County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who gave the 2017 State of the County address Feb. 1 at the County Operations Center, was elected to her seventh term on the Board of Supervisors last year and chose to make “Seven in ’17” the subject of her State of the County address.
Jacob placed an emphasis on roads, parks, pension liability, the county’s aging population, technology, safety, and community relations.
Jacob was initially elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1992, and the Jamul resident’s campaign emphasized the need for the county’s unincorporated communities to have representation on the Board of Supervisors. The number of supervisors living in unincorporated communities doubled after the 1994 election which included the addition of Valley Center resident Bill Horn to the board along with former San Diego City Council member Ron Roberts. That election also saw Supervisor Brian Bilbray elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and former Chula Vista mayor Greg Cox was selected to replace Bilbray in early 1995.
“The four of us teamed up more than two decades ago to build a better county government, and we just stuck to our guns,” Jacob said. “While we face new and emerging challenges, we have come a long way.”
The newest member, Kristin Gaspar, was elected in November 2016.
“One of the many benefits of having Kristin on the board is our average age just took a nosedive,” Jacob said. “But us seasoned hands up here aren’t ready to ride off into the sunset. Not yet. There’s still so much to do.”
The County of San Diego has had AAA credit ratings for the past six years and the Board of Supervisors recently addressed such issues as Alzheimer’s, homelessness, severely emotionally disturbed individuals, and veterans.
“We can tackle these issues because our $5.4 billion dollar budget is solidly in the black,” said Jacob.
“We’ve tackled a lot of tough issues over the years, and we have had our disagreements,” Jacob said. “But the state of our county is stronger today, more resilient, more financially sound because when it matters most we pull together.”
Potential 2017 challenges include cuts and shifts from state revenue proposed by Governor Brown and possible changes in the state’s health
“We’ve seen it before, and we stand ready to fight once again,” Jacob said.
Seven known challenges were the focus of Jacob’s speech. One of those is the county road system.
“We’ve got a big problem out where the rubber meets the road,” said Jacob. “Our main source of money for maintenance is running out,” she said.
The county maintains approximately 2,000 miles of road.
“Keeping those streets up to speed, keeping them safe, is one of our most important jobs,” said Jacob. “Reliable roads are not only the lifeblood of our communities and economy, they are lifelines during a wildfire or other emergency.”
The main source of funding for the county’s roads is state gas tax revenue, but San Diego County’s annual share has declined 21 percent in the past five years.
“Over the same stretch we’ve reached a milestone, and it’s not a good one,” Jacob said.
The national rating system for streets is the Pavement Condition Index. In September the county’s index dropped to 60, which is the county’s lowest ever and below the acceptable index level of 70.
“The lower the rating, the more it costs to repair and maintain these roads so the more we invest to keep our roads safe, the better for motorists and for county taxpayers,” Jacob said.
The county has been utilizing savings to backfill the lost revenue and spent about $20 million in the past year for road maintenance and repair.
“Our 2,000 miles of road are a $2.7 billion public asset,” said Jacob. “We need a long-term funding plan to protect and improve that asset.”
Jacob noted that she and Horn will be bringing a proposal to the Board of Supervisors formally asking county staff to identify funding options which would bring the Pavement Condition Index to at least 70 within five years.
“Maintaining our streets is not a frill. It’s a core responsibility, and the public expects us to meet it,” Jacob said.
“We’re in a fix with our parks, too,” Jacob said. “I believe we need a new model for building and maintaining them.”
The county’s park system attracts millions of visitors annually and is one of only 13 in the nation accredited by a national commission of park and recreation agencies.
“These places sustain us,” said Jacob. “They keep our communities healthy and whole, and building and maintaining parks are among the county’s core responsibilities. We need to strip away barriers that make it tougher to develop new parks. Some of these are out-of-date policies, others are financial, but we need to continue to work with viable non-profit groups and strengthen the partnerships that help us maintain some of these facilities. But that’s not enough. We need to make sure the county lives up to its promise to build parks.”
Jacob told the audience that she and Cox will bring an agenda item to the Board of Supervisors calling for the creation of a sustainable endowment fund to provide money to operate and maintain new parks as well as existing ones.
The Board of Supervisors recently worked with county treasurer-tax collector Dan McAllister and others on the county’s retirement board to overhaul the county’s pension program. The changes are expected to save the pension fund more than $1 billion in investment and operations costs over the next 20 years, and pension reforms including reduced benefits for new hires are expected to save taxpayers $2.2 billion over that time. “We have done a lot to right the ship, but we need to do more,” Jacob said.
The increase in retired county employees will correspond with an increase in older San Diego County residents; Jacob noted that in less than 20 years the county’s population 65 or older will double (anybody born prior to 1972 will be 65 or older in 20 years if they are still alive). Currently more than 62,000 county residents have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The county’s Alzheimer’s project includes collaboration with research institutions as well as health care providers. “But families can’t wait. They need help now,” Jacob said.
Jacob and Gaspar will be bringing a proposal for Board of Supervisors approval to create a new position focusing on the needs of the elderly.
“A high-profile leader is needed to make sure that all the appropriate arms of county government are working together as best as they can to meet the needs of seniors, especially those with dementia,” Jacob said.
Jacob added that the number of homeless adults 55 or older has doubled based on the annual regional counts of the homeless.
“This is heartbreaking and it must be addressed,” said Jacob. “An expansion in our senior response teams could prove to be an important tool. Also, these teams would make sure those with dementia get the help they need.”
Patients with dementia are seen by local hospitals approximately 30,000 times annually. They are admitted to the hospital twice as often as people the same age without Alzheimer’s, stay longer, and are re-admitted more often, and the cost of hospital admissions is three times higher.
“There is a crisis in our hospital emergency rooms as a result of this,” Jacob said.
Jacob noted that the county will also continue its actions against elder abuse and negligent nursing homes. “These types of improvements are the least we can do for a generation that gave so much to this region and to our nation,” she said.
The technology portion focused on a new computer (including mobile phone) application. “Tell Us Now” will allow residents to report potholes, graffiti, and code violations. “We are always looking for ways to make it easier to hear from our public,” Jacob said.
The county has invested more than $400 million in fire protection and other emergency services since the October 2003 fires. “Our improvements are paying off for property owners,” Jacob said. “We have never been more battle ready, and we’re not about to let down our guard, and the same goes for crime and punishment.”
Jacob noted that Sheriff’s deputies risk their lives to keep county residents safe. “My top priority has been, and will continue to be, to make sure they have the tools they need to protect our communities,” she said.
The county is in the process of constructing a new crime lab and upgrading the Regional Communications System, and the steps taken against forced prostitution include not only law enforcement sweeps but also working with the hotel and motel industry to identify and report human trafficking.
Tensions exist between some ethnic groups and law enforcement; in Jacob’s district a City of El Cajon police officer fatally shot a black man in September. Building bonds between community members and law enforcement and between diverse groups of community members was Jacob’s seventh focus. Camp LEAD is held in Pine Valley and brings high school students of diverse backgrounds together while utilizing Sheriff’s deputies as camp counselors. Jacob will be requesting Board of Supervisors action on an expansion of that program in the region.
“That’s the job in front of us. Now let’s get to work,” Jacob said.