News

New supes president points to poverty amidst plenty

Economy is booming, but high housing costs drive many into poverty, he says in remarks

This report is from the San Mateo County website.

Supervisor Dave Pine will serve as president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 2014. He was elected president by his four colleagues at a meeting Tuesday evening, Jan. 7, at Burlingame High School.

Pine, in his remarks, said that for the most part, "the Great Recession is in the rear view mirror" and pointed to a low unemployment rate and high median family income as signs of good news in San Mateo County.

Yet, he said, "in this county of great wealth, many struggle" due to the extremely high cost of living. One in seven residents, he said, receives public assistance from the county government while a Stanford study estimates that as many as 136,000 San Mateo County residents live in poverty when the high cost of housing is taken into account.

Pine laid out four resolutions for San Mateo County government in 2014: investing in prevention and early intervention; fiscal discipline; government efficiency and innovation; and bringing passion to the work of government.

Following are excerpts from his prepared remarks:

"Things are going very well in San Mateo County. Our unemployment rate is at about 5%, which is the second lowest among all of California's 58 counties.

"Our median family income is among the highest in the state. We are seeing robust business growth, particularly in the tech sector.

"This is all good news.

"But there is another side of San Mateo County. In this county of great wealth, many struggle. One out of seven residents receives some type of medical or human service assistance from the county government.

"One out of three children in public school qualify for free and reduced lunch. About 1,300 homeless people live on county streets, inside vehicles or in makeshift encampments.

"The dark side of the healthy real estate market is that it is becoming more and more difficult to pay the rent or the mortgage when the median price for a single family home is just under $1M and the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment stands at about $2,000

"In fact, while federal statistics show that about 6.5% or 50,000 county residents live in poverty, according to a recent Stanford Study the actual number is 136,000 when the high cost of housing is taken into account.

"And of course, a booming economy means lots of traffic and a highway system that seems to be backed up almost every minute of the day.

"But my purpose today is not to set forth a long list of possible policy solutions to address these specific issues and the many others that confront the county. Instead, I would like to lay out four themes or frameworks that I think are important for guiding our work.

"They are: (i) the importance of investing in prevention and early intervention; (ii) fiscal discipline; (iii) the need for government efficiency and innovation; and (iv) the importance of bringing passion to the work of government.

"In a sense these are new year's resolutions for the county. And like the new year's resolutions many of us make each year, they are easy to list, but not so easy to achieve

Resolution #1: Focus on prevention and early intervention

"It is extremely difficult and costly to help people in crisis such as the homeless, the incarcerated, the severely mentally ill, and those suffering from substance abuse.

"San Mateo County has the financial strength to make investments now in prevention and early intervention that will both (i) better serve our residents, and (ii) save taxpayers' dollars in the long run.

"With the passage of the Measure A (cent) sales tax, the county has made notable investments in early intervention and prevention and we must continue to do so. For example:

" Under the leadership of Supervisor Groom, the county has initiated the "Big Lift program" with the goal of increasing the number of third-graders who read at grade level. This is a critical metric as before third grade you learn to read, after third grade you read to learn. The Big Lift program has many components, but the most ambitious is to provide more opportunities for three and four year olds to attend quality preschools.

" The county has also committed to increase services for youth at risk of mental illness and substance abuse. These services will be focused on reaching youth BEFORE these issues lead to failure in school, broken families and involvement in the criminal justice system.

"The principle of early intervention also applies to the challenge of sea level rise which I am committed to working on during my tenure on the Board of Supervisors. Sea level rise is one of the most serious consequences of climate change and it will have a profound effect on San Mateo County which has more people and property at risk from the rising sea than any other county in California.

"In the event of a 55 inch increase in the Bay, which some experts believe could happen by the end of the century, almost all of Foster City, Redwood Shores, SFO and route 101 would be underwater. Sea level rise has been described as a "slow moving emergency." Now is the time to begin to think about how we to plan for it.

Resolution #2: Maintain fiscal discipline

"Right now the county's financial situation is extremely strong.

"The passage of the Measure A 1/2 cent sales tax brings in over $60 million a year in new revenue. The voters also passed the Measure T tax on auto rentals which generates another incremental $10M annually. And the growth in property taxes last year was the fourth largest in the history of the county.

"But we know the good times won't last. The modern economy seems to becoming more and more subject to dramatic boom and bust cycles. With the S&P index up 30% last year, red hot real estate prices, and all the frothy new social media IPOs, some in fact are worried that we are in another bubble right now

"In this environment, we need to continue and expand on the fiscal practices which have resulted in San Mateo County having the highest bond rating of any county in California.

" That means continuing to look for opportunities to pay down future liabilities like we have done with our pension obligations. I am very proud of the commitment the Board of Supervisors has made to contribute $50M over and above our required pension payment obligations this year and an additional $10M per year over the next nine years.

" We also must keep our headcount growth modest. Before the great recession, the county had about 5,625 employees. Today we have about 5,140. We should increase that number very cautiously.

" We also need to make capital investments that will lower operating costs or generate new revenue, such as investing in energy efficiency and in a new Cordilleras Mental Health Center which when redesigned will allow the county to receive a higher federal reimbursement rate.

" And we need to be willing to stop programs that are not effective, even when there is not budget pressure to do so.

Resolution #3: Bring more risk-taking, innovation and efficiency to the way we operate government

"Before my public service career, I spent almost 20 years in the private sector and was fortunate to work for three high-tech entrepreneurial companies. The culture, pace of change and decision-making process was, shall we say, more action-oriented there.

"However, it is misguided to assert, as many do, that government should be run like a business, because government's mission and obligations are completely unlike those pursued by the private sector. County government is responsible for implementing the social safety net no matter how difficult and costly that may be and the value of what we do cannot be easily quantified in dollars and cents.

"But that said, there is plenty of room for innovation in government, and San Mateo County has started a number of initiatives to increase our efficiency and effectiveness. Some examples:

"Through our Agile Workforce Initiative, we are looking hard at what is the right mix of permanent employees, short-term employees, contractors and community volunteers for delivering services to our residents.

"We have committed to increasing our IT investments. For example, recently Code for America volunteers worked with the county to develop smart phone apps to simplify the process for residents to access CalFresh food stamps. This is a great example of the direction we need to go.

"The Health Department has done some tremendous work in implementing a thorough process improvement review, called the LEAN process, in order to create more value with less resources. I believe the LEAN process should be expanded to other county departments.

"And we must measure what we do. The recently rolled out performance dashboard for the initiatives funded by Measure A is the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing effort to evaluate the value and effectiveness of our work.

==B Resolution #4: Bring more passion to our work

"The challenges that county government faces at times seem completely intractable. Often there are multiple agencies involved, a maze of regulatory concerns, and multiple stakeholders who all seem to want different outcomes. In such an environment, it's easy to get beaten down by the sheer complexity of the issues and the decision-making process. But that we cannot do.

"Throughout San Mateo County, there are individuals who bring tremendous passion to their work and persevere no matter what the obstacles. These are special people as, to quote the novelist Edward Forster, "One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested." We would all do well to emulate them."

Pine was elected in May 2011 to represent District 1, which includes Burlingame, Hillsborough, parts of San Bruno and South San Francisco and the unincorporated San Mateo Highlands and Burlingame Hills neighborhoods.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2014 at 7:48 pm

I don't live in San Mateo County, but as a Peninsula resident it's heartening to read such a thoughtful and compassionate statement by the new Board of Supervisors President for SM County! Dave Pine's comments show that he is aware of the challenges faced by many people in this affluent region -- and that we need to work together to create new solutions that address the problems of poverty, expensive housing and homelessness.

His commitment to address concerns about sea level rise and the need for fiscal restraint show wisdom and future-thinking. And I really liked his statement that the government needs to be more innovative and open to change -- while at the same time realizing that government is NOT "like a business," since the role of these two sectors in society is very different.

In short, BRAVO, Supervisor Pine. May your term as board President be successful!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ayn Rand
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 10, 2014 at 10:35 am

Sure is easy to find fat head tools to promote their hypocrite cult of Communism. Let's make EVERYONE poor and miserable and starving and worthless and stupid and insane!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ayn Rand
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 10, 2014 at 10:38 am

Sorry Debbie. Didn't read yours. Don't stop learning stuff.


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