County Supervisor Kathryn Barger touched on a wide range of issues, including homelessness, public safety and the county’s plans to house violent youth offenders at a camp in Saugus, during her State of the County address hosted Wednesday by the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Held in person for the first time since the pandemic, the State of the County luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Valencia was well-attended by local dignitaries, members of the chamber, City Council members and representatives from local and state officials.
Barger – introduced as a “champion of ours and a great leader of our Los Angeles County” – started by recognizing key partners who have helped the county through the pandemic and beyond. She presented commendations to: Don McCoy, president of Six Flags Magic Mountain; Dianne Van Hook, chancellor of College of the Canyons; and Roger Seaver, CEO of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.
Barger, whose district includes the SCV, opened her address with introspection on various challenges posed by the pandemic, and the opportunities it brought to look at issues deeply.
“From the beginning, I made it a priority to listen to the experts in the field and prioritize public health and safety to protect the most vulnerable to the virus. And, I believe balancing these sometimes-competing priorities has been a challenge. Some of my colleagues made it a challenge and I push back against closures when they do not align with science and data.”
She talked about the creation of an economic landscape task force, “which is a working group comprised of business and community leaders to discuss the economic impacts of the pandemic and the county’s reopening plan.”
Barger added it was important to bring together “the industry leaders to tell us how we can apply science to help them reopen. And that is why this task force was instrumental in giving me the roadmap moving forward on what needs to be done, as we come out of this pandemic.”
She vowed to move proactively with the economic recovery, by guiding the community back to normal by identifying challenges.
“It is no secret; Los Angeles County has seen a record number of early closures of small businesses. The impact of our valley’s largest employers was severe, including Magic Mountain, Princess Cruises, who had to completely close operations and lost hundreds of jobs. The good news is the most of these jobs have been restored and employers are actively recruiting again. In addition, the (Economic Development Corp.) indicates that there’s a very strong recovery and supply of new homes and construction and industrial facilities.”
Talking about the return of economic activity in the valley, Barger said the goal was to be more business-friendly. Among other challenges, she pointed out, were cutting red tape and the need to speed up the processing of permits.
“The county must reduce regulatory bureaucratic barriers for small businesses applying for permits. Undoing years of bureaucracy is never easy, but I intend to make it happen. In addition to streamlining these processes for our small businesses, it is just as critical to reduce regulatory barriers.”
Moving on to housing availability, she recounted meeting a number of local developers expressing concerns and the need for a more robust county one-stop center in the SCV.
“I offered a motion in February to investigate how we can bring more robust development services to the civic center. We need to ensure the county has an appropriate oversight of the development process while not adding months and sometimes years… to the project timelines. There is an urgent need to build more housing, and it is incumbent upon the county to drive the change needed to accomplish this.
She then talked about the rapid rates of inflation that are going to impact budgetary decisions. “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the annual inflation rate for the United States was 8.5% for the year leading up to March 2022. While this presents many challenges and uncertainties in our upcoming budget, I remain committed to advocating for fiscal prudence and, as a need of funding, growing our reserves. Through these efforts, the county was able to fully restore its rainy-day fund and ensure a 10% set aside.”
While talking about public safety and the uptick in crime, she said that last month “our board approved the CEO’s recommended budget, which includes $12 million to fund additional sheriff’s academy classes.” She said that deputies in law enforcement are under pressure like never before. She celebrated the opening of the new “state-of-the-art Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. Thanks to our partnership with the city of Santa Clarita, I can’t think of a better partner. The remarkable facilities will continue to serve a growing need and the population of our residents.”
She ended the address with the need to “create more mental health benefits and provide comprehensive treatment for those suffering from mental illness,” especially those suffering homelessness, and the need to fix overcrowding in jails.
“I remain committed to providing more funding that will expand our mental health evaluation teams that are homeless outreach teams through the Sheriff’s Department. Mental evaluation teams are an invaluable asset providing interventions and (diffuse) potentially violent situations while providing essential care for those who suffer from mental illness.”
Pointing to her disappointment in the county’s plan to house violent juvenile offenders at Camp Scott in Bouquet Canyon, she said she will continue to fight for what is right.
Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste commended the supervisor for her commitment to the city during the pandemic and beyond. She also promised the city’s full support in Barger’s plan to address homelessness. “We stand firmly with you to get done the right thing.”