03/20/08

STATE OF NORTH COUNTY ADDRESS 2008

(Note: the following is a general outline of the Supervisor’s speech and is not a transcript of the actual address)

Today I want to share my vision for 2008 on a local level, but, first; I’d like to reflect on the past.

Four years ago when I delivered my State of North County Address, I talked about the horrific fires that swept much of San Diego County in late 2003.

Tragically, nearly four years to the day—fires ravaged our County again.

We learned many lessons from 2003 and have acted accordingly. We called for a full-time, firefighting helicopter and, today, the County owns two choppers—with one stationed permanently in Fallbrook.

Today, Cal Fire stations are open year round.

The County has also upgraded our emergency communications systems. We built a new state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center, updated building codes, and created a way to respond better during crisis. We have also fostered a spirit of cooperation with officials from every city in the County.

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In 2006, when I was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, I made disaster preparedness the theme. We implemented the Fire Enhancement Program, and we used millions of dollars for training and purchasing new equipment for our firefighters. We bought helicopters and mailed Family Survival Guides to every household and business in the County.

I was proud of how millions of people in our County responded to Firestorm 2007. From the first puff of smoke, our Emergency Operations Center under the leadership of Ron Lane; went into action.

First responders rushed to the front lines and exhibited extraordinary heroism to save lives and property under near-combat conditions.

During the first days of the fire, more people were safely evacuated from danger than any single event in the history of the United States.

Two entire hospitals in Fallbrook and Poway and a psychiatric facility in North County were safely evacuated. Pomerado Hospital alone was evacuated by 10 ambulances and 23 school buses.

Our Medical Operations Center coordinated this entire effort by involving strike teams, transportation companies, military base hospitals and private hospital staffs.

The hospitals, in cooperation with Emergency Services had evacuation plans in place and they worked. Also, thanks to a combination of Reverse 911 notification and old-fashioned door-to-door alerts; people were able to get out of harm’s way.

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We saw the success of the County’s “Fire Safe Communities” with “Shelter-in-Place” as an option, and a defensive building plan, allowing residents in Cielo, 4S Ranch, The Bridges and Crosby to remain at home if evacuation was not possible. We updated building codes in response to the Cedar/Paradise fires as the County looked at development from a firefighter’s point-of-view. Not one home was lost in those areas with Shelter-in-Place.

Months of removing nearly 500,000 dead, dying or diseased trees on Palomar Mountain paid off by clearing fuel for the fire; though we must do even better in the future. We saved that entire mountain.

We put County funding to good use and brought new firefighting trucks and emergency vehicles to the fire departments of North County. My Fifth District discretionary funds provided life-saving resources for volunteer fire departments in North County, including Fire Barricade Gel for Vista and Palomar Mountain. Over the past three years, our Board of Supervisors has secured 13 Water Tenders, 13 Type 2 Engines, 1 Light & Air Unit, 2 Interlace Rescue Engines and 1 Mobile Emergency GIS Trailer. The majority of which were used to fight the fires in our backcountry last Fall.

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We have already begun to act on the lessons learned from the 2007 fires. I called a meeting with my North County Fire Chiefs in January, where we openly discussed our next steps and areas to improve. Supervisor Ron Roberts and I asked for cost estimates for buying up to 50 new fire trucks. I’ve allocated $80,000 worth of fire proof gel to the Fire Safe Councils of North County. We have begun studying ways of restructuring our fire services, and we have formed a regional committee to dig into the details of these proposals. Chief Bill Metcalf of Fallbrook and Chief Kevin Crawford of Carlsbad bring decades of experience and knowledge to this committee and I am proud that they are representing North County.

As we move forward, I will be directing our Chief Administrative Officer, Walt Ekard, to assess un-cleared brush and vegetation in high-risk areas. And, we will be looking to support state and federal legislation that will allow us to clear firebreaks.
Safety must come first.

Our volunteer firefighters have been a sometimes forgotten, but always vital link in the fire protection system in this County. I’ll be asking our CAO to look at covering workers compensation insurance costs for these volunteers, as well as writing grant proposals for them so they can bring in more money for training and resources. We will continue our support for our volunteers.

In addition, we waived building permits for fire victims and appropriated $2 million to activate soil erosion and re-seeding efforts. San Diego Gas & Electric, AT & T, Time Warner, water authorities and others worked to get people reconnected. Our Public Works and Environmental Health staff members were among many who stayed on the job, non-stop, repairing roads and removing debris.

We have also expanded our emergency notification system, offering all county residents the chance to register their cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses at AlertSanDiego.com.

Each of our 17,000 County employees continues to have a helping role during the aftermath of Firestorm 2007. I’m proud of their amazing team effort and pledge to do everything we can to rebuild our North County. But the fires are not going away. We need to be diligent.

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Unfortunately, there is an element that is still determined to destroy us in another way. I am talking about the plague of street gangs in North County.

To combat gang activity, we now have the North County Gang Commission, which I created and brought forward with Supervisor Pam Slater-Price.

I am proud to have Ken Noonan, Kathy Valdez, Dick High, and Serge Duarte as the founding commissioners from District 5. Their expertise and commitment to our community make them ideal leaders of this important project.

This is more than “just another commission.” These are experts from education, law enforcement, business, social and health services and young people formerly involved in gangs.

I wanted a commission free from political influence as much as possible and I believe we have done that with this commission.

Due to the number of different jurisdictions, when it comes to combating gang activity, coordination for the entire region has been nearly impossible. Because many of the North County cities are smaller in size; forming a collaborative partnership will provide a better opportunity to receive grant funding and form taskforces that will benefit the entire community.

Now is the time to act on the success of our law enforcement agencies. Now is the time to bring together programs and ideas to prevent kids from entering gangs, and intervene for those who can still be saved. The children and families of North County deserve the chance to live in safe neighborhoods.

We need to stop the cycle of pushing gang members along the 78 corridor.

It begins with hearing ideas from our community partners who are on the front lines. From that we’ll form an action plan—and then you have my word, we will take action!

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A significant number of street gangs are made up of people who are in this country illegally.

In September of last year, the results of a study on illegal immigration were presented to the Board by two respected researchers, Dr. John Weeks and Dr. David Eisenberg. I called for this study during my Chairmanship because I knew this issue was a burden to taxpayers.

Even I wasn’t prepared for the astounding results.

We learned the undocumented population has been growing at twice the rate of the County’s population. In 1990, we estimated 3.2% were undocumented. In 2007, that estimate was 6.8%!

The total cost per legal resident to provide County services in 2006 was $35.31. If you add to that the cost per legal resident that our hospitals bear, the total cost per legal resident soars to $89.21.

I guarantee you that if someone put a Proposition on the ballot and asked voters to approve paying $89.21 a year for services to undocumented immigrants—it would be met with a resounding “NO”!

It was time for a plan, so I met with Congressman Brian Bilbray, Chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, and identified three ways that we may see actual reimbursement to the County.

  • First, information sharing between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement agencies is essential. This will give our local deputies and officers a way to identify criminal aliens before they commit another crime.
  • Secondly, the Social Security Administration has an “earnings suspense file.” That file holds funds paid by persons with Social Security numbers that do not match the SSA’s records. Because this fund includes dollars paid by illegal immigrants, it stands to reason that a portion of those funds be allocated to local governments to cover their expenses.
  • Lastly, Section 1011 of the Medicare Modernization Act set aside money to cover some of the costs of uncompensated care for local hospitals. A portion of the fund is still left in the pool and we’d like to get that money to our local hospitals.

We have continued to pressure the federal government on a border policy that really is designed to fail and will continue to push for reimbursement for this federal problem. In April, when I visit Washington D.C., I will once again bring these issues up to our Congressional Delegation

I’ve been privileged to speak out locally and to a national audience on Fox News about what’s happening to our County. With Sean Hannity, it was his series on illegal immigration. With Neal Cavuto, I debated an activist who saw nothing wrong with Mexican airlines flying people at cut-rate prices to the border and then having the return flights virtually empty.

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Despite the strain put on our healthcare providers due to the cost of illegal immigration, our Health and Human Services Agency North Regions under the leadership of Nick Macchione has made great strides this year. The North Regions team developed and implemented the award winning Mobile Remote Workforce. MRW began as a pilot program in North County designed to streamline and modernize the work of our Public Health Nurses. They serve over 40,000 infants, children and adults a year, using cutting-edge technology such as web-based referrals and wireless, electronic tablets. What resulted was an estimated cost avoidance of over $8 million in taxpayer’s dollars over three years. The Mobile Remote Workforce is currently being implemented County-wide through the Public Health Centers.

Not only is HSSA saving tax dollars, they are putting tax dollars back in your pockets. In 2004, the Board of Supervisors launched a County-wide program to provide free tax preparation to low-income workers to help San Diegans take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Since then, nearly 6,000 returns have been filed in North County resulting in over 2.6 million EITC dollars brought to the regional economy. This year, we have 14 free tax preparation sites in North County. As we approach the April 15 tax deadline, I encourage all of our citizens to take advantage of this program and bring these dollars back to our hard working families.

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Yet another way the County is helping families is by bringing communities together to their local libraries. Last year, we opened a library in 4-S Ranch, the fifth one I’ve been able to help build since taking office. And we are expanding the library in Borrego Springs.

One of the projects I’m committed to seeing through to completion is building a new library for Fallbrook.

We have cleared the land at the corner of Alvarado Street and Mission Road where the new library will be built and I have committed over $1 million to see it happen. On March 25th the Board of Supervisors will be asked to issue a Request for Proposals for construction. Please join me in supporting this effort.

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We are on the road to getting that library built, and I’m pleased to say that we are making progress on other roads, as well.

Living in Southern California means struggling with traffic. In 13 years of being your Supervisor, I can tell you that traffic is a statewide problem.

The difference between the rest of this state and San Diego County is that we are improving our roads and our traffic issues rapidly, despite a State government that has raided TransNet funds year after year to pay down budget deficits; $5 billion in the last four years.

Billions of dollars that should have gone into transportation improvements have been stolen.

Overcoming political roadblocks for you is part of my job; and I’m thankful to say we have made progress for building our transportation network in North County.
Working with North County legislators at SANDAG, we have ensured that Highway 78 corridor is one of many areas where improvements are being made and I’m proud to say we were able to get new lanes added to the 5 and the 15. Most importantly, Highway 76 will be widened and finished as promised. By offering the San Luis Rey River Park as an incentive, it is making great progress. Last year SANDAG purchased 250 new acres for our park and we are approaching 500 acres.

You’re seeing construction beginning on many improvements today, and more work will be done in the coming years. The County will continue to improve lines of travel between city and County jurisdictions in North County and throughout the region, just as we have with the Santa Fe Road widening project.

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I would like to talk now about what we are doing to preserve our natural resources.

Last year my fellow Supervisors agreed with my recommendation that 234-acres of land in the Escondido Creek watershed area of unincorporated Elfin Forest be purchased and preserved as permanent open space.

We are now working with the Conservation Fund to identify money for the acquisition and have had strong support from Dan Silver, Executive Director of the Endangered Habitats League. We also want to acknowledge the owner of Sage Hill, the Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Town Council, and the Elfin Forest Landscape Foundation for their cooperation with this effort.

We share the owner’s desire to sell the land as permanent open space and passive recreational purposes that reflect a true and lasting commitment to conservation.
I know that many of you may be surprised to learn that I have a “green” side, but my position hasn’t changed. I have always believed that government should pay for open space rather than steal it from private property owners.

Another piece of the County that must be preserved is Rancho Guejito. I continue to support preserving this pristine area and can tell you from personal experience it is worth the effort. In April, I plan to travel to Washington D.C. with Dan Silver to lobby our federal leaders to help fund the acquisition of this property. While we do not currently have a willing seller, I assure you we will keep up the pressure to buy this land. The 22,000 acres of Rancho Guejito are a view to our rich California heritage and I want to see this jewel preserved for future generations.

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Another treasure of North County is also one of the best-kept secrets in the aviation community -- Palomar Airport.

We are building a new $26 million air terminal. The county-owned airfield is one of eight in our system.

The new facility will be six times larger than the present terminal and include high-tech passenger and baggage screening, a permanent U.S. Customs facility, spacious lobby, boarding lounge and restaurant.

The improvements will complement the increasing importance of Palomar as it serves the corporate and private aviation community.

And here’s the best part: No County taxpayer money is being spent on the project. Funds come from airport users and the FAA.

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2007 was a year that once again proved the resolve of your County government.

2008 will bring leadership changes in Washington, D.C.

While on the local level we must be prepared to continue to deal with massive cuts from Sacramento, which has a habit of ordering us to provide services and not fully funding them.

We are still formulating our plan for dealing with this; but I promise you that we will not spend money we do not have and will not take money from our general fund. For the past ten years, we have been excellent financial stewards and have one of the highest credit ratings in the country.

Whatever the challenge, please know we have the best County team in the nation. Our financial stability and numerous awards prove that.

My staff and I are honored to serve the people of North County and look forward to continuing our partnership with you.

I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve achieved together; however, as Ronald Reagan once said, “While I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future.”