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Thank you, Greg. Thank you, colleagues. Thank you all for coming.

We usually start these State of the County speeches by patting ourselves on the back. But today will be different.

I will focus this morning on the big issues right in front of us: housing and homelessness, wildfire protection, mental health, substance abuse, energy and the challenges facing our seniors.

This is a new era at the County. We’ve got fresh voices, fresh perspectives.

For the first time in a generation, the new faces on this Board outnumber the old.

Yeah, I may be the oldest member of this Board, but I’m not even close to slowing down. Just ask my doctor, Dr. Carol Salem, who is here with us today.

You’re looking at a Board of Supervisors that is rebooted and refreshed. This opens the window to the new and novel, to bold ideas and fresh opportunities.

We’ll disagree at times, of course, but we’re already finding common ground.

Unlike Washington, D.C. All that fire and fury and finger-pointing. All that ugly talk. All those ugly tweets.

Ronald Reagan reminded us that character counts. Yes… it… does.

This spot right here, 1600 Pacific Highway, is a long way from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Here it’s not about red vs. blue. It’s about nuts-and-bolts governing.  Here we can turn up our civic sleeves and actually… do… our… jobs.

And put people before politics.

In the early 1990s, the County was a fiscal train wreck. A series of disastrous moves by the Board forced the County into a partial shutdown. Workers were asked to take time off, without pay.

It took a new crop of Supervisors and managers to turn things around.

Today, the state of the County is much better because we’re no longer debating where to cut. We’re looking at where to spend.

And we are. More on services. More on facilities. More on critical programs.

Our hard-working employees put it all into action. They are truly the heart and soul of this $6.3 billion-dollar-a-year operation.

On behalf of this Board, I want to thank the 17,000-plus County employees for all they do.

This is no time to play small ball. This Board needs to aim for the fences and address the region’s biggest challenges.

And right now, two of them are on a collision course.

We need affordable housing. And we need to better protect the region from our greatest natural threat, wildfire.

But how do we allow more housing in the unincorporated area while also doing all we can to protect people and property?

How do we safeguard existing homes?

Nearly 60,000 houses in the unincorporated area sit on land considered to be at high risk, or, at very high risk, of wildfire.

We’re facing a conflict between shelter and safety, and we must find some balance in this battle.

We didn’t just wake up to these problems.

The County has already ramped up its efforts to encourage the construction of housing for low- and middle-income residents.

Two years ago, we created a $25 million trust fund to help finance homes for the homeless and those close to becoming homeless, including seniors and veterans.

The Board has never tried something like this before, and it’s paying off. So far, we’ve funded several projects with a total of 453 homes. Two of the projects have broken ground.

And hundreds of more homes are on the way due to our commitment to using surplus County property for affordable housing.

We’re also making it easier to build secondary homes in the unincorporated area.

Last month, we voted to waive County permit and development fees for those wanting to build a second unit on lots with existing homes.

This cost-cutting measure reduces the price of each dwelling by about $15,000. It’s a good incentive to get shovels in the ground, and we just created a hotline and website for those wanting more information.

There are roughly 172,000 homes on existing lots in the unincorporated area. That’s a lot of untapped potential.

Meanwhile, we’re working overtime to address the year-round threat of wildfire.

Since the Cedar Fire in 2003, the County has spent more than a half-billion dollars to improve rural fire and emergency medical services.

We’re talking about new engines, new stations, new technology and a bigger fleet of aircraft. We’re talking about a more unified and better trained firefighting force, led by the County Fire Authority and Cal Fire.

Because we know how bad it can get, we’ve brought more muscle to the fight.

Since 2003, local wildfires have claimed 25 lives and caused damage in the billions. Taxpayers spent over $100 million just fighting these fires.

Insurance claims from the recent California fires have topped $11.4 billion, and that number is expected to skyrocket even more.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. And allow more housing. That’s the challenge!

Today, I’m announcing several initiatives to better balance our need for affordable housing and our duty to keep the region safe.

First, on the fire front…

Next month, Supervisor Desmond and I will bring to this Board several proposals to beef up fire protection.

We want to offer grants or other incentives to encourage existing homeowners in high-risk areas to install safer walls, vents and other fire-resistant materials.

We must step up defensible space inspections, expand wood-chipping programs and strengthen our network of Fire Safe Councils.

We must reduce hazardous brush by teaming up with local, state and federal agencies on a joint plan for controlled burns and fuel breaks.

We must push state and federal leaders to eliminate the onerous environmental reviews required to reduce brush and other fuels.

And we must double-down on the use of technology and mapping to protect high-risk communities.

In addition, the County is working with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and other agencies to place dispatchers under one roof. This would not only save money, but improve response times.

All these measures will make existing homes safer and help us prepare for new homes and communities.

But we can’t stop there.

Local and state officials are moving to update fire code standards for new construction.

We will ask that a tougher set of criteria be included in the code for development in high-risk parts of the unincorporated area.

The fact is that San Diego County remains one bad Santa Ana wind away from a disaster.

New homes and communities must be built to give people and property the greatest chance of survival.

Now, when it comes to creating affordable housing…

Let’s re-up the County’s $25 million housing trust fund. Supervisor Cox has agreed to join me in asking the Board to add another $25 million to this public-private partnership.

We’ll bring our proposal to the Board this spring.

The fund allows us to make targeted investments and improvements to create permanent, affordable homes.

Doubling the size of the fund could give us 1,000 more homes across the region.

I mentioned earlier that we are now waiving fees to encourage the construction of accessory units next to existing homes.

Many of you may know the term YIMBY, Yes in My Backyard. Here we are talking about actual backyards.

A lot of people call them granny flats, but they’re much more than that. They could also shelter seniors, veterans, the homeless and others in need.

Why not look at creating additional financial incentives for these secondary homes to help house our most vulnerable? Stay tuned. More to come.

Here’s something else we can do: Offer free, pre-approved, permit-ready building plans to those wanting to add a secondary home. Encinitas is already doing this. It’s saving homeowners up to $18,000 per unit.

Think about it. We have 172,000 homes on existing lots in our unincorporated area.

If only 10 percent of them added a second dwelling, that would go a long way toward filling our affordable housing gap.

We want affordable housing. We need affordable housing. We’re wired for it.

Opening the door to more housing also helps address homelessness and the long-term needs of those dealing with mental illness and addiction.

We spend $650 million a year on behavioral health services. $650 million! That’s staggering. That’s 10 percent of our budget.

That doesn’t mean we are doing enough, or doing it right.

Here’s an example: This is a true story about a middle-age man from San Diego. He wants to remain private so I’ll call him Ryan.

We’re lucky Ryan is still with us. He’s a counselor at a local recovery program, after spending more than two decades battling mental illness and substance abuse.

It started at the age of 12, when he was first sexually abused by his stepfather. To deal with the trauma, he turned to alcohol, then marijuana, then heroin.

In his teen years, he bounced from clinics to emergency rooms to jails to prisons. He had no family or friends to lean on and he suffered from untreated depression and PTSD.

By the age of 22, he was homeless. He tried killing himself.

For at least another decade, he fought to end his pain and find stability. He cycled through more clinics and courtrooms, and two more suicide attempts.

What he desperately needed was a long-term care plan to address his chronic illnesses. What he got instead was short-term care and time behind bars.

It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he was provided comprehensive treatment services, housing and job training.

Today, Ryan is in recovery. He’s a survivor. But it took more than 20 years to connect him with the right kind of help.

As long as behavioral health services are fractured, people like Ryan will fall through the cracks.

I want to commend Supervisor Gaspar for taking on this tough issue last year as Board chair. She brought together public health and safety experts and challenged us to come up with bold and sustainable solutions.

For example, we now have nearly 1,200 short- and long-term beds for those in crisis. But just adding more beds is not the solution.

We need to focus on the individual, not on programs, and come up with a coordinated system of care.

We need to sit down with hospitals, schools, businesses, non-profits, law enforcement and others and put together a plan, so people like Ryan aren’t stuck in a revolving door of ERs and jail cells.

The Sheriff Department says there are at least 100 people with behavioral health problems who wind up in jail an average of more than 14 times a year. That’s nearly 1,500 arrests.

These people don’t belong behind bars. These people need treatment.

Our District Attorney, Summer Stephan, and our Sheriff, Bill Gore, both have great ideas on how to address these challenges.

Summer and Bill have agreed to join me in asking the Board soon to bolster the County’s psychiatric emergency response teams, better known as PERT.

PERT puts mental health clinicians in the field with uniformed law enforcement to respond to mental health emergencies.

I helped create the program in 1996. When we started it, only a handful of teams covered the entire County.

Today, we have funding for 70 PERT teams. But we need to do more.

The DA, the Sheriff and I will ask the Board to consider adding a follow-up component to PERT, where clinicians would stay in touch with PERT patients to reduce repeat incidents.

We also want to look at establishing PERT in our schools, where we’re seeing a growing number of behavioral health problems.

In addition, we will ask the Board to explore the creation of crisis stabilization centers that would include a drop-off point for law enforcement, and where a person could detox and receive needed care.

Instead of winding up in jail, more folks would get the help they need, where they need it.

Mayor Faulconer recently asked the County to step up and lead on this issue. We’re stepping up all right, and our cities, hospitals and others must do their part to keep up.

Making this issue even tougher is that many with mental health challenges also struggle with substance abuse. And about one in three are homeless.

More than ever, meth and opioids are killing San Diegans.

In the past five years, meth-related deaths in our County have jumped 75 percent. In the United States, Americans are now more likely to die of an opioid overdose than in a car crash.

And only 1 in 10 San Diegans get connected to treatment. One in ten!

Many end up in emergency rooms, but they don’t get the on-going addiction services they need.

So, what are we doing about it?

We recently tripled the amount of money available for intensive residential and outpatient treatment, from $54 million to over $150 million.

We will now be able to help nearly 17,000 people a year.

But again, it isn’t just about more money.  We are radically transforming the delivery of care, ending a limited and fragmented structure.

We are now working directly with emergency rooms to connect patients with addiction services.

If we can successfully manage those with mental illness and addiction for the long term, and provide housing, we can turn the homeless crisis into a homeless solution.

Here’s a sad fact: Roughly a third of our homeless population is made up of seniors.

And housing is not the only big challenge facing our oldest residents.

Five years ago, in a State of the County speech, I called on the region to confront an emerging public health crisis – the rise in Alzheimer’s disease.

In San Diego County, it’s the third leading cause of death. The third… leading… cause – right behind heart disease and cancer.

In 2014, at my urging, this Board launched an initiative called The Alzheimer’s Project.

We brought together some of our biggest names and top brains to address this crisis...

Mayor Kevin Faulconer… Philanthropist Darlene Shiley… Dr. Michael Lobatz with Scripps Health… World-class researchers like Bill Mobley at UC San Diego… Our biggest public universities… Our largest health care systems… and non-profits like Alzheimer’s San Diego.

We are working side by side and fighting like hell to slow this epidemic and give families help and hope.

Caring for a mother or father with dementia can take a terrible mental and physical toll.

Today, I’d like to announce a big step forward in our efforts to help ease the stress on caregivers.

It’s a new County initiative that provides families with matching funds to cover the expense of hiring a caregiver for those who need a break now and then. The County and each family split the expense 50/50.

This one-million dollar voucher program kicked off this week.

Meanwhile, we’re getting ready to expand the new Alzheimer’s Response Team to other parts of the region. The East County program brings together first-responders, social workers and others to make sure those with the disease get the right type of help in an emergency.

The team is only a few months old and is already making a big difference.

On the research side…

Dr. Jerold Chun, with Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, recently announced a breakthrough: He found that the same drugs used to treat HIV also appear to be effective in combatting Alzheimer’s.

Collaboration4Cure -- the research offshoot of The Alzheimer’s Project -- continues to do groundbreaking work in drug discovery. It draws on experts from UC San Diego, Sanford Burnham Prebys and other institutions.

Because of C4C’s initial success, San Diego’s top brain experts say our region is well positioned to be named a hub for Alzheimer’s research by the federal government.

The Alzheimer’s Project is stepping it up and pushing for change. Change is good.

The same goes with where and how we get our energy.

This is not exactly breaking news, but I don’t always see eye-to-eye with San Diego Gas & Electric. We won’t be vacationing together in Hawaii anytime soon.

Study after study has shown that local consumers pay among the highest utility rates in the nation.

For years, I’ve talked up the idea of Community Choice Aggregation, also known as Community Choice Energy. It allows communities to band together to buy and sell electricity and opens the door to competition.

County government is already allowed to shop the energy market. We buy the bulk of our electricity from providers other than SDG&E.

This saved taxpayers $3.4 million last year -- and over time has saved us $23 million.

If the County can shop for energy, why not the rest of us? Why not ratepayers, school districts and others?

There are now 19 community choice programs in California, serving eight million people. One of them is Solana Beach. Many have been able to offer highly competitive rates compared to the big utilities.

Eight local cities are moving toward energy choice -- Encinitas, La Mesa, Santee, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Del Mar, Carlsbad and San Diego.

It’s time we do the same. Later this month, Supervisor Fletcher and I will ask this Board to move forward on community choice energy.

We want to look at teaming with San Diego and other local governments on a joint effort.

Everyone deserves freedom of choice!

But there’s more…

We need to press state officials to cut or drop a new fee that kicked in last month. It punishes ratepayers for joining community choice programs – and rewards SDG&E!

Clearly, the energy market is rigged against ratepayers. The California Public Utilities Commission is supposed to watchdog SDG&E and the other utility monopolies -- not kowtow to them!

The power needs to shift to ratepayers.

I want to thank Gov. Newsom for starting to clean house. He recently appointed consumer advocate Genevieve Shiroma to the commission. And he’ll have the chance to appoint all new commissioners during his term.

With this rebooted Board, we have a great opportunity to dig deep on energy and other big issues.

We’re able to do this because of our solid finances and fiscal discipline. We’ve got cash on hand and we’re ready to spend it where it will do the most good for the most people.

I started this speech by saying there wouldn’t be any patting ourselves on the back. I fudged a little.

The County has more than $745 million in projects that will be completed or started in the next two years…

A new nature center in Santa Ysabel… a library in Lakeside... a campground in the Tijuana River Valley… a Live Well Center in southeastern San Diego… and an enhanced regional emergency communication system – just to name a few.

When all is said and done, public safety must remain our top priority. Above all else, folks in our region expect government to protect their families and neighborhoods.

I talked this morning about several major issues. Nearly all of them are tied to public safety.

Wildfire, housing, homelessness, mental health, drug abuse, seniors with dementia – all deeply affect our families, our neighborhoods, our communities.

Our Sheriff’s deputies, prosecutors, firefighters and others are on the front lines of those in crisis.

They deal with the consequences. They look for solutions. Many of them risk their lives each and every day to keep us safe.

We owe it to them, and owe it to our residents, to take on the big challenges.

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for San Diego County, and I ask you to join me in the fight.

Thank you.