Many of San Diego County's elected officials and public safety officers gathered at the County Administration Building on Wednesday night to hear the annual State of the County Address, delivered by Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Horn.
While the speech touched on a wide range of issues—including crime, fire safety, disaster preparedness, development and transportation—Horn repeatedly cited fiscal responsibility and fewer government regulations as important for the future of the county.
Horn said San Diego County is in better fiscal health than the federal and state governments, which have not made the tough choices the county has made.
"The county of San Diego currently has a higher credit rating than both the state of California and the federal government," Horn said. "The problem is that we are tied to both."
Unfunded state mandates and raids on local funds are a threat to the county's coffers, Horn said, but his goal for what he called the "year of austerity" is to maintain the county's triple-A bond rating.
Public safety continues to be the top priority, Horn said. Despite tough economic times, crime rates in San Diego County continue to drop and Horn recognized Sheriff Bill Gore, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and those who serve in uniform. The launching of an e-mail system notifying residents if a sex offender moves in or out of their area and an initiative combating gang activity in North County were cited by Horn as success stories.
"We need to remain vigilant in the fight against predators in our communities," Horn said.
With San Diego's dry climate, wildfires will always be a threat, and Horn said he and Supervisor Pam Slater-Price have proposed adding $5 million to the $15 million the board allocates to the San Diego Fire Authority. He said the money will help build new training centers, buy new equipment and recruit volunteer firefighters.
Horn said that many areas in San Diego County have not burned in 60 years and environmental regulations have gotten in the way of fire safety.
"We continue to fight extreme environmentalism that has prevented us from removing large populations of dead, dying and diseased trees," Horn said.
The county continues to contract with CalFire, but that agency is facing at the mercy of a strapped state government.
"The governor's budget proposal to cut funding to CalFire is not good," Horn said. "However, we will do everything in our power to ensure that the county is prepared for the inevitable."
In the event a disaster does break out, fire trucks throughout the county have copies of The Red Guide to Disaster Recovery, which Horn said is the "most comprehensive individual guide to disaster recovery this county has ever seen." The guide is available to people who have lost their homes or possessions in a disaster.
Traffic congestion affects not only commute times but emergency response times as well. Horn said the San Diego Association of Governments' plan outlining highway and transit projects for the next 40 years will reduce congestion.
"By 2050 our region will add 200 miles of new trolley lines, double-track the Coaster and Sprinter lines and add lanes to I-15, I-5, state Route 76 and state Route 94."
Horn said that since 2005, 80 percent of all new private-sector jobs were created in Texas, and he'd like to see that happen in San Diego County. He said the passage of Proposition A will allow the county to bypass project labor agreements.
"In 2010, this board and the voters sent a message to organized labor that this county will not tolerate sweetheart deals with labor unions," Horn said.
He also expressed his "staunch" defense for the rights of property owners as the reason he has been such a critic of the General Plan Update, noting that the government already owns more than half of the land in the county.
"I personally feel government does not have the right to devalue your land and leave you with the crumbs."
Horn, a Republican, couldn't resist a few pointed comments toward Gov. Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama. His comment about the new governor who will "promise you the moon" drew some groans from the audience, who remembered the "Gov. Moonbeam" nickname from Brown's first term.
Horn also mimicked Obama's campaign theme of "hope and change" after saying millions of Americans made it clear that they're not happy with the direction the United States has taken.
"The hope and change Americans were promised two years ago have proven to be little more than rhetoric," Horn said.