Greg Cox, San Diego County Board of Supervisors chairman, called for making facilities more efficient, praised his colleagues for producing balanced budgets and deemed the state-mandated prisoner realignment as perhaps the biggest risk facing the county in 2013, as he delivered the annual State of the County address Wednesday aboard the USS Midway Museum.
As has become a common theme in recent State of the County addresses, Cox said the county has afforded itself the financial flexibility it needs to make substantive and positive improvements. He outlined goals, such as enhancing county services like fire protection, reducing red tape and inefficiencies in county operations, improving things like library access and child care initiatives, and reducing homelessness.
“The state of your county government is good,” Cox said. “We have met the many difficult challenges of the past years. And we stand prepared to meet the equally difficult challenges we will face in the years to come.”
Cox spent time speaking about something San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has been pushing of late: enhancing the relationship between the San Diego region and cities just across the border in Mexico to tap potential economic benefits.
Earlier in February, Filner announced plans for a liaison office at the Tijuana Economic Development Corp. headquarters that would in part focus on regional trade between San Diego and Mexico and issues that affect the international border.
One way in which Filner’s vision for a dual-city, cross-border focus on commerce meets Cox's vision is in the aim to make border crossings more efficient, Cox said after his address. Estimated billions of dollars in regional economic impact have been lost as a result of long border wait times, turning off tourists and businesses shipping cargo.
“The county has the next border crossing in the unincorporated area of Otay Mesa, so we’re going to be working closely with [the San Diego Association of Governments] and try to move forward on the effort,” Cox said. “It’s going to be a tolled facility … and the toll will very likely pay for the construction.”
Cox said the county is working with Filner’s office on the issue.
Cox also addressed homelessness -- he said the county in 2013 will spend more than $200 million on programs aimed at dealing with problems leading to homelessness, the foster care system and state-mandated prisoner realignment.
Calling the prisoner realignment a “direct result of the state of California’s inability to get control of its out-of-control budget,” Cox said shifting inmates from state prisons to county custody is a significant local public safety risk. But, he added, the county is prepared to deal with it.
“The collaboration among our public safety organizations in this region is the envy of every California county,” he said.
A new 400-bed jail that is designed for inmates serving longer sentences than what county jail inmates typically serve and is focused on rehabilitation will be one way the county handles the realignment, he added.
“We recognize that to make realignment work, we must do things differently than we have done them in the past,” Cox said. “And that means creating a path for inmates to successfully re-enter the community and break the devastating cycle of addiction and crime.”
While the county is stable, it’s not static, he said. He called attention to investments already made, such as the new County Operations Center, a new Registrar of Voters office due to open at year’s end, and the $300 million project under way at the Las Colinas women’s detention facility, reminding the audience that two-thirds of that project’s cost was covered by cash payment.
More than $1.5 billion in potential financing costs were avoided through the last several years because of the county’s ability to pay cash for most of its capital projects, Cox added.
Initiatives that Cox said deserve attention in 2013 include continuing the efforts to improve county facilities, as well as focusing on improving the county's interaction with the public, and clearing the way for an innovative, job-rich and cross-border local economy.
The San Diego region is a natural innovator, with its $14 billion “blue economy” of biotech, technology and defense industry companies, Cox said. As a border region, San Diego County must take advantage of opportunities to improve the flow of $33 billion in commerce across the international border, Cox added.
“Our unincorporated area on the border has unlimited potential to attract businesses, and I am not going to let up on marketing that potential,” Cox said. “This economic potential, along with our intellectual capital, work ethic and small businesses will lead San Diego out of this stubborn national recession.”
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