03/01/12

State of the North County Speech

Good Morning and Welcome. Thank you for being with us. Thank you, Don & Pat McDougal for hosting this event at the Grand Tradition. If you’ve never been here, be sure to take a look around. It is an exceptional property. Don has been President and CEO since 1996, after more than 25 years in the private business sector. Don is very active in the community, serving on the Board of Directors of the Fallbrook Public Utilities District, Fallbrook Village Association and Fallbrook Beautification Alliance. 

I’m pleased to deliver my State of the North County speech in Fallbrook this year. Known for its rolling hills, majestic oak trees & lush avocado groves… Fallbrook is home to a little over 30-thousand residents. Tucked 6 miles west of I-15, Fallbrook is the "Avocado Capital of the World." It boasts a thriving art community with dozens of art studios, galleries and nationally known artists. 

I have worked hand-in-hand with this community on several projects, most recently the new library and its even newer flagpole. I teamed up with the Friends of the Fallbrook Library, and am proud to report there is now a brand new flagpole in front of the library, as there should be. To prevent this oversight from happening again, last fall, on my recommendation the Board changed its policy to include flagpoles at all new county buildings. 

I have had the honor of serving Fallbrook and San Diego’s North County for 17 years. In January, I wrapped up a successful 2011 as Chairman of the Board. 

When I took over the Chair I made it my number one goal to maintain our Triple-A Bond Rating. Today, I am pleased to report that we accomplished that goal. The County of San Diego has a higher credit rating than both the State of California and the federal government… and that means we save precious taxpayer dollars by borrowing money at a lower rate. It does not come easy, but we have been able to maintain that credit rating with fiscal discipline and tough choices. We’ve operated on a balanced budget and maintained a healthy cash reserve for 9 years. Sacramento continues to throw unfunded mandates our way, but your Board of Supervisors is committed to working within a budget. 

Economic recovery will take time. We see signs now, but we have a long way to go. Great challenges… require choices of great consequence. I will continue battling to reduce bureaucracy, streamline process and make improvements to how your county government does business. We took a giant step this year toward eliminating redundancy & costly delays in land development with the creation of the Red Tape Reduction Task Force. This group of 7 land use professionals met publicly every two weeks for 8 months. In December, they presented their recommendations to the Board… and again yesterday. I believe the changes the task force recommended will help jumpstart our local economy. 

Last year, I facilitated a landmark agreement between the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians and the County of San Diego. It outlines the disbursement of millions of dollars in gaming revenues to the North County. Instead of sending these revenues to a black hole in Sacramento, the money will stay local and go directly toward road improvements, fire protection, emergency medical response, law enforcement, and problem gambling treatment. It is an historic agreement that is a `win-win’ for the Rincon Band and the County… and should serve as a model for future gaming compacts statewide. 

I want to thank Chairman Bo Mazzetti and the Rincon Tribe for all their leadership and perseverance on this issue. 

And here’s some more great news…. the government is giving money back for a change. The county’s financial strength allowed us to pay off bonds a year early and as a result 441 residents of 4S ranch will receive a refund check… totaling half a million dollars! That is not small change! 

New jobs are also a key component to economic recovery. SOITEC, a global leader in semiconductor materials for renewable energy, is creating 450 skilled jobs at their large capacity facility down the road in Rancho Bernardo. I am looking forward to watching them grow in our region. County government is one of the biggest employers in this region. We have a responsibility, especially in this tough economy, to protect businesses and job-seekers by hiring people who are eligible to work in this country. The Board voted to implement E-Verify at the County in September. Based on the huge number of supportive letters, phone calls, and e-mails, in addition to the cost cutting benefits… this was the right thing to do.

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The economy and our recovery weren’t my only priorities this past year. I made a promise to our 250-thousand San Diego Veterans, and I kept my word. That’s what Marines do. I hosted a Veterans’ Conference and Forum, with the help of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Veterans Coalition. We discussed jobs, services available to veterans, coping methods and support systems. This year, we plan to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve veteran support and make significant changes for our patriots. 

Some changes have already been made; like the Avenue of Flags at the Miramar National Cemetery. I was able to secure a grant for 103-thousand dollars to purchase the 50 flagpoles that now line the entrance of the cemetery. Each of the 50 flags was donated by a military family who lost a loved one. It is a moving display of patriotism and I am honored to have played a part in making it happen for our Veterans and their families. For everything given to us by our men and women in uniform, both past and present, I am grateful. I know you are too.

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This past year, the county reached new levels of successful communication during a crisis situation. A massive blackout left San Diego and a large portion of the southwestern region of the US in the dark. The County’s use of Twitter proved how effective & valuable social media can be as a means of emergency communication. With most radio and TV stations down and phone systems overloaded, the Office of Emergency Services sent out emergency information by way of Twitter. The successful flow of information removed panic & uncertainty… so many households were able to relax and enjoy a quiet night together under the stars.

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One of my favorite places to be is out on my ranch. Farms are home, but also our livelihood. They produce food, business for the community and money to support our families. In August, I voted to protect property owners against an unfair and unjust stealing of their property rights during the county’s adoption of a new General Plan. While I was the lone vote against the plan, I know I am not alone in my views. Unfortunately, we land owners and farmers are fighting an uphill battle. The environmentalists seem to think they have the same rights as the property owners. I will continue to fight for property rights as long as I am your County Supervisor!

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As I look to the year ahead, I see the challenges we face with public safety. It is a priority, and always will be. However Assembly Bill 109, otherwise known as Public Safety Realignment, has complicated our job. 

AB 109 allows the state of California to shift the responsibility of housing and supervising felons to local jurisdictions, including San Diego County. Our state made this significant change, without the promise to pay for it. 

We are fortunate to have an extremely high level of cooperation among our public safety partners. The County has an exceptional team of leaders; from the Probation Department to the Sheriff’s Department, DA’s office and Health and Human Services Agency. They all came together and created an effective and detailed plan… without sacrificing the public’s safety. Their efforts should be applauded. We know that we can provide better public safety services than the State, but we cannot allow them to pass the buck without also passing along the bucks. 

In North County, we continue our multi-agency collaboration, the North County Comprehensive Gang Initiative, to reduce gang activity throughout the 78-Corridor. We also have plans to apply for a federal grant this year to help fund our efforts.

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As I’m sure you’ve realized by now, there is an inverse relationship between the things to be done in the North County, and the amount of money available to get them done. But we’ve proven, at the County, to be pretty darn good at making things happen on a budget. 

For example, over half of the County’s miles of roads are located in District 5. Roughly 40-percent of those road miles have undergone some kind of resurfacing or repair in the past 6 years. 

Last month, we began resurfacing projects for 13 major roads. I am also pleased to report that traffic relief is on its way to this community. I collaborated with Congressman Darrell Issa’s office, County Public Works, and the Marines to make improvements to Ammunition Road. If that is part of your commute, you know how traffic to the Naval Weapons Station can back up for miles. Ammunition Road will soon have a second lane. The traffic signals will be synchronized, and changes will be made to the gate which should result in cutting traffic in half. 

As you know, I sit on the SANDAG Transportation Committee as a representative of the North County Transit District. This will be my third consecutive year serving on the Board of Directors. Long term, North County is scheduled to receive 11 1/2 billion dollars in new capital project funding. That money will pay for the widening of I-5 and Highway 76. I fought for years to get the 76 project underway and construction on the middle phase is finally set to begin. 

Also, improvements will be studied for the 78…I-5 interchange so we won’t have to wait at a stoplight to head south on I-5 from the 78. 

There are also plans for double-tracking the coaster line to San oh-NO-fray and replacing eleven bridges along the route… some of which were built before 1920. And parking stations for the Coaster will be built in Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, and San Diego. 

I have also been talking with SANDAG about providing funding for a new station in Camp Pendleton that NCTD and I have been negotiating with the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps. I’ll keep you posted on my efforts.

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From the roadways to the airways… there could be some big changes in store for Palomar Airport. Palomar Airport has brought hundreds of millions of dollars into the North County region. The direct economic impacts are crucial to the health of our region, and I’ve worked tirelessly to make sure the Airport continues to thrive. 

To reduce noise, we installed a state-of-the-art system to track flights and make sure that our pilots are abiding by noise abatement rules. Since the installation, our noise complaints have decreased drastically. We’ve also been able to keep our tenants happy. They have, on their own, paid for nearly $100 million dollars worth of improvements to the airport facilities. 

Last year, we commissioned a study to lengthen Palomar Airport’s runway. I received letters of support from all of the North County Mayors. This expansion will create new jobs, increase business in North County and bolster the already significant economic benefits of the airport. It is time we fulfill the true potential of Palomar Airport.

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Economic recovery, improving our roadways and growing business in North County all top my ‘to-do’ list for 2012. This year, I also want to dig a little deeper and focus on the families in District 5. 

Last March, the State passed Assembly Bill 99 in an attempt to raid the Children’s Trust Fund and steal $1 billion dollars. Twelve counties sued the state, including San Diego. We won and will keep $88.4 million. My goal is to keep these funds local so that they will benefit our children here in San Diego County. 

Our families need to be healthy. “Live Well, San Diego” is the County’s 10-year plan to advance the overall well-being of the entire region. “Building Better Health” has been successful and extremely motivating thanks to the leadership of HHSA Director, Nick Macchione.

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Finally this morning, I want to talk about the project that I think will benefit North County in ways we have never seen before. It is near and dear to my heart, because I think it will give North County the opportunity to live up to its true potential. Prosperity on Purpose, or POP, is a visionary roadmap for North San Diego County. It is a collaborative approach to regional planning. POP recognizes the individual needs of each North County city while presenting opportunities for across-the-board innovation, business development, and sustainability to drive economic growth. I believe in this project so strongly, I secured the initial $104,000 grant to get it all started. We need to project our own vision for our region. 

One of the first steps in this process is to obtain a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy or (CEDS). This CEDS will make North County eligible to compete for Economic Development Agency grants from the federal government. Statistics show roughly $22 million in federal dollars have been granted to San Diego County. North County has only received 1.5% of the funds. That is going to change!! 

But POP is more than just developing a CEDS. It is a way to incorporate all North County has to offer. North County has unparalleled access to natural resources, transportation, education, entertainment, and land that has not reached its revenue potential. POP will embrace and grow those assets from the coast, inland communities, the unincorporated area, tribal nations and the cities of Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido. It will focus on `the big picture’ for North County’s economic development, job creation, coordinated infrastructure and improved quality of life... and set the stage to transition our region from a cluster of cities to a dynamic and vibrant economic engine. 

Prosperity on Purpose is a plan in motion. It’s an action-oriented strategy with performance measurements, assigned roles and responsibilities, and one-to-five year action plans. This month we are developing key sub-committees to work on specific strategies for CEDS. We hope to finalize our document by May so we can submit our application on the earliest date possible. We need to be in control of our own destiny. And we need to do it now. 

On Tuesday, I was able to secure a 30-thousand dollar grant for the Fallbrook Village Association. The Neighborhood Reinvestment dollars will fund a study to revitalize Fallbrook’s business district. Progress is underway. 

I see great change and exciting opportunities on the horizon for North County, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Just imagine a Sprinter line from Oceanside to Fallbrook through Camp Pendleton. 

I want to take a moment to introduce my staff:
Joan Wonsley is our Chief of Staff and keeps our office running smoothly and is the lead on the POP project
Dustin Steiner is our Deputy Chief of Staff and land use advisor
Anita Lightfoot is our new Communications Director
Chris Champine is our roads guy
Candyce Yee is our point person on health 
Caylin Guerin handles public safety
Josh Ramirez does military and veterans affairs as well as Facebook and Twitter
Christi Knight is familiar to everyone in Fallbrook as our community liaison
Haley Peterson is the voice you hear when you call our office and is playing a big part in Prosperity on Purpose
And, finally, Mari Eaton who tells me where to be and when. 

We have a great team in the 5th District and I am honored to serve you, and all 18-hundred square miles of District 5. You are the reason the North County is an exciting place to work and live. Thank you and God bless you.