As we look back on 2015, our greatest challenge came with the Dec. 2 terror attack. While we mourn those lost, we can also celebrate all of the courageous first responders who put their lives at risk for us that day – and every day.
In the past year, we moved ahead on a variety of fronts, from public safety, business out-reach and renewable energy issues to assisting constituents and job creators. It is an honor to serve you, and I wanted to share some highlights from this past year.
Public safety is one of my top priorities. So we again funded “Desert Guardian,” a series of 16 crime sweeps over four months in the High Desert. The effort ended with 543 arrests. While I have funded these special sweeps since I was elected, they are even more important with the passage AB 109 and Proposition 37, two state laws that have reduced criminal penalties.
We have supported Sheriff John McMahon’s addition of 25 additional deputies to unincorporated areas of the County during the past two years. Working with my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, we approved a plan to reduce recidivism among low-level, non-violent misdemeanor offenders. We also updated antiquated emergency communications systems. Board Chair James Ramos and I, along with city leaders, pressed the State to restore court funding; and two courtrooms in Barstow did reopen. We will continue to lobby the State for full funding.
BUSINESS OUTREACH & ASSISTANCE
One of my core beliefs is that government doesn’t create jobs; but government can influence the conditions that attract or discourage job creators. The County has rolled out a strategic manufacturers’ outreach campaign to identify obstacles to expansion of existing businesses and draw new employers. County efforts have attracted 1,539 new jobs and retained 524 existing jobs.
We met with state legislators to advocate for pro-growth policies and opposed the cap-and-trade hidden gas tax, which was defeated. Closer to home, we have met with out-of-area companies considering relocating, as well as reaching out to better serve local businesses. During this year’s High Desert Opportunity, we organized a “Made in the High Desert” exhibit hall to showcase local manufacturers to the site-selection community. More than 600 students met with these local firms about career paths and connecting school with the working world. We continue to support the regional marketing efforts of Opportunity High Desert, which draws retailers and other employers to the High Desert, home to more than 440,000 people.
VETERANS & SENIORS
The Board of Supervisors set a goal of ending veteran homelessness in our county by Dec. 31, 2015. While final numbers are not yet available, we are making significant progress, and I expect we will reach our goal. Overall homelessness in San Bernardino County is down 8 percent over the past two years.
In May, we held our second annual Veterans Resource Fair in Hesperia, assisting more than 200 former members of the military and their families. The County Department of Veterans Affairs is doing a great job helping local vets get the benefits they earned — $85 million in new federal monetary benefits, more than neighboring counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Riverside.
We partnered with the High Desert Association of Realtors in organizing a Senior Resource Event that offered local seniors information and advice about financial options, taxes and health care. We also assisted the High Desert Regional Council on Aging, working on health care, transportation and nutrition issues.
ROADS & INFRASTRUCTURE
As vice chair of SANBAG, I am proud of the cooperative efforts to improve major roads and highways in our area. One of the most anticipated projects was the opening of the Ranchero Road Interchange in Hesperia. The project provides an east/west connection and saves time for thousands of commuters. With the opening of the La Mesa/Nisqualli overpass in 2013, we are making good progress. And as we look to the new year, Caltrans expects to wrap up the Devore Interchange project this spring and the Interstate 15 Cajon Pass project by summer. We completed road projects in Spring Valley Lake, Silver Lakes, Oro Grande as well as 20 miles of road work in the Phelan/ Oak Hills/Pinon Hills region and the Lenwood grade separation.
This year we launched an initiative to deploy inmate work crews to collect trash in the High Desert. In the first month alone, crews collected nearly 25 tons of trash. We assisted in organizing community clean ups in Oak Hills, unincorporated Apple Valley, Trona, Hinkley and Wrightwood. With an eye for protecting our neighborhoods and the environment, we are protesting the DRECP, a federal and state plan for renewable energy projects in the desert. I have consistently advocated for projects on disturbed lands before harming pristine desert lands. With quickly changing technology, I see no need to scrape vast tracts of the desert for projects that will soon be obsolete. I also testified in Congress in support of legislation to balance conservation, recreation and mining without increasing federal landownership as well as protecting over 1,200 miles of existing roads and off-road vehicle trails.
The County Board of Supervisors implemented fiscally sound policies and passed a balanced county budget that is $165.2 million smaller than the previous budget. Plus, the County’s general purpose reserve fund is $88.7 million, a 14 percent rainy-day fund. We also addressed pension obligations. The County budget and 5-year forecast includes full funding of the County’s required pension contribution. Pension benefits are not increasing.
In the coming year, as in the past, we will continue the “Lovingood Listens” community meetings. In the meantime, if you have an issue or concern, please contact my office at (760) 995-8100 or email me atSupervisorLovingood@SBCounty.gov. May you have a happy and prosperous 2016.