2014 State of the County Address
January 29, 2014
Today, San Diego County formally kicks off its 164th year. These State of the County gatherings go back decades. Long before today, supervisors like Lucille Moore and George Bailey and Leon Williams stood in front of similar crowds to talk about where we’ve been and where we’re going.
This is our moment to take stock and catch our breath before taking on the next great challenge.
I believe that challenge is already here. But before I talk about that, let me spend a few minutes bringing you up to date on several key issues.
Number one: public safety. Keeping communities safe remains our top priority.
The state continues to move criminals from its prisons and parole programs into County custody and supervision. The state calls this process “realignment.” I call it a mess. It crowds our jails. It makes it tougher to keep the peace. It means some criminals get out before they should.
The state is dumping a big part of its law-and-order duties. Sheriff Bill Gore, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and County probation chief Mack Jenkins are working hard to fill that gap.
This year we’re expanding detention centers and adding 400 jail beds. New Sheriff’s stations are opening in
Rancho San Diego, Lakeside and Pine Valley. We’re improving rehabilitation programs to help inmates get their footing when they get out.
It’s important that we get this right. A statewide study found strong evidence that a recent rise in property crime is related to realignment. At the same time, crimes like meth abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking remain major concerns.
We need to make sure the San Diego Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force has all the tools it needs to combat sex trafficking in our region. We will continue to press our case in Sacramento. We’ve asked legislators to pass a bill that would put teeth in our efforts to crack down on gang pimping.
To Governor Brown, I say the time has come to make this law.
Ten years ago, a fourth of the County budget went to public safety. Today it makes up nearly a third.
This money also helps fight our biggest natural threat – wildfire. The deadly firestorms that rocked our region in 2003 and 2007 shook us all, but they also spurred radical improvements.
Through our County Fire Authority, we continue to beef up rural fire protection. We’re improving our regional communication system and building partnerships with other fire agencies. Next year, we plan to wrap up the last phase in our efforts to consolidate many rural fire departments.
We’ve seen some brutal fire seasons in our County. We’ll see others. When they strike, we need to make sure we’ve done all we can to protect people and property. We no longer just hope for the best during a wildfire. We aim for the best.
Keeping the public safe takes more than dollars. It takes a top-notch team. Thank you, Sheriff Gore and District Attorney Dumanis. Thank you to the women and men in law enforcement. Thank you to our firefighters and first responders. I appreciate your service, your commitment to our community and your vigilance.
The County needs to also remain vigilant on another front – our budget. Taxpayers expect it. They demand it.
Our Chief Administrative Officer, Helen Robbins-Meyer, demands it, too. Hope ran high when the board picked her for the top job in 2012. She has exceeded that hope. Helen, your resolve to watch the bottom line and the grace and skill you bring to your work helps us all.
People say I can be tough. I think I’ve met my match.
I also want to thank the County’s more than 16,000 employees. I appreciate your hard work and dedication, day in, day out. I know the public does, too.
Running a County government is a complex business. We have a nearly $5 billion budget. Yet the principles that guide our spending are straightforward, common sense.
As much as possible, we pay for capital projects in cash. In the past decade, this has saved taxpayers a lot of money -- $1.3 billion in interest. That’s one reason why the County has a triple-A credit rating.
In the past dozen years, these projects, along with major maintenance work by the County, have employed more than 20,000 people. We’re talking about construction workers, engineers, electricians and others from the private sector teaming up on more than 70 projects. New libraries, better parks, bigger fire stations.
When the Great Recession hit a few years back, many government agencies fell into a financial hole. These civic projects have helped the County dig its way out – and our region has a brighter economy and job market because of it.
We continue to watchdog our pension costs. I raised this issue five years ago in a State of the County speech. I pointed out that the level of County retirement benefits were not sustainable. Since then, this board has trimmed those benefits and now requires County employees to put in more toward retirement, but we have more work to do.
We also need to trim workers’ compensation claims where we can. A new program in Reno, Nevada, may point the way. The city offers specialized health services to police officers and other first-responders who may be at high risk for heart attacks.
These services go beyond a physical exam. The program uses advanced lipid testing to determine the true threat of cardiovascular disease, and treats specific types of cholesterol.
Reno officials say their cops and firefighters are healthier today – and that the program could save the city more than $1 billion over the next 30 years in medical claims and related costs.
The San Diego County Deputy Sheriff’s Association has agreed to team up with the County on a similar, volunteer program here.
It’s more than a smart financial move. It’s about helping those who risk their lives each day to keep us safe.
Another common-sense step the County is taking: We’re investing money now on initiatives that will pay off for taxpayers in the long haul.
Lowering energy costs is a perfect example. Solar panels sit on top of this meeting chamber. They are part of a plan to cut the County’s monthly power bills.
Since 2008, by retrofitting buildings, installing solar and through other steps, the County has lowered its electricity use by nearly 10 percent.
We also shop the bulk energy market. The County today buys 90 percent of its electricity outside of San Diego Gas & Electric. This Board voted yesterday to continue using outside contracts. Those direct purchases, combined with our lower consumption, now saves the County nearly $2 million a year.
The problem is, consumers don’t have the same right. You can’t shop around like the County.
But if it’s good enough for government, it should be good enough for you.
That’s why I believe the time is ripe to take a hard look at community choice aggregation. That’s a fancy term for a simple goal -- to free up consumers and provide them with energy options.
Community choice aggregation programs allow communities to band together to buy and sell electricity on behalf of ratepayers. The power would be delivered through the existing grid, but it might come from an energy company other than SDG&E.
Imagine that. You’d have real options. You’d have the power of choice. That would spur competition and, we expect, drive down rates.
Sonoma and Marin counties have started community choice programs. Right here at home, the city of San Diego is looking at launching a study of the idea.
Soon it will be San Diego County’s turn to weigh in.
About a year from now, this board will consider a renewable energy strategy for the region. We could then analyze what it would take to bring community choice here. It deserves a serious look and I think consumers will welcome it. It would finally bring our consumer energy market out of the Dark Ages.
A lot of folks share my passion when it comes to energy issues. Maybe no one more than Supervisor Dave Roberts. Dave was sworn into office in this same room a year ago. I think we can all agree that he’s hit the ground running. He also puts the social in social media, especially Twitter. I was going to ask one of my staffers to live-tweet this speech. But then I thought, we’re covered, Dave’s going to be here!
Since I’m talking about a fresh approach, I’ve got three words for you: Bees, beer and burgundy.
Most of our County is rural. A lot of farmers and backcountry entrepreneurs are looking to grow their business. So the County’s giving them a hand. In recent years, we’ve made it easier to open farmers markets. We’ve cut red tape for horse stable owners.
We’ve done the same for winemakers and today many new boutique wineries with tasting rooms are open for business. Before we took that step in 2010, there was one in Ramona. Now there are 20.
That’s where the burgundy comes in. Now for the bees and the beer…
This year the board is looking at relaxing rules on beekeeping in unincorporated areas. This would help honey production and farmers who need bees to work their crops.
I also want to help bring the craft beer boom to our backcountry. The San Diego area has become one of the great beer capitals of the world. The County is looking at ways to make it easier to open a microbrewery and other farm-related businesses in our outback, with the aim of creating jobs and boosting tourism.
The way Julian is known for its apple pie, the backcountry should be known for its brews.
Growing the economy. Adding jobs. These are key. Supervisor Bill Horn’s efforts to extend the runway at Palomar Airport is a good example. A longer runway would lure more private investment and that would bring more jobs.
Let’s remember what makes San Diego County special and build on that, too. Our parks and hiking paths, our backcountry and beaches.
We’re fortunate that Supervisor Greg Cox now serves on the state Coastal Commission. Greg, thank you for being a great champion of improved water quality, the bayfront economy and our coastal environment. You’ve been rock solid – and I know you won’t let up.
On the recreation front, we continue to expand the County’s trail system and this year plan to acquire another 300 acres of open space. We’re also working on a new equestrian center in Lakeside. As a longtime horse lover, I can’t wait to saddle up for that one.
This is the year of the new Waterfront Park. This spring, Supervisor Ron Roberts’ vision for a grand public space outside the County Administration Center downtown will come to life. This gem of a park will be enjoyed for generations – and it’s because of Ron’s leadership.
On many key issues, the course of County government this year is clear.
On public safety and the County budget, we remain vigilant. On energy issues, it’s time to take a hard look at community choice. On the economy, we continue to help it grow. On our quality of life, we have new parks and recreation areas taking root.
The state of your County government is good. But I don’t want to settle for good. We need to aim higher. We’ve got a big challenge in front of us.
A seismic shift is under way. The number of San Diego County residents living long into their 70s and 80s and older is surging. By 2030, the number of people who are at least 75 years old is expected to triple, rapidly outpacing the growth in the rest of the population.
This huge shift will test our communities and County government, our homes and hospitals, our public policies and personal lives.
I’d like to say we’re prepared… We are not.
Today I’d like to announce a few initiatives to help us meet this test.
First, some background: The County’s Aging and Independence Services helps seniors on a wide range of critical issues, including providing access to in-home care.
Those at the agency are fierce advocates, too. The agency’s ombudsman program was created to serve as a voice for those in assisted living homes and other long-term care facilities. It is charged with speaking up on behalf of residents and investigating complaints and allegations of abuse. Assisting these advocates are dozens of dedicated volunteers, folks like Penny Moore of La Mesa.
While the state is responsible for licensing and regulating these homes, the county advocacy program works the front lines to ensure resident safety and well-being.
I wanted to see this for myself so I recently joined one of our full-time patient advocates, Lyn Devereaux, during her rounds in East County. Lyn is here with us today.
We stopped at two nursing homes unannounced. Lyn scanned medical charts. She checked bed railings. She made sure medicine and cleaning supply cabinets were locked. She talked with nurses, administrators and residents.
I was impressed with Lyn’s eagle-eyed focus. However, it’s also clear to me that our advocacy program is overwhelmed.
Just as the need for oversight is growing, and will continue to rise, the program has been shrinking. Officials in Sacramento stripped it of state funding in 2009, and the number of full-time advocates in our County has dropped from eight to four.
No question about it -- we’re going in the wrong direction.
That’s why I’ll be asking this Board in the next few weeks to consider fully restoring the program. We need more eyes and ears in the field. We need more professionals like Lyn Devereaux.
That’s one step. But it’s not enough.
A recent series of watchdog stories in the local media have underscored the gravity of the problem. They documented deeply troubling gaps in staff training and supervision, along with a lack of rigorous state oversight and follow-through at many residential care facilities.
These stories included cases of inadequate care and outright neglect that ended in death. Like the case of an elderly man who fell on the floor of his room, located in a well-known senior complex. He was badly bruised and had soiled himself.
It was two days before staff discovered him, and when they did, he was dead.
This didn’t happen somewhere else. This happened in San Diego County, and it shocks the conscience.
I want to applaud state lawmakers for confronting this issue in recent months. Two weeks ago, a dozen bills aimed at bolstering care and state oversight were introduced in Sacramento.
The County must also step up its role.
I don’t want to indict an entire industry. That would not be fair. Some long-term care facilities are doing a good job.
But how would the public know? How would families looking for a caring home know which ones are doing right by their residents?
Last week, I met with a group of owners and managers of assisted living homes. They agreed to work together, and with the County, to come up with more ways to help families find a good home. Or, at least, how to help them avoid the bad ones.
Perhaps it’s a special seal that could be given to care facilities that meet high standards. Or a grading or number system that could serve as a yardstick for consumers.
The local Better Business Bureau, led by President and CEO Sheryl Reichert, has volunteered to help with this initiative. Sheryl is with us here today.
It’s about working with the industry and taking a carrot approach.
Now, for the stick…
The District Attorney and I are moving to create a special prosecution unit that would crack down on assisted living homes operating on the wrong side of the law.
This team would put more muscle and public visibility into our efforts to watchdog these facilities. We want to make it absolutely clear that abuse and neglect will not be tolerated.
We plan to bring this idea before the board within a few weeks.
Establishing a prosecution team. Beefing up the advocacy program. Creating a yardstick to guide consumers. These steps will put more weight into protecting our oldest and most vulnerable citizens.
Most have already traveled a long, tough road. They made it through the Great Depression. They fought in Europe, the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam. But for a growing number of our elderly, and their families, the toughest trial lies ahead.
I’m talking about Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer's isn't just about losing your memory. It’s a killer. The death rate from Alzheimer’s in San Diego County is among the highest in California. Higher than in Los Angeles or Sacramento or San Francisco counties.
It has reached epidemic levels. In our region, it has climbed from the fifth leading cause of death to the third.
More than 60,000 people in San Diego County have the disease. That number is expected to double in the next 15 years.
No one survives it. There’s no way to prevent or cure it. Not yet anyway.
Families carry the greatest burden. Watching your father or mother, a grandparent or a spouse, lose their memory and judgment – it’s heartbreaking.
San Diegans like Darlene Shiley know what it’s like. She lost an uncle, aunt and her mother to Alzheimer’s. Her husband, Donald Shiley, who helped invent a heart value that saved many lives, battled dementia before he passed away.
Asked about these great losses, Darlene said once: “I don’t care what kind of dementia it is. It’s awful… Gut-wrenching… It’s like this never-ending pain.”
Today, Darlene stands at the intersection of charity and compassion. As a girl, she volunteered as a candy striper at a hospital. Now her good deeds span the County. She and her husband began donating money years ago and today the Shiley name is synonymous with philanthropy.
Talk with Darlene and you quickly learn that her philanthropy comes from the heart. The family name is attached to many of our finest local institutions – from theaters to health centers to medical centers. Including the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at UCSD.
Because of her contributions, because of her commitment to our community, because she knows the pain of Alzheimer’s and wants to help others through that burden, I would like to award her the San Diego County Guardian of the Water Award.
This award has become a State of the County tradition. It’s meant to celebrate those who embody the best of the American spirit through their good deeds. And I can think of no one better than Darlene Marcos Shiley.
Darlene is among those who understand that taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s can take a heavy toll on your own mental and physical health. It’s not unusual for caregivers to struggle with their own well-being.
How to help the helpers will be a focus of the upcoming San Diego County Aging Summit. I’ve asked that the June 12 gathering, which I’m co-chairing with Supervisor Cox, include an emphasis on those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. I’ll be there. I hope you can join me.
I know many families wrestle with it every day.
So do researchers. Just this month, neuroscientists from across the nation launched what may be the most ambitious attempt yet to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Paul Aisen at UC San Diego is directing the clinical study. It is focusing on a protein in the brain that is believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s. Researchers are using volunteers to test a drug that attacks the protein.
Other prominent scientists and neurologists here in San Diego are also on the trail of the disease. Like Dr. Michael Lobatz at Scripps. Dr. Rusty Gage at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. And Dr. Stuart Lipton at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
They need the public’s help. Clinical trials often require thousands of volunteers. The nationwide study coordinated by Dr. Aisen is looking for as many as 6,000 people 65 or older.
It’s not unusual for folks to donate blood. Some will even donate an organ. But convincing them to take part in a clinical trial is not easy. I encourage San Diego County residents to step forward and volunteer.
Lives depend on it. The simple act of helping out could bring us one step closer to a cure.
I’ve talked with Dr. Aisen and other researchers in recent days. I suggested that we team up in an effort to secure additional federal funding for Alzheimer’s research in San Diego. They welcome the idea.
The good news is that the federal government will spend $562 million this year on funding for Alzheimer’s research, education, outreach and caregiver support. That’s a record amount.
The bad news is that the annual nationwide cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s exceeds $200 billion.
We have a lot of catching up to do. That $562 million is one fourth of what we’ll spend this year researching heart disease. We’ll spend ten times that amount on cancer research.
Funding is just one of the issues we need to address. I want to bring our best and brightest together in one room to map out our next steps on the disease. Researchers, caregivers, experts with the Alzheimer’s Association and others. I want to gather them together and ask them to help craft a regional game plan for tackling Alzheimer’s.
I’m calling this initiative The Alzheimer’s Project, and I’d like this special task force to meet within a few weeks, and to come forward with recommendations before the end of the year.
The group will look at issues of both care and cure.
Time is not on our side, but hope is.
We have faced great tests before, and we have met those tests. San Diego County is a place of pioneers. It was here that the polio vaccine was created.
Researchers are tapping into that same pioneer spirit in their bid to conquer Alzheimer’s. Our region needs to join with them in facing the disease head on.
The state of your County government is good. But I don’t want to settle for good. We have too much to do on so many fronts. On energy. On public safety. On the economy. And now even more on aging.
As the County population turns more gray, regional problems tied to aging will turn more grave.
Unless we step forward. Unless we act.
Now is our moment to act. Now is the time to take on our next great challenge.
Thank you so much.