SAN DIEGO — City leaders approved an emergency mandate Monday that requires San Diego city workers to be fully-vaccinated against the coronavirus.
San Diego City Council voted 8-1 to pass the mandate, which will go into effect Wednesday for employees and Jan. 3 for city contractors. Data presented before the vote showed 80.6% of city workers are already fully-vaccinated.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria unveiled plans in August for the vaccine mandate, which requires city employees to show proof of full vaccination as a condition of continued employment. Employees can request medical or religious exemptions, according to the mayor’s office, which the city will consider on a case-by-case basis.
After months of negotiations with employee organizations, Gloria asked City Council to move forward with the mandate despite an impasse with the San Diego Police Officers Association. The vote imposes the vaccine mandate on SDPOA-represented employees and codifies the COVID-19 vaccination policy in a city ordinance.
“I don’t want to lose any member of our city family,” Gloria said. “I hope that none of them choose to leave city service. But more importantly, I don’t want to lose any of them to COVID-19.”
Activists gathered outside city hall during the virtual city council meeting to call for a stop to the mandate.
“Are they going to be coerced into keeping their jobs, or are they going to decide they’re going to stick to their ethics and their morals and they’re going to walk? I hope that they do. I don’t think that anyone should be coerced as a condition of employment,” Melissa Grace said.
Currently, 619 city workers have applied for exemptions, including 15 for medical reasons and 604 on the basis of religious beliefs.
Giovanna Longobardo, San Diego’s deputy city attorney, spoke to FOX 5 Monday outside of her official capacity. She said she loves what she does and that “it really hurts” that it all could be taken away. She also addressed the affect the mandate could have on law enforcement.
“Detectives need to go review video surveillance, talk to other witnesses at the scene,” Longobardo said, “and so to think that we wouldn’t have the detectives to go to the follow-up and we wouldn’t actually be able to get justice for these victims, that is heartbreaking.”
With the possibility of losing critical city staff to refusal of vaccines, activists say city services might be dangerously impacted by a large city walkout.
Gloria said services have already been affected by cases of COVID-19.
“The number of missed trash collections,” Gloria said. “The two police academies that were suspended. The fire academy that was suspended. The number of times that we’ve had to have operational changes to our fire-rescue response because we had over 35 firefighters quarantining at a particular time.”
Over the next two days, unvaccinated city employees will receive a letter saying they are in jeopardy of losing their jobs. They will have 30 days to get the vaccine or be permanently let go. City officials told FOX 5 they are preparing for all contingencies, including for overtime pay and to staff up quickly if they lose employees.
The SDPOA, which represents more than 1,850 law enforcement officers, has been a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates. Protesters have made their opinions known at a series of rallies, including a recent event at Balboa Park.
Councilman Chris Cate, the sole Republican on the council, voted against the mandate. It required six affirmative votes in order to pass.
FOX 5’s Kasia Gregorczyk contributed to this report.