2007 State of the County Address

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Delivered by Ron Roberts
Chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors 
February 6, 2007
University of San Diego - Shiley Theatre 

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Good evening.  Honorable colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am privileged to stand before you tonight to report on the state of our great county.

Tonight, we will set our sights on 2007, chart a course for the year ahead, and acknowledge some very special people who are doing some extraordinary work.

We're here this evening in the community of Linda Vista.  As some of you know, it's a place that's very near and dear to my heart.  I grew up just a short distance from here in what was then the largest government housing project in the nation.

Even though I lived just a stone's throw away, I did not go to USD. But one of my daughters did, as did, of course, about half of our life's savings. Actually, as anyone with three daughters will know, you don't really have any life's savings.  But I can tell you it was worth every dime.  She received a first-rate education.

This is one of the finest universities you'll find anywhere, and I want to thank Mr. Timothy O'Malley, the Vice President of University Advancement at the University of San Diego, for hosting us here tonight.  What a beautiful campus this is.

I also want to acknowledge my wife, Helene. Among other things, she's been my unofficial and unpaid campaign manager for many years. This year we'll celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary.

You've already met my grandson Nicholas; let me introduce to you his parents; our daughter, Christine, and her husband Kent.

I would also like to introduce that proud alumnus of USD, our youngest daughter Deborah.

Our middle daughter, Andrea, as some of you may know, is an ER doctor.  She's on duty tonight up in the Bay Area and is unable to be with us.

For more than a decade now, my colleagues and I on the Board of Supervisors have worked hard to give you - the people of this region - a government you can be proud of.

If there's any question as to whether we have, just look at what we've done.  Together, we've transformed a once archaic bureaucracy into what is ranked as one of the best-run counties in the country. Our credit rating is among the highest of any county in the nation, our rainy day reserves are strong, and last year we were honored with more awards from the National Association of Counties than any other county in America.

While my colleagues and I have certainly disagreed on some issues, we share one common fundamental belief: that financial discipline will be the hallmark of this Board of Supervisors, for it is the key to effectively serving the taxpayers of this County.

Keeping the County on a sound financial footing has been nothing short of a team effort. And that team is led by our Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard, along with his Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, Helen Robbins-Meyer.

I also want to acknowledge our Assessor/Recorder/Clerk Greg Smith, who as our region's Justice of the Peace, will have his hands full next week.  On Valentine's Day, he and his staff will perform upwards of 200 weddings on that one day alone.

Also, I want to acknowledge our Treasurer-Tax Collector Dan McAllister. Dan and I have co-sponsored a Community Banking Initiative, which puts dollars the county would normally invest on Wall Street into local banks.  The $36 million we have invested so far has greatly helped businesses and residents throughout the region.        

From our sheriffs' deputies and public health nurses to our librarians and prosecutors, this is a team that works hard for you every day.  For them, the adage "the noblest motive is the public good" isn't just a phrase etched on the face of our building.  It's etched in their work ethic.

Your County government isn't the only winning team in town.  The Padres last year won the National League West Championship, the USD Torero football team won the Pioneer League title, and, of course, our Chargers thrilled us all by capturing the AFC West Championship.

The Bolts provided the people of this region with a lot of excitement this past year, and we're already looking forward to next season, and the season after that, and the season after that.  They are a special part of San Diego's history, and Supervisor Dianne Jacob and I will continue our work to make sure they remain part of its future.

This is but one of our County's priorities for 2007.  There are many others.  Let's start with healthcare.

Healthcare Assessment

Across the nation, our system of care is strained, and San Diego County is no exception. The proposed sale of Paradise Valley Hospital, the reorganization of the UCSD Medical Center, and a whole host of other developments have raised a number of serious questions.

To help us answer them, the County of San Diego commissioned a first-of-its-kind study to look at the long-term viability of our region's healthcare safety net.

The findings from that study, along with a multitude of recommendations, were presented in a report to the Board of Supervisors in December.

I can tell you this is one report that won't just sit on the shelf - it will be put into action!

My colleagues and I have already put $5 million on the table to enhance care coordination, particularly between clinics and hospitals.

Over the next few months, working groups will be assembled. They'll advise us as to where exactly that money should be spent, and they'll help enhance and leverage funding, and assist with legislative advocacy.  We've already submitted a state grant request, which seeks $20 million to increase coverage for uninsured San Diegans who suffer from chronic diseases. This initiative will strengthen the safety net system by identifying those who are using expensive and unnecessary emergency room care, and instead, we'll link them with a community clinic for more appropriate medical care.

For years, San Diego County has been short-changed by the federal government when it comes to Medi-Care and Medi-Cal reimbursement. For some odd reason, San Diego is classified by the feds as a "rural county," which means we get less here than similar urban counties.

As a result, medical providers receive less compensation, which has, in part, compromised the financial stability of our healthcare safety net.

I think the political climate is ripe for change.  This year, I will work to forge partnerships with our state and federal legislators, as well as with medical professionals and patient advocates, and together, we'll get our fair share.

Childhood Obesity

A healthy community starts with healthy children - fit, active children.

Unfortunately, childhood obesity continues to endanger our kids and threaten their future.  More than one-in-four students in San Diego County are overweight or obese, which can lead directly to diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

In fact, if we don't act now, one-third of our children could develop diabetes at some point in their lifetimes, and we could soon see the first generation of children in history with a life expectancy shorter than that of their parents.

When I was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 2002, I vowed in my State of the County address to do something about childhood obesity, a subject that had not been recognized yet by the national media as a major problem.  My, how times have changed.

In 2002, we created the Coalition on Children and Weight - made up of more than 100 organizations that are committed to the health and well being of San Diego County's children.

Since then, a lot of work has been done. Through the efforts of Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and myself, and others, the Board of Supervisors last year adopted a comprehensive Childhood Obesity Action Plan.

It's a good start, but more must be done.

Statistics show that there is a direct relationship between academic achievement and physical fitness. Quite simply, the more fit a child is, the more likely he or she will be successful in school.

So, this year, we'll take our efforts right into the classroom. With the enthusiastic support of City Schools Superintendent Dr. Carl Cohn, we'll launch a pilot project - funded in part by the County - that will provide training to teachers, particularly in schools lacking credentialed PE instructors.  The training program, available on a DVD, will ensure that students get quality exercise specifically designed to improve their health, and more importantly, to give them the skills and knowledge they can take with them into adulthood.

We also need to retool our food assistance program - also known as Food Stamps.  Funded by the federal government, and administered by the County, this program provides a monthly food allowance to needy families, including thousands of children.

Just as there is a link between physical fitness and classroom success, studies also show that childhood obesity is far more prevalent in low-income households.

Believe it or not, Food Stamp recipients can actually use their money to buy candy and other types of junk food.

This needs to change.  Fortunately, the federal Farm Bill, which governs the Food Stamp program, is up for reauthorization.  While the proposed bill does not yet include a ban on junk food, it does include a provision to integrate nutrition education into the Food Stamp program, as well as upwards of $100 million that will be made available to local governments to fight obesity in low-income populations.

The proposed bill also seeks to improve access to food assistance through simplification and expansion.

This year, I will ask our Board to get behind this legislation, and take it even one step further and push for a provision in the bill that would prohibit all junk food from being purchased with Food Stamps.

San Pasqual Academy

While on the topic of our young people, I want to share with you the incredible success we're seeing at the county's San Pasqual Academy for foster teens.

When we conceived of the academy back in the late 90's, our goal was to give foster teens a stable place to live and learn, and, ultimately,a real chance to earn a high school diploma. 

For far too many foster teens, graduating from high school is a very tall task - in large part because they're often moved around between so many foster homes and schools.

When we opened the Academy in 2001, we didn't know what to expect. 

The risks were high, the skeptics many, but six years later, the San Pasqual Academy has proven to be an unqualified success.  In fact, it's a national model. Last year, the graduation rate at San Pasqual was 93 percent, and many of these graduates - about one in three - have gone on to four-year universities.

Since you can never have too much of a good thing, I am pleased to announce tonight that the County of San Diego will break ground this year on its first major expansion of the Academy, one that will allow for an additional 50 foster teens to attend and take advantage of all this Academy has to offer - a high-quality education, a positive social environment to build long-lasting friendships, and most of all, a place to call home.

Similar to the way we built the academy, this expansion will be developed through a public-private partnership - this time between the County, Home-Aid and Lennar Homes of California.

It's hard to believe, but some people actually fought us tooth-and-nail to keep San Pasqual from opening. I'm glad they lost, because these kids won. We all won.

Library

While we're on the topic of education, I'm pleased to say the County's library system is embarking on a new chapter in the way it serves the public - and the key word here is "system."

Later this month, I will join with our library director, as our county becomes the first public library system in the region to integrate with the San Diego Circuit book-sharing program. It will give county library patrons access to information in ways that were once unheard of.

Here's how it works: if you have a County library card and a computer, you'll be able to go on-line and search the inventories at each of the major university libraries in San Diego County - including this one right here.  If you find a book you want, you can order it directly from your home computer.  Your order will then be delivered right to your neighborhood library.  This will be especially convenient for those who live out in the far reaches of our county.

In addition, we recently expanded our library hours by doubling the number of branches that are open on Sundays, we've increased our book-buying budget, we've installed state-of-the-art, self-service, check out machines, and we've created a host of innovative programs to enhance the library experience.

I want to acknowledge the work of our visionary library director, Mr. Jose Aponte.

Public Safety

Turning to public safety, I also want to recognize the extraordinary work of the region's two top law enforcement officers, our District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and our Sheriff Bill Kolender.

Our District Attorney is one of the most respected DAs in the state.  She and her talented team of prosecutors have a conviction rate of 94 percent, and an unrivaled tenacity when it comes to putting away criminals - especially sex offenders and gang members.

Sheriff Kolender, is, well, a legend in these parts. His long and distinguished career in law enforcement is an example for others to follow. The people of this county are lucky to have him, and so is this board.

For Sheriff Kolender, public safety goes beyond fighting crime - it also means fighting fires.

Two years ago, under the leadership of this Board and Sheriff Kolender, the County expanded its firefighting capabilities with the addition of two large Super Huey fire copters.

These flying fire-trucks are a critical component in combating fires because they can reach areas inaccessible to ground crews and can often respond much quicker.

The goal: keep small fires from becoming big ones - to spot them and stop them before they burn out of control.

And, so far, they've done just that!

To date, they've responded to more than a hundred fires and have dropped nearly a half million gallons of water.  They've saved lives and prevented millions of dollars in damage and destruction.

And on the ground, Supervisor Dianne Jacob is leading the charge to consolidate our rural fire departments. Much progress has already been made, and this year she'll continue to focus on seeing this through to fruition.

Unified Regional Communications System

While much progress has been made in virtually every aspect of public safety, there are still areas in need of improvement.

Last year, as Chairman of our board, Supervisor Bill Horn made disaster preparedness one of his highest priorities. Because of his work, the county is better prepared today, and hopefully, after receiving our emergency-planning guide in the mail last year, so are you.

Yet, there is work to be done - and there is one area in particular that will be high on my agenda this year.  It's our regional communications system. 

In theory, it allows our firefighters, law enforcement officers, medical crews and dispatchers from different agencies to communicate with one another during a catastrophe.

In reality, however, it doesn't quite work that way.

Why? Because the City of San Diego is on one system and the County and the other 17 cities in the region are on another, along with 200 other state and federal agencies. 

In the words of that prison captain in the movie "Cool Hand Luke," "what we've got here is a failure to communicate."

Tonight, I am pleased to announce that Mayor Jerry Sanders and I have agreed to work together to bring all these agencies under one system.

To that end, we will soon bring before our respective agencies a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and the County so that we can establish a framework to make this happen.

If we're going to ask our emergency crews to risk their lives, then we need to give them the proper tools, and that includes a seamless emergency communications system.  It's that simple.

Mass Notification System

While it's critically important for our emergency responders to communicate back and forth during a disaster, it's also important for your government - this County - to be able communicate directly with you.

Whether it's a fire, flood or earthquake, getting information to you quickly - like evacuation notices - is vital to the protection of you and your family.

Not too long ago, the County put in place a Reverse 911 system that allows us to make 15,000 calls an hour to home phones. 

This system, however, has already been over taken by newer technology.

In fact, we are told there are products on the market today that can make upwards of 750,000 calls per hour, and not just to home phones but to cell phones as well.

Last year, with Supervisor Cox, I launched an effort to look at whether a new system would meet our region's needs or make financial sense.  Proposals have already been received, and if we decide to move forward, it is my hope that our region's cities will partner with us in this effort.

Law Enforcement Memorial

Tragically, this past year, we witnessed the death of another police officer.  Dan Bessant, a young Oceanside patrol officer, was shot down by a cowardly street thug while on a routine traffic stop.

Officer Bessant certainly wasn't the first law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty, and, unfortunately, he probably won't be the last. 

There's a special place in heaven for those who give their lives protecting others.  However, there's not a special place here in San Diego that honors their bravery and sacrifice.  This year, we'll change that.

For the past year, I have been working with Supervisor Greg Cox and the Deputy Sheriff's Association to create a fitting tribute to our fallen heroes.

I'm pleased to announce tonight that later this spring we will break ground on a regional law enforcement memorial, to be placed prominently on the western grounds of the County Administration Center, right on the waterfront.

It will be built with funding provided by the County and the Deputy Sheriff's Association, and will include the names of every San Diego area law enforcement officer who has died in the line of duty - every police officer, every sheriff's deputy, every highway patrol officer, and every state and federal agent.

I want to thank Jim Duffy, the past President of the Deputy Sheriff's Association, for all the work he has done on this very important project. 

On September 11th, we'll dedicate this memorial, and I invite all of you to be there and take part.

County Administration Center Park

It is my hope - and the hope of many others - that this memorial will become part of a grander vision for the property that surrounds the County Administration Center.

For decades, San Diegans have wrestled with the question of what to do with this prime piece of waterfront real estate, which largely consists of two massive parking lots.

Back in the 1980's, the Board of Supervisors put forth a plan to bookend our historic County Administration Center with commercial development. Others have had similar ideas.

But I ask you, do we really need to surround this landmark building with more development? Isn't there a better use for public land?

I believe that giving the public access to their waterfront is simply more important.

Tomorrow, the Board of Supervisors can take a big step in that direction.  On our agenda is an item that calls for a development project - and most importantly a parking structure - to be built on county-owned land one block east of the County Administration Center in Little Italy.  The plan would allow for some County parking to be relocated off the waterfront, but still close enough to our building.

This would give us the opportunity to create a magnificent waterfront park around the County Administration Center, affording San Diegans - young and old - the opportunity to truly enjoy their waterfront.

This year, I will work with Supervisor Cox, as well as my other colleagues on the board, to make this dream a reality.

Waterfront Vision

Even beyond the park, there is an opportunity to transform the entire face of our waterfront, from the Coronado Bridge all the way up the Embarcadero and around to Shelter Island.

In the early part of the 20th century, visionary civic leaders created Balboa Park.  In the 1950s, forward-thinking San Diegans transformed Mission Bay from a swamp into the jewel it is today.  Now it is our turn, this time to do something truly spectacular with our waterfront, which I referred to many years ago as the front porch of our county.

Last week, former State Senator Steve Peace and I unveiled a broad vision for our waterfront. 

Simply put, we have an opportunity to create one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the world.

Imagine a park that will showcase the natural beauty of our region, just as Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park do.

Apparently, this kind of idea has a fairly well known ally.  During a visit to San Diego in 1915 for the Panama-California Exposition, former President Theodore Roosevelt said, "I hope that you of San Diego... keep your waterfront and develop it so that it may add to the beauty of your city. Do not let a number of private individuals... make it hideous with buildings, and then force your children to pay an exorbitant sum to get rid of the ugliness they have created."

Later this month, I will ask our board to re-establish Supervisor Cox and myself as a committee so that we can enter into discussions with the North Embarcadero Alliance and work together to create the kind of waterfront envisioned long-ago by President Roosevelt.

Air Quality

On the environment, great progress has been made to clean up our air.

Last year, the County of San Diego was ranked as the most improved region in the nation when it came to reducing the number of bad ozone days.

Today, our air is fresher and cleaner than it's been in 50 years.  I'll tell you, it didn't happen naturally. It happened because this county has made clean air a high priority. 

Locally, we've worked with the private sector to slash industrial pollution.

At the state level, as a member of the California Air Resources Board, I've worked with my colleagues to require that cleaner engines be used in everything from cars to cruise ships.

Still, there are some people who will never be happy.  Last summer, a movie came out - a Michael Moore-type of movie. It wasn't exactly a blockbuster - perhaps it was just overshadowed by Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth. 

Anyway, The title of the movie is Who Killed the Electric Car? starring Ed Begley Jr. with a special guest appearance by Mel Gibson, and one other face you might recognize.

Here's just a clip - if it seems a little disjointed, it's just a reflection of the movie.

(After clip) And to think I wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award. Well, it's obvious that Mel Gibson and I are on opposite side of this issue and probably many others.

Anyway, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the Electric Car have been greatly exaggerated.   The electric car is alive and well.

General Motors, for example, last month introduced its new Volt, the first plug-in electric hybrid car to be produced by a major automaker.

It runs on a lithium-ion battery pack, which can be recharged by the on-board generator or simply by plugging it into a standard household outlet, which gives you even better gas mileage.

The Volt, and others like it in the pipeline, will help reduce pollution, as well as our dependence on foreign oil. And given that the cost to operate one of these vehicles will be just a fraction of what it costs to operate a conventional gas-powered car, they'll also be good on your pocketbook. 

These are the cars of the future and I will continue - as a member of the Air Resources Board - to push for their development and expansion.

And yes, we'll return this year with the 8th installment of the County's wildly popular Lawnmower Trade In Event.  Since we started this program, more than 3,000 gas mowers have been traded in, in exchange for cleaner electric lawnmowers.  The result: more than 105 tons of volatile organic compounds - that's science talk for pollution - have been removed from our skies.  Believe it or not, that's the equivalent to the hourly emissions created by about 125,000 cars.

San Diego's Economy and Our Changing World

Just as our air is cleaner, San Diego's economy continues to move forward.  Unemployment remains well below the state and national averages, and our Gross Regional Product continues to rival that of many nations.

While we're on the subject, I want to acknowledge the presence tonight of two people who will play a major role in shaping our economy in the years to come.

First, the newly-named President and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Ruben Barrales.

And, also, the relatively-new President and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mr. David Peckinpaugh.

I look forward to working with the both of you in the months and years ahead to take our economy to the next level.

As many of you know, I've taken an active interest in the dramatic changes that are unfolding across the Pacific Rim, especially in China.

And as I've traveled on trade missions there, I believe these changes hold enormous potential for San Diego, economically and culturally.

We're developing close relationships there with business and government leaders, who welcome us with open arms and open minds, and who like all of us, just want to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.

China is home to one-fifth of the world's population, and there are cities there with populations larger than those in Los Angeles and New York - combined; cities that most people here have never heard of, like Chongqing, a municipal district with a population of 32 million people, or like Quanzhou, with whom San Diego County recently established friendly relations.

During my time in China, I've spoken at several universities, and the students there are filled with such hope and optimism, and many, many questions.

Their people thirst for knowledge.  From students to business leaders to the media, the people of China want to learn more about the world around them, especially about us here in San Diego.

Last month, a crew from China's largest national television network, CCTV, was here in San Diego for two weeks, interviewing civic leaders, educators and everyday San Diegans about life in our region.  They went all over the place, from the avocado groves of North County to the flower fields of Carlsbad, to community centers, and of course, to the our World-famous Zoo to pay a visit to the pandas. 

The documentary, which will also feature other areas of California, will be broadcast nationally in China within the next several weeks to a population of more than a billion people.

The world is certainly getting a lot smaller, as is the distance across the Pacific Rim. And for us here in San Diego, we can seize the many opportunities that this presents.

In partnership with the Asia Desk at the San Diego World Trade Center, we're helping local businesses - small and large - tap Asia's rapidly- growing markets.

And, thanks to the hard work of many - including our three major universities - San Diego will continue to host the internationally-known Kyoto Laureate Symposium.  This is a three-day celebration of the lives and works of those who have received the Kyoto Prize, which is the Japanese equivalent to the Nobel awards. This annual event underscores San Diego's importance as a center of knowledge and culture on the world stage.

And, culturally, we're learning more and gaining a greater appreciation for each other's unique traditions.  In May, a renowned group of Chinese performers will travel to San Diego and entertain us as part of Asian-American Heritage Month.

A lot of good things are happening, and I'm looking forward to the year ahead.

We're going to keep building those international relationships; we're going to make children's health a higher priority, we're going to expand library services, we're going to create a beautiful world-class waterfront, and we're going to work harder than ever to give the people of this great region a government to be proud of.

Thank you and good night.