Omar Passons, Candidate for District 4 County Supervisor: Policy Wonk With a Heart of Gold

by on January 26, 2018 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Part Three: The High Profile Democratic Candidates

By Doug Porter / San Diego Free Press

Omar Passons is a first-time Democratic candidate running for termed-out Supervisor Ron Roberts seat. The retiring Republican held that office since 1995, managing to get re-elected each time despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans his district 2 to 1.

He’s a construction/land-use attorney lawyer and long-time North Park community activist running a campaign based more on ideas than partisanship.

His opponents on the Democratic side in the June primary include former Asssemblypersons Lori Saldaña and Nathan Fletcher. The winner will likely challenge Republican Bonnie Dumanis in November. District 4 includes most of the city of San Diego, spanning La Jolla to Kearny Mesa, Encanto, downtown and Ocean Beach.


About this series: Each of these candidate profiles (Lori Saldaña’s was posted Wednesday & Nathan Fletcher is next up) is intended to be an introduction to the leading Democratic candidates seeking what I consider to be the most consequential position in local politics for 2018.

I’m of the opinion that any of the three high-profile Democrats in this race would be acceptable. There are differences in both style and substance in how each of them views the task of changing the culture at the Board of Supervisors.

This series isn’t about endorsing anybody. We’ve got plenty of time for that. And we’ll have plenty of time for talking trash and finger-pointing. For now, I just want to present the positives I saw in each candidate.

Over the past few weeks, each of these candidates has sat down with me for an hour-long conversation. While I recorded these meetings, they were not intended as Q & A interviews. I wanted to look past the words and the rhetoric; to get a sense of each of them as a human being and somehow do so in less than two thousand words.

I am posting these stories in the same order as the interviews took place, which was determined by the candidates’ availability. (Democrat Ken Malbrough did not respond to a December 4, 2017, emailed interview request.)

I have blended some basic research into these stories and attempted to follow a similar format in each. The quotes used were edited for clarity.


Talk about your humble beginnings.

Native San Diegan Omar Passons was born 10 weeks prematurely, weighing 2 pounds, 8 ounces, small enough to fit in your hand.

Omar Passons at age 4. He always talks about the support he got as a foster child.

Now he’s a well-regarded land-use attorney, community leader, and advocate for small business. And not a small person in any sense of the word.

He was taken from his biological mother and placed first in Hillcrest Receiving Home. From there it was foster care. Adopted at age six, he grew up in a home with six foster brothers and sisters. Omar credits the nutritional and healthcare interventions by the County prior to his being adopted as a key to his success.

The urge to care appears as a constant in Passons’ life, dating back to his college years working as an in-home health care aide for the developmentally disabled and as a Certified Nurses Aide for the Veterans Administration.

A few years back he and his sister-in-law started the remarkable and unique Every Child Counts – Holiday Toy Drive, focused on giving as many people as possible a chance to participate, regardless of income. Gently used toys, picked out by donors children, were welcomed, the idea being that developing empathy is critical to a young child’s success.

I became aware of Omar through his activism with the North Park Community Association. He struck me as a Yimby (Yes, In My Back Yard) in a sea of naysayers. He’s a Twitterholic who loves craft beer, good food, and avoids trash talking.

His advocacy for social justice starts with nurturing the next generation and ends with seeing to the well-being of seniors.

Omar Passons is one of two candidates (the other is Matt Strabone) I’ve interviewed for this election who will tell you they’re motivated to run for office out of a sense of gratitude for all the help they received as young people.


The lynchpin of his vision for the future is StrongStarts4All, a detailed plan based on the premise: “…every child in San Diego County has a right to a strong start in life.

I spend a lot of time talking about children and youth because I think that equity happens at birth, not at 18 or 25. If you take a look at the various places where a young person could touch the system directly and indirectly–just the County; young people connect to the County in all its business groups [i.e. departments].”

One of the challenges is just doing the best that we can to make sure folks in HHSA in nutrition programs are catching the kid who’s in the child welfare program or catching the kid who has some transportation needs when they’re 16.

StrongStarts4All includes fully sponsoring bus and trolley access for youth ages 14 to 21 to make all the educational and recreational facilities in the county available.

We think really small in transportation in San Diego. That’s no disrespect to SANDAG planners. I know there are people in SANDAG, the city and the county who think about what we could really be if we wanted to.

As a matter of leadership and transformative leadership, we don’t think big enough… It’s not a big thing to build a football stadium, it’s just not. A big thing would be being able to get from North Park to Mission Valley in less than 45 minutes on a bus or two.

That’s doable, but it requires us to think about it differently. To make riding a bike in several parts of the city and connect them more feasible; it’s not a pipe dream. Vancouver transformed its city in a decade or less starting from a super car-centric culture.

If you’re the kind of voter looking for details, Passons’ proposals will be satisfying. He is asking for a major county investment in resources and a better job of leveraging those resources through community groups already working on these issues.

Facts matter… It’s one thing to advocate for more childcare; it’s another to provide statistics on what a rate of return (16%) would be on investing in high-quality affordable care accessible to people of all income levels.

My charge is to get at least two of those supervisors to realize they have constituents that need what I care about.

Passons approaches issues as if he’s putting together a legal argument, using a logical progression of fact and figures to make his case. It’s about systems, not symptoms, as he puts it.

He believes this approach can be used to break the inertia of the Board of Supervisors when it comes to changing how they approach services for the people they represent.

Some people say ‘there’s no way…you can forget about it… you can’t do anything if you’re one Democrat and there are four Republicans…’

I think the skills I developed in the practice of law–specifically mediating settlements with five, six, seven other attorneys who all have differing perspectives and clients with staunch views, representing people who are more conservative– all of those skills are the types of things necessary to sit down with Supervisors Jacobs, Cox and Gaspar.

I have a lot of experience interacting with people who have different political ideologies and reference frames and you still have to get the job done, whether it’s a resolution for a client or a community meeting where there’s a real struggle…

Whether you live in Santee or San Ysidro or Solana Beach, you want quality affordable child care, That means different things, depending on where you are. That’s not even bi-partisan, it’s non-partisan.

My charge is to get at least two of those supervisors to realize they have constituents that need what I care about.

Another focus of the campaign is the Housing4All plan, Passons’ package of ideas to increase housing supply overall and create a funding mechanism for construction of affordable housing.

We both to fix our private sector stock and some of the rules in that system, but we need a local source of affordable housing funding. Which means we’re going to have to pay for it as taxpayers. We can’t subsidize our way out of all of our need…

My mom couldn’t afford to be here. At $1100 a month social security check, a place that’s $1300 a month is just not affordable, its never going to be affordable and we should stop pretending that the market will fill that gap.

The devil is in the details for these kinds of ideas, and I found much to admire in the comprehensive nature of the research going into his proposals.


I wouldn’t call Omar Passons an anti-establishment kind of guy.

He did, however, venture outside the norms in cultivating support for his campaign. The diverse group of people backing his effort is drawn from small business operators, neighborhood boosters, and hands-on nonprofits. And it certainly hasn’t hurt him that he was an early advocate for San Diego’s craft beer industry.

In large part, he and his supporters aren’t what is typically thought of as ‘political’ or ‘partisan.’ Yet they’ve been walking precincts and knocking on doors like they were pros for months now.

The Democratic Central area subcommittee had a meeting when it decided who it was going to early endorse. And a party elder actually said, “We tried diversity before and it didn’t work.” That’s a fundamental problem with the Democratic party that it needs to come to grips with. There were 60 people in the room.

I have a lot of support outside the structure of the party, but are never-the-less people who are passionate..,. who are Democrats, who are Independents, and even a few Republicans who are like, I care about children, too.

The dozens of people who have volunteered to help my campaign aren’t doing because they expect some political favor… they believe in the Democratic principles, the ideas I’m putting forward and the fact that I’ve always been for the things I’m talking about.

When my wife and I finally decided, okay we’re going to do this thing, the one thing is pretty clear about was I want to be able to look her in the face every night and know that I behaved and ran the race in a way that had integrity, that was honest.

I always wanted a candidate to run in a certain way, to say ‘you know what, we’re not going to agree on everything.’

In fact, if you say something and I know I feel strongly in a different direction, I’ve got to tell you. Even if you didn’t ask my opinion because I want you to make your decision about whether to vote for me based on everything I actually think. I’ll just tell you.


Facebook Page: Omar Passons for Supervisor 2018
Twitter: @omarpassons
Podcasts: A Fresh Face for a Fresh Start


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