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New Policy & Innovation Center looks to attract billions in federal dollars to Greater San Diego

The new San Diego Regional Policy and Innovation Center wants to turn dollars the area receives in COVID-19 recovery from relief into resilience.

One of News 8's biggest community partners is The San Diego Foundation. 

One of our proudest achievements in our partnership was helping them raise $64 million dollars for local non-profits as San Diegans struggled through the pandemic together. 

On Monday morning, The San Diego Foundation and the Brookings Institution - one of the top-rated think tanks in the country - joined together for a first of its’ kind partnership. 

Their goal? Addressing the region’s biggest problems and securing the federal dollars needed to solve them. They’re aiming for money for housing, broadband equity, infrastructure improvements and more.

The new San Diego Regional Policy and Innovation Center is tasked with partnerships across the county with organizations aimed at tackling our area’s problems like housing and infrastructure. Leaders with the organization say that COVID-19 revealed a lot of inequities in our area. They say they want to turn the dollars the area receives in recovery from relief, into resilience.

Shalini Vajjhala is the Executive Director and asks, "How do we help get water and broadband in communities that are struggling to afford their utility bills and that are also struggling to keep kids in school?" Vajjhala explains, "We had these problems before. The pandemic made them worse. And now we have an opportunity where there's a huge amount of federal spending where we can pull money into the region and solve the immediate needs but also shift the direction of the region so that we don't still have those problems here after we get through the pandemic."

Earlier in the pandemic, The San Diego Foundation and News 8 were able to raise $64 million dollars for local non-profits to help people across San Diego County get through the pandemic. That partnership was key to making sure low-income workers, families and vulnerable communities, which were most affected by the pandemic, got the relief they needed.

Susan Guinn, President and CEO of the San Diego Regional Policy and Innovation Center says having this new partnership with the Brookings Institution is vital to our region's relief post-pandemic and beyond. Of the partnership, Guinn says, "They're going to work with our county and 18 municipalities to figure out the consensus and where we go from here so that we are one of the few places in the country that can access hundreds of millions of dollars to improve lives."

The money they're looking for is federal dollars that the government is willing to give to local governments to help with big projects. In order to make San Diego's pitch more attractive, they wanted to create a new non-profit - The Regional Policy and Innovation Center - which then teamed up with the Brookings Institution to figure out exactly what San Diego County needs and how to make the best use of those federal dollars. 

Vajjhala says, "We have to go after it. There's money that's already come out, but we have to actually get ourselves organized as a region to go after these hundreds of millions of dollars." Leaders with the center say the money could be worth billions or even trillions directly impacting the Greater San Diego area. Guinn says, "This is more money than we've seen since the Roosevelt years and it's probably the most amount of money we'll see available in our lifetimes."

Vajjhala explains, "It's not just about transportation or housing. It's about making sure a recent grad can afford a new home and get to their job without it taking two hours." Center officials say the changes won’t be felt overnight but they guarantee us, it will be worth the wait.

Officials with The San Diego Regional Policy and Innovation Center say they should know within six months to a year whether their efforts were able to attract the potentially billions of dollars to the county. 

They’re confident that the partnership with the Brookings Institution will set them apart from other local governments looking to attract those federal dollars.

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