Child-care advocates are celebrating early election results that show San Diego voters have likely approved a ballot measure that could ease the city’s shortage of affordable child-care options.
Measure H gave voters the option to change city rules to allow child-care facilities in public parks — part of the city’s overall plan to adapt dozens of city properties for use hosting child-care facilities to serve city workers and many residents, some of whom can’t work without it.
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, Measure H was commanding an overwhelming lead with 67.51 percent support. The measure was placed on the ballot after an 8-0 City Council vote in July and requires approval by a simple majority of voters to pass.
Ever since initial results pointed to likely passage Tuesday night, child-care advocates have said its likely passage is a significant first step in the right direction.
“We see the passage of Measure H as really a clear and resounding message coming from the voters that one child care is absolutely critical to them,” said Erin Hogeboom, director of San Diego for Every Child, a nonprofit working to ensure children’s basic needs are met.
Although San Diego County has been experiencing a child-care shortage for years, the pandemic exacerbated it, said Courtney Baltiyskyy, vice president of policy and advocacy for the YMCA.
Twelve percent of the county’s child-care providers closed during the pandemic, and nearly 190,000 children under 12 who need care lack it, a YMCA survey last year found. And a University of San Diego report in April found that those child-care spots that are available are unaffordable for many families, costing anywhere from $12,900 to $19,500 a year.
Access to child care is critical to tackling child poverty because it lets parents work to support the household, Hogeboom said.
In recent years, she and other advocates have been working closely with the city to find solutions. Among them was the idea to use city properties as child-care facilities.
Last year, the city’s Department of Real Estate and Airport Management began assessing 1,100 city-owned properties, looking for facilities that had at least 5,000 square feet on the ground floor to create small four-classroom child-care centers, and that had adjacent outdoor space that could be converted into a playground.
A total of 72 properties were identified spread across all nine council districts, consisting of 18 libraries, 12 office buildings and 42 recreation centers.
However, the city charter said any land dedicated for “park, recreation or cemetery purposes shall not be used for any but park, recreation or cemetery purposes,” unless city voters approve such an exception. Measure H would amend it to make it legal for city rec centers to offer child care.
“One of the most important amenities that parents look for in their community is child care,” said Councilmember Raul Campillo, chair of the Economic Development & Intergovernmental Relations Committee. “With the passage of Measure H, we now can analyze 42 more sites throughout our city, in every district, to deliver this service to our constituents — which is why it passed with such an overwhelming margin.”
Officials say that Measure H does not require rec centers to become child-care facilities. Each center will be reviewed to determine if they are suitable. In some cases, the cost of conversion may be too high.
An August report by the city’s independent budget analyst said it was unclear whether those costs would be borne by the city or the private child-care operators.
Baltiyskyy says Measure H was “the first time in our region that we’ve seen child care be on the ballot for anything — so it was really a good test to kind of see how the optics would play out with the voter base.”
She hopes to see similar initiatives follow to secure more funding for child care — particularly in upcoming budget negotiations.
Hogeboom would like to see child care incorporated into plans for future affordable housing developments, too.
Already, the San Diego Public Library Foundation and San Diego Parks Foundation are at work to supplement the city’s budget with some funds that could help provide care at city libraries and parks.
They’re joined by other nonpartisan groups in trying to garner support for a proposed 2024 ballot initiative that would create a 2-cents-per-square-foot parcel tax on certain residential and commercial parcels — not to exceed one acre, and not to include certain senior and low-income housing — to fund library and park improvements.
And in just a few weeks, California will be opening applications to a $250 million child care infrastructure grant program Hogeboom says the city will be eligible to apply for.
Meanwhile, the city has asked child-care providers for their input on how it can establish facilities on city-owned properties. City staff are working to compile the information into a proposal to identify potential operators that will be issued early next year. They are also working with the city attorney and Development Services Department to investigate zoning and permitting requirements.
Now, Baltiyskyy and Hogeboom say the city will begin to develop a partnership with child-care providers to operate the centers.
“San Diego is a great place to raise a family … but we have a long way to go for it to be the best place to grow up and raise a family, and for us to really understand and meet parents and caregivers’ needs,” Baltiyskyy said.