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Deanna Spehn, Atkins adviser and publisher of the Tierra Times, has died


Deanna Spehn — a longtime San Diego civic leader who advised the state’s political leaders and published a community newspaper for nearly half a century — died last weekend at age 74.

Life with Deanna was a whirlwind of volunteer activities, civic events and local notables, including everyone from military commanders to San Diego Zoo spokeswoman Joan Embery, her husband Richard Spehn said. .

“I met some fabulous people because she was my wife,” he said.

As policy director to state senate chairman Pro Tem Toni Atkins and formerly former state senator Christine Kehoe, Spehn was known for her problem-solving skills and knack for arbitrating. differing views, said Atkins and others.

“Deanna was truly one of the brightest women I’ve ever worked with and had an unparalleled commitment to public service,” said Atkins, D-San Diego. “I could ask her a question about anything from an obscure transportation issue to climate change politics, and Deanna would not only know the answer, but also the backstory that informed the answer and a solution. to improve California.”

Spehn was born in Pasadena on November 20, 1947, and moved to San Diego with her husband, an electrical engineer, in 1970. Within a few years, she became involved with a local community news sheet—then called Tierrasanta Bulletin— published by the pastor of a local Lutheran church.

Richard Spehn said his wife wrote a column about education and school politics, starting with a new year-round schedule and an open classroom model where children from different grades shared learning spaces. The changes, he said, “scared off a lot of more traditional parents” – so his wife, who had a teaching degree, explained the system.

In 1977, he said, Spehn and several other women turned what had been an all-volunteer community publication — “a little mimeographer thing” — into a free community newspaper, renamed the Tierra Times. She served as editor and co-editor, while her husband edited photos.

Earlier this year, after business closures during the COVID-19 pandemic drained its advertising base, Spehn announced it was closing the paper, and the final issue was published in late September.

His work on the Tierra Times served as a springboard for positions in San Diego city government – including a 1987 appointment to the Public Service Commission, which administers San Diego’s labor and employment policy. the city.

As a young female member of a commission made up mostly of retired military personnel, it was there that Deanna Spehn honed her talent for diplomacy, said Richard Spehn.

“That’s where she learned to speak softly and know where the bodies were buried,” he said. “More importantly, she could analyze a problem and tell you where the solution is that would work. His background in journalism, in critical thinking, was absolutely invaluable for that.

Spehn served on the commission for six years, then became budget and environmental adviser to San Diego City Council member Judy McCarty in 1993, Richard Spehn said.

In 1997, she was hired as a senior policy analyst in the office of Mayor Susan Golding. There she served as a consultant to the Rules, Budget and Intergovernmental Relations Committee and led the planning of the city’s multi-species conservation program, which provides a blueprint for the preservation of open space and sensitive habitats while designating areas for development.

“It was another case of people coming together who at first glance had absolutely conflicting goals – green people versus homebuilders,” said Richard Spehn.

In 2000, Deanna Spehn ran for San Diego City Council headquarters in District 7, competing against a former colleague in McCarty’s office, Jim Madaffer. He won the seat, but in 2004 Spehn moved into state government — first as Kehoe’s aide, according to Spehn’s Linkedin page.

In 2012, when Kehoe left the California State Senate, Spehn went to work for Atkins, first in the Assembly and then in the State Senate.

From left, Richard Spehn, Deanna Spehn and family friend Karen Molinare watch the election results from the US Grant campaign suite. Deanna Spehn was a candidate for San Diego City Council District 7.

(Earnie Grafton/UT File)

“Deanna worked her way up from community organizer and neighborhood editor to master the technical aspects of local and national water policy and statewide fire safety regulations,” said Kehoe said in a statement, praising her as “an exceptional listener” who “respectfully captured several aspects of the difficult debates.

Spehn helped form the San Diego River Conservancy in 2002, building consensus among various interest groups. Ben Clay, chairman of the reserve, said Spehn is working closely with tribal leaders, biologists and botanists to improve educational and recreational access to the river while protecting sensitive habitat, plants and animals. local and Native American artifacts.

“She was probably the grand lady of the river,” Clay said in an interview. “Her knowledge and quiet leadership will be sorely missed, but not forgotten. The tribute to Deanna Spehn is that the river is in a better place.

Local officials recognized Spehn’s commitment to the San Diego community when the city council declared September 25, 2018 Deanna Spehn Day. The County Board of Supervisors awarded a similar honor on December 7, 2021.

Many of those same officials, from county supervisors to current and former mayors, have given warm testimonies of his work and his legacy over the past week. “She was a trailblazer for women in politics and respected by so many of us,” former mayor Jerry Sanders wrote.

Richard Spehn said his wife had recently undergone treatment for blood pressure issues, but continued with her work and social life. Early last Saturday morning, she died in her sleep of apparent heart failure, he said.

The family plans to celebrate his life with private memorial services. Spehn is survived by Richard, their daughter Michaela, their son-in-law Greg Hainson and two granddaughters.

California Daily Newspapers

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