Sound Fiscal Management
My focus on long-term financial planning and economic policy issues are a regular part of the board’s policy agenda.
The county budget is stable. The pension outlook is good. Our bond rating is the best ever. This didn’t happen by accident. Even during the COVID era and with a board majority that doesn’t always pay attention to the county’s check book, I’ve remained steadfast in keeping our county on solid financial footing.
During the Great Recession of 2009-2014, I led the board in approving a financial management plan to navigate our county through the historic economic contractions.
We instituted a hiring freeze and negotiated with our employees, which allowed us to reduce the size of county government without requiring any direct layoffs. We also reduced the long-term cost of government through shared contributions to employee pensions and a 2nd-tier pension plan for new hires – before the state instituted similar changes.
Our county employees are committed to the public services they provide. Our challenge going forward in the post-COVID economy is to recruit and retain the best people so that our services remain strong and are provided efficiently. That’s going to require creative thinking and direct engagement with our workforce – efforts that I look forward to pursuing.
The most important part of government, especially local government, is the protection of our families, neighborhoods, and communities. Public safety – law enforcement, fire protection and public health – are my highest priorities. We absolutely must honor that obligation.
I will continue to fight for adequate and efficient funding for law enforcement and fire protection, as they take on increasingly complicated issues in our communities. At the same time, I’ll work to ensure our law enforcement efforts commit to racial equity and approach the difficult issues of mental health, addiction and social equity with fairness and compassion.
Importantly, I’m acutely aware of the connections between mental health and law enforcement. In this era in which our County Jail has become a de facto state prison, due to changes in the state’s criminal justice system, our jail houses many who suffer from mental health problems. We’ve made considerable progress since the dark days of Andrew Holland’s death in 2017, but there’s much work ahead.
I take the recent U.S. Department of Justice report regarding conditions at County Jail very seriously. While many of the shortcomings asserted in the report have already been addressed, the investigation highlights the serious ongoing challenges we face as our communities and law enforcement grapple with mental health, addiction and the cascading effect these intertwined issues have on all of us.
As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I take my role seriously in overseeing the effectiveness of jail operations and county mental health services. This will continue to be a high priority for me moving forward.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the fundamental importance of public health as a government responsibility. Our frontline health workers have rendered invaluable service – while many times receiving appalling abuse from some uncaring and mis-informed public members – and to me, they are truly heroes.
I will always stand up for our public health workers – and strive to strengthen the partnerships and find the money necessary to support appropriate levels of service at our health clinics, and for other health services that care for the most vulnerable members of our community.
These health services are fundamental to our community. We cannot and will not balance the books of county government on the backs of the weakest among us. We truly are better than that. We can find a way forward.
Water Resource Management
One of the county’s most critical concerns has been understanding – and finding ways to address – our many complex water resource issues. Water is what allows us to grow our food, work our farms and build our communities and local economy.
In the North County, an entire wine industry and rural way of life depends on finding rational solutions to seemingly intractable water problems. On the Nipomo Mesa, wells are running dry. As our lingering drought once again builds, water takes up more of our daily thoughts.
We are developing Groundwater Sustainability Plans for each of the six water basins identified as high or medium priority under the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Implementing these plans will require close coordination with our cities and special districts – with the important result of sustainable groundwater supplies for our communities and our economic future.
Much remains to be done.
Closure of Diablo Canyon
The pending closure of the Diablo Canyon poses significant challenges to our county, as more than 1,200 high-paying jobs will be lost as the plant is shuttered in 2024-2025. The loss to our local economy and the loss of tax revenue to our schools and county will be significant.
In 2018, a bi-partisan effort led to the passage of SB 1090, which brought SLO County governments and school districts $75 million to keep our essential services running. In addition, the county and its seven cities received $10 million for economic development activities. These funds will allow us to craft a constructive transition – in addition to our strong agricultural and tourist sectors, we see new businesses emerging in a resilient private sector – specialized manufacturing, clean energy and advanced ag technology hold great promise for innovation and job creation.
We approach this challenge in a strong position to keep our economy thriving, leveraging the resources of Cal Poly, a world class university, new opportunities in space science, offshore wind power and energy storage projects — and the entrepreneurial skill of current and future residents who see a bright future ahead.
The View Forward
Even with these many accomplishments, as I look ahead, there’s much still to be done:
- We must keep the board’s focus on rational, fact- and science-based decision making, especially as it relates to water policy, spending priorities and what’s supposed to be the politically impartial administration of our local elections.
- The Board of Supervisors must continue to:
- Nurture a local economy where more jobs are created, our environment is protected and public services are maintained. We have a good start with our county’s Economic Strategy, developed by our private sector with our collaboration.
- Move forward to implement smart growth strategies that support next-generation housing. At the same time, we can protect precious natural resources that support our treasured coastal areas, agricultural lands, scenic open spaces and our quality of life.
- Move quickly to increase renewable energy sources and improve energy efficiency through green building and public transit.
- Ensure that San Luis Obispo County can and will lead the region, the state, and the country in the area of green energy and technology job creation. Unfortunately, the majority of our Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal for a county-run community choice energy program, which I believe was a good idea. I’ll work to bring that back to the board and do my best to persuade the board majority to do the right thing and approve this innovative project.
- Adapt county government to new and difficult budget realities. We must carefully and efficiently apply scarce funds to critical infrastructure projects, as well as continue to provide crucial county services. I will continue to work with county supervisors from around the state to advocate the reform of state government and to bring resources and authority home to the local level.
- In doing all this, I will continue the fight to protect our incomparable natural areas and critical coastal resources.