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State of the County Address - January 27, 2005

County Seal

 

Liz Kniss, Chair, Board of Supervisors
State of the County of Santa Clara Address -2005
A Healthy Vibrant Community

Good Evening. Thank you for being here. And thank you to Jim Beall, Judy Kleinberg, and Senator Simitian for your words. 

As many of you may know, I am from Massachusetts - Cape Cod - an area which I love dearly and where most of my family still remains. While we visit often, California and Santa Clara County have been my home since 1968. I feel fortunate to live in such a diverse and dynamic community. 

This is where my husband and I bought our first home and raised our daughters Liza and Johanna - and where we have made wonderful friends who have shared and enriched our lives. 

Whether it’s Palo Alto, Milpitas, San Jose, Los Gatos or Gilroy - one aspect that adds to our diversity and good fortune is the uniqueness of each area of the County. I want to thank some very special people who care deeply, and work diligently for their community every day. 

These are my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors: Blanca, Jim, Pete, and Don. Over the past four years we have learned from each other through our common goals and through our differences. I want to express to each of you my appreciation for your work - and my optimism for a year in which we balance reason with compassion, and firmness with flexibility. 

Your current Board of Supervisors shares about125 years of community service and experience in public policy. Time dedicated to the County has been a benefit to the community in many ways. 

  • Supervisor Blanca Alvarado is an advocate for our county’s at-risk youth and has lead the Juvenile Detention Reform movement. As the Board’s appointee to the First 5 Commission, Blanca continues to champion early childhood development and preschool for all children, and chairs First 5’s Council on Excellence in Early Education.  
  • Supervisor Jim Beall has worked tirelessly to support mental health services in our County through initiatives such as Prop 63. He is an excellent advocate at the State level to ensure Counties get their fair share and at the regional level on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. 
  • Supervisor Don Gage serves as the Co-Chair of the Aging Strategic Plan. The purpose of the Strategic Plan is to promote the health and wellbeing of the County's older adults. Don is also a member of the recently formed Task Force to End Chronic Homelessness in 10 years.  
  • And Supervisor Pete McHugh has continued to broaden our partnership with a diversity of cultures in the County. And as Chair of the Board in 2004, Pete brought forward his plan for financial sustainability calling for a 5 percent contingency reserve by FY2008. 
  • I am grateful for your support when I brought the Integrated Pest Management Program to the forefront, and as I pursue a policy on large structure homes in the county. 

Service in the County extends beyond what the public may see. It includes internal support to meet our responsibility to the public and to keep our doors open. These departments keep the system moving every day – purchasing supplies, paying the bills, managing information, maintaining personnel needs, and keeping our buildings and property safe and in working order. 

County services are guided by a team that defines leadership: 

  • County Executive Pete Kutras and his team of Deputy Executives 
  • County Counsel Ann Ravel and Director of Finance John Guthrie 
  • The ladies and gentlemen who steer the course in our departments every day, and all the many professionals working within those departments. 

There are 15,000 people employed by the County and 82% of them are engaged in health, hospital, social services, or law and justice. Every day, when they come to work, they renew their commitment to service. To all of you - thank you for choosing public service. 

As I thought about speaking with you tonight, I reflected on both where we are today and how we will go forward into the future. What I see, is a healthy, vibrant community. 

Santa Clara County provides an array of services that benefit the entire population. Tonight, I will share specific examples of how the County supports a vibrant community through our service and our partnership - and the many prevention programs that have made a difference. I will touch on the challenges we face, and share with you some opportunities as well. 

I am often asked to describe what the County does. My answer is that we are primarily a provider of service, a lifeline to assist people when they cannot stand on their own. We help people gain self-sufficiency. We provide health and safety to the entire community, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

In fact, while most of us are sleeping, service doesn’t stop. 

    • Our communication center answers 9-11 calls and takes action. 
    • Our fire and Sheriff personnel respond to emergencies within minutes. 
    • The Children’s Shelter receives youth of all ages from unfortunate circumstances. 
    • The Department of Corrections secures the jail. 
    • The men and women of the County hospital provide care and sustain life for all who are in need. 

The best example of a lifeline is the Social Services Agency, which provides essential services to the poor, disabled, and at risk populations. Some of you may have read an article in the local paper this week about Phuong Le and Mike Bauer. They are two CalWORKS Program participants recently honored by the Board of Supervisors for their remarkable achievement. Their lives have been changed because they were able to receive job training and education. Now, they are able to support their families and see hope for a better future. Thousands like them are helped each year. 

Our Senior Nutrition Program serves almost 5,000 meals daily to elders. Served family style, this gathering provides a support network and social interaction that contributes to total wellbeing. For every $1 invested in nutrition programs, $3.25 is saved in health care costs. 

Part of having a healthy, vibrant community is to enable people to stay connected to their family, friends, and neighbors. In-Home Support Services is a support program that allows people to stay in their homes. On average, the In-Home Support Services Program is one-fifth of the cost of nursing home care. 

A critical provider of service in our community is the Health and Hospital System. This agency is comprised of Public Health, Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Services, and the Valley Medical Center. 

We are fortunate to be able to have one of the few publicly owned health care systems left in California. We provide a complete range of health care services to the community and enjoy a wonderful partnership with other local health care providers. Whether it is a struggling newborn, a traumatic injury, a serious burn, or someone at the point of despair, patients will get the help they need. 

Because people are more likely to seek care if it is part of their community, we have made a commitment to increase access to doctors by adding community clinics in Milpitas and Gilroy, as well as rebuilding the Fair Oaks clinic in Sunnyvale. 

The House on the Hill is a program of the Department of Alcohol and Drug Services. Allowing mothers to live with their children while receiving rehabilitation and parenting skills has produced remarkable results, and contained costs that would have otherwise been incurred without this support. 

Since 2001, we have operated under a system that allows non-violent drug offenders to have treatment instead of serving jail time. The Drug and Alcohol Department and justice services have forged an effective partnership. Because of this, in Santa Clara County, our jail population has dropped dramatically – about 20% - and more people are getting a chance to rehabilitate. For every person who enters treatment rather than the jail, we save $5,000 a month. 

Clearly, service and partnership are defining roles for Santa Clara County. And by design, our focus has been on prevention – to achieve the best possible outcomes and to contain costs. 

If I were to ask the audience, what the biggest challenge is to continue the services I have described, what would it be? It would not be lack of desire, nor lack of great ideas or energy – the top challenge to service would be “money.” 

In California, more than two million jobs were created in the second half of the 1990’s. Nearly all of the jobs created during this time were in companies that didn’t exist before the decade began. That is what we will call the upswing. 

Naturally, as both science and history have demonstrated, the downswing followed. In barely five years, California reported both its highest budget surplus and its deepest budget deficit in history. In 2003, California had the worst state credit rating in America. 

The County has also experienced a dramatic swing in surplus and revenue. Our fiscal picture mirrors that of many businesses and families in our community, who have also felt the impact of economic change. 

Are we in an economic recovery? I would characterize the events thus far as "fits and starts," with a healthy dose of “hopeful.” 

We at the County have taken steps to save, consolidate, and invest. Our commitment is to balance our budget now and into the future. 

  • In early 2004, the Board adopted a savings plan to support our contingency reserve. In FY05 it was set at 2.5% and will continue to increase to 5% in FY2008. 
  • We have prevented a total collapse of programs by consolidating efforts where it makes sense. And have had to eliminate programs that could no longer be sustained. 
  • We have invested in a range of strategies as diverse as funding for housing to support those at the margin of self-sufficiency, to developing property. 

Soon, we will be entering a fourth year of significant general fund deficits. The total impact of budget reductions over the four years, including the estimated $127 million for FY 2006, is $652 million dollars. 

We have worked diligently to maintain our double A credit rating, a claim that few Counties in California can make. We have done so by making the tough decisions, working through our challenges and crafting a balanced budget, and we will do so again this year. 

Looking forward, we are prepared to grasp opportunities that will promote a healthy, vibrant community for everyone. Two opportunities that I will champion in 2005 are the environment and health. 

At the County, we have emphasized the importance of the environment. 

  • In 2002 we instituted the Integrated Pest Management Program that has cut the County’s pesticide and herbicide use by 50% - 100%. 
  • In 2004 we implemented a purchasing policy to support purchasing low emission cars. 
  • To encourage the use of buses and light rail, we provide VTA passes to all county employees. 
  • We integrate energy efficiency into our building design and maintenance. A recent example is the new Crime Lab building, which includes features that will result in energy savings as high as 30% over current standards. 
  • We also encourage and recognize local businesses that meet the standards for a “Green Business.” 

This year, I will promote public awareness of green building standards, and take steps to address the issue of electronic waste. These initiatives will allow us to save resources and reduce energy costs. 

A few simple steps can make a world of difference. I will introduce a proposal to: 

  • Provide a checklist that will show how a building does or does not meet Green Building standards. 
  • Develop a Green Building handbook for Santa Clara County that educates people on how they can make more efficient use of resources and energy though building green. 
  • Develop a policy that adopts the U.S. Green Building Council’s Design Standard. 

Electronic Waste contains chemicals that need to be disposed of properly, and is perhaps the most pressing solid waste issue facing us today. Our Department of Environmental Health has already started to address this problem though their Household Hazardous Waste program. 

By building upon this effort, we will be tackling an issue that is of our era. I will be asking the Board to adopt Best Management Practices for electronic waste, and to support purchasing polices that address the entire life cycle of a product - from the point of production to the point of disposal. 

In the area of health, although I no longer practice nursing, I hold to the old adage, “once a nurse, always a nurse.” Through this lens, I have observed that often the prevention side of health – or the support of wellness - is seen as something to pursue on a secondary basis. It is seen as a “nice-to-have” rather than a “need-to-have.”

However, I believe that health should be viewed as an asset, and prevention is part of the investment. As I have mentioned programs tonight that focus on prevention – you can see that quality of life is enhanced, partnership is strengthened and higher costs are avoided. 

You might ask why the County should have an interest in health. 

  • As a provider of health services, the County spends fully 1/3 of our over 3 billion dollar budget on health care. 
  • As an employer, our costs to provide health coverage for employees continue to rise. 
  • As a responsible community partner we are in a position to support policy and other efforts to enhance the quality of life in our County. 

According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, two-thirds of all deaths in California result from four chronic diseases -- heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Another way of saying this would be the leading causes of death are tobacco, overweight, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity. 

  • Health care spending for people with diabetes is more than double what spending would be without diabetes. 
  • In 2003, less than half of adults in Santa Clara County were at a healthy weight. 
  • The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health reports that only 30% of 7th grade students in Santa Clara County meet all fitness standards. 
  • Further, kids were as likely to have said they’d eaten French Fries in the last twenty- four hours as Fruit! 

The good news is that there are resources available, and actions being taken in our County to help address these issues. 

  • The Santa Clara County Parks system includes 27 diverse parks that are an easily accessible and a health-smart asset. Parks are key in the creation of active communities. 
  • I love their motto “ Go Out and Play.” Tennis, walking, hiking, fishing, camping, sailing – are available at county parks. You can take your dog to most of the parks as well. 
  • Our Public Health Department looks for opportunities to take leadership roles in increasing community awareness of diverse health problems. Recently, they were chosen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the lead agency for a multi-year grant to reduce the burden of asthma, diabetes, and overweight in the County. 
  • In addition, the Public Health Department's Tobacco Prevention & Education Program offers help to stop smoking, and stay smoke free.  
  • Healthy Silicon Valley is a newly formed collaborative supported by eight major Foundations. Its goal is to improve the health status of the community through a network of existing resources. Their approach is to reach out to the community, schools, government and business. 
  • Healthy Silicon Valley wants our County to be a place in which all of us, and particularly the underserved, have access to education and resources to make good choices. I commend the Cities Association for including this initiative in their 2005 policy priorities. 

Returning to the philosophy that a few simple steps can make a world of difference, 

I believe opportunity exists for the County to serve as a role model. I will be proposing that we: 

  • Adopt a health and wellness resolution to promote awareness and serve as a base for others, similar to the action we took with the colon cancer free zone campaign.  
  • Endorse a strong workplace wellness program supported by a nutrition and wellness council. Promote healthy food choices through our cafeteria and vending machine policies. Encourage movement at work. 
  • Become an active partner in the Healthy Silicon Valley Collaborative. 

Where are we today and how will we go forward into the future? The leadership of this County has demonstrated its commitment to support programs and services that contribute to the community’s wellbeing. We can point to many, many success stories. I thank partners in the cities, schools, and community that have been a part of our success. 

The challenge ahead of us is to reconcile the need for services with the resources that are available. We are still assessing the full impact of the Governor’s budget. In the year ahead, there will be more difficult decisions to be made, however, as I have said, I believe we will prevail by balancing reason with compassion and firmness with flexibility. It will take all of us working in partnership to continue to maintain a healthy vibrant community.