Full transcript: Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg’s 2023 State of the County
Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg delivers her State of the County address on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Editor’s Note: This is a transcript of Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg’s full 2023 State of the County address.

    Thank you.

    Thank you to everyone here tonight, filling the chambers, the breezeway outside and even the adjacent auditorium.

    I’m feeling the love!

    Thank you to everyone watching remotely.

    Thank you to all the elected officials – my colleagues – here tonight. I know Tuesdays are hard. It means a lot to see you here. I’d like to invite all the elected officials in the room to please stand so we can recognize you and offer a well-earned round of applause.

    I want to offer a special and additional shoutout to the women who are former Santa Clara County Supervisors – Blanca Alvarado, Becky Morgan, Diane McKenna, Zoe Lofgren, and Liz Kniss – many of whom are here tonight, for doing the hard work to break through those ceilings and pave the way for women like Supervisors Chavez, Arenas and myself.

    Thank you to the many county employees who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make tonight’s program possible and accessible … and thank you to all County employees—many of whom work around the clock—for your daily service to keep our community health, safe, and prosperous.

    Thank you to our county leadership, Dr. Jeff Smith, James Williams and Greta Hansen for keeping us on track and on mission across agency.

    Thank you to my magnificent D4 team for getting us here tonight. And to the D2 and D3 teams of my colleagues Vice President Lee and Supervisor Chavez, thank you for your continued partnership and support to prepare this State of the County.

    And lastly, thank you to my wonderful family for all you do to support me and the work that’s so important to us all. This wave is to my spectacular daughters Molly & Naava who have tuned in from Washington, D.C.

    And to anyone else whom I may have missed, know that I am grateful for you, too.

    Now let’s get going!

    My theme for this year’s State of the County is Building Together.

    This spoke to me because as many of you may know, this is not only my first year as Board President but also the first year of my second term in office.

    And so much that I’ve been able to accomplish has been not only because of the support of County administration, but, significantly, the partnership of my colleagues, our community stakeholders and countless partner organizations. More on that a little later …

    Now, I’ll be clear – the challenges we face are not unique to Santa Clara County.

    • Homelessness and Affordable Housing.
    • Mental Health and Crisis Supports.
    • Public Safety and Restorative Justice.
    • Access to affordable, quality childcare.

    While not unique, they are daunting. Most took decades to become the juggernauts they are today.

    All these challenges touch the lives of every resident in this county.

    But I’m not feeling defeated. And you shouldn’t be either.

    Because together, we can find solutions that not only alleviate these challenges but also uplift our communities – all of you – so all will feel better supported and be better positioned to thrive in Santa Clara County.

    Together, we can build the future.

    Building Upon Success

    Our county has a track record for facing our challenges head on and our collective success has built a solid foundation.

    In the face of uncertainty and as the globe worked to understand a new virus amongst us, our county conducted arguably the most robust and successful response to COVID-19 in the US.

    But while we were responding to CoVid and keeping our community as safe and whole as possible in uncharted territory, we accomplished much other work over the same period of time.

    Under the leadership of former Supervisor Dave Cortese and Supervisor Cindy Chavez, we declared Racism a Public Health Crisis.

    We established the Office of Diversity, Equity and Belonging (ODEB) in the CEO’s Office.

    Supervisor Joe Simitian and I championed the establishment of the Race and Health Disparities Community Board to guide focused action in reducing health disparities and improving quality of care for all our residents.

    Supervisor Chavez championed the creation of our new Office of Disability Affairs to ensure equitable access to our programs and resources.

    She and I worked together to establish the Office of Children & Families Policy to better center these populations in everything we do.

    A year ago, Vice President Lee and I championed the declaration of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder as a Public Health Crisis and I am proud to see our county expand investments to add beds, address critical workforce shortages, and increase access to services, including:

    • Launching one of the most robust community mobile crisis systems in the US, in conjunction with the national roll out of 988; and
    • Expanding the School-Linked Services initiative to all school districts in Santa Clara County and increasing investment in on-campus health services, screenings and crisis response teams. And much more you’ll hear about shortly.

    This county is serious about the work. And about results.

    Building Trust

    In order to continue to build upon these successes, we must have the public’s trust. Your trust.

    We must do what we say, invest in what’s needed, and do so in lock-step with each other.

    Finger-pointing and excuses will only erode this trust.

    I know this. And you know this.

    The politics of division are not going to work.

    In fact, they are a substantial factor in our not fully meeting the challenges we face with actual, sustainable solutions.

    We cannot do it alone.

    Cities need the county. The county needs the cities. And that same symbiotic need applies to community organizations, our labor partners, school districts and special districts, neighborhood associations, small   and large businesses and residents – we need each other. We all play a crucial role in solving the immense challenges before us.

    In order to earn and keep your trust – and deliver the exceptional service to our community that is our core responsibility – I know the County must offer three things:

    • Transparency
    • Accessibility; and
    • Accountability

    A longstanding goal of mine has been to bring increased transparency to the County Budget each cycle and introduce new policies and expectations for administration to incorporate into their practice.

    As the adage goes … we are what we invest in.

    So far, those efforts have brought our county things like a budget user guide and comprehensive debt information and bond rating details – including each department’s base budget, along with information about programs in each, positions added and deleted.

    I’m also proud of the creation of our first Santa Clara County Children’s Budget to clearly lay out how and where we are investing in programs, services, resources and infrastructure for children and their families.

    Based on the 2022-23 Adopted Budget, the County will spend $1.09 billion on programs for children, youth, and families in this fiscal year.

    And year-over-year spending for the Children’s Budget increased by 3.5% in FY 2022-23, the equivalent of more than $40 million in additional funding.

    All of which is critical to better serve the approximately 411,000 children under the age of 18 – or 20% of our total population – who call this county home.

    Accessibility was never more important than when we shut down and began conducting our lives remotely. And when we returned to in-person meetings just this month, the Board meetings were offered for the first time ever in a hybrid format. After hearing from residents that they wanted additional meetings to be offered in that format as well, I am happy to report that starting in February, we will extend the hybrid meeting model to all 5 Board policy committees, as well as for the full Board meetings.

    Please join me in recognizing our County Clerks for their never-ending pursuit of new and creative ways to keep up with the demands of the day!

    Last on the list but certainly not least: accountability.

    I want to know when I fall short. I want to know when I, my office, and our county can do better.

    I invite all of you to participate in the business of making this county work for everyone by attending a Board of Supervisors or policy committee meeting, offering public comment, or sending a letter supporting or opposing policies and programs that are up for discussion and votes.

    Call our offices, email us, tell us what’s important to you, to your neighborhoods, to your communities. Tell us whether we are getting it right or if we are off base. And then work with us to do better.

    Building Buildings

    Homelessness is undoubtedly top of mind for nearly every resident in our county.

    Its impact on residents experiencing that circumstance as well as on housed residents going about their days is real.

    Last year, Supervisor Chavez and I launched the Heading Home campaign to house families with very young children and pregnant people.

    In the first year of the campaign, more than 500 families were connected to housing and the time from referral to housing declined from 45 days to 11.

    As of October 2022, the program has housed 937 children and their families.

    And we’re not done.

    Over the next few years, we will be working with partners to continue to house families who are experiencing homelessness and prevent others from falling into that circumstance.

    Through Emergency Housing Vouchers, Rapid Rehousing, and Homelessness Prevention Strategies, we are working to ensure we meet our goal to achieve “functional zero” by 2025.

    This means the number of housing placements for families will be greater than the number of families becoming homeless.

    While the Heading Home Campaign is a significant program, it is only a part our effort to end homelessness in Santa Clara County.

    The 2020 – 2025 Community Plan to End Homelessness identifies the strategies that are needed to address homelessness in our county.

    We can improve the quality of life for our unsheltered residents and create healthy and safe neighborhoods for all by:

    • Addressing the root causes of homelessness through system, infrastructure and policy changes;
    • Supporting our partners in the work to build out solutions at every part of the continuum from emergency shelters to interim options to permanent housing; and
    • Dramatically expanding homelessness prevention efforts.

    Building Communities

    Every community begins with a child and that child’s ability to thrive.

    This school year is the first academic year where all children have access to school meals.

    Let me say that again…

    This school year is the first academic year where all children have access to school meals.

    California is the first in the nation to make this commitment to universal school breakfast and lunch as a critical strategy for reducing child hunger, improving learning at school, and promoting equity and community on campus.

    Our County advocated for this investment in our children to build on a proposal for a local universal meals program submitted prior to the pandemic by myself and Supervisor Simitian. State Senator Nancy Skinner took our proposed pilot and put it on steroids so not just the children of Santa Clara County but those across the state would have access to this basic need.

    And in the last few months, the County has launched new service models to integrate developmental and social-emotional screening into well-child visits for kids 0-5, and to support their parents and caregivers. Healthy babies depend on healthy parents.

    As of January, these service models are now being expanded to our community clinic partners – School Health Clinics and Bay Area Community Health through partnerships with the County, UCSF and FIRST 5.

    And earlier this month, the County’s Pediatric Developmental Specialty Center, which has been years in development and a priority of Sup. Chavez’s and mine, opened.

    This Pediatric Development Specialty Center is located adjacent to O’Connor Hospital and will be a critical resource for diagnosis and support for children with developmental delays, complex behavioral problems and learning challenges, and their families. Embedded supports with Parents Helping Parents, schools, and social support organizations have been integrated into the model of care to wrap supports arounds kids and families.

    Building Together

    And now, the tough work – the good work – continues. And I call on others to be my partners to accomplish what we need to better the lives our residents.

    Vice President Otto Lee –

    I hope to continue the work we’ve done over the last year in supporting the vital expansion of our mental health and substance use disorder treatment services, programs, workforce and facilities.

    The County is committed to increasing and coordinating our advocacy to the state and federal governments to support continued investments in a coordinated system of behavioral health services including investments in the workforce and infrastructure that are foundational to being able to provide services.

    County staff has set an ambitious goal of adding 500 beds to our behavioral health system of care by 2025 and I hope you’ll continue to work with me on getting us to this metric of success.

    To date, approximately 40 beds have been added through contracts, many more have been funded through actions by the board, and nearly 50 more are expected to open in the next few months.

    Pressing forward on this goal is critical – for the 500 discussed and for another 100 or so long-term residential treatment beds that are in the planning pipeline.

    In support of these goals County staff has secured roughly $100M in grant funds through the state and are leveraging new resources available through MediCal under CalAIM.

    Mental Health and substance use disorder issues need to be addressed in tandem, from a treatment lens, not through a punitive approach.

    Last June the Board approved the expansion of substance use treatment beds that will increase capacity for another 700 people per year to access detox services and begin the process of recovery, and within the next few months Santa Clara County will launch Contingency Management Therapy as part of a statewide pilot, which is one of the few evidence-based therapies for meth and stimulant abuse.

    These are great steps, but there is so much more we can do.

    I’d like to see the following as our stretch goal: that anyone ready to start their recovery can access care and begin the process of recovery the day they ask for help. This would entail expansion of same-day or walk-in clinics for medication assisted treatment services, adding more beds for higher level detox care for our most complex patients, and adding more medical staff certified in addiction medicine to support the complex health and recovery needs of patients across our hospitals and clinics.

    Supervisor Lee, are you with me?

    Supervisor Cindy Chavez –

    You have been an important and deeply valued mentor to me over my first term and I expect that strong relationship to continue. At our priority setting session a couple of weeks ago, you raised the importance of the optimal performance required of all our departments if we are to provide always excellent service to residents, be and remain an employer of choice, and maximize the value of every tax dollar for which we are fiduciaries. We must hold ourselves and our contracted partners accountable for the responsible use of public dollars and we must look at our internal systems and support the workforce where they need modernization, increased efficiencies, flexibility and greater nimbleness. I appreciate your deep understanding of the business of the County and welcome your partnership in making sure this organization works for everyone.

    Supervisor Chavez, are you with me?

    Supervisor Sylvia Arenas –

    My newest colleague – I am so delighted you have joined the Board and I look forward to many years of strong collaboration, particularly around our shared passion for the well-being of children and families. I’m pleased to share today that, consistent with previous Board direction, I am expecting administration and our Office of Children’s & Families Policy to bring to the second Board meeting in February a proposal to invest upwards of $30 million dollars from the County’s ARPA allocation in further expansion of school based behavioral health supports, deeper investment in the early childhood education workforce, and significant resources to maintain and expand the childcare infrastructure. For those of you who may not understand what Supervisor Arenas and I know so well, which is that childcare is not simply an individual parent’s challenge: it is a community-wide concern and funding it as such will serve the public good. Early investments in childhood are anti-poverty, pro-employment, and transform the economic, social and communal wellbeing landscape. When affordable, high-quality childcare is unavailable, local economies are suppressed, there is less consumer spending, lower professional productivity, and greater poverty – all leading to the later social challenges that I discussed earlier this evening. Early investments pay off in every conceivable direction – and quality, publicly-funded childcare is one of those investments.

    Supervisor Arenas, we can look closely, first at County facilities and then beyond, to identify spaces that could be used as childcare facilities. We can work with the business community to build their understanding that they are direct beneficiaries of publicly funded childcare. We can do this and so much more.

    Supervisor Arenas, are you with me?

    Supervisor Joe Simitian –

    Supervisor Simitian couldn’t join us this evening, but I’m looking forward to working with him to see that the “Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Facility/Behavioral Health Services Center” on which he has led gets built and opens its doors as swiftly as possible. Joe has been a constant advocate for youth mental health and well-being, and I am grateful to have him as a colleague.

    To our local nonprofit organizations that provide critical care and services deep in our communities, to the owners of small and large businesses that drive our economy, to the labor movement that consistently champions working families, and to the community activists, neighborhood association leaders, and folks who just want to do good – we need all of you. We can accomplish so much if we build together.

    It is a blessing beyond measure to be in this role. I have a job where I get to show up every day and work with others who share this commitment to public service, to repairing our world and to alleviating injustice. I am filled with energy and gratitude so let me conclude with this public service announcement:

    Join us. Join the organization that I would argue does more good for the residents of Santa Clara County than any other single entity.

    The county currently has more than 3,000 job openings in various departments. We are looking for passionate people who want to make lives better for themselves, their family, friends and communities.

    Choose a life of public service. Consider applying. Work with us.

    Let’s get to building together!

    Read our coverage of the State of the County here.

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