SAN DIEGO—The San Diego City Council passed an emergency ordinance Nov. 29 requiring all city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1 or face getting fired.
The mandate will also apply to all future city employees. City contractors also must be fully vaccinated, but they have until Jan. 3 to do so.
The city has not made it clear what will happen to any city employee who is only partially vaccinated by Dec. 1.
The council voted 8–1 to pass the mandate, with Councilman Chris Cate—the sole Republican on the council—as the lone no vote.
Nearly 200 people wrote in and dozens called into the city council meeting on Nov. 29, the vast majority of whom were opposed to the vaccine mandate.
Mayor Todd Gloria proposed the mandate on Aug. 26 and since then reached agreements with five of the city’s six recognized employee organizations.
The city was at an impasse with the San Diego Police Officers Association—which has been a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates—but in an earlier item that also passed 8–1 on Nov. 29, the council overruled the labor group’s concerns and imposed the mandate.
“The way out of this pandemic is through vaccines, and the city of San Diego will lead by example,” Gloria said last week.
“With city employees regularly interacting with members of the public, this vaccination mandate takes on even more necessity—not only to protect the public, but also to protect our city workers.”
The city will provide medical and religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis, as required by law. But any city employee who refuses to get vaccinated and is not provided with an exemption will be fired.
Cate said he was disappointed the vaccine had become so politicized.
He and his wife are vaccinated, he said, and the vaccination effort has “been a blessing,” but he believes individuals should have the choice whether or not to be vaccinated.
Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in October, said she owed her life to the vaccine.
“San Diegans overwhelmingly support vaccines,” she said. “The highest cost of police officer life over the past two years has been COVID-19.”
San Diego Police Officers Association representatives said the mandate would cause police officers to leave the city for other municipalities that don’t require vaccinations.
The association represents more than 1,800 employees, around 700 of whom have refused to be vaccinated so far, said Jack Schaeffer, the association’s president.
Schaeffer expressed frustration and disappointment at the way he felt the city was overriding individual choice. He and law enforcement associations attorney Bradley Fields said the mandate would worsen a staffing crisis within the San Diego Police Department—which already has more than 200 vacancies.
In a survey released in September, about 90 percent of the 733 San Diego Police Officers Association officers polled believed getting the vaccine should be an individual choice. More than 300 officers said they’d rather be fired than be forced to take the vaccine.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said the possibility of losing officers due to vaccine mandates was an issue.
“That’s concerning, the possible impacts of if we were to lose officers, you look at this police department, our ratio of officers to citizens is second-lowest in this nation, so obviously that impacts our ability to respond to crime,” he said.
Council President Pro Tem Stephen Whitburn tried to put a positive light on the impact.
“It is in the best interest of taxpayers and residents,” he said of the mandate. “It could mean we lose some valuable city employees. I hope they stay.
“But if they do go, I want them to know they are valued and appreciated.”
The city will continue to allow its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine while on the clock, Gloria’s office said. To help employees comply with the mandate and receive both their first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, San Diego has provided opportunities for on-site, walk-up vaccination at various city facilities and across the city.
To date, nearly 1,300 city employees have been infected with COVID-19 across all departments. San Diego has experienced staffing challenges because of staff being sick or having to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, Gloria’s office said.
As an example, Gloria said COVID-19 infections have resulted in delays in trash collection on 45 trash routes, 1,030 recycling routes, and 45 greenery routes since July 2020. These delayed routes have impacted more than 1.3 million city residents, some on multiple occasions.
Additionally, as a result of rising positive tests, the San Diego Police Department has had to suspend its police academy operations on two occasions.
The San Diego Fire Department has also had to temporarily close two fire academies and make changes in operational protocols when more than 30 personnel were in isolation at one time due to positive COVID-19 tests.