Data Show Just How Far San Diego Meetings Have Gone Off the Rails

In the past four years, rude and downright frightening behavior from public commenters has plagued San Diego’s public meetings. So far, the observation has been anecdotal. Now, there’s a report to back it up.

KPBS analyzed samples of San Diego County Supervisors’ meetings from 2009, 2014 and 2019 to 2023. It found a sharp increase in incivility, including racist and bigoted language, threats, and personal attacks on county officials.

In 2009, there were two incidents of incivility. Fourteen years later, there were 164. 

Incivility first began to rise during the Obama administration. But it was COVID that really broke people’s brains. Supervisors have been accused of conspiring to subjugate the population under the guise of a virus and murder thousands of children with 'toxic' vaccines.

“The pandemic has left us with an unaddressed case of national PTSD,” political scientist and civility researcher Carl Luna told KPBS. “It scared the bejesus out of people. Frightened people will gravitate toward whatever conspiracies help them to make sense of the world. So you ended up with more people moving into crazy land.”

Some of the more outrageous moments have made it to national comedy programming. Late Night with Stephen Colbert ran clips from one infamous meeting in the summer of 2021.

As California County News wrote:

The public comment period was a complete clusterfark, featuring prayers about the devil, claims of low sperm counts caused by the vaccine, a shoutout to My Pillow guy Mike Lindell, and way too many angry white males with dreadlocks.

One of the dudes in dreads had this to say — or rather scream at the top of his lungs:

“You’re about to open a pit of hell! You do not get a vaccine passport put on us! …Do you think that the four feet of marble that holds you above high in this chamber will help you from the fate of humanity which you are unleashing? No! It won’t! The children and your children’s children will be subjugated! And let me ask, how many vaccines have you had? Have you been a good little Nazi? Heil Fauci! Heil Fauci! Heil Fauci! Heil Fauci!”

Irate and panting, the speaker then held up a copy of the Nuremberg Code and accused the supervisors of violating international law. A crowd cheered.

Three months later, another commenter wished death upon Nora Vargas and Nathan Fletcher and referred to the county’s Black public health officer as “a f***ing Aunt Jemima.”

The board implemented changes a few years ago, shortening speaking time and officially banning disruptive behavior like whistling and stomping. After three warnings, a disruptive attendee can be removed. Supervisor Rara Lawson-Remer has complained that the changes don’t go far enough. But the county must walk a fine line to ensure free speech.

Incivility has numerous negative effects. One consequence is discouraging people to run for or stay in public office. Over half of officeholders have considered leaving government because of harassment, a 2023 University of San Diego study found. 

Experts advise that one of the best ways to counter toxic behavior is to flood the zone with normal people. Increased attendance by average citizens would help put the focus on real issues and solutions, rather than chemtrail conspiracies and Q Anon.