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 at Burlingame High School.
Pine, in a brief speech, 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, ”In this county of great wealth, many struggle,” he said, 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.
In the spirit of the New Year, Pine laid out four resolutions for San Mateo County government in 2014. They are:
- the importance of investing in prevention and early intervention;
- fiscal discipline;
- the need for government efficiency and innovation;
- and the importance of bringing passion to the work of government.
The following are his prepared remarks:
Thank you so much for taking the time to be here tonight. Our board meetings are not normally so well attended! What I think we should do is have the Ragazzi Boys Chorus at all our meetings in the future as they definitely draw a crowd.
Let me begin with some special thank yous.
First, I thank the San Mateo Union HS District for providing us with such a special venue for this event. As a former San Mateo Union HS District school board member, I am glad to see they have put the taxpayer’s bond money to such good use by renovating this beautiful theater.
- I’d like to thank all who worked hard to put this event together including the county manager’s office, my staff, the VRS catering service, and the San Mateo Union HS District facilities personnel.
- I thank the Ragazzi Boys Chrous for treating us this evening with their singing talents.
- To my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, I thank you for all you have taught me about how to be a good supervisor, and I admire your incredible dedication and commitment to public service.
- And most of all, I thank my family for participating in this event, and for the love and support they give me every day.
OK. So now it’s speech time. Everyone perk-up. Don’t glaze over. This won’t take long, and when I am done, you will enjoy another song by the Ragazzi Boys Chorus plus a reception.
Things are going very well in San Mateo County.
For the most part, the great recession is in the rear view mirror.
- 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.
- 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 tax payers’ dollars in the long run.
With the passage of the Measure A ½ (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 that 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 smartphone 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.
Resolution #4: And Finally, We Need to 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. Thank you again for attending this event tonight and for all your good wishes. I am very privileged to have the opportunity to serve as a San Mateo County Supervisor and to work in one way or another with each and everyone one of you to make our community a better place.
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.