What County Government Does
By Santa Clara County Supervisor District 4, Ken Yeager
I am often asked what county government does. The frequency of the question does not surprise me, because most people have little understanding of the county.
The county carries out many state and federal programs characterized as the “safety net.” Vulnerable residents are provided critical human services in situations where traditional support structures are absent or insufficient.
Hundreds of residents receive treatment at Valley Medical Center and its clinics. If residents have inadequate health insurance, the county assists with connecting individuals to state-sponsored health coverage, known as Medi-Cal.
The Behavioral Health Department provides critical mental health and substance use treatment services. It coordinates with the Office of Supportive Housing to provide permanent supportive housing for individuals experiencing serious mental illness or chronic homelessness. The county also provides financial interventions to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless.
The Public Health Department works to contain the spread of infectious diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis, and STDs. It also develops programs and policies that promote healthy lifestyles and prevent chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and cardiopulmonary diseases that have terrible human and financial costs.
The Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency ensures health and safety through restaurant inspections, weights and measures, and vector control.
Counties provide a broad range of services to abused and neglected children, including emergency response, family maintenance and reunification, adoption, and foster care placement. The county also enforces child support payments and disburses the money to parents or guardians caring for minor children.
Older adults are sometimes vulnerable to mistreatment, and it’s the county’s job to intervene when an incident occurs. The county responds to reports of elder and dependent adult abuse, providing case management services, emergency shelter, food, and transportation.
As further assistance to families that have trouble making ends meet, the county implements the state’s welfare-to-work program, CalWORKS. Eligible low-income families are eased off welfare and into steady jobs through job training, childcare, and adult education. When families and individuals need extra assistance while making that transition, the county also determines eligibility for CalFresh—food stamps.
The county plays a role in protecting and caring for its marginalized residents. Over the years, it has created offices to address their specialized needs. These offices include the Offices of Women’s Policy, Veterans Services, LGBTQ Affairs, and Immigrant Relations.
Public safety is an important part of county government’s responsibility and includes patrol of unincorporated portions of the county by the Sheriff, prosecution of persons charged with crimes by the District Attorney, and the legal defense of those without resources by the Public Defender.
The county operates three jail facilities, including the San Jose main jail and the men’s and women’s facilities at Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas. The Probation Department supervises adults recently released from jail and, in conjunction with Reentry Services, provides programs to keep past offenders from returning.
When juveniles enter the criminal justice system, the Probation Department watches over them at its Juvenile Hall. The county also runs a minimum-security ranch that allows for greater access to education, exercise, and health services. Whenever possible, the county works to divert youth from incarceration through programs that allow youth to be supervised in the community.
The county runs all elections in our community, from local school board races to presidential campaigns. To help more residents cast ballots, the county provides voter outreach and education services, prints voter information in five languages, and provides accessible voting methods.
Marriage licenses and birth certificates are state documents that are handled at the county. The county also files property and business documents and handles property tax assessments and collections.
Although land use is generally handled by cities, unincorporated areas are governed by the county. For unincorporated areas such as Burbank, Cambrian, Stanford, and San Martin, the county provides essential services. In addition to maintaining the streets in these areas, the county is responsible for local expressways and two general aviation airports.
The county maintains more than 52,000 acres of parks and trails. Residents can walk, jog, bike or even ride horses through the miles of trails that wind through 28 parks in our community. These open spaces not only provide recreation, but they also offer healthy activities for the whole family.
Climate Change: Act At The County Level To Protect Ourselves From Disaster
By Jason Baker, Candidate for Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, jasonbaker.vote
When I was a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, fire seasons were shorter, and on average, less intense. The work was challenging and rewarding, but exhausting, and I was thankful when the weather changed, bringing back the rain and reducing the risk of wildfires.
Twenty-plus years later, we see more and more wildfires and other devastating natural disasters, and climate change is at the front and center as the cause. We’ve seen California wildfires, flooding in Texas and San Jose, and hurricanes on the East Coast. These extreme events are happening more often; they are more severe. We now face wildfire seasons that are more than a month longer than they were 35 years ago.
It isn’t just fire: we only have to look to flooding in San Jose last year to see this serious and devastating change in weather, following a severe drought that threatened local and state farmland and water supplies.
These climate change-fueled disasters demand that we make preparation at the Santa Clara County and State levels by getting serious about our emergency management systems and about climate change.
As former Chair of Santa Clara County’s Emergency Operational Area Council for three terms, I know firsthand what’s at stake. Emergency management professionals used to be able to prepare for a disaster, deal with a disaster, and recover from a disaster. Now, our emergency professionals are stretched thin and are constantly in preparation, response and recovery simultaneously. As we deal with one imminent threat, we are cleaning up from another, and preparing for the next.
We have to face the facts. Climate change is real, it is hurting our communities, and with the federal government denying the science of climate change, it’s up to us to act at the local level.
First, we can proactively deal with fires, floods and drought by shoring up our local infrastructure, especially dams, roads and bridges. These are investments that cannot wait. We also must continue to invest in more professional emergency managers and first responders. The risk of disaster is higher now than ever before; our commitment to our first responders needs to reflect that in numbers, tools and training.
Second, we must continue the fight against climate change by investing in mass transit to reduce greenhouse gasses. That’s why I voted to put Measure B on the ballot and bring BART to San Jose and Santa Clara, and why I voted to invest in electric busses in our County on the Valley Transportation Authority.
Finally, we have to consider how we meet our dire need for housing in a smart, climate-friendly way. That means building housing near transit centers and reducing toxic emissions that contribute to climate change.
There are few challenges as serious as protecting our community from disasters, and that must be one of the top priorities of our Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. The consequences of inaction are dire. I believe in Good Government and that means addressing these issues now. Together, we can ensure a safer Santa Clara County for everyone.
We Must Fully Fund Dental Care for All Our Children
By Dominic Caserta, Candidate for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, www.dominiccaserta.com
As a Board Member of the Healthier Kids Foundation, I have seen the epidemic proportions of dental issues in our county. Healthier Kids has conducted over 35,000 dental screenings and currently over 3 percent of low income children screened have urgent or emergency needs that should have them in a dental chair the next day. Of the 31 percent who receive a referral, one quarter of the children have pain, infection, or severe cavities.
This percentage has grown every year especially in 0-5 year olds. Many families may not understand the seriousness of dental problems. It might be because they were born in another country where the diet was more conducive to teeth (62 percent of children in this county have a parent that was born outside the U.S.), or parents do not understand that baby teeth are very important and children under seven are too young to brush on their own, or that a child’s mouth can be infected by acid producing bacteria, or that the food we eat plays a large part in tooth decay.
Whatever the reason is, we must educate and treat all children in our county when it comes to dental care. We must make this a top priority in our county in our budget.
Educating parents about the importance of baby teeth, brushing with their children, developing routines, regular exams and cleaning, fluoride varnish and sealants on back molars have a big impact on children’s dental health. Nutrition classes can be partnered with pediatric and dental care to help reduce future dental problems.
As a county supervisor, I will focus on preventive dental health and education versus intervention. Currently, the county funding allows us to screen 8,500 children at a cost of $40 a child—a total expenditure of $340,000. We provide case management for about 30 percent of these children and of them, we get about 65 percent to the dentist for follow up care. Sadly, we lose some of these children for a variety of reasons: some simply don’t show up for ongoing care, some move out of the county and some we are unable to contact after that first visit.
According to the American Community Survey in 2015-16, there 437,623 children in the county and 33 percent of those children are on Medi-Cal and Healthy Kids. These 144,000 children are the patients we want to screen and work with to get the dental care they need. Currently, we have total funding from all sources for screening and case management for 11,000 of these children.
The county must provide additional funding for every child with Medi-Cal. In addition, to meet the need eight more dentists and 12 more hygienists must be hired— a cost of $6.2 million a year out of a county budget of $6.5 billion.
Budgets are moral documents and public statements about what we, as elected officials, value. If elected to the Board of Supervisors, I will fight passionately and vote to fully implement dental prevention for our most precious resource, our children.
Preventing a 21st Century Millennial Exodus From Silicon Valley
By Susan Ellenberg, Candidate for Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, www.susanellenberg.com
I grew up in Pittsburgh… Pennsylvania. For years after I moved to San Jose, my mother would send me clippings from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette advertising 4,000-square foot homes on half-acre lots for under $150,000. I would read these clippings in the kitchen of my much smaller tract home in Willow Glen and think to myself: “But you have to live in Pittsburgh!”
With no offense to my hometown, I was excited to move to California and didn’t want to look back. Pittsburgh couldn’t compete with the climate, natural environment, and cultural diversity of San Jose. But when I moved here, I moved away from my parents, grandparents, brothers, and cousins. I didn’t understand the magnitude of that move until I became a mother myself.
My children grew up in close proximity to my husband’s extended family, but not my own. What I want more than anything is for them to maintain roots in Santa Clara County. So I think about what I can do as a Supervisor to make that a reality.
Unlike my Rust Belt home, it’s not a decline of industry but a lack of reasonably priced housing that is stretching our young professionals to the breaking point. My son has a college degree and a good job. In another region, he would be able to lead a fully independent life. But the short supply of housing in the Bay Area ensures that rents remain artificially inflated, so he and his peers live doubled or tripled up and endure long commutes, with limited income to save toward a down payment on a home.
As Supervisor, I will encourage the County to embrace innovative financing practices to incentivize an increase in our housing supply and housing models for young professionals, particularly those who choose careers in the public and nonprofit sectors like teachers and nurses.
The housing crisis impacts the quality of life for our entire community, especially our unhoused neighbors. We have a moral and economic imperative to ensure that homelessness is rare and brief. I will maintain a relentless focus to ensure that Measure A dollars, combined with public/private partnerships, reduce our homeless population by up to 90 percent.
Our County was not conceived as an urban metropolis, but that is the reality of our future. We must act now to shift our deeply-rooted, one person-one car culture. I will champion policies that promote and incentivize the use of public transportation.
Finally, as long as funding for public education in California ranks among the lowest in the nation and remains inherently inequitable, our State is shortchanging our future. We can combat some of that inequity by expanding access to high-quality early education and care.
Silicon Valley has remained relatively immune to economic fluctuations because the strength of our economy is tied to the talent that makes it move. More and more, that talent is choosing the 4,000-square foot house in Pittsburgh. We must go ‘all in’ to reverse that trend. Our kids are counting on us.
Focusing On The Mentally Will Reduce Homelessness and Free Up Police to Patrol Your Neighborhood
Pierluigi Oliverio, Candidate for Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, fromhereforus.com
After every mass shooting, we have a public discussion about mental illness, but what about the rest of the time?
Twenty-five to 40 percent of police calls nationwide are related to the behavior of someone who is mentally ill, and such instances include a higher risk of injury and death to those involved. This is a constant concern for families of the mentally ill. I know this because my brother has suffered from schizophrenia his entire adult life.
The County of Santa Clara is the only local government entity responsible for care of the mentally ill. For this reason I believe the County should have a laser-like focus on treating the severely mentally ill, which could be accomplished by prioritizing county spending, implementing state law, and advocating for changes in policy. This focused direction would help those who cannot help themselves, and in turn free up police to patrol neighborhoods and reduce the number of homeless encampments.
The severely mentally ill make up 2 percent to 4 percent of the population. When we encounter someone eating out of a garbage can and who believes they are on the planet Pluto, this is the person we must help.
Our County government has expanded to include programs and services that were never intended, taking away millions of dollars from core services such as mental health. I believe every time a new request to spend money is brought before the Board of Supervisors, we must ask: is it more important than treating the severely mentally ill? In many cases, I believe the answer from Santa Clara residents would be no.
Implementing existing state laws locally would also help. Laura’s Law, signed by Governor Davis in 2002, has never been implemented in Santa Clara County. This law allows a judge to compel individuals deemed severely mentally ill to undergo free professional treatment. Other California counties using this law have reduced homelessness, incarceration, and hospitalization, all of which decreases the cost to local government.
We should also advocate changing policy on how we house the severely mentally ill. We need to investigate a new generation of facilities dedicated to caring for such individuals. With the closure of such facilities over the last 40 years, the severely mentally ill often have a lose-lose choice between homelessness and incarceration. This also fails our society at large, as we frequently experience the manic behavior of the severely mentally ill in our public spaces.
Knowing that such policy changes take time, the County should look at options, both public and private, for providing more beds for these individuals.
Unfortunately, the Valley Medical Center expansion is five years late and approximately $200 million over budget. This fiscal incompetence closes the window on one opportunity to further help our community and hampers the addition of facilities where the severely mentally ill could be cared for professionally.
We must prioritize helping the severely mentally ill. Doing so would also benefit society at large, improve our bottom line, and assist families—our neighbors—who often carry lifetime responsibilities of caring for sick family members.
Fostering Regional Cooperation and Action to Solve Regional Problems
By Don Rocha, Candidate for Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, www.donaldrocha.com
Economic growth has traditionally been regarded as the cure for our problems. More growth means more jobs, and more jobs means a rising standard of living for everybody. To a large extent this belief is accurate: it’s far better for an economy to be growing than to be shrinking, and well-paid jobs do help make people better off.
That said, we have learned over the past few years in this valley that economic growth brings challenges of its own, in the form of worsening traffic and climbing housing prices. For residents who have to sit in a slow commute or who pay a large portion of their income to housing, our economic success does have a downside.
As a candidate for County Supervisor, I believe that the County can play an important role in meeting the challenges of growth, ensuring that we maintain our quality of life and that everyone can benefit from our prosperity.
One of the County’s advantages in dealing with these issues is the fact that its jurisdiction extends across the entire valley, and it therefore has the potential to encourage cooperation between cities on land use issues. All of the individual cities in the County make decisions about development projects that determine how we grow, and sometimes conflict emerges between cities over development decisions.
I believe the County could take a larger role in helping to convene elected officials from all of the County’s cities to discuss how we can coordinate on a shared approach to growth. In past decades the County led this type of coordination effort, and it served as a useful means of fostering communication between the cities. Sometimes getting everyone in the same room to talk about contentious issues can go a long way.
As an example of where coordination may be useful, consider implementation of the County’s Measure A housing bond. It’s the County’s responsibility to spend the billion dollars generated by this bond to build affordable housing, but each individual city in the County has the land use authority to determine where and how those projects are built. The County has the money, but it will still need permit and zoning approvals from cities. Coordination between the County and cities on this issue can help ensure that the County’s projects are successful, and that the public’s money is well spent.
The need for cooperation and partnership also extends to transportation issues. Our County has been farsighted in establishing local funding sources for major transportation improvements, including Highway 85, the BART extension, and many other improvements.
Looking forward, we need to ensure that Measure B, the most recent transportation measure approved by voters, is successfully implemented, as well as continue to plan for future transportation improvements that will help to meet our transportation challenges. Partnership between the County, cities, VTA and organizations like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group will be central to this effort.
I’m confident that we can maintain our quality of life and ensure opportunity for all residents even as we grow, but it will require strong leadership. We will need to bring together the County, cities and other organizations to collaborate on solutions. The problems we face are too big for any of us to solve on our own, but we can solve them if we come together.