2017 State of the County Address
[VIDEO OF SPEECH HERE]
Welcome and good morning.
You know, one of the many benefits of having Kristin on board is our average age just took a nosedive.
We're going to look forward today, but before we do that, let's take a look back.
Greg, Ron, Bill – the four of us have served on this Board for more than 20 years.
I know, can you believe it? We don’t look a day older than when each of us went to San Diego State.
We’re not a flashy bunch.
We don’t tweet every 20 minutes. We aim to have a more lasting impact than 140 characters.
The four of us teamed up more than two decades ago to build a better County government.
We’ve stuck to our guns.
Sacramento and Washington are often snake pits. That’s not us.
We’re not about chaos. We’re about competence.
We’re not about gridlock. We get things done. And we have.
In the 1990s, we set out to fix a broken County government on the brink of bankruptcy.
It was making headlines for all the wrong reasons – shoddy budgeting, weak policies, multimillion-dollar boondoggles.
We brought in top-notch managers with real world business experience to rethink the way we operate -- and to whip our finances into shape.
While we face new and emerging challenges, we have come a long way.
For six years in a row, we’ve had Triple A credit ratings.
We’ve broken ground with initiatives like The Alzheimer’s Project, Live Well San Diego and our open space conservation program. Supervisor Roberts and Supervisor Cox have always worked hard to address homelessness.
Last year, they launched Project One for All to help the severely mentally ill get off the street and into services.
I know Supervisor Gaspar will compliment this effort as we look for ways to invest our critical mental health dollars.
Meanwhile, Supervisor Horn has made sure our veterans don’t get left behind.
Over the weekend, he took part in the first North County Veterans Stand Down to connect those who have served our country with services and support.
We can tackle these issues because our $5.4 billion dollar budget is solidly in the black.
We’ve tackled a lot of tough issues over the years, and we have had our disagreements. We will again.
But the state of our County is stronger today, more resilient, more financially sound, because when it matters most, we pull together.
And we may need to pull together this year like never before. If cuts and shifts proposed by Governor Brown go through, along with possible changes in California’s health insurance marketplace, we may be looking at a $100 million dollar hit to our budget.
Shift and shaft by the state is nothing new, and we stand ready to fight once again - and we will.
However, the calendar is catching up with us. Term limits are here.
A new generation of leaders will soon guide the County. At the head of that wave is our new colleague, Supervisor Gaspar.
Let me just say again, Kristin: It is good having another woman on the Board. More than that, it’s great having your fresh perspective and ideas.
Please join me in welcoming Kristin.
But us seasoned hands up here aren’t ready to ride off into the sunset. Not yet. There’s still so much to do.
Thanks to our Chief Administrative Officer, Helen Robbins-Meyer, and her great executive team, we’re well managed.
We’re also blessed with 17,000 employees who give their all each and every day.
But, only one month into 2017, we face major challenges on the homefront.
My talk today is about how we can meet them. So, here’s my Seven in ’17….
Seven ways we can build an even better County government.
Seven ways we can better serve the public and lay out a roadmap for the future.
Seven ways to make sure we pass on a County government that serves the people and does them proud.
Let’s be street wise
We’ve got a big problem out where the rubber meets the road: Our main source of money for maintenance is running out.
The County maintains 2,000 miles of road. That’s enough to go from here to Chicago.
Keeping these streets up to speed, keeping them safe, is one of our most important jobs.
Reliable roads are not only the lifeblood of our communities and economy, they are lifelines during a wildfire or other emergency.
But our main source of money for road upkeep – state gas tax revenue – is collapsing.
In the past five years, San Diego County’s annual share of the revenue has dropped 21 percent.
Over the same stretch, we’ve reached a milestone. Not a good one.
The County’s Pavement Condition Index, a national rating system for streets, dropped to 60 in September. That’s our lowest ever.
A seventy is considered acceptable. Sixty is not.
These numbers matter. They matter because the lower the rating, the more it costs to repair and maintain these roads.
The more we invest to keep our streets safe, the better for motorists and taxpayers.
For now, we’re tapping into County savings to backfill the loss, spending about $20 million dollars, just last year.
Our 2,000 miles of road are a $2.7 billion dollar public asset. We need a long-term funding plan to protect and improve them.
Supervisor Horn and I are bringing this critical issue to the Board.
Two weeks from today, we will formally ask staff to identify funding options to ensure that we boost our road condition benchmark to at least 70 within five years.
Maintaining streets is not a frill. It’s a core responsibility, and the public expects us to meet it.
We’re in a fix with our parks too. I believe we need a new model for building and maintaining them.
Which brings me to…Number Two…
Green light for green projects
As much as I like energy sustainability, today I’m talking parks… the original green project.
Our County park system is a beauty.
It is one of only 13 county systems in the United States accredited by a national commission of park and recreation agencies. Millions of people visit our parks each year.
They head to places like Jess Martin Park, Tijuana River Valley, and the Waterfront Park.
These places sustain us. They keep our communities healthy and whole. Building and maintaining parks are among the County’s core responsibilities.
But we need to strip away barriers that make it tougher to develop new parks. Some of these are out-of-date policies, others are financial.
We need to continue to work with viable non-profit groups and strengthen the partnerships that help us maintain some of these facilities.
But we also need to make sure the County lives up to its promise to build parks.
Supervisor Cox knows what I’m talking about. No one has worked harder to improve park space and trails in the Tijuana River Valley and along San Diego Bay.
I mean, he’ll probably be buried under the bayshore bikeway!
Greg has agreed to join me next month in bringing this issue to the Board. We will call for the creation of a sustainable endowment fund to provide crucial dollars to operate and maintain new parks and existing ones.
We’re lucky. Our region is blessed with natural beauty and recreational opportunities. We must safeguard these treasures long into the future.
Parks are just one piece of our budget.
The County is one of the region’s largest employers -- and a big, big driver of our economy.
We have thousands of dedicated people in the field. Librarians. Health inspectors. Engineers. Nurses.
Our county team is used to seeing a lot of hardhats, too. We’ve completed 45 major projects just within the past decade, using cash to pay for the bulk of the work.
This has saved taxpayers more than a billion dollars in interest payments within the past 10 years.
Sound fiscal management is a hallmark of this Board.
The same goes for the County pension system… which brings me to Number Three…
Confronting the pension challenge
Two years ago, the usually low-key County Retirement Association was in crisis. On the management side, and the investment side.
While the Board of Supervisors doesn’t control the retirement system, County services, resources, employees and retirees are affected.
I joined with Dan McAllister, Samantha Begovich and others on the retirement board to engineer a major overhaul.
We brought in David Wescoe, a crackerjack CEO, and a new executive team, and scrubbed our internal operations.
We swapped out a high-risk, high-leverage investment strategy for a prudent one rooted in market reality.
These improvements are expected to save the pension fund more than one billion dollars over the next 20 years in operation and investment costs.
In recent years, the Board of Supervisors has also taken steps to keep a lid on pension expenses.
This includes cutting benefits for new workers and asking employees to shoulder more of the costs.
Our pension reform efforts since 2006 are expected to save taxpayers $2.2 billion dollars over 20 years.
We’ve done a lot to right the ship, but we need to do more.
The pension system is facing rising costs at a time of declining investment returns.
Our employee organizations know that to sustain our defined benefit plan, we must work together, once again, to make changes in future pension benefits to reduce the burden on taxpayers and preserve vital county services.
It is estimated that the creation of a new tier for future employees alone could eventually save the pension system more than $21 million dollars annually.
As our pension costs rise, so is the size of our senior population….which brings us to Number Four…
Prepare for the silver surge
Those 65 and older are the fastest-growing age group in our County. Their population will roughly double in less than 20 years.
I talked about this three years ago in my State of the County speech… this silver tsunami that is already putting our region to the test.
For many families, the biggest challenge is Alzheimer’s disease.
More than 62,000 San Diegans have Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. It is our third leading cause of death.
Standing up here in 2014, I announced the creation of The Alzheimer’s Project, a nationally recognized initiative aimed at finding a cure and helping caregivers.
We’ve brought together our best researchers, health care providers, public universities and top political leadership to rally the region and fight the disease.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer, philanthropist Darlene Shiley, Sheriff Bill Gore and Mary Ball, President and CEO of Alzheimer’s San Diego, are among those leading the charge.
And I’m excited to now have Supervisor Gaspar’s energy as a part of this effort.
We’ve made good headway so far.
We strengthened the safety net for those with Alzheimer’s.
We developed the region’s first standards for the diagnosis and management of dementia.
We received two big federal grants to beef up services for patients and training for health care workers.
We launched Collaboration4Cure, a research incubator that includes the region’s top scientists. This has opened up a critical new avenue in our hunt for a cure.
But families can’t wait. They need help now.
To better prepare our region for the surge in seniors and families that are overwhelmed by Alzheimer’s, Supervisor Gaspar and I will ask the Board next month to create a new position to help guide us forward.
The person picked for this job would serve as our top advocate for the elderly, a sort of senior czar… a big cheese… a head honcho.
A high-profile leader is needed to make sure that all the appropriate arms of County government are working together to meet the needs of seniors, especially those with dementia.
This new hire would elevate and champion senior services, marshalling all the resources we can.
We need to do all we can to help seniors stay in their homes as long as possible. Aging in place is our future.
If we don’t, we will continue to see an increase in senior homelessness. Our regional count last year showed that the number of homeless adults 55 and older has doubled.
This is heartbreaking and must be addressed.
An expansion in our senior response teams could prove to be an important tool. These teams would make sure those with dementia get the help they need.
Let me tell you about an incident from last year that I think demonstrates the problem.
A San Diego woman called authorities after her elderly husband turned verbally and physically aggressive. At one point during the call, he hit her hand with his cane so she would drop the phone.
He was in his 80s. He had dementia.
The wife needed help, and law enforcement eventually showed up, but the family was bounced from agency to agency to agency.
The husband was put in jail, then an emergency room. He didn’t belong in either one.
The problem was, there was no clear path to steer him to the services he needed.
Supervisor Gaspar and I will be asking our colleagues to bring together County staff with health care providers and Alzheimer’s San Diego to develop that path.
Grossmont Healthcare District and Sharp Grossmont Hospital want to help us pilot the idea.
San Diegans with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are seen by local hospitals roughly 30,000 times a year.
They are admitted to the hospital twice as often as people the same age without Alzheimer’s. They stay longer, are re-admitted more often and the cost for hospital admissions is almost three times as high.
There is a crisis in our hospital emergency rooms.
I’ve heard of cases where a desperate family member drops off a relative with dementia at an emergency room… and then walks away for good because they are at the end of their rope and just can’t take it anymore.
There’s even a name for it -- granny dumping. It may sound funny, but it’s tragic.
Our oldest residents are among our most vulnerable.
Three years ago, we cracked down on shoddy nursing homes.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis created a special prosecution unit to investigate assisted living homes operating on the wrong side of the law.
We also proposed the creation of a nursing home rating system to help guide families to quality care. Supervisor Cox teamed up with me on this.
It was an audacious goal. Few counties have tried this, but we’re close to rolling it out.
Making it easier to age in place… Going after those who commit elder abuse... Creating a top-notch advocate for seniors… Connecting those with dementia to the right services at the right time.
These types of improvements are the least we can do for a generation that gave so much to this region and nation.
It's all about helping families, helping consumers.
Which brings me to… Number Five…
There’s an app for that
We are always looking for ways to make it easier to hear from the public. And Supervisor Roberts has taken a leadership role in bringing technology to County services, especially when it comes to saving lives and enhancing fire protection.
Today, we’re making available a new tool to make County government more tech friendly.
It’s a new app that allows residents to report non-emergency problems. We’re calling it “Tell Us Now!” -- and it’s available on a smartphone near you.
Want a pothole filled?
Think a gas station is ripping you off?
Got a problem with graffiti?
Fire up the app and let us know.
Other local governments have created similar apps. Hats off to San Diego for helping lead the way.
We're all about "better, cheaper, faster."
Our most important job is keeping the public safe.
Which leads me to Number Six...
Stay battle ready
Since the horrific Cedar Fire and other firestorms in 2003, we have invested more than $400 million dollars to beef up our fire and emergency services.
Today, we have more firefighters, more aircraft, more paramedics. We have better fire engines, better equipment and new stations.
We established a unified command across most of our backcountry, led by our local Cal Fire Chief, Tony Mecham.
Tony’s the best. I want to thank him and all our firefighters for all they do, year-round.
Our improvements are paying off for property owners.
Last month, many in our backcountry became eligible for lower insurance rates thanks to our investments since 2003.
This could affect nearly 9,000 parcels in more than 20 communities.
We’ve never been more battle ready, and we’re not about to let down our guard.
The same goes for crime and punishment.
Sheriff Gore and his deputies put their lives on the line each day to keep us safe and sound.
Next time you see a deputy, be sure to thank them and even give them a hug. They are truly heroes.
My top priority has been – and will continue to be – to make sure they have the tools they need to protect our communities.
We’ve got a helluva new tool in the works as we speak. Right here on this County campus, we’re building a new 150,000-square-foot crime lab.
We’re upgrading our emergency communications system and have increased the number of psychiatric teams that can respond to a mental health crisis.
We’ve also taken aim at sex slavery.
The pimping of young girls is even more common than we feared.
We’re talking about girls as young as 13.
A major study done by local researchers in 2015 found that almost 12,000 mostly underage girls have fallen victim to this crime.
The same study estimated it’s an $810 million dollar industry. That’s just here in San Diego County!
Ending sex slavery has become one of the region’s top public safety priorities, and our District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis, is leading the way.
I want to thank you and your team for all you do.
We’ve created an advisory board and a law enforcement task force to combat the crime.
We’ve conducted law enforcement sweeps and educated high schools and the hotel-motel industry on how to identify and report the crime.
We’ve launched a public awareness campaign, with billboards, that has led to a big jump in calls.
Now we’re moving to work more closely with teachers to help them tackle this deeply troubling issue in the classroom. The idea that sex slavery happens right here in our region… in 2017… is a tough thing to admit.
No one has worked harder to open our eyes to this horrendous crime than educator Jeneé Littrell.
Jeneé works with East County’s largest school district, Grossmont. She is here with us today.
Jeneé is on the front lines, educating high school principals, teachers and families about human trafficking.
She fights the good fight, and not just against sex slavery. She has made it her mission to tackle tough, thorny issues.
Like our cultural differences. Like race relations. Like the tensions in our nation between some ethnic groups and law enforcement.
Those tensions came up again last fall following a shooting involving an African-American man and the El Cajon police.
The tragic incident led to a lot of anger and street protests.
It made Jeneé’s mission even more important, more urgent. Which brings me to Number Seven in my Seven in ’17 list…
Building a bond
Jeneé is the creator of Camp LEAD, a special camp for high school students. It is held several times a year, usually up in Pine Valley.
About 100 East County kids take part in each three-day camp.
Some are there because they are leaders on their campus. Others come from challenging backgrounds and troubled families.
Because Jeneé thinks big, she has big ambitions for the kids.
She asks them to confront their fears and misconceptions about others.
She wants them to see and address the gaps that often exist between rich and poor, abled and disabled, gay and straight, black and white, cop and community.
The kids do team exercises. They talk candidly about prejudice and discrimination.
It’s not just heart-to-heart, bare your soul stuff. The activities are rooted in what experts say works best.
The goal is to give them the tools to be more resilient and successful and to open their horizons.
Joining the students are several Sheriff’s deputies. Except, the teens don’t know they’re deputies. They have no idea.
The deputies introduce themselves as camp counselors. They look and act and dress like regular folk.
On the last day of camp, they come out in uniform. When they do, it’s a REAL eye-opener.
Camp LEAD may seem like a small step to address a big problem. But take enough steps and you can go far.
Since it was created eight years ago, 10,000 teenagers have completed it. Ten thousand.
These kids go back to school and become role models. There’s a positive ripple effect across campus.
Many at-risk kids who take part go on to have fewer absences from school and better grades. They are less likely to lose their way.
Jeneé Littrell knows a lot about these kids. She was one of them.
When she was 17, she dropped out of Monte Vista High in Spring Valley. Her home life was troubled. Her options seemed limited.
There was no Camp LEAD around to help her see the bigger world.
By her early 20s, she had two young kids. During the day, she cleaned houses. At night, she was a waitress at Denny’s.
It was around then when she found adult mentors… and found her calling.
To educate others. To challenge us to take on tough issues.
Like sex slavery. Like the need to build stronger ties between our cops and our communities.
At a time when we are deeply divided as a nation, Camp LEAD and Jeneé Littrell are showing us one way forward.
Others across California are noticing. Jeneé used to be an administrator at Grossmont, but she was hired away last year by the San Mateo County Office of Education.
Her new employer wants her to bring the Camp LEAD concept to Silicon Valley.
In the next few weeks, I will formally ask the County to support and expand this timely and successful program in our region.
Jeneé’s mission should be our mission.
As part of the State of the County each year, the chair of the Board of Supervisors honors someone who embodies the best of our region through their good deeds.
Jeneé, for your leadership on fighting sex slavery…
For your work on building community bonds…
For being a conscience of the community and a role model for us all, I’d like to honor you with the 2017 Guardian of the Water Award.
I’d also like recognize others with Camp Lead who are with us today.
Joining Jeneé are Sheriff’s Dept. Captain Hank Turner, Deputy Heather Arthur and students Ashley Alvarez, Zach Foster and Cameron Romaniuk.
Kids like Ashley, Zach and Cameron, these are our future leaders. That’s what today is about.
That’s what my Seven in ’17 is about.
Preparing for the future. Preparing for a new generation of County leaders.
Making sure we pass on a government that is in an even better position to keep our region safe and fiscally sound.
That’s the job in front of us. Now let’s get to work!