Lori Saldaña

County of San Diego Supervisor Candidate Questionnaire – Lori Saldaña responses

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We invite you to share your vision for how County of San Diego can build on existing initiatives (ex: the County of San Diego’s Live Well San Diego Food System Initiative) and/or create even more innovative solutions to address these issues in order to develop an equitable and sustainable food system. Please limit each answer to 250 words. 

1. Food Insecurity: How will you address food insecurity in San Diego County? We know that 13% of the total population in San Diego County, half a million, is food insecure, which includes families, seniors, people with disabilities, and veterans struggling with unemployment and underemployment. However, the Federal administration is currently proposing drastic cuts and structural changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). San Diego County also has one of the worst CalFresh (California name for SNAP) enrollment rates in the nation with estimates putting in enrollment at only 49.5% of eligible residents. What role do you think the County of San Diego should have on a local, statewide, and national level on this issue? 

Answer: San Diego County must develop a pro-active outreach plan to contact food-insecure San Diegans, encourage them to apply for enrollment in SNAP/CalFresh, and educate them on ways to choose healthy food and develop good food preparation and nutritional practices on small budgets. As the 2nd-largest county in the world’s 5th-largest economy (California), San Diego County can and should be a role model for the effective use of SNAP.  We know that SNAP is one of the most cost-effective economic stimuli that government can use, since SNAP funds go straight into the local economy.  For every $1 of SNAP funds spent in grocery stores and farmers’ markets, another $1.08 is estimated by the USDA to be generated locally that can support other businesses and services. 

As a Community College teacher, I have 20+ years of experience working with some of the lowest-income families in San Diego in my classrooms and other programs.  As a State Assemblywoman, I worked with City Councilmembers in the district to develop communication, outreach and educational skills to shift public opinion regarding how our lowest-income families benefit from these programs, and expand access via public schools. We know that hungry adults are not productive employees, and hungry children don’t learn as well.

When CalFresh and SNAP resources are used well, they actually improve overall health and educational outcomes, stimulate our regional economy, and help close the growing poverty and income inequality gaps.

2. Equitable Access to Healthy Food: How will you support equitable access to healthy food for underserved communities? San Diegans face daunting health disparities, where the most food insecure residents also face the highest rates of obesity in the county, and limited access to healthy, affordable food is disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities and communities of color. What would you do to remove barriers? How would you work with cities to create land use incentives to improve the quality of food and beverages sold in neighborhood food environments (healthy neighborhood markets, farmers markets, full service grocery stores, full service restaurants, wellness centers, community gardens, etc.) in underserved communities? 

Answer: One major barrier to having fresh, nutritious food in many homes and small neighborhood stores is the cost of energy and refrigeration. Implementing a Community Choice Energy plan in San Diego County would lower energy costs for many San Diegans- both at home and in small food stores. This could encourage people to purchase & provide more fresh, healthy foods vs. processed food that are more stable and have a longer shelf life- but are often lower in nutritional value. Encouraging the development of more community gardens also can provide access to fresh, nutritious food to families at lower costs, and are an incentive for outdoor exercise and shared community space in many neighborhoods. 

The costs of poor nutrition are seen in poor health outcomes. Lack of healthy food may be contributing to San Diego County’s higher rates of illness and mortality compared to adjacent counties: hundreds of San Diegans have died of flu and Hepatitis A in recent years, many more than in other areas. These rates of illness and mortality are often linked to malnutrition, food insecurity, lack of shelter and substandard shelter— in addition to obesity. 

To counter this, I have supported the work of community volunteers who operate networks to pick up and deliver surplus/donated food to food-insecure San Diegans in supportive housing, and to other volunteers who prepare healthy meals to share with unsheltered San Diegans.  There are many opportunities for the donation of surplus food from the retail and hospitality industries. Many just need to have an easy-to-access network of people to donate this food to, which the County could facilitate with its “LiveWell” program. 

To increase outreach, education, and healthy food availability in food deserts, the County could develop a network of “Healthy Food Trucks” that deliver groceries and produce to underserved neighborhoods, accept EBT, and help to enroll eligible people in SNAP/CalFresh programs.  These Trucks could be small business incubators as well, through an RFP issued by the County. They could even provide door-to-door services for older adults, people with disabilities, and others who have difficulty getting to traditional grocery stores. 

3. Support for Small-Scale Farming and Fishing: How will you support the viability of small-scale farming and fishing in San Diego? San Diego County hosts the most number of organic and small farms than any other county in the nation. With ready access to the Pacific Ocean, San Diego also consists of a vibrant fishing community, with over 65 locally-available fish species. Supporting a thriving farming and fishing industry in our region creates local jobs, contributes to multiplier effects to our economy, supports global sustainability goals, and encourages regional resilience. However, the average age of small food producers, both farming and fishing, are over 60 years old. These food producers operate on slim margins with high resource inputs (such as water and land access for farmers), making it challenging to compete with cheaper imports from countries with lower labor costs and less-stringent regulations. What would you do to support the viability of the small-scale local farming and fishing community in San Diego County? How would you ensure that these critical occupations are preserved for the next generation? 

Answer: Throughout my 6-year Assembly tenure, I developed and maintained relationships with businesses in my District (which overlaps 2/3s with BOS D4) — particularly restaurants, seafood distributors, and craft beer brewers.  My lifetime of experience as community organizer, university researcher, community college teacher and administrator, and Assemblymember— particularly around environmental issues — makes me uniquely situated to work with our local farming and fishing community to confirm their needs, identify effective strategies to address them, and deploy them successfully.  I can facilitate the sharing of best practices among operators, such as hydroponics to reduce water use (e.g., Archi’s Acres), and mentoring of younger people by the elders; and also marketing these businesses as the assets they are to the County’s vibrancy.       ⁃  

I have always been very progressive in my view of sustainable local fishing. This is an important part of San Diego recreation, tourism and food industries. I would continue the work I began as an Assemblywoman, with Dave Rudie, owner of Catalina Offshore Products, to streamline regulations impacting local fishing and lobster activities. I introduced legislation to establish ongoing funding for sustainable lobster programs.  Unfortunately, it was vetoed by the Governor. See: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=200920100AB571 However, in 2017, a similar bill was signed into law. See http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB944     

These comments were from an analysis of the bill: "Previous and Related Legislation. AB 571 (Saldaña), enrolled in 2009, and AB 408 (Saldaña), enrolled in 2010, were substantially similar, and would have created a Lobster Management Enhancement Supplement and established a five member advisory committee. The Governor vetoed both bills due to the increased permit fees they established."     

I also met with Dave and researchers at Scripps Institute of Oceanography to advise them on grant funding strategies as part of the development of the Marine Protected Areas in La Jolla.   

The major impetus behind this work was to identify sources of ongoing funding to support men and women in the fishing & lobster industry, and protect and maintain a healthy, productive lobster & fishing stock, to ensure secure workforce opportunities for future generations of San Diegans.

4. Food Waste: How will you support San Diego County’s food waste reduction, donation, and recycling goals? In San Diego County, we generate at least 700,000 tons of food waste per year and our composting facilities process around 2% of the total food waste generated. Many reasons contribute to the food waste problem including ambiguous date labels, lack of proper planning and storage, and aesthetic preferences of consumers. Behavior changes are necessary to waste less with edible food being donated to feed hungry people in San Diego County. The remaining food waste has the potential to be turned into compost, livestock feed, or energy, which would reduce our the County’s greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs. The County of San Diego’s High Waste Diversion Plan includes many of these strategies. What would you do to ensure that the County meets the targets identified? What is the County’s role in ensuring that the entire region is making coordinated progress towards these goals? 

Answer: I look forward to providing sufficient funding and staff support to implement the programs under development by Domingo Vigil at the County Land Use & Environmental Group.  I will participate in related briefings and  workshops and request periodic reports to ensure we meet the goals and targets of his proposals, and also work to educate the community on ways to achieve these goals. A strong education and outreach program is essential to the success of any new public program.  

5. Food Procurement: How will you use County contracts to increase purchases of Good Food? The County of San Diego adopted the EatWell Practices in December 2016 to commit to using its public dollars to buy nutritious foods grown locally and sustainably. The County staff is now working on implementing the EatWell Practices. There is an opportunity to ensure robust measures are in place and take this to commitment to the next level by adopting the nationally-recognized Good Food Procurement Program (GFPP). GFPP would strengthen the County’s support of the local economy, environmental sustainability, workers’ rights and animal welfare, as well as nutrition. What would you do to leverage the County's food purchasing power around food procurement? 

Answer: San Diego is blessed with a climate that can grow almost anything- including a wide variety of produce. We have the second most valuable agricultural district in the state, and are home to the highest number of small organic farms of any county in the nation. Compared to many other areas: it is easy for San Diegans to buy locally produced, healthy and organic produce and products.

Related to this, we have are seeing increasingly creative and innovative partnerships between local growers, hospitality and culinary interests, and non-profit organizations such as the Berry Good Food Foundation. They work to promote healthy eating, in cooperation with educational events hosted by organizations throughout the County. The Foundation conducts workshops, forums and special events to inspire more cooperation and appreciation of our region’s food.   I will continue participating in these events and anticipate partnering with these diverse interests to support and expand the EatWell Practices for the region.

6. Urban Agriculture: How will you increase food growing opportunities such as community gardens and urban farms in your district? Urban agriculture provides a myriad of community, health and environmental benefits, including increased green and open space, improved access to fresh food and neighborhood beautification. Some cities have reviewed their land use codes as well as created incentive programs (Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone). What steps do you propose to encourage and support residents growing their own food? 

Answer: We will need to coordinate with private property owners, including churches and businesses that may have property suitable for such gardens. City schools are increasingly willing to open areas of their campuses to gardens, both to feed students and provide community access. The City of San Diego has also been at the forefront of zoning policies to encourage urban farming and gardening, and I anticipate good cooperation with their offices.  

In District 4, the County can support the City’s zoning changes by facilitating the sharing of information, best practices, tools, other resources, and harvests among community members.  The County can also review our real property inventory for locations that would support community gardening locations.

On a personal note: I am a 2nd generation gardener. I compost all my kitchen waste and much of the yard materials, and grow organic edible as well as ornamental plants and butterfly gardens. I also worked with volunteers and supported the development of a community garden in a church near my home in Clairemont. 

7. Food Labor: How will you support food system workers? One in seven jobs in San Diego County is in the food system. These jobs include farm work, food processing, distribution, food service, and retail. The average wage of food system workers has increased at less than half the rate of wages across all sectors (at $24,693 annual). Most workers in the food system do not make a living wage for the high-cost region. How would you address these inequities? 

Answer: The San Diego region is home to a wide range of hospitality/tourism, culinary and service economy jobs. SDSU and other colleges and universities have professional development programs to help students prepare for careers in these areas of employment. However, many of these jobs are seasonal and/or part-time employment. We need to encourage more training that allows workers to advance beyond entry level jobs, and encourage them to complete certification and professional development programs- all ways to help them earn more than minimum wage, and have career advancement opportunities.

I have been an Information Technology Workforce Development instructor for the San Diego Community College District for over 20 years. I currently teach at the West City Campus, that is also home to a successful Culinary Arts program. After earning their Culinary Certificates, some of our students have continued improving their English skills, and also take classes to develop computer and accounting skills, to prepare them to become entrepreneurs in the hospitality/food service industry. They develop the knowledge and connections needed to start and develop their own businesses, rather than remain as a low-wage employees. 

8. Support for Food Entrepreneurs: How will you support food enterprise and entrepreneurs, particularly those who expand access to nutritious food in under-served areas? Food business opportunities abound to facilitate innovation and job creation with mobile vendors (food trucks and sidewalk pushcarts), neighborhood market owners, restaurateurs and micro-processors, distributors and others. How would you support the growth of the small and micro-enterprise food business sector? 

Answer: The County’s permitting requirements for food-related businesses, and those for other government entities, needs to be less byzantine and opaque for those who must comply with them — particularly very small businesses which often have little experience with government regulations and processes, and less time and staff resources to manage complicated application processes.  The County can facilitate this vibrant sector of the County’s economy by making the compliance requirements as clear and understandable to the outsider as possible, and provide clear “markers” for when and where other government approvals are needed.  Also, as mentioned above (in response to the question about increasing access to healthy food in underserved communities) — the County can facilitate the development of mobile “grocery truck” businesses as part of expanding access to its outreach and services for food- and housing-insecure people, and also as a way to do outreach & education to encourage broader participation in CalFresh/SNAP programs by community members.

9. Broad Vision for Supporting San Diegans: Please share your vision for supporting the needs of San Diego families. 

Answer: Until and unless housing prices and availability stabilizes and improves, many San Diego families will continue to experience both housing and food insecurity. I will work to create more affordable housing opportunities and improve access to supportive nutritional programs for more San Diegans – both are critical needs and basic foundations for other successful activities in our daily lives. I represented the 76th Assembly District for 6 years, which overlapped with nearly 70% of this area. I also chaired the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee, and we saw much of this area gentrify and develop in ways that pushed out many working class and lower-income families, and made the remaining housing more expensive and less secure. At one point, 75% of the “condo conversions” in the city of San Diego were in the areas that overlap with District 4. What had been affordable rental housing in older apartments became more expensive. However, with the recession, many of these reverted to rental properties- but with much higher rents.

San Diego’s families – especially in District 4- are extremely diverse in terms of their socio-economic backgrounds, educational attainment, English skills, nationality, ethnicity, culture, race, and faith backgrounds. I have taught many of them at various Community College locations. But first and foremost: they all need affordable and safe housing, that does not consume over 30% of their incomes. These high housing costs make it difficult or impossible to purchase healthy food, have the time to plant and tend gardens, invest in the future, and participate fully in our regional economy- beyond paying rent or mortgages. We must do better as a region to address this housing crisis.