interview lightly edited for clarity:
Q: One of your first acts as supervisor will be to vote on ways that the county can assist asylum seekers. Why do you think the county should weigh in on this?
A: Well the reality is I believe humane treatment of individuals knows no border. I believe that regardless of your country of birth, of your ethnicity, that we share a common dignity. We're all God's children. And I think that we should treat these folks with the dignity and respect they deserve. I also think it's important to note that all of these individuals we're talking about have followed federal immigration law exactly as prescribed. They have a legal status to be here and they have families that are willing to shelter and house and feed them as they go through the immigration process. And so what we're talking about is having the county step up in partnership with the city and the state and to a lesser extent the federal government to make sure we're protecting public health, to make sure these individuals are being screened and vaccinated and make sure they're of good health, but also helping facilitate their travel to their family. Because we run a risk if we don't do this. That these individuals could become stranded in San Diego and could wander into our already overcrowded homeless shelters. And so for humanitarian reasons, but also for local concerns, as it relates to addressing the homeless issue, I think it's important the county step up and play a leadership role with these other government entities in making sure we address this issue.
Q: Can we afford to do it?
A: Well, I don't think we can afford not to. And that really is the issue and challenge in front of us. You know we just saw where we had a devastating public health crisis with hepatitis A and that should have woken us all to the reality that public health has a cost. You know there's a moral cost to not doing it, but there's an economic cost to not doing it. And so what we're really talking about here is just ways the county can partner with the city, with the state, with the federal government to make sure we're all shouldering our share of the load to avoid a crisis situation.
Q: How do we do that? Where does the money come from?
A: These individuals are generally only in San Diego for 24 to 48 hours and so we're talking about the most temporary of sheltering-type facilities. The state has kicked in significant resources and emergency funds to operate the shelters and the county's costs have really been de minimis. What we're looking at is, is there a potential property or facility that's vacant, that's not being used, that we may be able to make available to those nonprofit groups or to the state to operate. And then we're also assembling a working group of city, county, state and federal officials to talk about where are the gaps, where are the inconsistencies and how do we put in place policies, so that we have appropriate responses as we move forward.
Q: Now a group called the Immigration Justice League is calling on the county to declare a state of emergency due to the treatment of migrant children. They're calling it a "humanitarian and health crisis." What conditions need to be met to declare a state of emergency? And do you think a state of emergency should be declared?
A: Well, we'll see. You know that's one of the issues that's top of mind for the working group that we're assembling in terms of what is the city's role, what is the county's role, what is the state's role. I think we all agree that this is an urgent issue in front of us and we all have to take the most appropriate actions. And I think that we need to move swiftly and we need to make sure that we don't let a problem linger. We need to stop the finger pointing between various entities of government and all come to the realization, you know so often when we talk about these issues one side blames the other, it's almost like someone saying there's a leak in your side of the boat. But if you're in a boat, you don't care what side the leak is, you just want to stop it. And so whether it's the city, county, state, federal government's responsibility — how do we all come together to make sure we're doing what we can to ensure it doesn't truly become a crisis.
Q: You collaborated with Supervisor Greg Cox on the migrant shelter issue. What other issues could you see yourself working on with your Republican colleagues?
A: Well I've seen a lot of areas of agreement. I've had great conversations with Supervisor Dianne Jacob. She's really been a leader on fire prevention and proper planning. She's done some remarkable work when it comes to Alzheimer's. I've talked to Supervisor Kristin Gaspar about things we might do in criminal justice reform areas. Obviously Supervisor Cox and I have adjacent districts and have a lot of shared interest. And Supervisor Jim Desmond and I have also talked about a lot of things we can do to tackle the homeless issue and crisis before us. We all have different ideologies and different philosophies and different perspectives, but we all have an obligation to sit down and listen to one another, to try and make principled compromise to address the issues before us. And when that just isn't possible and there's just a principled dissent or disagreement then that's OK. You know healthy democracies can have robust discussion and debate, but I never lose sight of the fact that our focus is getting the job done, moving the policy, improving lives.
Q: Now as a California Assembly member you were a registered Republican. Do you think having been on the other side of the political spectrum will help you gain support from the other supervisors?
A: That remains to be seen, I think in this environment when you talk about what the county does, you're talking about things where we should all have a shared interest and we should have shared agendas and my starting point has always been, how can we be collaborative, how can we work together. You know obviously in the campaign I was very critical of the way that the county has operated over the preceding decades and certainly my election represents change, the first Democrat elected, there is some generational change. But I believe new perspectives and new ideas, it may stretch a governing entity, but it also strengthens it. And so, I think that there will be areas where we will be able to find collaboration and work together. And those are the things we're going to focus on out of the gate.
Q: The county's ability to approve new housing in rural areas is currently on hold because the courts ruled against its climate action plan. What will you push the county to do in terms of its climate action plan?
A: Well, as a new supervisor there's pending litigation and so we will have some briefings in the county, in close session we'll decide a course of action. And based on the information presented to me there, I'll make a decision based on that. I can say broadly and generally speaking, I have a real concern about climate change. I think it is a pressing issue of our day and I think it is incumbent upon every jurisdiction, whether you are a city, a county, a state or the federal government, that we all come together and take bold and decisive action to lower our greenhouse gas emissions and to align our transportation and our housing plans to make sure that we're having a real commitment to shouldering our share of the load and trying to make a dent in these global issues that we face.
Q: You've said you're going to push for more housing to be built in the county, specifically infill and transit-oriented development. What specifically do you plan to do, to make that happen?
A: We've laid out a number of ideas in the campaign. There's some really bold, creative ideas out there that we modeled on other jurisdictions, in other states, where they took available land, where they provided time certain permitting, where they provided proper incentives. I think that there's a lot we can do. As a new member of the Metropolitan Transit System, I believe there's a lot we can do through MTS by increasing transit opportunities and then taking land that may be owned by a city, a county, or MTS, adjacent to those and really providing some flexibility and some expedited permitting and the design and building construction to really increase that supply of housing because housing is not just an issue affecting the homeless population. Housing is an issue that impacts everyone in San Diego. I mean minus those of extreme wealth. If, standards say you shouldn't spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, good luck in San Diego. And so this is an issue that impacts working families and middle-class families. And so I think when we look at this issue of housing and transportation, we really have to think holistically about how we take some bold steps to increase the density and supply and availability of affordable housing.
Q: So where in the county do you think the transit-oriented development you're proposing should go?
Q: Well, by its nature transit-oriented development goes along transit lines and those transit lines tend to be more either in urban corridors or connecting urban or semi urban regions. I would like to see us have a real increase in our commitment to transit, increasing the availability of rapid transit busing, increasing the transit availability of rail and doing those types of things. But I also think that there's a fundamental shift in land use and I think I represent a generation that doesn't want suburban sprawl, that wants infill, that wants density, that wants livable, walkable communities where you can live and work and play and shop all in the same environment. I'd like to see more focus on that, the livable walkable communities. I'd like to see a greater investment in bike paths. And I'd like to see us just change our general approach to how we view the future. You know San Diego is an urban environment and I think looking at maximizing the utilization of already developed land is the most expedient, it's the most efficient, it's most consistent with our climate goals. It's also really consistent with what the future generation wants in housing and in quality of life.
Q: Now the state audit came out last month that criticized the county and city for not acting quickly enough in response to the Hepatitis-A outbreak. The report provided recommendations for improvement. Do you have plans to follow up on any of those recommendations?
A: Absolutely. You know I was very critical of the county and the response to Hepatitis in the campaign. The audit came out and was very harsh and critical about what happened, but also laid a roadmap to try and address those issues. And my statement when the audit came out said that as a county we have to implement every single recommendation in this audit. I think we have an obligation to the public to restore trust, to say something very bad happened. We have learned a lesson and we have changed course and we are going to move forward in a better way. And that's part of what's driving the conversation on the asylum seekers. You know these are individuals who although here legally, have traveled thousands of miles, who come from different countries that have different public health backgrounds. And we have an obligation to make sure we've learned the lessons of the Hepatitis crisis in terms of taking action to make sure we're addressing public health with these individuals who are coming here now.
Q: You've advocated for the county spending more of its reserves. Where will you advocate that that money is to be spent?
A: I think there's a number of priorities that we have across the board. For me, I've consistently said when I get asked what's the most important issue you will face and there's a lot of important issues, but what is the most important issue, for me that's mental health. You know I got very involved in mental health issues as a combat veteran of the Marine Corps. I've watched my friends really struggle when they come back, but the issues of mental health affect all of society. And so having the county make a real commitment to increasing the number of inpatient psychiatric beds, the recuperative care step down facilities, and then even thinking from a prevention standpoint about how we inject mental health into every conversation. We know with juveniles and children that are removed from their families by the county that's a traumatic experience and event. And if we'll invest in early childhood mental health, folks that come into the corrections system are often dealing with unresolved issues of trauma. If we can address those issues, these are things that are not only morally right for those who are in need of help, but they also bear tremendous cost savings because these issues and these challenges don't go away. And the failure to address them early merely compounds the significance of dealing with them later. It also compounds the cost.
Q: As you mentioned there are a lot of issues from mental health to homelessness and housing, even bike paths. You know there are very different ideas on how to approach and solve all of these issues, so different that that they often persist. So you're sure to face a lot of pushback from the rest of the board. How will you ensure your remaining effective?
A: That's always the balance. In politics that's always the challenge. I think when there's reasonable, principled compromises, that I believe move us in a more progressive direction and are addressing the issues in front of us, then those are the types of things that I'm willing to work on. If there's just obstinance to say 'we're just not going to do it that way,' then those are issues we're going to make the argument, we're going to have a vote and we're going to continue to build support. But coming into this I'm encouraged by the attitude of the other supervisors who I'll be serving with, I'm encouraged by the leadership of the county. You know there's a lot of really dedicated public servants who work at the county. They come to work because they want to help children in need. They come to work because they care about the future of San Diego. And so I think that there's a lot of areas where by injecting evidence-based, measurable ideas, by making a fact-based passionate case for why it makes sense, that there are opportunities that we can we can move forward.