Monica Montgomery Steppe becomes San Diego County’s first Black woman supervisor

As the county’s first Black supervisor elected since Leon Williams’ win in 1982, Montgomery Steppe said she stood on the shoulders of her predecessor and countless others.

San Diego County swore in its first Black female supervisor on Tuesday.

Monica Montgomery Steppe placed her hand on a Bible held by her husband, Steven, as her father-in-law, Cecil H. Steppe, a longtime civic leader, swore her into her new role, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

As the county’s first Black supervisor elected in over four decades, since Leon Williams’ election in 1982, Montgomery Steppe said she stood on the shoulders of her predecessor and countless others.

“But there’s a long road ahead of us in challenging the status quo,” she shared. “Together, we will write a new chapter that celebrates inclusivity and embraces diversity, a chapter for improving the services and quality of life for the millions of people who live in our county.”

Monica Montgomery Steppe, who is now on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, attends a December 2022 meeting of the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans in Oakland, California. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

During the ceremony, Montgomery Steppe noted San Diego County’s struggles with homelessness, housing affordability, and equity, saying, “We cannot interpret these challenges as obstacles only,” but as opportunities to make a significant difference.

Soon after, she joined her four colleagues in voting on several key yet controversial proposals. They voted unanimously to allocate $8 million from the “evergreen” part of the county’s leftover federal pandemic relief budget to accommodate over 900 unsheltered people receiving treatment for substance use disorder.

Supervisors also voted 4-1 to direct more funding to local groups that assist migrants who arrive in the county after they crossed the border with Mexico and are processed by Border Patrol. In October, the board authorized $3 million.

The county indicated that the federal agency has released roughly 46,000 asylum seekers into the region since mid-September, most requiring brief assistance before departing San Diego for other parts of the country, according to the Union-Tribune.

SBCS, previously South Bay Community Services, was placed in charge of the migrant funds in October and has since utilized them to move a temporary migrant welcome center to an undisclosed San Diego site.

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However, several local nonprofit organizations also offering assistance have expressed concerns about the handling of the funds, which they explained in a letter submitted to supervisors on Monday.

Leaders spoke out on Tuesday against increasing spending on migrant assistance without increasing transparency and accountability for SBCS.

The nonprofits advocated for greater transparency in spending and for part of the increased cash to go toward humanitarian help at open-air camps along the border, where migrants wait to be picked up by Border Patrol and sent to processing centers after crossing into the U.S.

Migrants sometimes wait for days, with aid organizations calling the camps inhumane since Border Patrol does not offer food or shelter but detains migrants who attempt to leave.

In response, supervisors voted to disburse funds without modifying the parameters but reaffirmed their requests for increased state and federal funding.

Board Chair Nora Vargas said insufficient federal funding contributes to dissatisfaction and unneeded conflict between relief organizations. Supervisor Jim Desmond, who cast the only opposing vote, said the federal government, not the county, should pay for it, questioning where to “draw the line.”

“We are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Montgomery Steppe added, the Union-Tribune reported. “But this is something that’s going to meet us at our front door regardless, so I’m supportive of the item.”

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