STATE OF THE COUNTY ADDRESS

February 13, 2013

 

By GREG COX

Chairman, San Diego County Board of Supervisors


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Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is my honor to welcome you to the 2013 State of the County address on board the USS Midway Museum. The Midway was named for the site of a turning point in World War II, where the U.S. Pacific fleet dealt a decisive blow to enemy forces. She served for 47 years, and saw action in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.  I recently learned that the County’s own Chief Operating Officer Don Steuer actually landed a helicopter on the Midway when he served in Operation Desert Shield.  I’m proud of the fact that we have hundreds of County employees who are veterans of military service. I am thrilled to have this museum anchored in my supervisorial district.

As we gather here on this historic ship, let us not forget that even at this moment, we have San Diegans serving in all branches of the armed forces and risking their lives in Afghanistan and in other dangerous hotspots around the world.  We are keeping them in our minds and in our hearts tonight.

The sacrifice and bravery of our armed forces have been unwavering throughout our nation’s long and rich history. I am reminded of that each time I visit the living legends who reside at the California Veterans Home in Chula Vista. Tonight, I am honored to host several of these hometown heroes. They are sitting in the front row and I invite them to stand so we can thank them.

More than 220,000 veterans and 110,000 active-duty military personnel make their homes in San Diego County. That is the largest concentration of military personnel in the world.  They represent the greatness that is America, our core belief that our government is of the people,by the people, and for the people. And nowhere does that American spirit shine brighter than in local government, the government that is closest to the people. In County government, we dedicate ourselves each and every day to our core mission of ensuring safe neighborhoods, sustainable environments and healthy families. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the state of your County government is good.  We have met the many difficult challenges of the past several years. And we stand prepared to meet the equally difficult challenges we will face in the years to come.

County finances are solid. There is no better indication of that fiscal strength than the Triple A bond ratings we continue to receive in spite of enduring the toughest financial period most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Wall Street rating agencies call the County’s financial outlook stable.  That’s a real compliment. The County is stable, but certainly not static. Our unwavering financial discipline allows us to meet the ongoing needs of our communities and to stay prepared for emergencies and unexpected events that might come our way.  It also allows us to plan for the future. This Board has been resolute in its belief that we must take advantage of our strong fiscal position to ensure we replace outdated, inefficient County facilities with modern, energy-saving buildings that enable our employees to better serve the public.  We believe that the investments we are making in infrastructure today will meet our community’s needs for generations yet to come. 

If you’ve been to the Kearny Mesa area lately, you’ve seen a brand new County Operations Center. Supervisor Ron Roberts was the driving force behind this new campus, where we have centralized our services, making it easier for the public to do business with the County.  This coming December, we’ll add a new facility for the Registrar of Voters at that complex and, we’re paying for it entirely in cash.  Under construction right now is a new, 300-million-dollar Las Colinas women’s detention facility, 200 million dollars of which we paid for in cash. In fact, we’ve paid cash for most of the capital projects we’ve completed in recent years, saving you, the taxpayer, over 1.5 billion dollars in financing costs. 

These are not only smartinvestments that don’t burden your kids and grandkids with long term debt, but they are sustainable too.  Our buildings consistently receive top honors for leadership in energy and environmental design.

We’ve broken ground on the new 11-acre Waterfront Park at the County Administration Center that will be the iconic front porch of San Diego Bay.  It will include an expansive civic lawn with fountains that stretch three city blocks, tropical gardens and a play area for kids and families.  It opens next year.  And, incidentally, this July we’ll be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the completion of the historic County Administration Center.

My colleagues and I are elected to make sound policy decisions for the benefit of the public we serve.  But all the good policy making in the world doesn’t make an organization run the way it’s supposed to run. For that, we rely on 16,000 dedicated, hard working public servants who are committed to making County government as efficient and effective as it can be. They are led by our new Chief Administrative Officer, Helen Robbins-Meyer, the first woman to hold that position in the County’s history. Helen is a terrific leader with a strong executive background in both the public and private sectors. She is at ease with the responsibilities of managing a five billion dollar organization with hundreds of functions of government.  We are fortunate to have her at the helm.

We often hear people say that government should run like a business.   

But government is not a business.  Government has civil service rules. Government has multiple layers of state and federal mandates. Government must be transparent and accountable to the people it serves in a far different way than business. No, running a government is not like running a business. But embedding sound business disciplines in the culture of an organization is something every government should do. And your County government consistently receives national recognition for doing just that. Our shareholders are the taxpayers and the public, and we want them to thrive. 

Your County government thrives because of innovation. Our dedicated employees recognize the importance of using technology to drive necessary change.  And this year will be no different.  We are developing new mobile applications that allow you to access County services from the palm of your hand.  This year, we will unveil a new app that will put the entire San Diego County Library System at your fingertips. Find the nearest branch library, reserve a book, and even check out electronic materials all from your mobile device.

Even in the digital age, libraries are the heart of a community. We’ve built five new libraries over the last five years, and completed a major expansion on two others. Our libraries are the finest in the nation, and that’s not just me saying it. Last year, the San Diego County Library was named the Library of the Year by a leading national publication. And this year, we celebrate the San Diego County Library’s Centennial!

And it just keeps getting better. Just three weeks ago, I dedicated a new library in the unincorporated community of Lincoln Acres.  That library has already become the hub of the community.  This year I’m going to partner with the City of Imperial Beach, a small city with a big wish for a new library.  Together, we’re going to identify a lead donor and start making the dream a reality for the people of this southwestern corner of our County.

Libraries aren’t the only way to get digital information. On your way in you should have received a blue wristband. This wristband is also a flash drive that contains preloaded links and useful information about the many important things the County does. This flash drive is another innovation to help you navigate County services. 

The San Diego region is no stranger to innovation. With our growing bio-tech, high-tech and defense sectors, along with our port and border, our region is perfectly positioned to be one of the great economies of the Pacific Rim.

We already have a “Blue Economy” of over 14 billion dollars. This fast-growing cluster gives us one of the most unique regional economies in the world and can be a catalyst to create new jobs in San Diego. I’m talking about everything from shipbuilding to underwater robotics, aquaculture and desalination technology. It is one of the next big things for San Diego and with my own supervisorial district surrounded by San Diego Bay, I will work to fire up this economic engine.

This County, and my district in particular, also encompasses two of the busiest border crossings in the world. I will keep pushing to ensure critical infrastructure is constructed to improve the flow of 33 billion dollars worth of commerce across our international border with Mexico.  Our unincorporated area on the border has unlimited potential to attract businesses and I am not going to let up on marketing that potential.  This economic potential, along with our intellectual capital, work ethic and small businesses will lead San Diego out of this stubborn national recession.

My colleagues and I know that we need to take every possible action to create and maintain good jobs in the County and foster the economic growth of our region. We’re doing our part by making life easier for business. Last year, Supervisor Bill Horn championed the elimination of costly and unnecessary red tape and led the effort to create a new Planning & Development Services Department to usher in a new eraof customer service and efficiency.

Customers can search records, apply for building permits and research zoning information through a new online portal without having to step foot into a County office. We will be closely monitoring the progress of our new department to ensure we are providing the kind of excellent service that you deserve.

Like a well-run business, the County constantly identifies and mitigates risks.

Perhaps the biggest risk we face in 2013 is realignment -- the shift of criminals who should be incarcerated in California state prisons, or on California state parole, but have now shifted to county custody. This is a direct result of the State of California’s inability to get control of its out-of-control budget. Let me not mince words about this:  The realignment of state prisoners to county control is a significant public safety risk to our community.  There are people on our streets who shouldn’t be there. Over the years, San Diego County has had to deal with all sorts of problems dumped on us by Sacramento. We’ve handled those problems and we’ll deal with this one as well.

We are blessed with the finest public safety team in California. And I do mean team.  The collaboration among public safety organizations in this region is the envy of every California county.  And true to form, our team has mobilized to meet this challenge.

We are building a new 400-bed jail specially designed for inmates serving longer sentences than County jail inmates have typically served.  We recognize that to make realignment work, we must do things differently than we have in the past.  And that means creating a path for inmates to successfully re-enter the community and break the devastating cycle of addiction and crime.  The new jail is designed as a re-entry facility where inmates can get counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, housing and job skills. And once offenders are released, they are being strictly monitored.  Many in custody of the Sheriff, as well as Probation, will now be under high-tech surveillance with electronic monitoring.

We are also beefing up our mental health, drug and alcohol programs.  Our goal is to expand rehabilitation opportunities to enable newly released inmates to live safely in our neighborhoods.  Those who don’t choose to take advantage of these opportunities will most likely find themselves back in jail. 

Public safety emergencies are not always instigated by the bad guys.  Nobody knows this better than Supervisor Dianne Jacob, whose leadership spurred dramatic improvements to the County’s ability to handle dangerous wildfires and other natural disasters.

We constantly improve our disaster preparedness capabilities.

In 2013, we begin a five-year process to replace our aging police and fire radio communications system for first responders.  This won’t come cheap.  But it reflects the priority this Board places on protecting the people of San Diego County.

Nearly ten years ago, this County initiated a reverse 911 system to warn the public and provide information and direction in a time of crisis.  It has certainly exceeded our expectations.  But this year, we will fully implement the newest version of mass notification systems that will greatly increase our ability to communicate with County residents during disasters. The new version of the Reverse 911 system called AlertSanDiego can send bilingual messages by enabling users to designate if they prefer their alerts in Spanish. We will also be able to send messages that are tailored for the hearing or sight impaired.

When I chaired this board during the wildfires of 2003, I was troubled by a lack of coordination between governments in our region, particularly between the County and the City of San Diego. Fortunately, things have improved dramatically since then. But we can do better. I have spoken at length to newly elected Mayor Bob Filner about the possibilities for greater communication between our two organizations.  As is his nature, Bob has already jumped in with both feet. He strongly agreed that we will have closer communication and cooperation between our two governments during emergencies.  Mayor Filner and I will be working on a number of important issues in the coming year. But Bob, I’m not going to help you plan your wedding!

Since becoming Supervisor, I have made it one of my highest priorities to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children; the abused and neglected children who were removed by a Court from their biological families.  While our goal is to try to reunite those children with their families, sometimes the family environment does not improve enough to accommodate a child’s return.  Nobody knows this better than our new Supervisor, Dave Roberts. And Dave, that is why I’m looking forward to working with you to improve the lives of foster children, and to make it easier for them to be adopted into loving homes.

To reach our goal of helping foster kids successfully transition into adulthood, our board didn’t stop with creation of the San Pasqual Academy 12 years ago.  Five years ago, we launched a program called School Success.  It created a new breed of social workers to help foster kids address challenges at home that are interfering with their education. As a result of this initiative, high school graduation rates among our foster youth countywide have skyrocketed: from a 50% graduation rate more than a decade ago to over 79% today.

This year we’re going to tackle a new challenge. While most senior citizens experience the joy of occasionally babysitting grandkids and spoiling them rotten, there are many grandparents in our community who have a far larger responsibility: they are actually raising their children’s children.

In our county, grandparents have assumed this responsibility for more than 24,000 children. I have been talking to grandparents who tell me they feel out of touch and poorly equipped to meet the needs of the children they are raising.

Grandparents must navigate a complex maze of health, education and social services, and deal with unfamiliar dangers like synthetic drugs sold in convenience stores and sexual predators prowling social networking sites. Many of the children suffer from physical and emotional problems, due to the very situations that may have led to their placement with their grandparents. 

We need to raise public awareness on this issue. This year, I will bring together community partners to host region-wide symposiums for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren to get them the help they need and deserve. 

We will create a supportive self-help network and develop an online handbook with a comprehensive list of resources.  Our goal is to plug these grandparents into this network of people and programs to make sure these families can stay together. 

Supporting families is an important piece of the County’s comprehensive initiative to improve health and well-being in this region – a vision we call “Live Well, San Diego!” 

We launched “Live Well, San Diego” three years ago. Our goal is to build better health in our community by stemming the tidal wave of chronic diseases and rising healthcare costs.  We know that three behaviors, (lack of exercise, poor nutrition and tobacco use), lead to four chronic conditions (heart disease/stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer and respiratory diseases), which accounted for more than 50% of all deaths in the region last year.  Working with community partners and health providers, we are empowering San Diegans to make healthier choices.

It’s often been said that a civilized society can be judged by how well it treats its most vulnerable. This year, we will focus on keeping chronically-ill seniors and persons with disabilities out of the revolving door of hospitals.  Many individuals are confused by the healthcare system.  They have trouble caring for themselves, managing medications and understanding the often complex instructions from doctors.  The challenge is even greater for individuals who lack support from family or friends.

That is why we’re creating a pilot program to reach out to individuals released from hospitals to help them better manage their health and begin caring for themselves. Coordinating health and social services like in-home care, transportation and home-delivered meals is a giant step in improving the health of these patients.  Early results already indicate a dramatic reduction in hospital readmission rates and reduced costs for taxpayers.

A big part of living well is fresh air and exercise.  We operate more than 45,000 acres of park land, rich with natural habitat and wildlife. We also provide the public with hundreds of programs, and thousands of events and recreation activities. I know I’m biased, but I believe San Diego County has a system of regional parks that are the best in the nation. Others must agree because, last year, our Parks department was named the national environmental agency of the year by the National Recreation and Park Association.  

And technology makes things so easy. Looking for a County park near you?  There’s an app for that.  Want to reserve a specific camp site at one of our regional parks? Do it online.  

Our regional parks are complimented by one of the most diverse trailsystems in the nation, winding more than 300 miles across the county. We will eventually build more than 1,000 miles of trails.

Perhaps the most significant is the California Coastal Trail, stretching from the Oregon border to the Mexican border.  Visitors will see, smell, or hear the ocean as they hike the 1,200 miles of trails of our golden coastline. My goal is to make San Diego County the first county in the state to complete the California Coastal Trail.

One of the little-known jewels of this region is the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park. The park lies in the path of the Pacific Flyway, and is designated an area of global significance because it is home to more than 370 species of birds. I am working to obtain full funding for habitat restoration and the completion of 22 miles of trails planned for the park. The trail system will connect with the national wildlife refuge and with Border Field State Park, the only place in Southern California where you can still ride a horse on the beach.

Our beaches define San Diego.  And San Diegans expect them to be safe.  That is why we must embrace the latest science in beach water testing.  At our next board meeting, I will ask my colleagues to support a new method for testing bacteria that will dramatically reduce the wait times for lab results. Instead of it taking 24 to 48 hours, we will have same day results, helping to protect public health. 

San Diego is a beach town. It is also quickly becoming one of the best bicycling regions in the nation. For many years, I have had the fortune of working on a grand vision of creating a 24-mile world-class bike path around San Diego Bay.  The Bayshore Bikeway is now more than 60 percent complete.

Wouldn’t it be nice to ride your bike across the bay? A local architect and some interested citizens have been exploring the possibility of securing a bicycle/pedestrian tube under the San Diego/Coronado Bay Bridge. Now, this is just a concept and will have to be vetted to make sure that it doesn’t impede military operations, can gain Caltrans approval and is acceptable to Coronado and Barrio Logan residents.

In any case, I am confident we will finish the bikeway around the bay in the next five years, providing an opportunity to experience a healthy lifestyle and enjoy all San Diego Bay has to offer.

I wish all problems could be fixed in the next five years.  Some just take longer.  The County will invest more than 200 million dollars this year to address homelessness through programs uniquely designed to deal with the core problems that land people on the street.  One of the most important steps we are taking to reduce homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place.  Every day, County employees and our nonprofit partners help struggling families find jobs, put food on the table and secure health care for their kids. Yet, with the current economic conditions, we still see the number of homeless rising.  These new faces on the streets are a reflection of the growing complexity of the problem.

Sadly, some of the “new faces” include foster youth who have passed the age where they can stay in foster homes.  We are making a renewed effort to prepare these young people for a more successful transition into adulthood. We are offering them the opportunity to remain in foster homes if they agree to continue with their education, gain critical job skills, or find a job.  Through community partnerships, we leverage resources to offer safe transitional housing to keep them from falling into the dreadful national statistics on homeless former foster youth.

Homelessness has hit one population especially hard -- our returning veterans. San Diego County is unique with regard to veterans. The military is a big part of our history. We are the very birthplace of naval aviation. I am committed to honoring and assisting all of our veterans. This means helping returning veterans find jobs, housing and assistance with social, mental health, alcohol and drug services. We’ve made available County housing vouchers to take more than 300 homeless veterans and their families off the streets. We are working closely with a number of cities and nonprofit agencies to identify needs and bring in resources. Last year, our partnership successfully competed for nearly 16 million dollars in federal funding for more than 50 programs serving the homeless. Through the County‘s Courage to Call program, 2-1-1 San Diego connects veterans with other veterans and links them to a wide range of resources.

Fortunately, we have some real heroes in this just and noble cause to help the homeless. One of those heroes has made it his personal mission.

Last year, we launched a tradition of bestowing a Chairman’s Award -- a bronze replica of the iconic Guardian of the Water statue that presides over the entrance to the historic County Administration Center. 

This year, it is my honor as Chairman to present this award to someone who has made an extraordinary difference in our community. Tonight’s recipient is the co-founder of a uniquely San Diego program called Stand Down that has been replicated at more than 240 events across the nation. The success of Stand Down has been highlighted to the nation by “60 Minutes.” But, rather than hear it from me, let’s look at this brief segment that aired on “60 Minutes.”

This past year, as Stand Down celebrated a quarter century, more than one thousand veterans were given food, shelter and a helping hand up. Dr. Jon Nachison is the Chief of Psychology at Bayview Psychiatric and Paradise Valley Hospitals in National City and he remains the driving force behind Stand Down. He is proof that one individual can make a world of difference in the lives of the many. Jon, please accept this award.

Thank you, Jon.

I know very well that one person cannot change the world.  But I do believe each one of us can make a real difference when we get out of bed in the morning, and, that we can change our part of the world.  That’s my personal resolution in 2013 – to lead a County that makes a positive difference in the lives of its citizens each and every day.

I hope you’ll join with me in a commitment this year to use our talents, our skills and ourenergy to help ourcommunity thrive.  I look forward to working alongside you to do just that.

Thank you again.  Good evening. God bless you and God bless the United States of America!