Lemon Grove’s vaccination rate ‘can do better,’ mayor says

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Lemon Grove Mayor Raquel Vasquez

After a couple of attempts to hold this year’s 2021 State of the City in person, Lemon Grove Mayor Racquel Vasquez delivered Lemon Grove’s successes in 2020 virtually, because of the rising numbers of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant in the county.

“I just want to ensure you that our possibilities are endless,” she said. “There are brighter days ahead for the city of Lemon Grove”

Vasquez said the city hit the COVID pandemic “head on” and city operations never stopped working. “During this time, fire, sheriffs, sanitation, and public works employees selflessly showed up to work every day to ensure every resident had access to essential services while sheltering at home.”

Vasquez said it immediately partnered with San Diego County Health & Human Services to get a free local COVID-19 testing site up and running in the city. She said the site tested thousands or individuals.

“Now, if you need a COVID test, you can go to the Senior Center and get one for free,” she said.

When vaccines became available, Vasquez said it immediately transitioned into a complete COVID vaccination site for all Lemon Grove residents.

“I am happy to say that our vaccination rate is acceptable, but we can do better,” she said. “Let us continue to get vaccinated. It is a selfless act that will keep those who cannot get vaccinated and those who are vulnerable, safe.”

Vasquez said with the leadership of Council member Jennifer Mendoza the city created Feeding Lemon Grove, maximizing state and federal COVID-19 grants holding weekly food distribution events from May 2020 through January 2021 giving food to nearly 5,400 families.

“Even though grant funds have run out, Thrive Lemon Grove, a local nonprofit with the Lions Club continues to spearhead the food distribution events on the third Saturday of each month at the Lemon Grove Recreation Center,” she said. “These bright lights of compassion and generosity are what makes Lemon Grove shine.”

Vasquez said the city prioritized state and federal COVID grants of up to $10,000 per business to help small local businesses during the height of the pandemic with 73 receiving a combined $650,000 in grants ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 to help them keep their doors open during the shutdown. She said these grants helped long term and new businesses in the city survive.

“Many of these businesses are small, with a high percentage owned by women, Latino, and Black owners,” she said. “Our business community is in recovery, but all 409 businesses still need your help to make that recovery a success.

Vasquez said the city partnered with the Lemon Grove School District by hosting a free education camp created by its Community Services staff, the day camp provided a space for student campers to attend online school in a safe space, and after the educational portion, kids enjoyed regular camp activities such as arts, crafts, and exercise. This program served 45 students weekly.

Vasquez said leveraging federal grants it began a “much needed” homeless outreach program partnering with Home Start.

“Last year, 582 contacts were made,” she said. “Of the individuals contacted, 175 entered the county of San Diego coordinated referral system with 125 provided with DMV identification cards, 325 given care packages, 15 individuals were matched with housing, and 223 are currently receiving ongoing services. It is working on connecting homeless individuals to housing, mental health, and medical services.

“In some instances, the homeless outreach team is uniting homeless individuals with family members and getting them off the street,” she said. “Although this initiative is steady work, the homeless outreach team is building a foundation of trust to help each homeless individuals with services and housing,” she said.

Vasquez said the issue of homelessness is a complex and multi-faceted issue with no easy solution, but the city is continuing to explore solutions with neighboring East County cities to create a comprehensive regional approach allowing a coordinated effort for homeless individuals who shift communities with services and housing. The goal to sign a MOU with East County cities to work together on a comprehensive strategy, positioning the East County region to receive a larger share of federal money dedicated to homelessness solutions.

Vasquez said the city closed last year’s budget in the positive and for the first time in year’s beat the city’s “dire predictions.”

“At the start of the pandemic the city was staring at a $1.8 million deficit,” she said. “City Council made some hard choices to tighten our belt, make significant budget cuts, and monitor the finances quarterly. As the year progressed, our finances trended upward.”

She said this was possible with residents shopping local with city sales tax growing, proof of the city’s purchasing power. With the increase the city lifted the city’s Public Works hiring freeze, and that their accomplishments were notable.

“Through it all, your essential workers remained steadfast in their commitment in providing services to residents during the pandemic,” she said.

Other accomplishments:

• Lemon Grove had a 73.2% participation in the 2020 Census.

• Public works filled 1,420 potholes, cleaned and removed 765 graffiti tags, removed 294 illegal dumps, cleaned 47 homeless encampments, removed 730 shopping carts, and pick up 1,261 bags of trash, cleaned 183 linear feet of sewer lines.

• City staff responded to fires, issued permits, and completed building inspections.

• 4,863 medical aid and fire calls for service were responded to by Lemon Grove firefighters.

• Sheriff deputies responded to 12,550 emergency calls and 6,323 deputies initiated actions.

• Added a part time motorcycle deputy focused on neighborhood traffic safety.

• Work will begin to rehabilitate 12.4 miles of city streets, the most significant investment in streets in the past decade.

• State funding championed by Assembly member Akilah Weber will build two new restroom buildings, one at Berry Street Park, and another at Lemon Grove Park.

Vasquez said the rumors about the city’s decline are exaggerations and negative distractions that will try and take the city off course of its ambitious workplan.

“The city of Lemon Grove workplan supports everyone’s vision for the city and I am here to tell you that,” she said. “City Council is committed to continue focusing on our workplan. Although current finances are trending better than in past years, we will continue to monitor the city’s finances diligently. Lemon Grove still delivers services at the lowest per capita costs than any other city in the county of San Diego. And we are and will continue to look for innovate ways to diversify our funding sources.”

Lemon Grove’s vaccination rate ‘can do better,’ mayor says