L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger highlighted progress and cooperation Wednesday during her annual State of the County address in front of Santa Clarita Valley business leaders, elected officials, SCV Chamber of Commerce members and residents.
Amid an ongoing countywide crisis over mental health services and homelessness, which Barger discussed as interrelated concerns, the supervisor focused on how communities can work together to improve the situation.
“My theme is really about collaboration,” said Barger, whose district includes the SCV, just before her address. “And the way I’m able to collaborate with this city shows that when you leverage two bodies that are very powerful, you can get a lot of things done.”
A few of the highlights from Barger’s office over the past 12 months touched on her partnerships with the city, including the effort to avoid using Camp Scott in Saugus for high-risk male juvenile offenders, an effort Santa Clarita also ardently opposed.
Ultimately, the county decided to house female juveniles at the Saugus facility, instead of spending as much as $40 million to renovate the local facility with security upgrades.
She also mentioned Interstate 5 improvements being worked on in the SCV, about $700 million worth of work through the voter-approved Measure M. The work is about 22% complete, she said.
“So please be patient, it’s moving along on time and on budget,” she said, and then in response to audible reactions from the crowd, she added, “Yeah, that is a big ‘wow.’”
Improvements on The Old Road are supposed to break ground early next year, she added.
A significant portion of her roughly 27-minute speech focused on what she described as one of her top priorities, improving the county’s mental health care system.
Touting the launch of 9-8-8, a recently rolled-out mental health hotline, Barger noted a study that said within five years the demand for clinicians will outpace supply by approximately 40%.
One of the ways she sought to address the challenge was by co-authoring a motion with Supervisor Janice Hahn to build the county’s recruiting and retention program for mental health care workers.
In addition to trying to secure more funding, Barger has worked with local resources like Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital to support the SCV, she said.
“However, to meet our behavioral health and capacity needs, we need federal reform,” she added. “Current federal restrictions limit the reimbursement for mental health services facility with only 16 beds.”
That means anything larger becomes ineligible for federal dollars, making it hard for L.A. County to “scale up” in order to adequately address the challenges.
She also said her emergency declaration on the homelessness crisis has helped the county cut through red tape in order to secure more money and help; however, another significant challenge has been the regulatory obstacles to creating more housing, she said.
The statistics indicate that, as of about March, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, L.A. County’s homeless population surpassed New York’s at 69,000 people, making it the largest in the nation.
According to the state, Santa Clarita’s share of the housing need for the county is approximately 10,000 units, a figure that’s “on top of the incredible amount of housing that has been built throughout the (Santa Clarita) Valley in the last decade,” she said.
Part of Barger’s proposed solution is to convert a currently defunct facility into part of the effort to expedite the approval process for more homes.
“And I have heard loud and clear we must be better to streamline development,” she said. “The county departments of Regional Planning, Public Works, Public Health and Fire are stepping up and creating a one-stop shop (where) developers can speak to all necessary departments in a centralized location in real time,” which she called an “intermediate step.”
“The county is working on plans to repurpose the old Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station to provide the necessary facilities and permanent staffing to streamline service.”