Supervisor Jim Desmond
The Man With A Mission
Last updated 6/4/2021 at 12:14pm
He’s definitely on a fast track, serving constituents from Oceanside to Borrego Springs. He and his staff move quickly on an issue; he even talks fast. The mission: Get things done.
A relative outlier in government, San Diego County District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond likes breaking up the bureaucratic log jams for which San Diego County government is infamous.
After only two and a half years, Supervisor Desmond has built a track record in Borrego Springs that is considerable, and quite unpolitical, considering the maximum total votes to be had in an election is a scant 500-plus. Most politicians follow the traditional formula of spending time and resources in areas with large voting blocks. Either Supervisor Desmond didn’t get the memo, or size doesn’t matter to him. Whatever the reasoning, Borrego has benefitted from his leadership.
However, it was his immediate and consistent response to the community’s urgent call for help in the COVID-19 crises that has earned him accolades. It was Desmond’s call to get the local fire departments to Borrego to test and vaccinate at an unprecedented level in a rural community – an isolated village – too often the last to receive priority, despite the need.
Supervisor Desmond paid one of his many visits to Borrego on May 22, for a fundraiser at Rams Hill, to ramp up his re-election bid. He was well received. Supervisors in the past typically served an average of 20 years. However, under the new term limit law, they have only two terms (eight years) to make a difference. Supervisor Desmond and his staff have already made a big difference in Borrego through his philosophy of helping local community members get what they want and need done, not what the government decrees is necessary and at the government’s usually slow snail pace.
“I don’t know the problems, or necessarily, the answers to community issues, but I do know how to motivate and connect the right people in the county with a problem,” he explained.
Supervisor Desmond’s support for Borrego has come in numerous ways, mostly through his Revitalization Task Force, composed of Borrego’s concerned citizens and activists. The monthly Task Force meetings have been held on zoom and open to all interested parties. It consists of self-designated committees aimed at the issues Borrego faces, from quality healthcare to funding infrastructure improvements.
According to the agenda developed locally, the Supervisor brings in county staff to discuss issues and what needs doing, then he steps back and lets the county and the community reach a consensus. Occasionally, he has to give the county a nudge, as with the recently approved Borrego Water Stipulation Plan.
“There was some resistance from other board members and the county’s legal counsel was against the county partnering with Borrego to develop and implement its groundwater sustainability plan. However, folks in Borrego felt they needed the resources and political clout the county could bring to bear on dealing with such a highly controversial and important issue,” Supervisor Desmond notes.
The Supervisor drove the message home and Borrego Springs is among the very first to meet the requirements of the new state laws and has an approved vehicle in place to address future water needs.
In retrospect, the plan, which was hammered out by the local major water pumpers from agriculture to the Borrego Springs Water District, has proven to be a political miracle, considering how it was accomplished without the usual political drama and trauma. And considering the importance of water to those who work and live in Borrego, it was met with less political divisiveness and outrage than the proposed big box, 99-Cent store.
Politics being what it is within a governmental bureaucracy, the Revitalization meetings, serve two valuable purposes. First, they pair the average citizen with the actual staff who can help and make decisions. A lone constituent trying to wind their way through the county’s maze is often shunted from department to department and staff, who may, or may not be excited about an individual’s issues. However, when a Supervisor expressly shows interest in making the connection, the unspoken message to the staff is, “This is a priority,” and things happen.
The other uncharacteristic element of Supervisor Desmond’s government beliefs is that the community, rather than the county, should decide what’s important.
“If the county can make a difference, we go full bore; if not, then we tell it straight up and not waste time. On the other hand, if people come to me with 10 different competing needs or solutions, I expect them to work it out among themselves, rather than expecting me to act as the referee,” he said. “I see myself as the middleman, not the answer man. However, I can’t facilitate between the public and the county staff, nor should staff be expected to find a solution that pleases everyone, if the locals can’t agree on what they want.”
In other words, in addition to passing along decision making to the community, the Supervisor expects locals to step up and meet a responsibility for finding consensus.
Among his first campaign forays was a visit to Borrego. When asked why, since it’s not a big plum in terms of votes, he explained, “As mayor of San Marcos, and with a number of cities in my district, I was familiar with problems and functions of city government, as well as the relationship with the county. Cities have their own tax base to provide additional property related services in addition to the county’s regional, federal and state obligations.”
The rural unincorporated communities are located in two supervisorial districts – District 2, covers the East county rural areas, and District 5, Supervisor Desmond’s office, covers the North county rural areas. In these districts, supervisors essentially function as mayors, or executives, without the extra tax base. In cities, mayors and city councils made zoning, general plan and land use decisions. The biggest county wide political fights about land use and planning decisions are on the large swaths of unimproved lands in Districts 2 and 5.
About his early campaign visits to meet with Borregans, Supervisor Desmond offered a common sense reason, one often overlooked by people running for political office.
“As part of running for Supervisor, I really wanted to know about the issues and how things work in the unincorporated communities in my district, since the rules of engagement and County responsibility are so different.”
He has praise for both the guidance and help he has received from the local community in navigating and representing Borrego.
Linda Haddock, former executive director of the Borrego Chamber of Commerce, praised Desmond at the May 22 meeting for his ability to sidestep political party ideological battles and treat his job as a nonpartisan.
“I love that in this room there are many differing political persuasions. Yet, under the Supervisor’s leadership, we have been able to work together as Borregans, concerned with what will work for Borrego, without getting hung up in party or political lines and divisions.”
Asked what he learned from the pandemic, Supervisor Desmond had to think, and said that he discovered, “he was a people person, not a government apologist.”
“I found so many of the state and federal pandemic dictates, especially regarding restaurant closures, arbitrary and inflexible, even prejudicial against an important sector of our economy. I tried to balance that by interjecting some solutions, plus asking for proof of harm before restaurants were subjected to the harsh lockdown requirements.”
So, what’s the track record: The welcome assistance in protecting the community from the pandemic aside, the following is a brief summary of Borrego initiated community priorities that are underway as a result of Desmond’s leadership:
Borrego Shadeway – Has been approved and construction will start this year.
Sidewalk Improvements – County is making sidewalk and crosswalk improvements to Christmas Circle, based on the community’s request.
Removing Volutaria – The County has a plan to reduce or eliminate the invasive weed Volutaria—that’s been killing the Borrego natural habitat.
Phone Service for Planning/Land-use – Before COVID-19, the office helped establish a phone service so people in Borrego could make an appointment to speak with someone from the County in regard to planning or land use at the library, saving people the long drive into downtown San Diego.
Dark Sky – Borrego has a brand-new Dark Sky ordinance that was specially carved out for Borrego and Julian – this will preserve the precious dark sky and bring all lighting up to code soon.
Signage – On County roads leading to Borrego from all four directions, we are adding or updating signage to assist in better tourism for Borrego.
Airport – The airport is getting a revamp. The restaurant is open and the County is going to put in new signage and landscaping.
There’s more on the drawing table: Expanding paramedic health care in rural areas, and waiving restaurant fees, and continued outdoor-dining permitting, as economic relief from the damage of the pandemic closures.
Who is Jim Desmond? In his own words:
I was a Delta Airlines pilot for 33 years. It was a great job, I got to fly 737’s all around the world. I met some wonderful people and saw some amazing places. I retired last year, but I’ve never been a full-time politician. I’m a US Navy veteran. I met my wife when I was in the Navy. We have two children who both live in San Diego.
The way I got into politics was by first volunteering at my children’s school and eventually joining the San Marcos City Council and finally Mayor, which are part-time jobs. I’m not in this job for future offices, I am here to get things done! It’s been a hectic three years on the Board, but I’ve enjoyed it and that’s why I’m running for re-election.
I want Borregans to know that if they ever need anything, my office is available. My staff is very responsive and can help you with any issues. You can send me an email, Jim.Desmond@sdcounty.ca.gov and we will get back to you.
I will continue to fight to do the right thing and for common-sense. I will always fight for Borrego Springs.