Thank you, Victoria, for singing our national anthem – for the second year in a row.
Welcome to the Santa Clara County Government Center, the 44-year-old tower that was once criticized as the next Taj Mahal, and is now affectionately called the “Rusty Bucket.”
We like to call it home, not just for government officials and staff, but for our residents. The doors you entered through tonight – and those at our other facilities – are open to the nearly 2 million people living in Santa Clara County who can and do come to us for help. It might be for something as routine as a copy of a birth certificate or a passport renewal, or something as life-saving as housing, health care or legal counseling.
Tonight, I want to begin by thanking my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors for electing me to serve as Board President for a second year. Either they liked what I did last year, or more likely, none of them wanted the job.
In any event, I’m honored. Also serving a second term as Board Vice President is
Supervisor Joe Simitian. He is with us tonight along with Supervisors Cindy Chavez, Ken Yeager and Mike Wasserman. They are hard-working elected officials who continue to innovate and take on the toughest issues facing our county. Please give them a round of applause.
Next, I’d like to recognize our County Executive Jeff Smith for his continual guidance in moving the County forward. And our COO Gary Graves, who recently announced he will be retiring in June after nearly 32 years with the county. Gary, the thanks are not just from us but from the countless numbers of residents lifted up over the years through your work here.
I need to recognize my own staff, as well. A year as President, let alone two years, puts an enormous extra responsibility on district staff members. They have embraced that responsibility three times now since I’ve been on the board. Please stand and be recognized.
I thank my wife, Pattie, and my family for supporting me through a busy and rewarding 2015, and ask for their support – and the support of all of you -- for what promises to be another productive but challenging year. And thank you for being our MC tonight.
The State of the County is good, and in 2016, we, as your elected officials, will ensure that it gets better.
Let’s take the time to acknowledge what is going well:
• The county continues to earn an AAA bond rating, the highest in the land. This is perhaps our most important overall measure and accomplishment.
• Taxpayer support of our recent initiatives has led to across-the-board increases in our direct assistance to the community;
• Our nearly 18,000 county employees who continued to work cooperatively with us during the most difficult year of collective bargaining since the strike year of 1975. Last summer our largest union, SEIU with over 9,000 employees, and our county management team, worked round the clock, bargaining in a can-do spirit and avoided another strike. The people of Santa Clara County are better off for it.
• We entered the calendar year 2016 with a balanced budget that included a small surplus, and fiscal prudence will continue to be our focus this year.
• Our Silicon Valley economy continues to fire on all cylinders. In the afterglow of the global attention around the Super Bowl, we realize more than ever that there is no better place on earth than The Valley of St. Clare, Silicon Valley, our new Valley of Heart’s Delight.
A year ago, I stood before you and acknowledged the record-setting job growth in our county. Well, it hasn't slowed down. And according to reports this month, we have officially gained back the more than 200,000 jobs we lost during the doubledip recession of the past 10 years.
Young job seekers under 30 are experiencing a robust economy for the first time since they entered high school. Now, young people, if we can just create for you affordable housing, you will finally stand before the ladder of prosperity that has benefited so many prior generations in this Valley.
I’ve often said that the intersection of opportunity and quality of life is what has made our county great. Opportunity and quality of life. We cannot afford to lose that. We owe it to this next generation.
But the ladder of prosperity is still missing a rung or two. We can see that despite the massive job growth, the issues of homelessness and housing our workforce have never been more challenging. I have not seen an economy like this in my lifetime -- where poverty grows despite increasing overall wealth. So the questions about how we sustain ourselves as a County and a region continue to be profound.
At last year’s State of the County event, I called 2015 the Year of Opportunity. I asked for the community to come together, to put aside differences and political ideologies and embrace ideas and to face our biggest challenges, regardless if they came from business or labor, Republican or Democrat.
They did. You did. And the results are impressive.
Together, we are facing homelessness head on, with a focus on meeting immediate needs while, at the same time, not losing sight of the ultimate goal of creating more than 6,000 units of affordable housing in the next five years.
Under the leadership of Supervisor Yeager, we fought the alarming growth of Type 2 diabetes in the County with education, accelerated free screening, counseling and support for those at risk. We continue that work, and this year, Ken is leading us in our Getting to Zero initiative-- zero new HIV infections, zero HIV-related deaths, and zero stigma.
And we launched a Children’s Health Assessment to serve as a foundation to provide better care for more than 400,000 youth in our county. Information has been gathered, outreach is underway, a draft baseline report is being readied for distribution, and the final report with recommendations is expected to be released in the fall.
Building on the ethnic and cultural health assessments I initiated, such as the Vietnamese Health Assessment in 2011, Supervisor Simitian and I will work with the Public Health Department to conduct a broader Asian Health Assessment to develop a deeper analysis of the health disparities in our diverse Asian community, which accounts for more than a third of our County.
We established the County’s first Neighborhood Safety Unit involving multiple agencies and led by the Probation Department—in an effort to further reduce juvenile crime by working directly with the youth, their families and schools in their neighborhoods.
In 2011, I said we should put Juvenile Hall out of business. We had over 350 youth incarcerated at one time. Today we have 86 in the Hall. We are almost there. Let’s give a hand to Our Probation Chief Laura Garnette and her entire team.
But it’s not just them. The county has created diversion programs so officers don’t have to book kids into jail in the first place. We added School linked services, neighborhood safety projects, mentoring and restorative justice programs like Peer Court.
We added mental health services for young people and jobs for Foster Youth. With our partner, Work2Future Foundation, we enrolled 506 teens and young adults last summer in our Youth Jobs Program. We will work to increase that number this summer. Again a shout-out to Supervisor Chavez for her steadfast efforts.
Under Supervisor Yeager’s leadership we opened the first County Office of LGBTQ Affairs in the nation.
We also created our first Office of Immigrant Relations and strengthened our relationships with San Jose’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. We established the first Notario Investigation Unit under the Sheriff’s Department to make immigrants aware of fraudulent notarios who promise to help them but cheat them instead.
Last year, the Board also adopted the Coverage Initiative, a 12-month pilot program that will provide primary and specialty care services to 5,000 undocumented immigrant residents within the county.
And so far, we have helped 100,000 have access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. What a huge success our Health and Hospital system has achieved in adapting to the new Federal mandate.
We showed off the beauty of Alviso Marina Park and its healthy environment for wildlife with our new Boat Tour Program, starting with school children and expanding to adult groups.
I am proud of these and our other accomplishments and everyone who worked on them. We emerged from The Year of Opportunity with a foundation that we can continue to build on in 2016. We will take the progress and experience of 2015 and, once again, bring the community together to collectively move forward.
We are faced with the ultimate opportunity this year, that is to give rise to the fundamental right of every human being to dignity, especially those in our custody, whether they are in our jails or under our health care, whether in our child welfare system or among the elderly, be they immigrants or among those homeless and in poverty, whether LGBTQ seeking their rights or women seeking pay and gender equity.
That work, the work before us, is truly transformational. Therefore I’m calling 2016 the Year of Transformation.
Before we talk about our vision for the coming months, I want to acknowledge that, as a larger community, we had our tragedies along with our triumphs in 2015.
In a tribute that filled the S-A-P Center in San Jose, and streets lined with those grieving, we said goodbye to Officer Michael Johnson, who was fatally shot in the line of duty at age 38. A 14-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department Officer Johnson was responding to a 911 call involving a suicidal man. A month from today, March 24, will be the first anniversary of his death. Michael Johnson was a friend of mine.
Let us observe that day as a reminder of the risk that officers take – whether they are from our police and fire departments or the Sheriff’s Office -- in doing their jobs every day. Officer Johnson’s mother, Katherine Decker, is here tonight and I’d like her to know we still share her grief and are here to support her and other family members.
Katherine Decker asked me for one thing the day after we lost Mike. She was not vindictive. She asked that we focus on mental health intervention. I promised we would. Katherine, this year, for the first time, we will create a Mobile Crisis Intervention Team to be deployed in situations like the one last year, and hopefully, prevent tragedies like the death of Michael Johnson and the tragedies of families who lose members through suicide.
Public Safety/Custody Operations
A few months later, on August 27, 2015, we faced what was, for all of us, a most painful event. A mentally ill inmate, Michael Tyree, was beaten to death in his cell at the Main Jail allegedly by three corrections officers who have been charged with murder.
Besides hiring a consultant to examine our system -- an effort that was in the works before Michael Tyree’s death--we appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission on Custody Operations to do a top to bottom review of our jails.
The Commission, led by retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, has met every other Saturday since December 2015, with still more meetings scheduled. I’m proud of their heartfelt work and thank them for their service. Please stand if you are a member of this commission.
I believe that the majority of our custodial deputies want to perform to the high standards that we and our public deserve. But it’s clear that we not only need a new Jail facility to replace our 50-year-old building, but a new holistic way of looking at how we treat inmates and their families before, during and after incarceration.
A Transformation of Custody Operations will be at the top of our priority list for
2016. We will examine the recommendations coming from the Blue Ribbon Commission in April and from expert consultants. And, of course, we want the public to weigh in at every step of that process.
Dramatic changes should and will be made so that inmates, visitors and the corrections officers themselves feel safe and respected in our County jails.
We must prevent mentally ill offenders from incarceration in the first place. We need more alternatives for treatment and rehabilitation. Our Jails have become de facto holding cells for our mentally ill residents who are placed there because there are too few places for them to go for treatment.
Once changes are made, we need to be vigilant that independent oversight does not disappear. I’m ready to support a permanent Independent Oversight Commission to ensure that transparency and accountability will prevail. I believe my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors will support that too.
We WILL get this right.
I read a quote recently: “We have come dangerously close to accepting the homeless situation as a problem that we just can't solve.”
Yes, the challenge is enormous and the need is heart-breaking. Providing permanent housing for more than 6,000 men, women and children in Santa Clara County may sometimes seem impossible. But we are making progress and will continue to do so until no one in Santa Clara County has to sleep outside.
Last year, I proposed a credible and highly visible Task Force charged with assessing the County’s opportunity to contribute to the region’s emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent housing solutions. Led by Matt Mahood, president and CEO of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Ben Field, the executive officer of the South Bay Labor Council, the 11member advisory group delivered recommendations that are doable and can respond to immediate needs – in just 10 months.
They built their recommendations on the work of Destination Home and so many who dedicated countless hours to produce the Community Plan to End Homelessness and the groundbreaking Homelessness Cost Study called for by Supervisor Wasserman. They also listened to hours of testimony from homeless men and women and their advocates.
Thank you for your work, and please stand if your name is Matt Mahood or Ben Field or if you served on the Housing Task Force. And Cindy and Mike, thank you for your leadership on the Task Force, as well.
And I must add, they couldn’t have done it without our Office of Supportive Housing, staff of other Departments, our non-profit partners who supported them along the way and input from the public.
The Board has approved $36 million toward funding the first slate of Housing Task Force recommendations and they are being implemented. We are working on the second set, estimated to cost $64 million. We have added beds, opened a cold weather shelter, expanded health and other services that meet critical needs of over 4,000 unsheltered residents of Santa Clara County.
Is it enough? Not by a long shot. But there’s more to come. Be ready for the area’s first micro-housing village later this year.
Besides its recommendations, the Task Force’s legacy is proving that even past political opponents can work together to tackle our most pressing challenges. And it solidified partnerships with the City of San Jose and the 14 other cities in the County to solve the lack of affordable housing with a regional approach.
Our Pay for Success project with Abode Services, called Project Welcome Home, is moving forward to provide community –based clinical services and permanent supportive housing to 200 chronically homeless individuals a year for six years.
Under this model, also known as Social Impact Bonds, the Board voted to invest
$12 million for the project, with investors, such as Google.org and the Laura and
John Arnold Foundation, along with the Irvine Foundation, Sobrato Foundation, Corporation for Supportive Housing, California Endowment, Reinvestment Fund and the Health Trust. Now that’s what I call a public-private parternship.
Thanks to Catholic Charities for bringing the idea of Social Impact Bonds forward in the first place. We only pay if the project is successful in housing and stabilizing at least 80 percent of these individuals for at least a year. And they have already been successful. This is a whole new way of doing business for the county. One that our business partners endorse.
And last Veteran’s Day, Mayor Liccardo and I jointly announced and launched All the Way Home, a campaign to provide housing or shelter for each of the 500 homeless veterans in the County by the end of this year. No man or woman who has served our country should have to sleep under a bridge at night. We are going to get this done.
These are just two great examples of community partnerships dedicated to housing chronically homeless individuals who cost more to taxpayers -- in trips to emergency rooms, stays in Jails and services provided by our mental health programs -- than it costs to house them.
The County has also hired a firm to survey voters to determine if they might support new revenue measures that would support funding for affordable housing, especially targeting our extremely low income and the homeless populations.
In the meantime, we need immediate transitional housing or shelter for approximately 4,600 unsheltered people, whether it be Safe Parking Programs or sites for supervised homeless villages. Tonight, over 1,000 people will sleep in their cars here in Santa Clara County.
I’m challenging us to take a transformational approach to thinking about homelessness. Let’s change our mindsets that caring for the homeless is a government problem or a law enforcement problem or an insolvable problem. It’s not a problem to be solved at all, but a moral obligation to be filled – by all of us.
It is incumbent upon all of us to step up and contribute to the campaign to end homelessness, not just with financial resources, but with a realization that being homeless is not a crime, that most homeless individuals want to get their lives back on track and that sweeping them from one creek bed or freeway underpass to another is not a solution.
Every homeless person is a human being who deserves our help. Every person living on the street or in a camp is likely someone’s brother or sister, someone’s father or mother and certainly someone’s child.
When you ask most homeless people about why they are homeless, the most frequent answer is “I lost my job.” Yes, the economy is booming here in Silicon Valley and jobs are available, but not for everyone.
Tonight, I call on all of us in Santa Clara County to be part of the solution. If we all unite behind this goal, we can get this done.
• If you are a resident in a neighborhood that may be near a housing or shelter site, please keep an open mind. I know that there are difficulties in neighborhoods caused by homeless encampments. But without sites that will accommodate these transitional shelter projects, people will be in neighborhoods and parks instead of being sheltered and stabilized.
• If you are a landlord, please consider renting to homeless veterans and others. There are 1,600 homeless people in Santa Clara County who have housing vouchers but who can’t find a place to live, and many of them are veterans who served honorably in our U.S. Military.
• Tony Harrison, a former homeless veteran who spoke often at the Housing Task Force meetings, was rejected by landlords dozens of times before he found a place to live. He is now helping with the campaign to see that other vets are housed. Anthony, and the veterans who came with him tonight, please stand up and be recognized for your service.
These two areas alone – improving our jails and serving the homelessness – will certainly take up much of our time and resources. But we will not overlook our responsibilities to the thousands of others who rely on the County to survive and thrive.
Economic Development Strategy and Energy
We have made significant strides to transition to a new role in housing and economic development. We will continue our joint efforts with the cities as we work to develop specific projects.
And we will continue to work aggressively on the Fairgrounds Master Plan, the
Civic Center development plans, the Downtown San Jose Medical Clinic site, our Senter Road housing site and the former redevelopment properties that make sense for our mission. And we will get BART to San Jose.
And yesterday, the Board took a final vote to join the Silicon Valley Clean Energy Authority, after leading the effort to form the new venture. The County and, so far, 10 cities – Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and Sunnyvale -- are partners in creating a local Community Choice Energy Authority that will offer competitive electric rates and greener energy sources. Residents and businesses may be offered the program as early as 2017.
This is a demonstration of our commitment to renewable energy. In addition, the solar arrays we have installed across the County make us one of the top 10 on-site renewable energy users in the U.S. When all are up and running, they will generate 11.4 megawatts of power, which is about 17 percent of the total energy used in our county facilities.
Among our other vulnerable populations that we must assist and protect are the thousands of immigrants who live, work and raise families here, adding to the rich and diverse tapestry of Santa Clara County.
With our Office of Immigrant Relations in place and a director hired (Maria Love), we are poised to better serve our immigrants, not just those who are seeking a path to citizenship, but those who need help integrating into our communities. While the administrative actions ordered by President Obama are in limbo, and the rhetoric we are hearing from some at the national level is disturbing, we will not let the politics of fear take over our commitment to support our immigrant communities here at home.
I will advocate for the County’s first Immigrant Programs Task Force with the goal of identifying opportunities to create a “one-stop shop” for immigrants and immigration services in our county. We must also continue to invest in our immigrant youth and we will explore creating a DREAM Fellowship to engage DACA beneficiary youth to serve as ambassadors in the community.
We just this month celebrated our future Vietnamese American Service Center, which will be built on Senter Road, near Tully. Vietnamese American community members in large numbers contributed their ideas about what services they need at this one-stop hub. I’ve enjoyed working with Supervisor Cindy Chavez and her staff and our Behavioral Health and Public Health staff members on this longawaited center. This public engagement process can serve as a model for other projects that will serve our diverse community.
Outreach Strike Team
In a County that encompasses 1,304 square miles and has a population of nearly 2 million, connecting with residents – one of the hallmarks of being a transparent government -- requires a network of ambassadors who can meet with individuals, groups and communities to provide information and listen for feedback. Yes, we are a big county, but we can have two-way communication with our residents just like small towns. Here’s how I see it:
We have many dedicated staff members in our offices, Departments and Agencies and partner organizations who do just that. They are experts at outreach! But there aren’t enough of them in one place or department, and often they have many other duties.
I’m proposing that we create a County Outreach Strike Team, a unit of employees who can be mobilized face-to-face, in meaningful dialogue, when it is crucial that information is received and understood by our residents. And volunteer neighborhood leaders should be our key contacts.
For example, reaching out to the public during a health epidemic, explaining a newly enacted ordinance or encouraging participation in such campaigns as Diabetes prevention, veterans’ homelessness and the Children’s Health Assessment. These are just a few examples of many county initiatives and responsibilities that we engage in every day.
And speaking of outreach, this is a year when we are likely to see an increase in voter participation. However, there are some who still face barriers to participation. I plan to work with my colleagues to explore proven practices to reach out and ensure that in the future, all who are eligible are afforded the opportunity to participate in the democratic process.
Alviso as Emergency Access Port
As I mentioned earlier, last year, we started educational boat tours at Alviso
Marina County Park, using the navigable waterway next to the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. It’s so popular that the waiting list is now over 500.
But this South Bay port can be more than a recreational asset. I’m proposing that the Alviso Marina be designated regionally as an emergency access port. A natural disaster could close roads and airports. I want the Alviso Marina, with its waterway connecting to the Bay, to be ready for emergency and rescue services.
We have already received support from local and regional agencies to make this happen.
In addition, I have proposed to the Santa Clara County Water District a joint Shoreline Study to determine how to further transform the Marina area and beyond. Our South Bay Shoreline can be one of the crown jewels of the South Bay Area. A Waterfront destination. We all know that where public investment occurs, private investment is soon to follow.
And speaking of parks, this is the 60th anniversary of our County Park System. We have much to celebrate, including the recent purchase of land that eventually will link, through trails, Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch and Anderson Lake County Parks to each other and to Henry Coe State Park. And our newest park, Martial Cottle, nearly 300 acres in the SJ suburbs is progressing with new features added every month. Thank you to our County Parks administrators and staff.
This month, the Board agreed to place the extension of our Park Charter Fund on the ballot this June. This is not a new tax. In fact it is not a tax at all. But we are asking voters for an extension of existing revenue that we earmark for County Parks. We owe a debt of gratitude to the voters who have continued to support this financial strategy for decades. If you want to know where the payoff is for taxpayers look around at the green hills surrounding the Valley tomorrow. And tally up the number of park acres acquired over the years. The county now has 29 parks encompassing 48,000 acres.
If you haven’t been to a County Park recently, please make this the year you visit one.
National Heritage Area
I also want 2016 to be a time to celebrate what, on any given day, we may lose sight of. We live in one of the most unique and special areas in the United States. Our history from the native Ohlones to fruit orchards to technology campuses is epic, our population is richly diverse – we speak over 100 languages and dialects -- our climate is unparalleled in the world and our natural beauty is stunning. These attributes are important not just to us but to the rest of the nation.
This year, we are embarking on a mission to have the U.S. Congress designate
Santa Clara County as a National Heritage Area. NHA is a program within the National Park System that recognizes and supports places where culture, history, traditions and resources blend together to tell important stories about our nation and the American experience. Boy, do we have a story.
There are 49 NHA areas in the U.S., but none in California or on the West Coast. We want to be the first in the West.
A key aspect of the process is public involvement, especially in the development of a feasibility study. A steering committee has been working for months to gather support for this pursuit. The steering committee includes Jack Ellwanger,
Rod Diridon, Terry Christiansen and Dan McCorquodale, Teresa Alvarado, Paul Bernal, Lisa Gillmor, Carl Guardino, April Halberstadt, Gloria Hom, Dianne McKenna, Judy Niizawa, Hermalinda Sapien and Luis Valdez.
You’ll learn more about how to get involved in the coming months because I am proposing a public Task Force to guide the NHA study, which will report to the board’s Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee on an ongoing basis.
There are benefits to this designation. It will give us access to federal grants and the ability to leverage funds and long-term support for projects. We might create a natural history or multicultural museum and resource center. Something the Smithsonian has expressed interest in. Or connecting our trail system with interpretive signs or developing new art and performance venues.
I know that Silicon Valley is already on the map, but there is more to us than the world knows. Let’s tell the whole story of Santa Clara County on our way to becoming a National Heritage Area.
I know that we have a lot of work ahead of us. But last year proved to me that we can pull together as a community despite our differences on issues or our varied perspectives.
We ended 2015 with a renewed commitment of embracing innovative ideas, engaging in new ways of thinking and following paths that are not always visible to us at first. And we didn’t give up because of barriers that get in the way or pressure from competing interests or because challenges seem insurmountable.
In the words of John F. Kennedy [when he announced that the U.S. was going to embark on the first space mission to land on the moon], “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
The Year of Transformation will not be easy. Reforming our jails alone will be demanding and difficult. Striving to provide enough shelter, housing and services for our homeless population will take the commitment of all of us.
But with the support of county administrators and their staff, our employees, our partners and you, the residents, we can build on what we accomplished last year and transform our operations, institutions and systems into national models of dignity and compassion, effectiveness and transparency.
Together, we can face these challenges and commit to making 2016 collaborative, productive and rewarding. In other words, transformational.
I’m going to end with a quote from the poet Maya Angelou about transformation:
“What you're supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it.
If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
News Release: Board President Cortese Calls for Action on Jail Reform, Needs of Homeless in State of the County Speech