Mayoral candidate and City Councilman Carl DeMaio announced a plan Thursday to attract more volunteers to San Diego.
He set a goal of 1 million volunteer hours each year by 2016, saying San Diego has a relatively low amount of civic engagement. The plan contained 13 proposals to expand the involvement and participation of volunteers. Some of the ideas include:
- creating a “Chief Volunteer Officer” in the mayor’s office
- launching a website for volunteers
- a smart phone app for volunteer recruitment
- using CityTV to highlight nonprofits and volunteer opportunities
- expanding the Neighborhood Watch and RSVP programs.
“Embracing volunteers is not just about responding to the immediate fiscal crisis; I want to make volunteerism a key part of how the city provides services in the future,” DeMaio said in the announcement.
Councilmember DeMaio's spokesman Jeff Powell said volunteers provided about 530,000 hours of service to city departments -- not including nonprofit agencies and organizations. Powell believes that number may be a lot smaller, however, adding that some volunteers were compensated in some way.
The goal of 1 million volunteer hours each year by 2016 may be possible without DeMaio’s plan, according to Parks and Recreation Volunteer Coordinator Christina Fraijo. The department alone had 26,000 volunteers last year alone. In fiscal year 2010, volunteers served about 236,000 hours, she said.
She also believes that the assertion that San Diego has a low level of civic engagement is inaccurate.
“I feel discouraged that those 26,000 people aren’t being recognized as making a huge difference,” Fraijo said. "Are we getting enough people to volunteer? We are. And they’re doing a great job."
DeMaio said labor laws inhibit volunteer involvement. Part of his plan includes changing those statutes.
The laws DeMaio referred to dictate that the city must “meet and confer” with bargaining units on the decision to use volunteers who are going to fill the roles of workers represented by unions.
“City leaders should do their part to encourage volunteerism and should eliminate the government union rules that block volunteer service in city departments,” DeMaio stated.
However, most volunteers don’t want to do the work of unionized employees in the first place, Fraijo said.
“Most of our volunteers want to come and support us -- not do our jobs,” she said.
The problem is not simply getting enough volunteers, she said -- it’s having enough staff to train them. Given recent layoffs in the city, the number of staff members who can train volunteers has declined in the past few years.
A previous version of this article stated that DeMaio hoped his plan would attract one million volunteer hours by 2016.