Nathan Fletcher

‘Racism is a Public Health Crisis': San Diego County Board of Supervisors Passes Resolution

"Racism is a public health crisis, and we should approach it as such," said San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to declare “racism a public health crisis,” passing policies to combat racism locally and create equitable response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chair Nathan Fletcher and Vice Chair Nora Vargas introduced the resolution to address systemic racism last week.

"In declaring racism as a public health crisis, we are acknowledging that racism underpins the health inequities throughout the region," said Fletcher.

According to the supervisors, as the public health agency for the County of San Diego, there is a responsibility to tackle the issue of racism and make substantive changes to county operations.

The board addressed the topic -- Item 8 on the agenda -- just after 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, opening up the discussion on racism to hear from local callers.

Then came the vote.

“Declaring racism a public health crisis is an important step forward that begins to move our County in a new direction,” Fletcher and Vargas said in a joint statement released by the county. “This legislation is more than just a statement of our values, we are backing it up with substantive policies designed to tackle systemic racism, and remove the barriers that prevent diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The board also voted 5-0 to create a collaborative, data-driven response to COVID-19. The county plans to use equitable funding practices to support historically marginalized communities – the communities hit the hardest by the pandemic in San Diego County.

“Data, science and health-equity are vital to our COVID-19 recovery,” Fletcher and Vargas said after the vote. “The majority of our board reaffirmed today they believe these fundamentals should shape our response to the pandemic. We must also prioritize the most vulnerable communities and ensure they have the resources they need to be healthy and safe to get back to their routines.”

The policies passed by the board Tuesday are part of Fletcher’s plan to build healthier and stronger communities. That plan is called the “Framework for the Future of San Diego County.”

Fletcher said this plan fights for “racial justice, health equity, economic opportunity, environmental protection, community-centered criminal justice, and fundamental changes to county operations.”

Fletcher said the framework will be the board’s guiding force when it comes to tackling issues from homelessness and housing to unemployment, the coronavirus pandemic, and systemic racism in the county.

As for the resolution to declare racism a public health crisis, a letter to the board from Fletcher and Vargas outlined some recommendations to combat racism in San Diego County.

  •  Create a County Racial Equity Action Plan
  • Require racial and equity data to be used to prioritize funding 
  • Create a process for community input on county policies and practices that lead to or perpetuate racial or ethnic disparity
  • Revise the statement of values, mission, vision, and strategic plan to represent equity and inclusion as core principles 
  • Require an Equity Impact Statement in all Board Letters (policies)
  • Improve data collection to identify racial disparities among programs and services meant to improve health, social, economic, educational, and criminal justice circumstances

According to the board letter, there is no fiscal impact associated with the resolution to address systemic racism.

“Changes in our institutional systems must occur for the County of San Diego to be anti-racist and combat historic inequities,” a board letter said.

“We must tackle this issue head-on and at its root,” Chair Nathan Fletcher said. “We must call out the severity of racism so we can be intentional in the way that we approach this issue and the way we ensure the basic promise of equality of access to the American Dream for all. Racism is a public health crisis, and we should approach it as such.”

"The measure will ensure we're better engaged in our communities," Fletcher said Tuesday. "What we're trying to get to is not just a place where we say 'Black Lives Matter,' or immigrants are appreciated, but we back that up with our policies and our funding."

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