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San Diego revives Commission on the Status of Women

The seal for the City of San Diego is pictured above in this undated photo.
KPBS Staff
The seal for the City of San Diego is pictured above in this undated photo.

On Tuesday the San Diego City Council announced the names of the women appointed to serve on the newly revived Commission on the Status of Women, which has been dormant since 2001.

“Despite tremendous progress toward gender equality, there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure women have equal access to opportunity throughout their lives, and cities can play a role in leveling the playing field on that front,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said when he announced his intention to revive the commission.

The new commissioners include:


Laurie Black is president and CEO of LJ Black Consulting and president of RS Lawrence Development. She is a former president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

Marlyn Carrillo is the communications director at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Lakeya Cherry, an executive leadership coach and a partner at Evolution, a coaching, consulting, and investment firm.

Wendy Urushima-Conn, president and chief executive officer of the Epilepsy Foundation. She is former president and CEO of the Asian Business Association.

Former Congresswoman Susan Davis, who represented the city of San Diego in the U.S. House of Representatives for 20 years.


Gail Friedt a healthcare industry expert who is also a nurse and retired captain in the United States Navy Reserves.

Joy Utomi Hartmann is a deputy attorney general in the California Attorney General’s Office.

Solange Jacobs is chief marketing officer for Arena Analytics.

Sophie Tarazi is an attorney who has experience in civil litigation and human rights research and advocacy.

Dana Toppel is the chief operating officer for Jewish Family Service of San Diego. She is the current chair of San Diego for Every Child, a commissioner for the California Commission on Aging, and a community advisory board member for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Natasha Wong is an international law attorney. She is superintendent and former principal of the Chinese School of San Diego.

Chida Warren-Darby, director of appointments, boards and commissions in the office of the mayor, joined Midday Edition Thursday to talk about the new commission. The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Why was this commission revived now?

Warren-Darby: The Commission on the Status of Women was revived to simply help address the needs of women in the San Diego area and recommend programs that are designed to alleviate any inequities that may confront women, be they social, economic, or if women have vocational pursuits. We wanted to make sure that women have the same opportunities to achieve their goals and to live healthy lives here in the city.

How did the city choose who would be on the Commission on the Status of Women?

Warren-Darby: Well, at the end of March, we announced that the commission would be revived, and the city of San Diego's Boards and Commissions has a website where people can go and apply. And so we had a lot of applicants that expressed interest in wanting to be a part of this new effort or this revived effort. We wanted to make sure that folks represented all walks of life. We have veterans on there. We have people that have immigrated from Africa. Actually, one of our commissioners is an immigrant from South Africa. Single parents, older women, business owners, people that are in the healthcare profession. So we just wanted to make sure that folks represented women here within the city.

Sounds like a very diverse group. San Diego has studied inequities that affect women and found that women and people of color don't get their fair share of city contracts and that female city employees earn an average of about 17.6% less than male employees. Are these the types of issues that the commission might explore?

Warren-Darby: Yes, absolutely. You just find that there are a lot of different things that are affecting women and things that contribute to how we're able to navigate in these spaces. And so the commission will come together. They all have shared their ideas and visions for what they want to contribute as commissioners. And so we haven't had our first meeting yet, but when the commission does meet, they'll be able to come up with a game plan on what things they want to tackle first. Things like pay and equity. The city released a pay equity study a couple of years ago, and so we can look into things like that. We have issues relating to health care that have surfaced, child care. So there's a lot of things across the board that they want to focus on, but we're going to narrow that list down and see what we can tackle first.

Tuesday marked Black women's equal pay day. Those inequities and inequalities you mentioned are greater when we look at Black women in San Diego. Can you talk a bit about that and how the commission will prioritize Black women?

Warren-Darby: I think it was important to make sure that we had women on the commission that could actually speak to the Black experience. Being a Black woman myself, one of the quotes that I often think about is a quote by Malcolm X where he said, Black women are the most disrespected, the most unprotected, and the most neglected person in America. And we're able to just see a lot of things surface in the media censorship kind of lessens, and people have more access to sharing different narratives. We're able to kind of see how this could be true. And I think having voices from within the Black community to speak to the Black woman experience is significant. So I'm really looking forward to seeing the types of things that they bring to the table just in their authentic sales. And I think that conversation is definitely welcomed. And I think that the Black women that are represented on the commission will have the support and the backing of the other commissioners with the understanding that if a woman in the movement falls, it affects all of us. We may come from different backgrounds and we have different ethnicities, but we're all affected. And so this is just definitely an effort to bring us together.

And to your point, I mean, how could closing those gaps for Black women improve conditions not only for women, but San Diego?

Warren-Darby: I think closing the gaps would simply shift our focus. We're so much more than our ethnicity and our gender. And if we can stop fighting over things like having equality and equity or having access to quality and equity, we can focus on other issues that are affecting us.

What are the city's hopes for the commission?

Warren-Darby: Well, the hope for the commission is that Mayor Gloria always says, leave things better than you find them. And so overall, that's our hope. We want to leave the city better than we found it. We want to leave women in better conditions than they were when we came into the administration. And so we're hoping that we can kind of dive into the issues that are affecting women locally and be able to bring some policy change to the administration and make sure that we're leaving a mark in the city that lets women know that we're here to support them. And we're here to push the things that are important to them and things that will give them a better outcome in their lives.

If community members want to get involved, is there an opportunity to still do so?

Warren-Darby: There is. And I always tell people, even if you're not able to get a seat on a board of commission, these meetings are public. You can attend the meetings virtually. We're still having our meetings virtually. So there's an opportunity to log in, participate in public comment, be able to submit things that folks want to hear discussed. And that's definitely an important way to participate. So it definitely goes past having an actual seat. The commissioners are extensions of the residents in the city. And so we would love for people to tune into the meetings and participate in public comment and apply. You can still apply to sit on a board of commission. And when there is a vacancy available, we do go through those applications and see that we can make those appointments to a commission or board.