Man of the Year, A Lifetime of Service – Greg Cox, Part 3: The Legacy

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By Ari Pintado

As we hit our final stretch in our Greg Cox profile, we now explore accomplishments during his last few years as a member of the County Board of Supervisors and his legacy. As our beloved figure leaves a seat he held since 1995, many look back at the work he did in service to his community.

Cox is known as a “parks guy” and has spent a majority of his career fixing parks, building new parks, and finding ways to make them more enjoyable. Another community aspect that Greg feels deeply about and – still dedicates his time and efforts for – is the welfare of children.

Along with Supervisor Ron Roberts, Greg worked to build programs for foster youth. When he was first sworn in to serve on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in 1995, adoption rates were very low, which left thousands of children in the foster care system. In 1998, during his first opportunity to serve as Chair of the Board, Cox held a conference about foster care. He invited his colleagues and county staff to hear the stories of six people who had aged out of the foster system.

Greg was heartbroken hearing their stories, one of which was a woman who had been placed in more than 30 homes, so many that she stopped keeping count. He thought about how these children’s lives were impacted and sought to do something about it.

Supervisors Cox and Roberts launched initiatives to help foster youth, including the purchase of the San Pasqual Academy in Escondido. The County turned it into a residential education campus where foster youth receive education, counseling, and work readiness training. Sadly, with impending changes in state law, the San Pasqual Academy is in danger of closing next year – a decision that was announced shortly after Greg’s term ended. Even in retirement, Greg is still working with stakeholders to evaluate options for the campus to remain open.

Among other endeavors, Greg authored a proposal for the Sweetwater Union High School District to increase graduation rates for teens in the foster program. He also launched a transitional housing program for former foster youth and homeless youth.

Last year’s pandemic was the biggest challenge in his 26 years on the Board. Cox had just completed his term as President of the National Association of Counties when he was chosen by his colleagues to again serve as Chair of the Board of Supervisors.  The world was turned upside down by COVID-19.

In Chula Vista, business owners, families, and employees felt the impacts of the virus. Necessary restrictions and fear among residents led to job losses and business closures. Seeing people struggle sent Greg and his colleagues into immediate action, putting the people of the San Diego region first.

The County of San Diego County was one of the first in the country to declare a local emergency due to COVID-19. Following this, they also approved a $6.5 billion annual budget, the largest in the board’s history. All members of the Board came together for the approval.  Greg Cox was the one often responsible for the consensus among the Board. Cox has always been seen as “the peacemaker” among Board members.

Cox says that his approach to almost every disagreement is to find common ground. The recent political climate has many believing in far left or far right politics. There has been a decrease in compromise. The word itself now seems to have a bad meaning. Communication should be a big part of politics in order to get good work done. Cox aims to make sure everyone understands the situations in front of them and allows them to explain what they want as a solution. From there they find what solution works best for the majority. He makes it known that no one is going to get 100 percent of what they want, but together they can get as close as possible.

Helping people is what Cox has always been good at. He is willing to lend a hand to someone who needs it. One person who experienced this firsthand is someone who worked alongside him for many years, Luis Monteagudo. Monteagudo first met Cox when Luis was a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He had been assigned to cover a county press event at the Tijuana River Valley regarding the West Nile Virus. After the event, as Monteagudo was ready to head home, he noticed that his car was stuck in a muddy area. After trying by himself to push his car out of the mud, others from the event noticed his struggle and came over to help him; one of those people was Greg Cox.

“Now, I had covered many elected officials as a reporter and I had several who would’ve loved pushing me into a ditch, but I never had a politician roll up his sleeves to help me get out of trouble,” said Monteagudo. Later on, Monteagudo ended up working for Cox and when he recounted the story to the Supervisor, Greg laughed and found it funny how their roles have now reversed. Monteagudo was then in charge of making sure Cox was never stuck in the mud, figuratively.

Opening of Bike Park

Something Monteagudo admired about Cox was his dedication to his community. He said that oftentimes we see politicians sit back and let their staff do most of the heavy lifting, but Cox was different. He would be out there on the field with them. Monteagudo recalls when Cox would come into the office on Monday morning and be hyped up with excitement about all the new projects he’d envisioned. Cox spent his weekends driving around his district, finding things that his team could fix – whether it be potholes, gutters, damaged sidewalks, or removing utility poles. Cox was known to keep a spray bottle of “goo gone” and a scraping tool in the back of his car, often pulling over to the side of the road to remove stickers from street signs.

“He seldom took a day or weekend off from serving his constituents. It’s a rare trait to see in an elected official,” said Monteagudo.

Cox was always excited to fix a problem, especially if he found out that the government was the problem. Monteagudo remembers that, in 2014, the Voice of San Diego had published a piece about local fishermen who had a hard time selling locally-caught seafood in San Diego. The fishermen successfully sold their  seafood from their boats and wanted to sell from the docks, but they were having difficulty getting approval from the Port of San Diego and the County Department of Environmental Health.

After it was brought to Cox’s attention, he immediately took action to help. After only two weeks, San Diego celebrated the opening of the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market at Seaport Village. Even today, that market remains hugely popular and has been featured in national media as an example of San Diego’s growing blue economy. All which happened because Greg become involved.

This is just one of many examples as to why Greg Cox has remained a pillar in Chula Vista. His endless hard work, kindness, and willingness to make change has labeled him a legacy among his community and his peers. He was honored in last year’s State of Bonita 2020, where his past accomplishments were addressed. The Underground Utility Districts project, Sweetwater Road Pathway Drainage Improvements, Improvement of the Otay Valley Regional Park, San Miguel Road sidewalk, and Allen School Road sidewalk are a few of those projects.

His presence on the County Board of Supervisors will be sorely missed. His years of service will always be appreciated, and he will be remembered as someone who always put his community first. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty and put in real work to make a change. Political partisanship was not the drive for accomplishing what he did.  Instead, he worked to create a better community.

Greg Cox set the standard high for those who follow in his footsteps. Cox has always offered purpose “to leave a place better than the way you found it.” He has certainly accomplished that.