Von Wilpert co-chairs COVID-19 committee
By Bella Ross
As San Diego begins to approach what some have regarded as the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, the San Diego City Council has launched a new committee intended to better organize the local response to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Committee, co-chaired by Scripps Ranch Councilmember Marni von Wilpert and City Council President Jennifer Campbell, will not have access to the kinds of sweeping public health powers held by the County of San Diego and State of California. Its roles include considering and proposing legislation (but no power to approve it); providing a public forum for community input; monitoring and evaluating the city’s response; providing oversight; and addressing disparities exasperated by the pandemic.
The creation of the committee was unanimously approved by the City Council on Feb. 22. Von Wilpert said this indicates a big change from the Council’s previous organization of COVID-19 response efforts.
“Instead of having all nine city council members individually trying to solve these problems, now we have a dedicated committee on City Council to think about these things and have a forum to bring them to,” von Wilpert said.
While the City has its own COVID-19 response, larger elements such as vaccine distribution and testing primarily fall under State and County control.
Despite this, the committee will play an important role in ensuring the local response to the pandemic is meeting the needs of the community and following best practices. A significant part of this is serving as a watchdog over spending of the city’s $248 million in federal CARES Act money.
“We need to do an audit of that at the City Council to see how the mayor has spent it and be sure that we’re using taxpayer dollars responsibly,” von Wilpert said.
Another area where the committee could be a big help is in serving as a liaison between small business owners and the city.
Von Wilpert said this is a particular point of concern among Scripps Ranch business owners, some of whom have reported having trouble navigating complicated reopening guidelines or applying for COVID-19 business loans.
“We want to have small businesses come in and testify at the committee hearings and tell us how things have been working for them on the City level,” von Wilpert said.
She said the committee will also work to ensure long-standing social inequities are not being overlooked or exasperated in the city’s pandemic response. Although the vaccine rollout, in particular, is primarily in the hands of the State and County, the committee retains the ability to solicit feedback from the community and uplift those concerns when necessary.
This function of the committee’s work will likely extend long after case rates begin to approach more comfortable levels.
“Even after the public health crisis is over, the economic and social effects of the pandemic are going to be longer lasting,” von Wilpert said. “Part of this committee is about helping people recover even after this is over.”
That means making sure key industries, such as hospitality, are able to recover after the dust settles. It also means ensuring citizens who’ve benefited from pandemic-era policies such as rent relief and eviction moratoriums are adequately supported once those programs’ days are up.
Citizens who have questions or concerns regarding San Diego’s COVID-19 response may contact Councilmember Marni von Wilpert’s office at (619) 236-6655 or email MarnivonWilpert@sandiego.gov.