We sat down for lengthy interviews with each of the five county supervisors for our special report Out of Reach.
Here are some of the quotes that we think best sum up the supervisors’ views:
Comparing San Diego to other counties:
It’s kind of hard to look at a snapshot of San Diego, and then compare it with, say, Riverside or San Bernardino, Sacramento or L.A. and say, “Voila, look at this. In comparison, we’re not doing as good.”
Trying to improve:
Clearly there is a need, and a greater need than there was last year. … You can look in the past, but I prefer to look at what we’re doing now. We’re trying to do better outreach, involve more community partners, and to increase the number of people that are [enrolled] for those programs.
By and large we’re not going to take county general fund money and pull that away from libraries, from park programs and public safety. And that’s been a philosophy of the county for probably the last 25 or 30 years.
I understand the direction of the article is focusing on the participation rates in San Diego County for food stamps, but I guess I’ve got to counter-balance that at least in my mind a little bit in regards to where we’ve tried to provide additional support, and I’m thinking specifically in terms of foster care.
If the state comes in and starts pulling money out of the program, our philosophy has been if the state cuts the program, we cut the program. … The state doesn’t have a right to not pay their match and not pick up the tab for them. We’re a big county and we can afford to file a suit.
We’re sensitive that nobody likes the fact that the county government sues the state government — but we are responsible for all of these programs.
San Diego’s population:
These places like Contra Costa and Santa Clara you mentioned. The people here are just passing through. People are residing there. … You’ve got to remember we’re a border county. We have a transient population in the very poor here. They’re going on to L.A. or wherever from here. I think that plays a part.
His personal views:
My parents would never take public assistance. My father wouldn’t even take the GI bill. I could’ve taken a lot of those benefits. If I could live without it why would I take it?
Low enrollment rates:
There may be a lot of people out there that are eligible but they don’t want any government help. And it’s hard to weed out how many of them — how many of that 65 percent are people that are eligible but they’re too proud to take a government handout.
There is not enough money, tax dollars, to do everything that everybody wants to do. That’s fact. So, we have first the responsibility to look out for what is our local responsibility — to make sure that our neighborhoods are safe, and to try to prevent kids, as much as we can, from getting into a life of crime. That’s the public safety and that’s why government was formed in the first place many years ago, was to make sure that people were safe.
There is an element of our population that feels that we should just hand it out to anybody and everybody. Well, that may be nice to say, but frankly, there’s not enough money to do everything that everybody wants to do. So there have to be choices, tough decisions.
So whether it’s federal dollars coming in or state dollars coming in, the money starts here, comes out of people’s pockets. So we have the responsibility to make sure, as much as we can, that that money is spent and the fraud, waste and abuse is eliminated from the system.
They like to take — they steal our money and then they tell us, do more with less, and we don’t have a money tree growing outside in the backyard that we can go pick money off of.
The county, while it’s a large part of our mission, we also have other things that we are obligated to do, like land use and environmental and all kinds of other things. So we’re not 100 percent like a social services charity.
Who government serves:
So I don’t think it’s that we’re refusing to shift money from parks and recreation into more social services because of the demand — although there is a high demand — but I think it’s that because those services actually do, they serve the general good. Everyone. There’s no one who isn’t well-served.
Whereas the social service programs that mainly focus on indigent people, homeless people, people who are down on their luck for whatever reason, hopefully only for a short time, those are more of a targeted population. So therefore we are spending a very large amount of money on people that are not the majority. That’s the taxpayers’ money.
We are not here to create another level of government that provides health and human services, because that would require another infusion of taxpayer money and I haven’t seen any sympathy from the public for us asking for new taxes.
County’s financial status:
Fifteen years ago the county was about where the city is — on its rear end financially. … The county was filled with some very compassionate souls and they weren’t getting basic business done.
Comparing San Diego to other counties:
All due respect to a lot of the other counties, we don’t use them as role models.
I would say that between public safety and health and human services, you’re talking about the top two priorities. Each of them always has a long list of things that they would like. You’re always thinking, “OK, how can we do a better job for these people?”
What we’re trying to do is keep from having any major scandal that quite honestly could be more of a threat than anything else to a program. We live in a world where taxpayers are going to expect that their programs are going to be efficiently run.
— KELLY BENNETT