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Rebecca Lafreniere, REHS

Chief, Community Health Division

County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health

San Diego, CA 92123



Rebecca Lafreniere currently serves as Chief of the Community Health Division (CHD) for the County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health (DEH). She directs a staff of sixty environmental health professionals who serve a population of 3.1 million residents with a budget of $16.3 million. Rebecca is responsible for five environmental health programs: Vector Control, Radiological Health, Occupational Health, Solid Waste Local Enforcement Agency and the unincorporated Household Hazardous Waste Program. As the CHD Chief, Rebecca is responsible for recommending, formulating and implementing policies and procedures that provide comprehensive, integrated and cost effective regional and county-wide programs. This position allows for direct interactions with State agencies in developing regulations, legislative analysis, updates to County ordinances and communication with elected officials as well as stakeholders to manage, implement, and enforce a wide variety of environmental regulations and public health and safety codes.


Rebecca has twenty-four years of experience in the field of environmental health, starting with the County of San Diego as an Assistant Sanitarian in the Food and Housing Division. She promoted through the ranks of the Environmental Health Specialist series, working in the Hazardous Materials Division and Solid Waste Local Enforcement Agency. Rebecca served on the County of San Diego Hazardous Materials After-Hour Emergency Response Team for six years. A career highlight during this time was being a first responder to Heaven’s Gate in 1997. Rebecca spent 7 years with the City of San Diego, assisting in the creation and certification of their Solid Waste Local Enforcement Agency. In 2006, Rebecca returned to the County of San Diego DEH as the Supervising Environmental Health Specialist over the Solid Waste LEA and HHW program until 2010 when she promoted to Chief of CHD.


Rebecca is an associate member of California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health, past Chair of the Enforcement Advisory Council to California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, the Southern California Solid Waste LEA Roundtable and Solid Waste Specialist of Southern California, a member of the California Environmental Health Association and the Solid Waste Association of North America.


Rebecca is a Registered Environmental Health Specialist and Certified Hazardous Materials Specialist with the State of California. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from the University of San Diego and a Hazardous Material Management Certificate from the University of California San Diego.


Leadership Development Opportunities

The Environmental Public Health Leadership Institute has provided me a new perspective in how I approach a wide range of issues and problems. Rather than being reactive to the moment; I implement systems thinking, seeking out the core problem to develop a sustaining result. By utilizing systems thinking which included graphing key variables, diagramming motivation for change and the use of Shifting the Burden and Accidental Adversaries models not only identified limits to the successful launch of the VHRP it reinforced the conclusion that these tools work. I have used systems thinking in a variety of projects. Dissecting the “why” often results in a total change in direction from just managing the now.


The insight into my leadership style through various self-assessment tools (e.g., Individual Development Plan (IDP), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Skillscope) heightened my understanding and awareness of how I responded in certain situations. I was able to closely examine my personality, strengths, weaknesses, how I perceive and respond to certain personality types and how others perceive me and my leadership style. This in turn allowed me to focus on areas for growth and improvement.


The IDP accomplished my goal of developing skills to effectively delegate projects to staff. Over the past year, I have “let go” of key projects, relying on staff to complete projects on time. The original structure for doing this that I had anticipated with the assistance from my personal coach was modified over time to be less burdensome. This resulted in an approach that I continue to use. The approach is quite simplistic, regularly scheduled one on one discussion with staff, where strategic planning and problem solving are discussed. Milestones and timelines are revisited to ensure project is proceeding according to schedule and most importantly, allowing staff to receive recognition for their work on the project while increasing my level of trust in having the project proceed successfully with “no surprises”.


My personal coach was a key resource to me. Her advice and insight has significantly increased my self-awareness and areas of self-improvement. She was able to provide me examples of different approaches to managing delegation as well as providing resources including management books. This personal investment was so gratifying that I wanted to pass it on so I also focused on growing staff professionally and increasing contact with all employees within my division. I made an effort to begin emails with a greeting and their name, write in complete sentences and close with a Thank you or a Regards. I have seen a change in how staff “perceives” me. I have also promoted opportunities of not just technical trainings, but professional enhancement trainings with all levels of staff. Several of whom have taken advantage of these opportunities. The IDP is a tool for self-assessment; increased self-awareness, growth and direction. I do have a sense of accomplishment. I am less apprehensive with delegation; but will have to utilize the skills developed to be more confident. I have retained the IDP template and will utilize it annually for continuous personal/professional improvement.


Working in teams was critical to the success of my project. My teammates and mentor were honest and forthcoming; often making me “rethink” or “revisit” my approach. They were as invested in the success of my project as I was in theirs. An unintended consequence of this program was the personal friendships that evolved from it. Cohort VII was made up with a wide variety of individuals, institutions and levels of government. The networking opportunities and different perspectives were invaluable. The mid-year conference, seeking out other Cohort members and getting a fresh perspective on my project, added to further refinement and enhancement and vice-versa. By this time, Cohort members had a strong understanding of systems thinking and were vested in the program. Additionally, the ability to address and share the challenges of Environmental Public Health with other professionals passionate in their career choice was refreshing and motivating.


EPHLI made me a stronger more effective leader. It gave me a fuller understanding of system dynamics, cause and effect, and unintended consequences. I look at issues from a global perspective, seeking the “why”. With the tools and self awareness gained through this program, I am better equipped both personally and professionally. I have grown in to a more effectual and confident manager for staff and a resource to the County of San Diego and its residents.