For the March San Diego Food System Spotlights: Community Leader article, the San Diego Food System Alliance selected and interviewed City of San Diego Councilmember Georgette Gomez. We asked Councilmember Gomez on her thoughts about opportunities to ensure all San Diegans have access to high quality food at all times.
During your tenure at the Environmental Health Coalition, you advocated to address the environmental injustices in low-income communities and empowered community members to speak their voice. How do you see this effort tying into the issue of food?
I believe in balanced and equitable communities, and that all residents, regardless of their race, culture, or income level, should have access to healthy and fresh foods. I believe that it is incumbent upon elected leaders like me to do everything we can to promote higher access to healthy and fresh foods and I am committed to do what I can to ensure that the City of San Diego encourage the creation of more healthy options in neighborhoods with disproportionate access.
The predominance of unhealthy food and beverage options have been identified as important contributors to obesity and diabetes in San Diego County, particularly in disadvantaged communities that otherwise have limited access to healthy food options. What would you do to address these issues in the San Diego area?
Our residents deserve healthy environments in which to live, learn, and work. Health outcomes involve not only food access, but also our ability to walk, bike, and recreate. I’m passionate about ensuring all our communities have access to these opportunities and I am committed towards working to create healthier neighborhoods. One of my priorities is advocating for much-needed infrastructure improvements in my District, including the sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes needed to safely access food and other retail and services.
City of San Diego City Council approved the first reading of the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones AB551 in Feb 2016. We are eager to see this program implemented soon. We would also like to encourage the City to provide more support for urban agriculture, community gardens and urban farms. Do you see opportunities for the City to continue to support these efforts?
I’m eager to work with my fellow Councilmembers and support the implementation of these efforts. As a member of the Smart Growth and Land Use committee, I will ensure that the City takes every opportunity to advance the support of community gardens and urban farms, where there is strong community support.
Some cities are creating food enterprise zones for value-added food products (processed, prepared or preserved), and are supporting small food business such as mobile vendors (food trucks and sidewalk pushcarts) as healthy food retail options in disadvantaged communities. How would you support the growth of the small and micro-enterprise food businesses sector?
I feel blessed to represent a District with a diversity of small businesses, many of which are food-related. I am excited to hear about efforts to increase these micro-enterprise opportunities, including commercial kitchens and micro-loans to incubate food entrepreneurs.
San Diego County’s food service industry increased by 23% in 2015, yet many of the workers are underpaid or otherwise experience substandard working conditions. What labor issues in the food system are you most concerned with, and how would you address them?
It is very important that everyone has access to healthy foods, especially those who work in the food industry. This is why it is vital to ensure that the minimum wage is a livable one. In cases with substandard working conditions, labor unions are important to ensure workers are treated and paid fairly, and work in healthy conditions. By protecting a workers’ right to unionize and by advocating for livable wages, we can address the major issues our food industry workers face.
Would you be interested in incentivizing farmers’ markets to enroll or continue use of CalFresh/EBT at their farmers’ markets, or to locate in disadvantaged communities?
Prior to taking office, I helped bring the first farmers market to City Heights. I wholeheartedly support farmers markets because they are an important component to ensuring residents have healthy food options. Just as in City Heights, I definitely support farmers’ markets use/enrollment of CalFresh/EBT and establishment in underserved communities.
Food Insecurity + CalFresh:
We know that 13% of the total population in San Diego County is food insecure and that rate is higher among low-income individuals and families, many of whom live in District 9. At the same time, San Diego County has one of the worst rates in the nation for CalFresh (California name for food stamps aka SNAP) enrollment with estimates putting in enrollment at only 49.5% of eligible residents. One of our members, San Diego Hunger Coalition, is spearheading efforts around this. What role, if any, do you think the city should have on a local, regional, and statewide level on this issue?
I’m eager to partner with the County of San Diego on this and other food and health-related issues in my District and across the City. I know the Health and Human Services Department has implemented many innovative programs across the region, and look forward to learning more about how I can be an ally in their work.
What role do you see for the San Diego Food System Alliance in your administration?
Please do not hesitate to bring forward ideas for how the City can improve food access and health outcomes in San Diego. I hope the Alliance will keep me updated as opportunities to support these issues arise.