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State of the County Address - January 30, 2007

 

County Seal

Supervisor Donald F. Gage
STATE OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY - 2007

 

Let me begin with an overview of the County’s financial status. First of all, the State of the County is strong. 

Despite this strength, we continue to be challenged by the fiscal realities of local government. Cuts in federal and state funding, coupled with the downturn in our economy, and increases in the cost of doing business in our valley, have required drastic measures over the past few years. 

We have had to address budget deficits totaling nearly $800 million over the last five years. To address these challenges, the Board of Supervisors has taken a number of actions to help control the cost of delivering services. We reduced our workforce, consolidated departments and offered creative early retirement programs. 

The County also took advantage of high real estate values to sell surplus property, while at the same time developing strategies that reduced our use of leased facilities. The County used the depressed commercial market in its favor to purchase existing office space instead of constructing new office buildings. 

These fiscal policies have yielded real benefits for our residents. The County was able to address deficits without severe reductions in services or massive lay-offs. These fiscal strategies also earned the County the highest bond rating in the State, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in interest costs. 

This effort to reduce costs is ongoing, and we are constantly exploring more efficient ways to deliver services. 

Our budget situation remains difficult, with the County facing a projected deficit for the fiscal year beginning on July 1st of up to $238 million. And this projected deficit does not take into account anything that the state or federal governments will throw at us. 

For example, both the federal and state governments are discussing plans to provide universal healthcare by diverting funds that would otherwise come to the County. And a recent proposed rule change by the federal government regarding Medicaid could mean a loss of nearly $32 million a year to Valley Medical Center. Such programs and changes could add to our projected deficit. 

To address the deficit, our administration has identified a strategy, and the Board has adopted budget targets, as we begin our preparation for our June budget hearings. These targets are severe, and in some cases may not be achievable by departments already stretched by past cuts. It is especially difficult to contemplate cuts to services that provide the safety net for our most vulnerable residents. 

I do not look forward to chairing the budget workshops and hearings later this year. 

One of the major financial challenges faced by the county is the requirement for seismic upgrades to Valley Medical Center. State law mandates that by the year 2013, all hospital buildings must remain standing during a major earthquake, so that patients can be evacuated safely. By the year 2030, the hospital must not only be able to remain standing, but also to remain functioning. 

The estimated cost of this project is nearly $1.2 billion, that’s billion with a “B.” Up against the clock to bring Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Hospital into compliance, the County is moving forward with the Seismic Compliance and Modernization Project and a financing strategy to begin the upgrades without incurring substantial debt. 

The alternative would be to risk not meeting the deadline, which would mean VMC would have to close 272 beds. Such a reduction means the hospital would have to turn away 10,500 people each year, and the County’s capacity to respond to disasters also would be limited. 

This is just one example of the ongoing financial challenges faced by the County in years to come. 

On a brighter note, let me focus on some of the accomplishments we have had over the last year. 

Under the leadership of Supervisor Alvarado, the Public Safety Committee was able to: 

  • Advance Juvenile Detention Reform by initiating prevention and intervention strategies that significantly reduced the number of youth in custody; 
  • Create an Evening Reporting Center that provides after-school services for high-risk youth on probation; and 
  • Authorize a “Ranch Enterprise Program” that allows youth at our juvenile detention ranches to participate in vocational education programs and earn money to pay restitution or fines incurred for their offences. 

Under the leadership of Supervisor McHugh, the Finance & Government Operations Committee was able to: 

  • Provide oversight of our capital projects including the new crime lab, two Valley Health clinics, the Valley Specialty Center and the Morgan Hill Courthouse; 
  • Develop a Green Building Policy that requires the County to construct, renovate and maintain County facilities in compliance with "green building" standards; and 
  • The Committee also has responsibility for over-seeing the audits of County departments and organizing audit recommendations when they are presented to the full Board for consideration. 

Under the leadership of Supervisor Kniss, the Health & Hospital Committee: 

  • Approved a Stroke Care Management System including education for Paramedics, transport policies and Stroke Center designation standards; 
  • The Committee also provided the policy direction on planning and preparedness efforts for the Pandemic Flu; and 
  • It provided stewardship in the aftermath of the abrupt closure of San Jose Hospital. 

Under the leadership of former Supervisor Beall and now led by Supervisor Yeager, the Children, Seniors & Family Committee: 

  • Is implementing the “Connected By 25” initiative to strengthen and develop housing, social, educational and employment resources for youth leaving the dependency system; 
  • Successfully rolled-out the Joint Response program combining 24/7 social worker and law enforcement presence at situations in the community where children are considered at-risk of abuse and neglect. The program is considered a statewide model of effective implementation of the emergency response mandate. 

I had the pleasure of working with Supervisor Yeager while he was a member of the San Jose City Council on the Joint Strategic Plan on Aging Services. This 10-year strategic plan is a collaborative effort between the County of Santa Clara, the City of San Jose and community-based organizations to leverage services and resources to seniors. 

I have a strong commitment to advance the well-being of our older adults, and I look forward to implementing the recommendations in the plan with the help of Supervisor Yeager. 

As the Chair of the Housing, Land Use, Environment & Transportation Committee I had the pleasure of: 

  • Overseeing the development of our View Shed Program; 
  • Working on the development of the Countywide Habitat Conservation Plan; and 
  • Completing the Comprehensive Review of the County’s Williamson Act Program. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we are involved in, but I wanted to give you a feel for the diversity of the County’s work. 

I would like to now turn to some initiatives for 2007. As Chair of the Board I plan to focus on four areas: financial stability, government relations, transportation, and housing and homelessness. 

My primary goal, this year, and every year, is to maintain the fiscal integrity of the County. If our county government is not financially sound, then it puts all the services we provide at risk. 

This task will be especially difficult this year because of the projected deficit, and the fact that there does not appear to be much light at the end of the tunnel for the next few years. But I have confidence in our administration, our non-profit partners, and especially in our dedicated employees. 

I believe we can address our financial challenges as we have done in the past. 

My second goal should be easier to achieve – we in local government need to get along better. 

As elected officials from throughout the County, we should be able to work together. The simple fact is that we all have the same goal, to serve the public. In fact, we serve the same citizens, and I believe that the public is not served well when governments talk to each other thru lawyers. 

To accomplish this goal, I am committed to making sure the lines of communication are open between the cities and the County. 

Last year the County Board met with the San Jose City Council. The meeting was long overdue, and all agreed it was productive and should occur more often. 

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and I have already scheduled meetings throughout the year to discuss issues of mutual concern. We aren’t waiting for a problem to arise; we are committed to discussing issues before they become problems, and settling disagreements before they become lawsuits. 

It is the right thing to do, and the public will be better served if we work together. 

The next area I would like to focus on is transportation. 

I pledge to do everything in my power to make sure that Santa Clara County receives our fair share of transportation dollars. 

Silicon Valley drives the State’s economy, and in order for us to lead a recovery, we must address our transportation and housing needs. 

We have consistently shown ourselves to be a “self-help county,” and it is clear that we will have to develop a local source of transportation funding in the future. In the meantime, we must be a unified force for getting our share of regional, state and federal funding. 

We must work together as elected representatives, and as business and community leaders, in a concerted and aggressive effort to make the case for transportation funding.

This is not only true at the local level, but at the regional level. Transportation is a regional issue and the solutions must be designed from that perspective. 

Quite bluntly, we need to get into people’s faces, and demand that our residents get the state and federal transportation dollars they are entitled to. We cannot make the case individually; we must work together. This is a basic quality-of-life issue – time spent sitting in traffic is time wasted. 

We also need to fully develop our transportation and transit options. Our valley cannot accommodate the growth we know will occur without breaking our reliance on the automobile. 

I challenge you to join me and urge officials at the state and federal levels of government to fund needed transportation improvements in our valley. 

Let’s plan our transportation systems right from the beginning. It is too costly, and too painful, to endure a retrofit. 

My last area of focus is on housing and homelessness. 

We are faced with an affordable housing crisis in Santa Clara County: Only 15 percent of the County’s residents can afford to buy a median-priced home. 

Even rental housing is out of the reach of many. According to the Low Income Housing Coalition, in 2005, the income needed to afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Clara County was $52,000. This means a minimum wage worker in Santa Clara County would have to work 148 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. 

The good news is that developers and public agencies have worked together to finance and develop more than 14,500 new affordable apartments and homes for low-income individuals and families since 1999. 

The County has also played a direct role in providing affordable housing. Our response to this crisis has been both innovative and effective. 

The County is directing the development of 500 units of affordable housing on a 12-acre parcel that was “carved out” of the Fairgrounds property on Tully Road, adjacent to the new Valley Health Center. 

The first phase of this project consists of 300 units of multi-family apartments. It is nearing completion, with occupancy slated for June 2007. All of these affordable apartments are targeted for residents earning 45 to 50 percent of the area median income. 

The project is being developed with state and federal funding, investor funding, and a subsidy from the City of San Jose Housing Department. 

The second phase consists of 200 apartments for extremely low-income seniors. This project will get under way in late 2007 and is expected to open in late 2008. 

Also, as part of the Elmwood Residential Development plan, the County is co-sponsoring another senior housing project in Milpitas. This one is a 100-unit building for very low-income seniors, and it is scheduled to open in Spring 2008. It is being co-developed with the new Valley Health Center Milpitas and the new Milpitas Senior Center & Library complex. 

While these projects alone won’t solve our housing crisis, they are at least steps toward easing the crunch. 

Another housing effort, the Housing Trust of Santa Clara County, is an innovative public-private partnership that provides funding for affordable housing projects, first-time home-buyer programs, and homeless and special needs housing. The county provided the Trust with $3.75 million in direct funding. 

Since 2001, the Housing Trust has invested more than $24 million in programs that have directly helped more than 6,000 families. 

We are helping to create a community where every family can have a place to call home. 

Another aspect of our affordable housing crisis is homelessness. 

Cold weather over the last few weeks was a cruel reminder that many in our county live without basic shelter. Through the tireless efforts of local governments, non-profits and volunteers, we were able to make sure that no life was lost as the temperature dropped and exposed those without shelter to an uncertain fate. For those of you who literally brought the homeless in out of the cold and provided them with shelter, we thank you. 

I realize that often the discussion of homelessness is unpopular. Let’s be honest, most of us aren’t homeless, and sometimes we wonder how the issue impacts us. 

Well, let me tell you how it impacts me. 

You see, I find it difficult to feel like I am truly accomplishing my job as a County supervisor when there are those in our community who are not provided even the basic human needs of food, shelter and medical care. 

There is a famous quote from Hubert Humphrey that states: “The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” 

Under this test the County does pretty well, but I believe we can do more, especially for those truly in the shadows – the homeless. 

In December 2004, a countywide homeless census and survey was conducted and found that on a given night there were 7,646 homeless in our county and nearly 35 percent of those were chronically homeless. 

Of the 7,646 homeless, 58 percent receive no government assistance, 75 percent report having a disability of some kind, and 20 percent reported working full or part time. 

We are in the process of updating our census; early, and I mean early – 4 o’clock this morning – a group of volunteers went out on the streets for the second morning in a row, to once again count the number of people living on the streets or staying the night in shelters and emergency rooms. The information gained from this census will help us define the extent and nature of homelessness in our County. 

In 2005, using information gained from the prior census, the County adopted a 10-year Plan to End Homelessness. This plan is a Housing First Model, which has proven to be successful in many other cities and counties throughout the country. 

The Housing First Model helps homeless families move directly into affordable rental housing, then provides them with individualized home-based supportive social services to help each family transition to stability and independence. 

Permanent supportive housing for the homeless is both cost effective and logical. It costs taxpayers an estimated $61,000 annually to cover the cost of emergency room services and incarceration for one chronically homeless person. 

Our hospital emergency room has become the primary care provider for the uninsured; 62,000 patients visit annually, and many of them are homeless. Our hospital emergency room has become a night stay, a respite from the cold or rain for the unhoused. 

Yet it would cost only $16,000 per year to provide permanent supportive housing that included treatment and care for the same person. 

Providing the homeless with permanent supportive housing would save Santa Clara County taxpayers millions of dollars each year and presents a tremendous opportunity to break the vicious cycle of homelessness. By providing housing first, the demand for services and the overflow in emergency rooms is diminished. 

We have adopted a plan, but I believe that we need to take the next step. But we cannot take this step alone; we need partners. If we have any hope of addressing the issue of the chronically homeless, we will need the assistance of non-profits, business and community leaders, and the cities in our county. 

I have agreed to assemble a team to jump-start the plan. I have asked many of our community partners to join me in this effort and have assembled a Blue Ribbon Commission to address the barriers to homelessness and housing. 

I am asking the commission to help provide the leadership to implement solutions to this affordable housing crisis, and to restate our commitment to ending homelessness.

I am proud to announce that the following individuals have accepted my invitation: 

  • San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed; 
  • County Executive Pete Kutras; 
  • Sheriff Laurie Smith; 
  • San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis; 
  • Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan, President of the Santa Clara County Cities Association 
  • Chief of Correction Ed Flores; 
  • Pat Dando, President and CEO of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce; 
  • Bob Brownstein, Policy Director of Working Partnerships; 
  • Chris Block, Executive Director the Charities Housing and Chair of the Collaborative on Housing and Homelessness; 
  • Alex Sanchez, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County; 
  • Will Lightbourne, Director of the Social Services Agency; 
  • Nancy Peña, Director of the Mental Health Department; 
  • Mark Walker, President & CEO of the United Way; 
  • Leslye Krutko, Director of the San Jose Housing Department; 
  • Marjorie Matthews, our Director of the Office of Affordable Housing; 
  • Kim Roberts, Acting Director of the Health & Hospital System; 
  • Ben Spero, Spectrum Equity; 
  • Carl Guardino, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. 

And I know we will be adding others. I want to thank each of them for their willingness to participate. 

On another front, the County is developing methods to assist the homeless in applying for benefits that they are entitled to. The Department of Employment and Benefits has been working to address the benefits of the chronically homeless; in particular the food stamp program. 

The California food stamp program serves more than 2 million people annually. A recent study found that more than 50 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 will at some point receive food stamps. 

Despite providing vital assistance to half of the adults, the food stamp program continues to be underutilized. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently concluded that only 45 percent of eligible people in California participate in the program. 

Research shows that the lengthy application process is at least partly to blame. In response to this, the County is launching a New Food Stamp Pilot Project on February 1st. 

Our Department of Employment and Benefits has designed a new process for our chronically homeless clients to apply for food stamps. This project will explore ways to simplify the process in order to serve homeless individuals and families with the least amount of paperwork. 

The goal of our pilot project is to offer an expedited application process for chronically homeless individuals, and to eliminate the barriers – such as multiple office visits. The project is designed to offer the shortest possible turn-around time between application and delivery of service – 3 days. 

I want to thank Kathy Buckovetz, Director of the County Department of Employment & Benefit Services and her staff – Alette Lundeberg, Denise Boland and Mary Cardenas for their hard work. We held our first training earlier this month, and had an overwhelming response from our community partners. 

This is a giant step that the County has taken to serve the marginalized in our community. Through efforts such as this, we will continue to improve on how we deliver services to the homeless. 

It is also my hope that with the assistance of the Blue Ribbon Commission we can begin to serve those in the shadows and end chronic homelessness. 

It has been said, “Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.” 

I am convinced that working together, we can address the challenges in front of us. And I invite you to work with us to make sure that we remain a strong county that cares deeply about ALL of our residents. 

Thank you.