Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim DeMartini said Stanislaus is "healthy and strong" during the annual State of the County address on Feb 6. He highlighted a number of successes for the county, and also touched on two major challenges - water and homelessness.
"Our economy is far better than it was a few years ago. Property values are up, wages are up, unemployment has dropped and violent crime is down as well. Stanislaus County has no general fund debt, almost unheard of in California; we have a balanced budget and reserves of $186 million, which is approximately 15 percent of our total budget," said DeMartini.
The chairman touted the economic growth Stanislaus has seen over the past year, citing agriculture as the "county's most important industry."
"Farmers and ranchers, food processors, equipment repair and manufacturing, trucking companies, nurseries and all the other business that support agriculture comprise one third of our workforce. Stanislaus County's 4,100 farms produce almost $3.3 billion in farmgate value annually; this is more than the entire agricultural value of many states. Our rich soil and our Mediterranean climate make us unique in the world. Stanislaus County must continue to be an advocate for agriculture," he said.
"We must never forget the value of our agriculture and the importance of preserving farmland for it has been the driving force of our economy," he continued.
Other successes included in DeMartini's speech included: Better-than-anticipated returns on the County's Retirement System investments; potential development of the Crows Landing Air Facility; passage of the library tax in November and upcoming branch projects; public safety projects, specifically the expanded Juvenile Hall, a second Public Safety Center and the just completed 288 bed Re-Entry and Enhanced Alternatives to Custody Training Center; and the passage of Measure L, the sales tax for the improvement of local transportation infrastructure.
Another positive development in Stanislaus County DeMartini talked about was the Focus on Prevention Strategy, a community-wide effort on addressing the root causes of our most challenge issues, and not just treating the symptoms of these challenges.
The first area of concentration under Focus on Prevention has been a community-wide effort to respond to the growing homelessness crisis that has emerged in Stanislaus County, as well as communities throughout California.
According to DeMartini, data from the 2017 homeless survey found that California now represents 25 percent of the total homeless population in the country. Nationwide, approximately 192,000 homeless are classified as unsheltered, and 49 percent of those who are unsheltered live in California. While the homeless population went up 1 percent nationwide, according to DeMartini, California experienced a 13.7 percent increase from 2016 to 2017. In Stanislaus County homelessness was up 15.8 percent.
"Stanislaus County's Focus on Prevention is a bold, new approach. Confronting the challenges of homelessness and the impact of crime on our future generations is no easy task. In doing so, we must acknowledge that government alone cannot fix all of our societal problems. If we are going to reduce the basic causes of our societal ills, it will be through strengthening those critically important institutions of family, faith, education and work, with government playing a supportive role, but not the only one," said DeMartini.
He also used the address to state that the State Water Resources Control Board's proposal to divert water from local rivers to the Delta and the ocean "is the single greatest threat to the economy and quality of life to our area" and poses a "calamity on the scale of the Great Depression."
"The implications of this water grab will go beyond Stanislaus County as this policy will also severely impact San Joaquin and Merced Counties. It will have a huge impact on farming, business and property values. This proposal seriously threatens both the quantity and quality of our drinking water. It will impact each and every one of us," said DeMartini.
He said the loss of the water in our reservoirs would create the fallowing of thousands of acres of prime farm land.
"We must ensure that we retain the water that is ours. We must fight this water grab legislatively and politically. Our economy and quality of life depends on this effort. Losing this battle is not an option," said DeMartini.