SUPERVISOR 5TH DISTRICT COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO
September 14, 2009
If it's broke, fix it!
Last month, at the National Association of Counties (NACo) annual conference in Tennessee, I was asked by people from around the nation why our State is in such a financial mess. After all, if you broke off California from the United States and made it into its own country, California would be one of the tenth largest economies in the world.
Despite that economic muscle, my answer was that the State legislature is incapable of managing whatever money comes its way, in good times or bad. The latest “balanced” checkbook was only achieved when legislators found extra checks and wrote more drafts. There is no movement or political will to make significant and long-lasting fiscal reform.
I explained to attendees that the Board of Supervisors regularly sends Sacramento suggestions on how to balance the budget. The most recent suggestions came in a letter I sent to Governor Schwarzenegger last June that included:
Unfortunately, these and other suggestions were more likely put in the “suspense” file or “circular” file.
At the NACo conference, three government affairs representatives from the White House, including Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development told us, “We want your candor as to what the relationship should be between NACo and the federal government . . . you will be invited to the table. We wish you to dine with us.”
As you know, I have urged the federal government to reimburse the County of San Diego for millions of dollars we are forced to spend each year for services to people who are in our country illegally. Those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps if I had dinner at the White House (or a beer summit in the garden), I would get action on our message; but I doubt it.
Conference attendees heard promises from the federal government that they would overhaul how transportation funding is awarded. It was expressed that funding should be determined less by the mode of transportation and more by priorities set by communities that meet their growth and unique needs. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said the administration wants to directly fund metro regions, which now receive their money via state pass.
There were discussions of the true cost and long term impacts of wildfire when it comes to the impact on water supply systems and public health as well as transportation and energy conveyance infrastructure; something we deal with on a regular basis.
Following a session on counties partnering with the federal government for veterans’ services, I concluded we are head and shoulders above what others are doing. Our new web site for veterans and active duty members www.sandiego.networkofcare.org is one example of how we are caring for their needs.
As bleak as the State’s financial condition is; I take heart in how the County of San Diego goes about the business of governance. It is helping us weather the worst of times and with determination, tough decisions and the continued dedication of our County team of professionals—we’ll stay on course for the people we serve.
In this edition of the “Word,” I’ll be sharing my thoughts on several key issues, including a visit from Australian public safety officials, more progress on widening Highway 76, building a park along the San Luis Rey River and another milestone for our agricultural community.
A Visit from “Down Under”
From left to right, Supervisor Horn, Genevieve Slattery,
Minister Steve Whan & Keith Harrap
This month, at my invitation, we welcomed public safety officials from New South Wales, Australia, for a two-day visit. Their time with us has helped their region and the County of San Diego’s efforts to prepare for and suppress wind-driven wildfires.
Our backcountry and portions of New South Wales have similar climates and a history of major wildfires. We realized we can learn a lot from each other. They’ve now seen firsthand the advances we’ve made preventing and dealing with fire emergencies.
On August 17, Cal-Fire and the Sheriff’s Department provided a fly-over tour of the 2007 Witch and Harris Fire Paths. I was on board with Steve Whan, Minister for Emergency Services for New South Wales, his Chief of Staff Genevieve Slattery, and Assistant Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Keith Harrap.
After a lengthy roundtable discussion covering many shared challenges and successes combating wildfires in Australia and San Diego County, the Australians watched a fire-fighting helicopter demonstration put on by the Sheriff’s ASTREA team at Gillespie Field in El Cajon. Later, they toured the Emergency Operations Center in Kearny Mesa and concluded their visit with a meeting over lunch where local fire officials and county staff briefed the Australians on the recently formed San Diego County Fire Authority and public outreach efforts.
Even though we already employ similar fire-fighting techniques and strategies, we’ll continue to learn from the areas where we’re different by looking at best practices in both regions and how we can implement them.
Minister Whan was impressed with the County’s Reverse 9-1-1 and evacuation planning procedures, as well as recent vegetation management efforts and fire-safety standards the County imposes on new structures.
After the second day, we all came away knowing we can learn a lot from each other. The visit was a crucial first step in creating what I believe will be a lasting and beneficial dialogue between two regions a half a world apart.
Another Piece to the Park
Our vision of building a 9-mile linear park along the San Luis Rey River in the Bonsall area moved another step ahead with the Board setting a hearing next month to buy a 95-acre parcel of land located along Highway 76.
The park will protect sensitive habitat and offer active and passive recreation opportunities, including non-motorized, multi-use trails and sports fields. When completed the park will be the largest project in the history of the County and at the same time make good on our promise to widen Highway 76.
The parcel is currently owned by the Bonsall Land Group, LLC and will cost nearly $3.4 million. The transaction would be in two parts and would serve to ensure maximum cooperation with Caltrans’ future right of way acquisition for construction and improvement of State Route 76 from the Old Bonsall Bridge to Interstate 15.
To date, the County has acquired 266 acres and the Board recently approved the purchase of an additional 139 acres within the boundary of the park. Acquisition of the 95 acres of land involves a public hearing set for September 16, 2009 at which time a final decision will be made and could bring the total County-owned acreage to 500.
Fallbrook Library Update
I am pleased to report that on October 15, 2009, we will officially break ground for construction of the new Fallbrook Branch Library. The entire community has shown great cooperation with our office and county departments and now we are closer to a dream come true.
The firm of Ferguson, Pape, and Baldwin Architects is completing construction drawings. LEED Silver certification, a functional ‘green” roof and other sustainable features will contribute to a truly innovative design, one that has already won a Society of American Registered Architects Award for Excellence. The Fallbrook Community Design Review Board Committee and Design Review Board unanimously approved the architectural concept by Manuel Oncina Architects design in late July.
The Friends of the Fallbrook Library are working with local and regional artists to further enhance the design with creative elements, such as artistic gates, suspended soft sculptures, lithography, a shade structure and an entryway trellis.
In preparation for construction, the County signed a contract with C.W. Driver for a temporary site for the library at 113 S. Main Avenue, located several blocks away from the future permanent site. When that move is made, we anticipate no interruption in library services.
Demolition of the current building is estimated to start in late October or early November, with construction of the new library, which will be double the size of the existing structure, estimated for the end of December 2010.
Online for Vets
I want to encourage all veterans, active military personnel and their families to use the County’s new website for veterans, which was launched in July. The website is aimed at assisting veterans and service members. As part of a national system, the community-based website, www.sandiego.networkofcare.org, is a state-of-the-art, online resource that provides information about county, state, and federal services and organizations for veterans. The site also offers information on local mental health counseling, addiction treatment, emergency housing and employment assistance.
We think this resource is extremely important, especially in anticipation of the 1.5 million veterans who are expected to return to the U.S. over the next two years.
Our Health and Humans Services Agency, under the leadership of Nick Macchione, are developing new mental health services using funding from the Mental Health Services Act.
Growing During Tough Times
San Diego County farmers are a remarkable group of people and the latest numbers from our Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures shows an incredible recession-defying performance.
For the second straight year, local growers produced a record-breaking year despite the economic recession and drought conditions. The value of the production is more than $1.5 billion, a one-percent increase compared to 2007 values.
Crops that increased in value include bedding plants, avocados, eggs, cut flowers and foliage, and herbs. Leading the list at $319.1 million is indoor flowering and foliage plants, followed closely at $304.3 million by ornamental trees and shrubs. Avocados are the highest food crop at nearly $145 million.
We rank number one in the nation in the production value of
avocados, nursery and floriculture.
San Diego County has the 16th largest agricultural economy in the nation and has more farms than any county in America, with almost 7,000. Our wide variety of microclimates, allow the farms to produce more than 200 different commodities.
For more information on this and agriculture in general in San Diego County, please visit www.sdcounty.ca.gov/awm/.
In San Diego County when the going gets tough, the tough “keep growing.”
County Administration Center 1600 Pacific Highway San Diego, CA 92101 tel: (619) 531-5555 fax: (619) 685-2662
North County office: 325 S. Melrose Ave., Suite 5200, Vista, CA 92081 tel: (760) 806-2400 fax: (760) 806-2404