Q&A: District 4 Supervisor candidate Janessa Goldbeck is 'ready to hit the ground running'
The race is on for San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 4 seat. The district includes parts of central and Southeast San Diego, La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley. Voters can cast their ballots through Aug. 15. In-person vote centers will open their doors on Aug. 5. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will move on to a runoff election in November.
Democrat Janessa Goldbeck is one of the candidates. She is a Marine veteran and CEO of the nonprofit Vet Voice Foundation. She previously ran for congress in the 54th Congressional District in 2020. Goldbeck is endorsed by local political leaders, including Rep. Scott Peters, D-50, and State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins.
The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why are you running for the District 4 seat?
Goldbeck: This is my home. I grew up here in San Diego County. I was born and raised here. I was stationed here twice as a Marine officer, started a business here. It really matters to me what happens here. And, when I think about the county, the county is really where the rubber meets the road on some of our most pressing challenges, whether that's the homelessness crisis or the skyrocketing cost of living here in San Diego County. And I want to take the 15 years I have of experience as a policy advocate and put it to work for my hometown.
And, if you're elected, what will your highest priorities be as county supervisor?
Goldbeck: I'm talking to voters in the district every single day, and what I hear again and again is a frustration with "politics as usual." The politicians keep telling San Diegans that things are going to get better. And, in fact, they're getting worse. The homelessness crisis is exploding. It's more and more expensive to live here. Our rents are the third-highest in the nation. So it's really important to me that we focus on those issues in particular: homelessness, the cost of living and public safety so that San Diego county is a clean, safe and wonderful place to live — the place that we know it can be.
What can residents expect from your leadership style? How do you intend to make these ideas materialize?
Goldbeck: Well, I've never been one to accept the status quo. I believe that we can solve challenging problems. It requires prioritization and it requires making sure that we work together as a region to solve problems. I'm proudly endorsed by the majority of our federal delegation and the majority of our state delegation as well as many local officials from across San Diego County. It's going to require all of us working together. Local government is powerful, but it can't do this alone. And I think that my experience working at the federal state and local level to make change over the last 15 years of my career will really be an asset in this position.
And what would you do as supervisor to repair the trust with constituents in the wake of previous supervisor Nathan Fletcher's scandal?
Goldbeck: Trust in local government is at a historic low. People feel betrayed by what happened. They also feel like they've been told over and over again that things will change and they haven't, so it's more important than ever that we have transparency in government. I've proposed a package of reforms that includes establishing, for the first time, an independent ethics commission at the County of San Diego to review the behaviors and actions of elected officials and public employees. I think that's really important. I also think it's important that we open up the process of determining who the next chief administrative officer is at the county to public scrutiny and review. That's something that's never happened before, but, in other major positions around the county, like our superintendent for schools, the public has an opportunity to weigh in, and I think —given that this historic low, given that we have this historic lack of trust at the county and local government in general — it's important that we have more transparency than ever.
And I want to dig in more to your solutions and how you'd make them materialize. You mentioned homelessness as a top priority. What would you do differently to tackle the issue if elected?
Goldbeck: One of the things I'm proud to have played a role in as CEO of Vet Voice Foundation, which is a national veterans advocacy organization that I run, is to reduce veterans' homelessness across the country and right here in San Diego County. We've done that by really zeroing in on veterans and working across every level of government to ensure we have the resources to address this problem. I think we can similarly address other populations that are very vulnerable and a big part of our homelessness population right here in San Diego County. (I'll) give you an example: We know that 29% of people experiencing homelessness in San Diego County are seniors, and most of them are experiencing homelessness for the first time ever. I think that's wrong. It's unconscionable. We should focus, laser focus, on this population, ensure that seniors who are at risk of losing their housing because of rising rents can stay housed. The county has a program right now underway, a pilot program, to provide subsidies to seniors to help them meet the rising cost.
And I think that program should be expanded and made permanent, and then we should also work with service providers to ensure that we have appropriate emergency overnight shelters. There are many shelters in San Diego County that will not accept you if you cannot meet your activities of daily life — if you can't use a restroom on your own or you can't reach a top bunk. So we need to provide those emergency shelter options for people who have already made it to the street and connect them with services and get them back into housing as quickly as possible.
But how do you do that?
Goldbeck: Well a couple of different ways. One, the county has an excess of land. And land is one of the biggest hurdles to providing more emergency shelter options. So I think the county should create a priority task force to establish overnight shelters, bringing in things that are don't take years to build but are easily accessible: new building technologies, like prefabricated tiny homes where we can bring people in, bring them off the street connect them to services and make sure they get into long-term housing. Now, there are a couple of different stages to this. We obviously have a lack of overnight emergency shelter. We need to rapidly expand that. The county can play a big role, as I mentioned, by using its own land and connecting that with service providers. We also need to invest in long-term housing solutions. In the last few years, over the course of the pandemic, San Diego County has lost a significant number of board and care facilities where people who need additional case management care and services can can live and get the care that they need. We need to invest in reopening more long-term-care facilities so that people, whether they're seniors or experiencing mental health crises or have a addiction health issues and need treatment, can go and live in a place where they can receive those services over time.
You know, recently we spoke with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who pointed some of the blame for the region's ongoing homelessness crisis to other cities in San Diego County. Here's what he had to say last week:
"You're welcome to criticize what we're doing, but you have to ask why these other cities are just choosing to ignore this problem. Ignoring it is far worse than starting initiatives that may need some modifications or improvements. At least we're trying to help people. I don't think the same can be said for most other cities in this county."
Strong words there. What would you do to increase the level of cooperation between the different cities in the county when it comes to homelessness?
Goldbeck: Well, for many years the County of San Diego has sat on its hands and said: "We're not a part of the homelessness solution. That's on the cities to figure out." I think that's wrong. The county is the largest and best-funded entity in the region. It should be leading on the homelessness response. And the mayor of San Diego is right — it is incumbent on the rest of the region to play a role in this. So I'd like to see the county really step forward, use its land to open additional safe camping sites, to open additional safe parking lots, to create emergency shelter options to get the thousands of San Diegans off the streets into emergency shelters so that we can start connecting them to services and get them into long-term housing.
Another issue I want to talk about is the deaths in San Diego County jails. They've been among the highest in the state. What would you change and how would you make them safer?
Goldbeck: A sentence to jail in San Diego County should not mean a sentence to death. Unfortunately, we have one of the highest rates in the state and that's unconscionable. First and foremost, we need to make sure that we are implementing the results and recommendations of the state audit that was conducted and ensure that the sheriff and the department is being held accountable for meeting those recommendations quickly and as aggressively as possible. Second, we know that one of the major causes of death in the jails (is) from people who are experiencing acute psychiatric episodes, not receiving the health care services that they need while they're incarcerated. We need to make sure we have the appropriate medical staff, nurses on hand in the jail, so that if someone is in jail, they get that help that they need. And, finally, we need to stop treating our jails as our region's largest mental health services provider. That's an absurd reality. People who are experiencing acute psychiatric episodes should be diverted to crisis stabilization units. Unfortunately, our region is extraordinarily short on the number of psychiatric beds that we have. We're only have about half of what's necessary. So the county needs to aggressively invest in funding for psychiatric facilities, as well as the necessary behavioral health workers to be able to treat this crisis.
And, finally, you know, many people have already identified the issues persistent in the county. There have been many solutions that just didn't materialize. So what makes your vision and approach to governing different from other candidates running for this seat and different from what we've seen before?
Goldbeck: I'm not a political insider. I'm not a career politician. I am a policy advocate who really wants to make a difference for my hometown. All my career folks have told me we can't solve tough problems, or we can't do things differently. I don't accept the status quo. When the Marine Corps told me there were jobs that women couldn't hold simply on the basis of gender, I challenged that. I volunteered to go to an all-male school and successfully worked as an advocate in a coalition to overcome that policy and open all jobs to anyone qualified to do them. When I think about making change here in San Diego County, I don't think it's a lack of resources. I think it's a lack of political courage. We need to elect people into these positions who are willing to reach across the aisle to get things done, who have the courage to challenge the status quo, and I believe I am that person. I'm ready to hit the ground running.