Thank you Jennifer for your kind introduction. And AES for your sponsorship of today’s event. We also appreciate all you are doing to provide more sustainable, renewable and reliable energy to our region. The huge investments you are making in Long Beach will not only provide good jobs, but also provide more tax revenue to support local services.
Thank you to Adriana Birdwell for joining us today for the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m so proud of you! It is not easy to get up in front of all these people! Adriana is one of the 140 children who have been safely surrendered in Los Angeles County since 2001. She was born at a hospital in Montebello in 2009 and was the 70th baby to be surrendered. She’s here today with her loving parents—Jill and Darren. Thank you to the Birdwells for opening your arms and hearts, and for being part of my Safe Surrender family.
Thank Pastor Ken Korver of Emmanuel Reformed Church for today’s invocation.
I would like to recognize Long Beach Chamber Board Chair Kristi Allen, and the Chamber’s Board of Directors.
The Chamber staff for making today’s event possible.
And of course, my family … My wife of 47 years, Julie…
Thank you all for being here today. This is our 9th annual State of the County. I really appreciate that you continue to show up!
As most of you know, I only have a little more than a year left in office as County Supervisor.
Leaving office is going to leave me a lot of free time.
I’ve thought about becoming a gadfly and signing up for public comment every week at the Board of Supervisors.
But I’ve decided to shoot slightly higher than that…
Since I have you all here right now, I think there’s no better time….
Today, I am proud to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America!
I already have a campaign logo to get people excited!
With all the fundraisers and speaking events coming up, I’ve expanded my wardrobe.
And to make sure I look the part of President of the United States, I’ve made an appointment to get a real politician hairdo.
I hope you’ll join me as we embark on the road to the White House!
In all seriousness, I think one of the sad parts of the campaign and the 24/7 media coverage is that politicians have become a joke – something to mock.
What should be one of the most noble positions a person can hold – serving the people of our great nation – becomes prime material for the nightly shows.
That really bothers me. As someone who has made a career in government, who has been honored to serve – I know what a difference we can make in people’s lives. From the seemingly mundane, but critical, tasks of road repair, trash collection and building inspections, to fighting fires, performing surgeries and protecting our most vulnerable – people absolutely depend on the work we do.
One of the reasons I have never been interested in national politics and why I love working at the local level, is that we don’t – well, we can’t—get involved in the silly games they play. We can’t threaten to shut the government down. We can’t filibuster for hours on end – YOU can’t do those things either in running your business.
And politicians wonder why the public doesn’t trust them!
What happens in this environment is that you score points by being bombastic. You make headlines for being outrageous. It turns government into the latest reality show.
I have to be honest…I had my own run-in with reality TV earlier this year. You might have heard about a little mid-week fireworks show at midnight on a Tuesday in Marina del Rey. Yes, the Kardashians decided to throw a party. As you might expect, I heard from many local residents, some of whom thought we were being bombed. It sounds funny now, but imagine waking up to that! The next day, I found myself on TMZ with Khloe….
My point is that all of this headline-grabbing and sound-bite seeking is easier than addressing our real problems. That’s where things get messy. Because solving problems requires compromise. Solving problems requires an authentic look at facts that we might not like. Solving problems is just plain hard work.
To take the easy way out, there seems to be a culture of what I will call “The Don’ts.”
Don’t change your mind.
Don’t make mistakes.
Don’t change course.
And above all, don’t vote against your party.
Come on people – how can we deal with issues or get anything done if we box ourselves in like that? At every level of government, people should expect us to solve problems. I think that is why my constituents hired me!
Nowhere is that more important than at the local level. Here at the County, as the ultimate safety net, people depend on us because they have reached the end of their rope – financially, physically or mentally.
Let me give you a couple examples on issues that are being discussed across the country: Affordable Housing and our Jail System.
Both Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles have been in the news for making large financial commitments to address the growing homeless issue and lack of affordable housing that is facing our entire region.
Let me be clear – I know how hard it is for people to rent or own a home or apartment in Los Angeles County. Time and again in my career I have put resources behind housing programs for families, veterans and others in the Fourth District.
As this issue is getting a lot of publicity right now, big numbers are being thrown around to combat the problem — $100 million for homelessness, $100 million for affordable housing – which makes for great headlines. But what happens after the headlines – will we really be able to get that level of resources to the people who need it?
As I have told you before, the County has a $28 billion budget. Many people probably think –what’s a couple million? Or even a $100 million, in that big of a pool? Well, it’s critical that you understand that over 80 percent of that budget is allocated for us – by the Federal and State governments. In other words, they give us money and we run their programs and services. That leaves relatively very little wiggle room on the rest of our budget. And as you might imagine, there are a lot of demands on that money, and our priorities can and do change over the long-term as new challenges arise.
Last month, my colleagues proposed a $100 million for affordable housing – a ramp up of $20 million each year over the next five years and then $100 million per year in perpetuity. WOW – that made some headlines!
I suggested a different plan that mirrors what we had with the former Redevelopment Agencies or RDAs. It was a formula that set aside a percentage of our revenues. While this funding may fluctuate a bit, a percentage is guaranteed today and going forward. Now I get that $100 million sounds a heckuva lot more dramatic. But using a formula would not tie the hands of future Boards, as priorities and needs change.
When I raised questions about the sustainability of an annual $100 million allocation, I was asking where we are going to get the money, now and in the long-term. Unfortunately, some people assumed I raised the question because I am a Republican and therefore I must not care about affordable housing. Nothing could be further from the truth! There is no Republican or Democrat way to get someone off the street and into a home. I just don’t want what I call “Field of Dreams” spending – where we build it now and hope the money comes.
I want our commitment to be real and sustainable and I think the formula I proposed, while it would change a bit year to year, would have put our money where our mouth is. Bottom line: I don’t want to be one of those entities that makes promises that sound good at a press conference– but are promises that we can’t keep.
Jails and Diversion
Another issue being addressed by municipalities across the United States is how we manage our prison population. The United States is the biggest jailer in the world. We have 5 percent of the world’s population, but more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population. Clearly we are doing something wrong.
Simply locking people up, many of whom have mental health issues or addiction problems, is obviously not going to help them. Diversion efforts to provide services and rehabilitation are being tested across the county and showing some good results.
Here in Los Angeles County, we absolutely must replace our jail facilities, which are not only outdated, but are not safe for inmates or our staff. Over the last couple years, the Board hired a few consulting firms to give us their professional opinion. Sheriff McDonnell and his staff also weighed in. Ultimately, the Board approved a jail bed number lower than what was recommended, and allocated $60 million of one-time funds for diversion programs and another $14 million on-going. The hope is that diversion programs will decrease the need for more jail beds. But even the DA said that the diversion program is not a jail reduction plan.
Again, I want to be very clear. I absolutely support diversion efforts aimed at rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. But recent laws like AB 109 and Prop 47 have put a lot of pressure on our jail system. Some of the advocates seem to want to let everyone out. But frankly there are some bad dudes out there who simply belong in jail.
We don’t know how successful our diversion programs are going to be, so we need to be flexible, and prepare for the long-term. I know that doesn’t play to the advocates and doesn’t draw applause. But we cannot create public policy based on wishful thinking and ideology. We cannot cater to the soundbite, we must play the long game.
We are responsible for how taxpayer dollars get spent. We are responsible for the fiscal health of the largest county in America. Again, we cannot do “Field of Dreams” spending – picking a dollar figure and hoping the money will come. Future generations expect us to be more accountable than that.
I’m not whining and this isn’t about getting my way. But when we look at huge issues like affordable housing, diversion, minimum wage, wage theft – we are talking about helping those who need it most. Throwing money at these issues without a sustainable plan isn’t fair to those we are trying to help, or to those who have put us in office to fix these problems.
I think you can tell how concerned I am about this. LA County weathered the last recession because of prudent budgeting and a good relationship with our unions. We even received the highest credit ratings we’ve ever had. We worked hard for that! It’s important for our residents because we are able to borrow money at a low cost for infrastructure projects and to provide the services that our constituents demand.
Before I get into some specifics on those types of projects, let me show you some highlights from this past year. (show video)
The Bucket List Update
I told you a couple years ago that I had a Bucket List of things that I wanted to complete before I left office. With all the money being spent right now, I am very focused on measurement and accountability. So I’d like to show you my report card on our progress:
I’m pleased to report that all three community center projects have been completed! In 2014, we opened one in Hacienda Heights and this year, we completed the projects in Rowland Heights and South Whittier. These are beautiful facilities that I’m really proud of – they make a huge impact in our communities – for residents of all ages!
Community Health Clinic
One of the issues the County faces in delivery healthcare is that too many people enter our system in the most expensive way – through the doors of the emergency room. With the launch of the Affordable Care Act, we are more than ever focused on preventive care. However, access to preventive care has been too limited in the eastern part of my district.
Last year I told you we would be opening a clinic in Hacienda Heights this year. Unfortunately, the project had some delays because they decided to move locations to a more central area. So I don’t get an ‘A’ on the Bucket List Report Card on that one yet, but I’m really looking forward to it opening soon.
As you know, one of the County facilities I am most proud of is Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey. For more than two decades, it has been named one of the top rehab hospitals in the country by US News and World Report. It is an amazing place. If you ever feel like you are having a bad day, head over there and see the miracles the patients and doctors, nurses and staff accomplish each and every day.
This year, we launched Rancho Rising 2020, a $418 million desperately-needed, state-of-the-art renovation. The first phase of construction, scheduled for completion in 2016, will give us a new Wellness & Aquatic Therapy Center. The second phase includes some seismic safety and facility renovations, and a new outpatient facility, which will be completed by 2020.
Another exciting development with Rancho this year was the culmination of years of effort to expand our partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Legislation finally passed which will provide quicker access to care for veterans who experience long wait-times at VA facilities. It allows veterans to choose non-VA medical facilities and have access to services closer to their homes. If the VA can’t meet the needs of our Vets, we’ve got the capacity, we’ve got the skills, and we’ve got the will! I’m so pleased we are finally moving forward!
And the project I probably most want an “A” – public transit to the front door of the airport! This is a complex project and I am trying to be patient!
The environmental reviews are underway, a design firm has been selected and has begun their work, and we are aggressively seeking FTA support so that we can accelerate the project to 2023. It was originally scheduled for completion in 2028. Actually, I don’t care about an “A” on this project – I just want to be around to see it!
Over the years, we have held 31 Knabe Cups for local boys and girls high school teams. As I mentioned last year, I would like to establish a Junior Golf Academy to encourage young people from all walks of life to start playing golf. We reached an agreement with the City of Norwalk to lease their 9-hole course. Just last week, we approved a contract with an operator. We plan to break ground in January and have everything up and running by June 2016.
The last construction project on the Bucket List is my Operation Libraries program. We are investing $45 million in libraries in my district. Some of our facilities are inadequate and we have kids waiting in line to get in after school.
Earlier this year, we broke ground on the new South Whittier Library and the Lomita Library Annex – and just last weekend, a new facility in Los Nietos. La Mirada is working on a $4 million remodel and project designs in Artesia have been approved for work beginning next spring.
While I know some people think libraries are a thing of the past, they have evolved into learning centers for people of all ages. The investments we are making go beyond brick and mortar, and focus on digital upgrades to make our facilities relevant for people of all ages. We have never been busier and I’m thrilled that we have the ability to invest significant resources in the communities which need it most.
This year, we said goodbye to legends like David Letterman and Jon Stewart, and said hello to new TV titans. But I’m proud to say the constant through all this change has been my TV show– Dialed-In with Don Knabe!
Since starting the show in 2013, we’ve filmed over 30 episodes. This year we took the show on the road and filmed at the newly restored Hall of Justice with Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Just last month we filmed an episode at Rancho Los Amigos. And every year around the holidays, we profile three local non-profits which are making a huge difference in supporting people in need in our community.
We have some more great shows planned for the coming year, including a trip up to Sacramento. Stay tuned!
I want to add one last project to this year’s update, something I have been working on for a few years now. Los Angeles County is part of a nationwide organization called the National Association of Counties. Together, the nation’s 3,068 counties lobby the federal government on issues impacting all counties – urban, rural, large and small.
Each year NACO convenes a national event for all its members and supporters. The locations are determined a few years in advance and I have been pushing for an event in Los Angeles County for years. I am so pleased that next year’s event will be held right here, in this building, in late July. It will bring together nearly 3,000 county leaders, booking over 9,000 local hotel room nights, and contributing between $5-7 million to the local economy. I want to thank Steve Goodling and the team at the Long Beach CVB for all of their support.
Of course, I don’t just want it to take place in Los Angeles County – I want it to be the biggest and best NACO has ever held! We are currently developing plans to make this a really special event. Let me show you how we are doing so far: (show video). This is going to be huge for Long Beach!
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
Child Sex Trafficking
Perhaps the two most important issues I have worked on – and if I have a legacy I would want at the top — are Child Sex Trafficking and Safe Surrender.
Since we met last year, we have continued our aggressive efforts to end the exploitation of young girls in our streets.
We worked with law enforcement on a set of new protocols for when they come in contact with the victims of this horrific crime. Now, rather than being taken into custody like they were in the past, we get them wraparound services … mental health, physical health, education, job training – everything they need to move forward with their lives.
We tested the protocols in Long Beach and Compton and the results have been terrific. Before, nearly 75% of the girls would run—probably back to their scumbag pimp. Now, thanks to immediate and intense engagement with wrap-around services, only one out of 38 juveniles ran in the first 72-hours after they were rescued. That is an amazing statistic and a giant leap in the right direction.
I am proud of the work we have done to provide services to the victims and to increase the penalties for the pimps. The one piece that has been missing is the demand side. We should not call those who buy young girls for sex anonymous “johns.” Let’s call them what they really are: child rapists.
I am currently working on a County ordinance that would lead to the launch of a john-shaming campaign. Much like the Top 10 Child Support Deadbeats of a few years ago, my intent is to publicize the names and faces of those convicted of buying young girls for sex. This is something Long Beach Prosecutor Doug Haubert has already launched in Long Beach. I am confident that programs like this can have a huge impact on ending this exploitation.
There is no such thing as a child prostitute!
On a happier note, I am thrilled to announce that 2015 has been the most successful since we launched Safe Surrender in 2001. 16 lives have been saved so far this year. That brings the total to 140! Again, I want to thank Adriana for joining us today for the pledge. She is an incredible reminder of how important this program is.
Earlier this year, we celebrated the 125th Safe Surrender with a very special event in Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. We invited all of the families to join us to plant a special Garden of Life, recognizing all the children who have been saved by the program.
Sadly just last week we heard news of a fetus abandoned in a dumpster in Hawthorne. While we have achieved so much this year, this situation reminds us that we still have a lot more work to do. No shame, No blame, No names.
I want to thank the Chamber for its support of my Safe Surrender Scholarship program, which we announced here two years ago. $40,000 of the proceeds from today’s event will help fund the program. Soon enough, Adriana will be ready to head to college!
Again this year, the Chamber will also continue supporting two local non-profits which are very important to me – US Vets and Ronald McDonald House. US Vets is the nation’s largest non-profit provider of services to veterans facing challenges in their transition back to civilian life. Last month we dedicated 80 more units of housing at the Villages at Cabrillo for the homeless, some of whom are vets and their families. I want to thank US Vets for their support of our efforts. Would Brenda Threatt of US Vets please stand…
And Ronald McDonald House, which provides temporary housing for families of seriously ill children who are receiving treatment at Miller Children’s Hospital and other local medical facilities. Would Jen Moore, Jill Rosenberg (and Ron Piazza) from Ronald McDonald House please stand?
As you know, I am shortly entering my final year as Supervisor of the Fourth District. Obviously that brings up a variety of thoughts and emotions. One thing is that I won’t have to ever eat chicken again! But seriously, perhaps my biggest concern is what happens to the programs we have been working on for twenty years.
I thought long and hard about who I wanted to fill this seat next because it is so important to me. I am proud to endorse my Senior Deputy, Steve Napolitano for Supervisor of the Fourth District. I know he will continue much of what we talked about today – fiscal responsibility, non-partisan problem solving and protecting the most vulnerable. Steve has been with me for ten years and understands the importance and complexities of local government. He served as a Councilman and Mayor of Manhattan Beach. As a former mayor myself, I know that this hands-on experience is crucial to dealing with the everyday needs of our constituents. Representing me in eight Fourth District communities, Steve has shared my commitment to delivering top service to all of our residents.
Steve will be ready to lead on day one – he has been involved in virtually every aspect of our operations and has the experience, knowledge and vision to serve Los Angeles County. He’s a smart, talented leader with great integrity, and I hope you will join me in supporting him!
I’ve spoken today about “The Don’t’s” of our current political environment. The unwillingness to work together, to admit mistakes, to see facts and change course – and, with the national election right around the corner, the intense and combative partisanship. All of this is so divisive and contributes nothing to solving problems.
Let’s not celebrate that behavior. This county, this state, this country is too big and too great to stand around and shout at each other. Politics, my proud profession, should be the “art of compromise” rather than yelling “sell-out” every time you have to give a little to get a little. We can have unity without uniformity. We can disagree without being disagreeable.
Politics is the process of making decisions amid different opinions. It involves conversation, listening, and balancing valid, but competing, ideas. It’s not about pointing fingers and being bombastic.
As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution … is called whining.”
And it most certainly isn’t leadership.
I was reading about a young entrepreneur recently who said, “Leadership does not need to be dramatic, fist in the air and trumpets blaring. Leadership comes from integrity — that you do whatever you ask others to do. Just by providing a good example as a parent, a friend, a neighbor — we can make it possible for other people to see a better way to do things.”
Every day, each of us can make a choice to jump on the bandwagon of division. Or, we can choose to be a builder:
A builder of families, of neighborhoods, of communities.
And most importantly, we can commit to being a builder of bridges… not walls.
From my family to all of you, however you celebrate the holidays, may you enjoy a beautiful season of blessings, and a prosperous and healthy New Year.
May God bless you, may God bless our troops, and may God continue to bless the United States of America!