In his first State of the County address, new Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager promised a slate of health, environmental and job-related programs, which he said will also help the cash-strapped county save money.
After a grim 2009 full of service cuts and difficult funding decisions from Sacramento, Yeager established a hopeful tone for the coming year.
"Despite all the economic troubles we face, I believe we are fundamentally strong, and that we are in a better position to weather the fiscal storm than almost any other place in America," he said.
Yeager told a standing-room-only crowd in the county chambers this morning that keeping spending local will be a top priority this year and that local companies will be given preference for county contracts and purchasing.
With an 11.7 percent unemployment rate in Santa Clara County, Yeager said officials must ensure "the vast purchasing power of the county helps the local economy as much as possible."
The county's $4 billion budget is larger than that of four U.S. states, he said. In addition to employing 15,000 people, the county also contracts with hundreds of local organizations.
His speech gave a receptive crowd of county employees and local officials an idea of what programs Yeager will champion in the coming months. He was elected to lead the board on Jan. 12, after serving as a supervisor since 2006.
Today also marked the first live webcast of county proceedings.
Yeager, who spent six years on the San Jose City Council, said he intends to explore the feasibility of acquiring its old City Hall building.
"Ultimately the county will save money by having more employees located on one campus," he said.
He said his priorities include encouraging highway, transit and other infrastructure improvements, ideally with federal or regional funds. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's recent funding for work on the interchange between interstate highways 280 and 880 will pump $63 million into the local economy, he said.
However, securing such funds means Santa Clara County needs more representation on money-allocating boards like the MTC, he said.
The region makes up one-quarter of the Bay Area's population, "yet we do not have a quarter of the representation on these decision-making bodies," he said. Yeager said he is working with Supervisor Dave Cortese on legislation to address this "grave injustice."
Santa Clara County dealt with a $273 million budget deficit for the 2010 fiscal year in part by cutting funding to health programs. Yeager said he would ask supervisors to return $5 million in lost funding to public health programs, and another $3 million to the county department of alcohol and drug services.
Preventing sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS is also a priority, Yeager said.
He also vowed to strengthen county anti-smoking laws, examine nutrition requirements for food served in county-sponsored events and create a council to promote healthy living.
He wants to examine how the county can reduce medical costs without "compromising benefit levels" for employees. He said the county should be a leader in encouraging health and wellness. Santa Clara County will spend an estimated $188 million on employee medical costs this year.
Environmental changes this year could include new green building standards and adding solar panels to county facilities. Yeager also said that once the county's one-year study period ends, he will introduce an ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags in unincorporated areas. Creating a county office of sustainability is also on his to-do list for 2010.
Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan, who ran against Yeager for supervisor in 2006, said she particularly appreciated his focus on health and wellness. "Ultimately, that's the county's best weapon against budget deficits," she said.
Yeager's support of Santa Clara's stadium proposal and bid for the San Francisco 49ers football team "is huge for us," Mahan said. "It's going to take regional support to get this project done."
Former county supervisor Susanne Wilson served as master of ceremonies, noting that "President Ken" had come a long way since 1975, when he served as a college intern in her office, later working as a staff member.
Yeager is the first openly gay elected official in the county, a distinction he noted at the end of his speech.
"We can be an example to others of how people of differing backgrounds, cultures, genders, religions and sexual orientation can get along in harmony," he said.
Campbell Mayor Evan Low, elected in November at age 26 as both the country's youngest Asian American and openly gay mayor, also helped introduce Yeager, thanking him for his trailblazing efforts.
"Ken represents the openness of the people of Santa Clara County," he said.
Bay City News