Official seal of County of Stanislaus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
STATE OF THE COUNTY 2013
Our Community Legacy
Chairman Vito Chiesa
February 5, 2013
Good morning to my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, to CEO Monica Nino and County Counsel Jack Doering. I would also like to welcome our County department heads and employees, those of you that are here in the Chambers and those watching on television or online.
I am extremely proud of this Board of Supervisors and honored to be a part of it. I am proud we can work together, even when we respectfully disagree, with a common goal of making Stanislaus County a better place now and into the future.
I stand before you today as a man who is thankful. I am thankful for many things in my life including my family and friends. I am thankful I’ve been given this opportunity as Chairman of the Board and will do my best to make a positive difference in our community.
I am thankful for the amazing residents of Stanislaus County and the tremendous pride they show in mentoring, leading, volunteering, coaching and working to make our community a better place every day. Our community pride can never be taken away and it defines who we are.
I am thankful for our Stanislaus County employees. You serve the public with a passion and level of excellence that is exemplary. As a Board, our goal for the County is excellence and I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to every County employee who fixes their eyes on this ideal of excellence each day.
In last year’s State of the County address, Chairman O’Brien eloquently laid out a narrative bringing the past five years of economic challenge into perspective. He highlighted the hope that County funding was stabilizing and that we had reached the bottom of a deep economic pit.
Today, I am taking a somewhat different approach to this address and will be looking at some issues that go beyond the walls and authority of County government. This might seem unusual, but I hope you allow me the opportunity to lay out why I feel compelled to pursue these significant issues.
A Historic Moment in Time
We are in a time with historic importance for our community and our nation. The economic devastation of the last six years will be noted for generations to come.
Our community has been deeply impacted and we continue to receive fresh wounds. Thousands upon thousands of our residents have been greatly impacted and we know our recovery is lagging behind the rest of the nation.
I want to point out something strikingly important to me, yet largely overlooked in this historic moment; and that is our actions and responses to this crisis are being watched by future generations. We are providing our children and the next generations in our community an instruction manual on how to deal with the challenges that life brings.
If we stand back and look, are we responding to our challenges with grumbling and complaint or words of encouragement and leadership? Are we responding by isolating ourselves as victims of circumstance, or by displaying clarity of thought and commitment to action?
I strongly believe that as powerful as they can be, our circumstances do not control us. And I ultimately believe our County must not be subject to the will of chance and external forces.
History provides us with many lessons. Our ancestors worked long and hard in difficult circumstances to build better lives. Sometimes they received little in return. But they worked and they dreamed. Many started with few material possessions and many left this world with the same. But they lived honorable lives.
I’m very proud of my father who came to this country as a poor immigrant who never owned a car, mo-ped, or bicycle. In the old country of Italy where he grew up, he would walk or ride to work with others, while saving what he could.
When he moved to the United States his determination for a better life continued. He lived in a small room on the farm where he worked. He was paid $200 a month and after only one year had saved enough to buy his first car. I love the example my father set for me with his tremendous work ethic.
My father Aroldo is here this morning and I would like to recognize him now.
He was not alone in his fortitude and perseverance.
Our ancestors were visionaries and they had determination. They were not perfect, but they persevered.
This land of ours was a tapestry of opportunity and our ancestors were the artists with vision who created masterpiece after masterpiece on the canvas. They worked hard, dreamed big, built impressively, saved prudently and gave to others compassionately.
And by the way, in 1976 my father and mother purchased that farm with the small room where he lived when he moved to the United States, and that room is now our chemical storage shed. That is the power of hard work and perseverance.
Looking back on the time of crisis we now face, we want the history books and future generations to see our response as a key, strong foundation on which we built a better future.
I want our young people to see a generation that has risen up, and not given up, in the face of adversity. And I am calling on us as individuals and as a community to unite for the purpose of creating a better tomorrow.
This is the legacy I would like us to leave.
The Problems of the Present
I am a realist driven by the passion of vision. I love our community, and I am a believer in the power of the residents of our County to make this a better place.
I know things are difficult in our County, yet I am more steadfast than ever in seeing a future that will be better for our next generation and the generations to follow. I believe the tapestry of opportunity still exists today, even with the challenges we face.
We live in a community with deep roots in civility and compassion. We live in an area with a wonderful climate and a dynamic agricultural industry. We have some of the best healthcare in the world and an expanding higher education system. Our arts community continues to grow in vitality and there is much to celebrate right here.
We live in a place where generations of people have reached out and worked for a better community. I think of programs such as Love Modesto, which has spread to cities throughout the Central Valley, where thousands upon thousands of people are committed to improving their community. This type of involvement is inspirational. Pastor Jeff Pishney representing Love Modesto is here today and we thank him for his work.
We live in a County rooted in compassion, strength and values. However, this community we love is facing some significant issues that threaten our future well-being.
Today I will be highlighting the issues of employment, gangs and education and their impact on our community. And I am hoping today will mark a new beginning in addressing these issues and in charting a new and brighter path forward over the next 10-20 years.
Unemployment in Stanislaus County is historically about twice as high as the rest of the nation and we’ve gotten used to that.
There are more than 35,000 people out of work in our County, which is the equivalent of the entire labor force of the cities of Turlock and Patterson combined. Looking to the future, our best estimates show that if we stay at status quo we will need an additional 26,000 jobs by the year 2035 for population growth. So, between those who are unemployed and our status quo future jobs need, we know we are short approximately 61,000 jobs over the next 25 years. The most current commuter statistics reveal more than 42,000 Stanislaus County residents leave our County for their employment. If you add them in, that’s more than 100,000 jobs in all.
For more perspective, if you added up our top ten major manufacturing employers in Stanislaus County – E&J Gallo Winery, Frito Lay, Seneca Foods, Del Monte, ConAgra, etc. – our top ten manufacturing companies employ approximately 14,000 people.
Stated bluntly, the tens of thousands of jobs that are needed this very day in Stanislaus County are nowhere in sight and the additional tens of thousands of jobs needed for the future cannot currently be reached. For a community that struggles with poverty, this is sobering. We know there is a jobs problem, but our strategies from the past are not working.
Our fight against gangs has yielded little success. For years, public safety officials have told us as a community we can’t arrest our way out of the gang problem. Law enforcement fights a difficult battle as they cannot fix the root cause of gang involvement. They do a tremendous job with the cards they are dealt, but they’re only playing with a small part of the deck. This is a community-wide issue that needs a community-wide solution.
Most recent statistics show we have more than 5000 documented gang members and their affiliates in our County. If you include those people who associate with the gangs, that number is significantly higher.
We arrest where we can and add to an overcrowded jail system where many young people learn to become worse people. Our Juvenile Hall has a maximum security wing that is routinely full of youth arrested on serious felonies such as murder, attempted murder, robbery and assault.
Gangs are now commonly three generations deep. I think this photo from right here in Stanislaus County tells a significant story. This little boy’s one-year birthday cake is adorned with foam fingers flashing a gang sign. I ask you, what hope does that one-year-old boy have in avoiding the gang lifestyle when he has been indoctrinated from birth.
My hope is as of today, if you live in our County, you will now see gangs as your problem. If you’re a non-profit, they are your problem. If you’re a business, they’re your problem. If you’re a faith-based organization, they’re your problem.
Gangs are wreaking economic havoc on our communities and they are destroying the lives and futures of our young people. We know there is a gang problem, but our strategies from the past are not working.
Our work force is some of the least prepared in the State of California and our County education rates are low, yet we complain that high-paying employers aren’t locating in Stanislaus County. In California, about 30% of the residents aged 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree and in Stanislaus County that number is a little over 16%. If you look at people with a college diploma in Stanislaus County, their median income is almost $52,000 compared to a high school dropout who earns a little over $19,000.
In the early 1990s our County’s high school dropout average was better than the State. In the mid-90s we started consistently performing worse than the State. There have been improvements over the past few years, but we have room to grow.
Our teachers are seeing changes in our children at school. Some of our best teachers are telling us that schools are not the same as they were even 10 years ago; that children used to be well rested, loved and nourished – but times have changed. Now teachers struggle with lack of parental involvement and student apathy. The wide-eyed wonder and excitement of children is missing for many, as they appear disconnected, with one educator even telling me “far too many kids seem lifeless.”
The education issue affects the quality of the lives of our children and it also impacts the quality of life of our entire community. Children who don’t have a high school diploma are more likely to commit crimes, more likely to be on public assistance and more likely to have a significantly lower wage. We know there is an education problem, but our strategies from the past are not working.
Each of these areas – employment, gangs and education – ties to economic development and to the foundational values of our community.
We need a community-wide vision for Stanislaus County built on a foundation of better education, the rejection of the gang lifestyle and a plan for long-term economic development.
The Spirit of Creativity and Innovation
We will need to look at these problems creatively and we cannot settle resolutely for mediocrity; for if we settle for the mediocrity of the past, we set an inevitable course of decline for our future.
The issues are endemic, entrenched and seemingly endless. However, in order to break a cycle, sometimes there has to be a significant, life-altering event. I think our economic crisis could be our life-altering event. It’s time for us to use this adversity to start building for the future.
I am proposing we use the skills of some of the best leaders of private industry to inspire creativity and innovation like we’ve not seen before. And we would need to develop community-based teams. These leaders, or really “champions” if you will, would work collaboratively with representatives of government, education, nonprofits, the faith community and other private sector organizations.
I’ve made a commitment to reach out and find the right community leaders for these roles; leaders who embrace this vision for change and are committed to innovation.
There are some who are going to resist this idea and say “what does an entrepreneur know about gangs or dropout rates or long-term economic development strategy?” And my response is they’re probably not experts in these areas. But, they are experts in problem solving, they are highly creative, strategic thinkers and they are experts in getting people to work together for common solutions. These leaders are exactly who we need for community-wide issues.
In a County that has been able to set a benchmark for public agency cooperation, I would like to see us known in the future for innovation in our public-private collaborations.
What I have found is there are often multiple people and organizations working on some of the same issues and they might not even know the other projects exist. There are many who are trying to do good things, but much more could be done in a coordinated and collaborative effort.
We will need to develop specific goals and objectives for these important strategic initiatives, with benchmarks to measure our progress. Most importantly, we need to be accountable and report our progress to the community. We’ll need to identify who is already doing what, how it’s working, how we can better work with one another and then build on each other’s strengths. We will need more people and organizations to get involved.
For example, we want to decrease the number of students dropping out of school. We need better data, it needs to be shared, and we need an integrated effort involving multiple stakeholders from both the community and education system. This issue goes well beyond the walls of our schools and we have to stop looking at the education system alone to fix this problem.
Tom Changnon, the Superintendent from the County Office of Education, had already been working on this issue even before we met, and has agreed to place their support behind us. I’ve also learned of other school districts and agencies launching their own separate efforts. We need to coordinate and work together on this and leverage our resources, talent and best practices and we are recruiting for the right person from the community to lead this effort. This should be the first phase of an even deeper education strategy to come.
The growth of gangs in our community must be stopped and reversed. We must not accept their presence in our community as normal – it is far from normal.
Many non-profits, community and education groups have created gang-related programs. But, similar to the dropout issue, we don’t have a communitywide, comprehensive strategy that maximizes scarce resources. I am proposing we create a community-based Gang Reduction Initiative that creates the opportunity for hope and a productive future for people in gangs or considering a gang. We need to look at this issue from statistical metrics to prevention, intervention and suppression. We need to better understand the problem and the root causes and then identify a countywide solution that can be implemented and tracked.
The more kids we keep out of gangs, the more we reduce the power of gangs, their economic impact and the curse they are on the future of our young people.
We need more jobs. I strongly believe the entrepreneurial spirit of 100 and 200 years ago is the same entrepreneurial and creative spirit that can rebuild our County today.
We need a comprehensive jobs plan including a map of the necessary land inventory to bring it to fruition. I have gained commitment from Dr. Jeff Michael, of University of the Pacific’s Eberhardt School of Business and Dr. Gokce Soydemir, professor of Business Economics at CSU, Stanislaus to assist in developing a 20 and 40-year jobs projection model upon which we can build.
Business entrepreneur Jeff Burda has agreed to be the founding leader of this Employment Expansion Initiative. While none of us knows what the plan will hold, I can guarantee we will need to work tirelessly whether it’s becoming a recognized agricultural entrepreneurial hub or export center of excellence, a Latino business corridor, or whether we are known as a comprehensive health services training region. In any scenario, we must work in unity to leverage resources to position our region for success. We need a vision for who we will be. It might take 20 years to get us where we need to be, but we need to start now and we need to have a roadmap.
I would like to thank CSU, Stanislaus President Dr. Joe Sheley who has given his support to our three strategic initiatives and I have greatly appreciated his counsel on our path forward. He is passionate about our community and its future. Thank you, Dr. Sheley.
We all want the benefits of a safe, well-educated, economically thriving community. But we are all going have to invest of ourselves if we want to make this happen. Whether it is working to improve your own neighborhood or stepping out with a more expansive vision, your individual effort will be needed to lift our community.
Our ancestors built utilities where there were none, roads where there were none, railroads where there were none, libraries where there were none, hospitals where there were none, and schools where there were none. It took time and it took vision.
I believe these three areas are vital for the rebuilding of our community and for a successful future. And I believe by working together this vision can be brought to life.
Well, now that I’m done fixing the problems of education, gangs and jobs, why don’t we turn our attention to our own house here in Stanislaus County government. Over this next year, we need to model the same type of vision we are asking of our community.
In the area of financial accountability, we need to honor the work that was accomplished by Board members prior to this economic crisis by first replenishing financial reserves and then maintaining them for future economic downturns.
We need to be positioned to take advantage of rare opportunities as they present themselves in facilities planning, such as with construction funding for the Juvenile Commitment Center, Honor Farm beds and jail expansion. Our staff has done an amazing job of being creative and innovative in capital projects and we owe them a debt of gratitude.
Starting January 1, Stanislaus County began operating the Riverbank Oakdale Transit Agency through a contract. We are excited to improve service and reduce overall system costs and we will look for more opportunities like this.
Our County road and bridge maintenance program has a shortfall of nearly $14.5 million each year. With more than 1500 miles of roads and more than 230 bridges, a $14.5 million shortfall in one year quickly becomes more than $138 million by 2020. We need more funds.
The 2006 State transportation bond money is almost gone and it has been stated that one year from today, 50% of local road money will be self-help money. Self-help counties typically go to the front of the line for State funding opportunities and sometimes counties who are not self-help are excluded from State funding opportunities. The problem is we are not a self-help county. Some local cities have indicated they might press forward with their own tax initiatives, but if that occurs, it would be nearly impossible to pass a countywide initiative. We need the private sector to bring back the idea of a countywide transportation tax to our voters.
The Amtrak San Joaquin Corridor route is a bright spot for us as it is the fastest growing line in the United States. I feel we need to support increased frequency of Amtrak service through our region. Also, connecting Stanislaus County to the Bay Area through existing regional rail like the San Joaquin ACE train makes good sense and should be pursued.
The Stanislaus County Community Corrections Partnership is another example of the County leading through innovation. Even though we are faced with a problematic statewide public safety realignment and we need additional funding, our County staff has been leading an integrated team to create the best possible local system we can afford. Our integrated approach involving mental health services, community service agencies, education and public safety is a creative approach to dealing with this significant shift. We need to carefully track our data to establish our results that we can share at the State and local level.
More accessible crime data is also needed countywide. I am asking our County’s Law Enforcement Executives, or LEX Group to consider producing a countywide crime report that would be made available to the public. With limited funding, we need to make sure we are fully utilizing every resource. I am asking the LEX Group to consider how we can more powerfully use data as a strategic tool in our fight against crime, including the sharing of data between cities, County and even our neighboring counties. Some positive results seem to be occurring in law enforcement, but it’s difficult for the public to understand this if we are not publishing our data.
And finally in the area of public safety, more people need to be involved in their local Neighborhood Watch program. If you’re not involved, you need to be involved as this is a simple but powerful way to help prevent crime in your neighborhood.
The Board has historically maintained a strong commitment to the healthcare of our underserved community. Our outpatient clinics support hundreds of thousands of patient visits each year from every city in the County. We spend millions of general fund dollars on the healthcare of our residents. We will need to carefully balance local need with available resources in the light of health reform and State health realignment over the next few years. The Valley Family Medicine Residency Program continues to be a bright spot by providing outstanding medical training for physicians. This year the program will expand by adding an orthopedic residency that will begin in July.
I’ve already highlighted the importance of a long-term economic development strategy for the County, and the Crows Landing Air Base project is a key component of any strategy going forward. Our approach to Crows Landing needs to promote the unique nature of the property and its strategic position just off Interstate 5. We need to work diligently to avoid delays and we need to be prudent in finding a developer who can meet our needs into the future.
We need a reasonable water policy in our County. Our land values are based on water and we need to do all we can to protect it. Developing the policy needs to be done in collaboration with our stakeholders, including our irrigation districts. We have appreciated the work of the Ag Advisory Board on this issue and we hope to see an approved policy later this year. The relicensing of local reservoirs is important for the health and economic well-being of our community. We need to protect our water from unreasonable demands during the relicensing process and find a reasonable common ground for moving forward.
Stanislaus County farmers export more than 90 different commodities to nearly 100 different countries around the world. It took us 100 years to get to $1 billion in the annual value of our crops here in the County. It took 16 years to get to $2 billion and it has taken us just five years to get to $3 billion. Ag innovation is a growing part of who we are in our County. We need to look for ways to build upon this strength, through building our exports and reaching new markets.
State and Federal Support
In this time where sound public policy is needed more than ever, we are calling on our elected officials at the State and Federal government to focus on local issues. We strongly exhort them to continue to listen to our residents, to promote us as a County and to focus their energy on how they can continue to serve our local community.
Fixing our Negative Bailout problem has been my top State priority as a Supervisor. This issue has diverted more than $63 million away from the County’s general fund . . . more than $3 million each year. I personally pledge to continue pursuing a resolution and to diligently work with our State officials to fix this inequity.
As we look to the future, there are many battles to be fought and many challenges lie ahead. But with that is an abundance of opportunity and hope.
I’m not so naïve as to think that some of the ideas I’m presenting today might fail. I know they are inherently filled with challenge and some people might be skeptical of their success. But I’m willing to accept that risk. And if we do falter, or if we fail for a moment in time, we will never give up trying as the stakes are too high.
Our community has amazing strength and we must never let that strength disappear or quietly fade away.
One of my favorite quotes is “a rising tide lifts all boats.” I feel like a tide is rising right here and right now in Stanislaus County as we stand up for our community and for our future. I am convinced we will see great things happen.
We will celebrate those things that make our community great, and we will not stand down in facing those things that hold us back. Future generations will see we did not succumb to circumstance; but, like the generations that have gone before us, they will see us embrace the tapestry of opportunity we call the present, in order to create a more brilliant future for the generations come.
May our legacy be that we were willing to rise up, take action and persevere, even when the odds were against us. Will you join me in helping this vision to become our community legacy?