Dear District 4 Resident,
The purpose of this special newsletter is to share with you a memo I submitted to the County Executive Officer, Dr Jeff Smith. The intent was to clearly lay out my priorities as we approach a series of budget workshops in advance of approving the County’s Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget on August 21 .  

When I joined the Board of Supervisors in January 2019, I learned that it hadn’t been the Board’s practice to collectively decide upon shared goals or priorities as they relate to budgeting decisions. I requested a special meeting to serve this purpose and am appreciative of President Chavez’s support and scheduling of such a session. This special budget priority meeting , scheduled for August 12 at 1:30 p.m., will allow each of the five Supervisors to share our priorities for the coming year. 

Particularly in this time of both greatly enhanced need and dramatically decreased resources, I am hopeful that we will arrive at some shared vision that will guide our decisions over the next year or longer. We are going to have to make very difficult decisions and it will be immensely helpful if we have a shared framework in which to do so.

I look forward to learning more about the priorities of my colleagues and to finding common ground. I invite you to follow this process and weigh in at any time.  \
Budgets are Statements of Values. I came into this office committed to being a steadfast champion for children and families. During my first year in office, my team and I dove into this work and set in place new policies prioritizing children and families, directed funding to  promote the stability of children and families and led the creation of the County’s first Children’s Budget.  

The  past six months, however, have forced a radical shift in our operations, priorities and resources as we work to address the new realities of an ongoing pandemic, the lingering effects of a four month long shelter in place order, a soaring unemployment rate, even greater housing instability, an upending of the delivery of public education and heightened awareness of racial inequities across our society.  

Mirroring the significantly increased need of our population is a dramatic decrease in our County revenue. We are weathering decreased sales taxes, property taxes (to be sure, this is a lagging indicator that will be felt in 2021-2022 more than in the coming fiscal year) and collection of a variety of fees. We have made extraordinary but necessary unplanned expenditures in both our health- and economy-driven responses to the Coronavirus.  

Coming into this fiscal year, I realize that some of the programs I was most excited about may have to wait or be modified in order to fund things necessary to combat the virus and its impacts. Yet, through it all, there is one constant: my commitment to the well being of all children and families in this County. Here I have not wavered and this lens will continue to drive every decision I make in this incredibly challenging fiscal time.  
Although the right decision at the time, the shelter in place was never meant to be a long term solution to addressing this novel virus. It did, however, buy us valuable time to shore up our hospital capacity while gaining an understanding of the nature of the virus, learning how to contain the spread, and determining what supports were needed to be put in place to allow us to re-open safely. We were also able to provide some immediate financial relief to people who lost jobs as a result of the SIP order.

Now, in order to continue to re-open and re-build our economy, we must prioritize funding the tools that will support that paradigm. Funding to enhance and support our ongoing  response must include: 

  • Widespread  testing and tracing with robust isolation supports offered to all cases and contacts. Those who are ineligible for telework or paid sick leave, and those that are food or housing insecure, must be provided proactive outreach and support.  
  • A comprehensive  public health communications campaign regarding adherence to social distancing and masking protocols with expanded engagement of higher risk populations and a wide array of methods of outreach including direct mail, promatoras, and business engagement. 
  •  A plan for economic recovery support with resources targeted towards those who lost jobs or income as a result of the shelter-in-place order. 
  • Ongoing investment in our public health infrastructure with regard both to preparedness for the current pandemic and possible future demands including lab and testing capacity, trained case investigators, necessary PPE and medical supplies. 
This health crisis has shown us how our vulnerable and marginalized communities are being disproportionately affected. The County’s primary responsibility is to offer a strong safety net and I want to see us do through two areas of focus: health and human services and justice reform. 

Health and Human Services:  

  • Set up a Children’s Policy Office to build efficient, non redundant coordination of all County services and special initiatives that are focused on serving children. 
  • Prioritize investment in child health, well being and prevention of trauma to reap long-term community benefits. Specifically, fund black infant health and maternal health programs, childcare for County employees, universal meal programs for children, digital equity and expanded mental/behavioral health services at every school site in the County that does not currently have or have capacity to build a partnership for these services.  
  • Protect the resources that serve the most vulnerable members of our community including IHSS, foster children and families, pretrial and re-entry services, School Linked Services and older adults. 
  • Prioritize investment in prevention and early intervention using social services and behavioral health services to address issues related to mental and behavioral health, condition of being unhoused, Intimate Partner Violence and substance use disorders 

Justice Reform: 

  • Increase investment in social workers and mental/behavioral health providers  in order to significantly limit the need for law enforcement response to situations involving people in crisis. Law enforcement response should be reserved for situations involving real-time violent crimes.  
  • Focus resources on programs that divert individuals from incarceration to programs that do not contribute to trauma, are more rehabilitative and cost significantly less than jail. 
To achieve the above goals, the County must be a high-performing organization that invests in its people and in continuous improvement. To do that, I want to see the County take steps to: 

  • Further facilitate teleworking and investigate how a more remote workforce could result in decreased facilities costs.  
  • Reduce complexities in hiring and procurement, empowering departments to make decisions more efficiently and directly 
  • Invest in performance evaluation and cost-benefit analysis of all County programs and services. Discontinue programs and services that do not produce results or who’s costs outweigh their benefits.  
  • Invest in childcare for County employees to improve worker capacity, retention and satisfaction. 

While it is far easier to declare priorities than to determine where Santa Clara County should reduce spending, my preferences would be to defer all nonessential, non-required capital projects that would rely on general fund dollars, release funding allocated for unfilled vacancies, seek out operational efficiencies in the hospital system to reduce reliance on general fund subsidy, spend down reserves to a prudent minimum and shift funding from programs that facilitate incarceration to those that provide services that address underlying social crises.  

We also must ensure spending is responsible, transparent, and accountable. These actions are important in any fiscal climate, not just when the budget is tight. In order for our County to weather the tough times and thrive in the better ones, we must have a commitment to doing business in a manner that achieves the very best value for the public dollars we are entrusted to spend. 

Grounding every decision in equity will ensure that I continue to strive towards fairness and justice in how our County treats residents, clients, employees, and all who live and work in the County, ensuring that those who are in greatest need are prioritized and that every decision is made only after taking into account whether it may disproportionately impact historically marginalized populations.

Using my framework for prioritizing children and families in every situation will allow me to make decisions that are consistent, defensible, and rooted in my values.