President Mike Wasserman Delivers the 2014 State of the County

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The County is often referred to as the invisible layer of government. While most people have a good idea of what Congress, the State Legislature, and their City Council do, they are hard-pressed to identify specific services provided by Santa Clara County. A recent “County IQ Quiz” confirmed that people know little about the County and how it is funded. The most frequently missed question related to the fact that the County only retains 18% of the property taxes collected, with majority going to the State of California to fund education. Residents have a right to know where their tax dollars are being spent, and that the real life help provided by the County is often the difference between life and death.

As the 2014 President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, I am making it a priority to increase public education about County services and to make government more accessible for residents. One way is by leveraging existing technology. Smartphone users can download three new free apps: SCCVOTE allows users to find their polling location and track their mail ballot. Residents can report problems with harmful vectors like mosquitoes, rats, and wildlife with SCCVECTOR. And the Santa Clara County Library District app, SCCL, gives users access to the library’s website and catalog. A soon-to-be released way-finder app will help visitors to navigate the Valley Medical Center campus. Another app will enable hikers at County Parks to report problems with trails, starting with Los Gatos Creek Trail. Our next step will be to develop an app of all frequently used County services. Additionally, the County’s main website – www.sccgov.org – was recently overhauled to make it easier for residents to locate services, access information and connect with the County.

As the Chair of the Public Safety and Justice Committee, I realize that public safety is one of the more visible services provided by the County. However, the sheer volume of that work is staggering. Every year, 10,000 arrests are made by the Sheriff, 40,000 cases are prosecuted by the District Attorney and 18,000 adults are supervised by Probation. In addition to these traditional public safety roles, the County is working in neighborhoods, keeping kids safe as they travel to and from school through the Traffic Safe Communities Network.

And when we talk about keeping people safe, we must also consider the complex needs of our most vulnerable residents – the men, women, and children – who are living on the streets. Addressing homelessness when it becomes a crisis each year often means we are too late. The County has made it a priority to end chronic homelessness through permanent supportive housing. Research shows that access to housing dramatically decreases chronically homeless individuals’ use of public services. In fact, the average chronically homeless person costs taxpayers about $60,000 annually, and the solution costs roughly half that. This approach clearly saves taxpayer dollars, and it is the right thing to do. Through our partnerships with Destination Home and the City of San Jose, we helped 1,500 formerly homeless people secure permanent supportive housing. But we can’t stop there. We must find ways to prevent homelessness. One place to start is with foster youth. Many young people are exiting the foster care system without the ability to live independently. This year, we will launch new supportive housing programs specifically targeted for these vulnerable youth.

County government may be invisible to many, but making an effort to raise the visibility and accessibility of County services will help to insure that our residents get connected with the services they need.

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