San Diego County Board of Supervisors

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Housing, health, energy among issues tackled by a rebooted Board of Supervisors

A re-charged San Diego County government in 2019 tackled a range of regional challenges with a new urgency and fresh ideas.

The Board of Supervisors, led by Chairwoman Dianne Jacob, expanded policies and launched initiatives tied to affordable housing, mental health services, energy and other front-burner issues.

Two factors driving the busy year: The swearing-in of supervisors Jim Desmond and Nathan Fletcher, and the ambitious agenda outlined by Jacob in her State of the County speech in February.

“This board showed again and again that it would not settle for the status quo and was willing to take on the region’s biggest challenges,” said Jacob, who will step down as chair in January. “The result was a string of initiatives that promise to significantly enhance communities and improve people’s lives.”

Among the issues addressed:

  • Affordable housing. The county began offering free floor plans and waiving development fees for those wanting to build granny flats and other accessory homes in the unincorporated area. These measures cut an estimated $30,000 off the cost of each unit.

    At the recommendation of Jacob and Supervisor Greg Cox, the county also doubled the size of its housing trust fund, from $25 million to $50 million, to leverage the construction of affordable homes for veterans, seniors and others.

    The fund has already helped pay for the development of nearly 500 homes, with an additional 1,500 expected.

  • Behavioral health. In her State of the County speech, Jacob said the region must develop an expanded, coordinated system of care to help those dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues.

    At the request of Jacob and Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, the board approved several major improvements in March, including beefing up clinical resources and moving to establish 24/7 crisis stabilization centers. County officials said such steps, along with the drive for affordable housing, will help address homelessness.

    The county also approved the creation of a pilot program that will allow it to name a conservator to oversee treatment and services for those unable to care for themselves due to chronic mental illness and substance abuse.

    In a separate health-related effort, the county moved to impose a ban on the sale and distribution of flavored tobacco products in the unincorporated area, along with a one-year moratorium on the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes. The decision grew out of alarm over the nationwide spike in vaping-related illnesses and deaths.

  • Energy. County leaders, looking to offer SDG&E ratepayers an alternative, agreed to launch a community choice energy program in the unincorporated area as soon as 2022. The action came at the urging of Jacob and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

    A county study estimates the move will save 179,000 residential and business ratepayers $12 million a year. Jacob has called for a community choice option for years, but this was the first time a board majority has joined her.

    In a related win for consumers, the U.S. Supreme Court in October refused to hear SDG&E’s proposal to bill its ratepayers $379 million for massive wildfires caused by utility equipment in 2007. In addition, the county and others successfully convinced state regulators in December to reject SDG&E’s latest plan to raise rates to cover wildfire risks.

  • Wildfire protection. The county, working with Cal Fire, expanded fire breaks in high-risk communities and doubled the number of home safety inspections conducted each year, from 10,000 to 20,000.

    At Jacob’s urging, the county is also developing a grant program to help residents make their homes more fire-safe.

  • Seniors. The county in March launched a voucher program to help families cover the cost of respite care. Many families rely on outside help to give them a break when caring for an elderly loved one. So far, more than 16,000 hours of care have been provided to hundreds of households.

    The county is also working to expand an East County program aimed at improving emergency services for seniors, and Jacob in December joined West Health and the region’s healthcare systems to announce plans to develop senior-friendly emergency departments across the region.

  • Open space, trails and community amenities. In December, the county opened the Santa Ysabel Nature Center, the first of its kind in the backcountry.

    It continued to acquire open space, including 160 acres near Iron Mountain and 123 acres to the Ramona Grasslands, adding to the county’s open space total of 157,000 acres. It also maintains nearly 370 miles of trail.

    In 2020, construction is expected to get underway in Lakeside on an equestrian center and a new library, along with a parking lot for hikers in the Mt. Woodson area near Ramona. The lot will be built on part of an 84-acre parcel the county bought in 2019 for $1.7 million.

  • Roads and highways. At the recommendation of Jacob and Supervisor Jim Desmond, the county in October dedicated $28 million to road improvements and maintenance in the unincorporated area.

    Jacob also joined a majority of her board colleagues to successfully fight off a proposal from SANDAG staff to effectively gut funding for long-needed highway improvements.

    The regional agency now says it will move ahead with safety and expansion projects planned for state routes 67, 125, 78, 52 and other critical arteries.

Jacob’s seventh term as chairwoman ends Jan. 14. Next year marks her 28th and final year on the board.

(Supervisor Jacob has represented District 2, the largest of San Diego County’s five supervisorial districts, since 1993. The district covers most of the eastern two-thirds of the county and includes El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Santee, Poway, Spring Valley and many rural communities.)