Riverside County 1st District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries was the speaker at the Economic Workforce Development Committee luncheon held Sept. 21, at the Diamond Club in Lake Elsinore.
“I have been in office four years and nine months, and I have a lot of frustration and excitement,” Jeffries said. “An excitement dampened by our fiscal financial situation. My goal was to streamline bureaucracy and to work on quality of life issues. Budget issues frustrate both those goals.”
Jeffries gave a brief overview of the challenges facing the 10th largest county in the nation with its 2.3 million residents. Riverside County has a budget of $5.4 billion and employs 20,000 to 22,000 persons.
“Of that amount, after state and federal mandates and debt service, we only have $700 million of discretionary budget,” Jefferies said. “Much of that goes toward providing sheriff and fire services as well as county services.”
He spoke of his concerns on the impact of growth in the county.
“Visionaries planned many years ago for transportation, but they could not envision the level of explosive growth we have seen in this area,” Jefferies said. “Our commute woes are not unique to Riverside County; Orange County and Los Angeles are experiencing it too. But I don’t want all the roofs and concrete. There is a housing shortage in California, and our kids graduating from high school and college are basically sentenced to move out of the state due to lack of inventory and lack of affordability. Government bills – like those that mandate prevailing wages – raise the cost of housing that we want to make affordable.
“We are supposed to build 10,000-12,000 affordable housing units in our unincorporated areas,” he said. “But where are we going to find large enough spaces with transit service, water, not to mention funding for sidewalks, parks, fire, code enforcement, etc.”
Jefferies spoke about the county’s criminal justice issues.
“We are in a really good economy – people are working, homes are selling at good prices, consumers are spending – but the county is having a tough time making ends meet,” Jefferies said. “The main cause is our criminal justice system: reconfiguring what constitutes a felony and changing incarceration times for prison versus county jails. It used to be that prisons were for sentences longer than one year and county jails were for sentences up to one year. Now prisons are only for violent felonies and county jails must house non-violent felony offenders for sentences up to 14 years. The system was not equipped for that. For example, health systems for inmates – we recently settled a suit that will cost us $40 million per year indefinitely. We built the new Indio jail facility to deal with capacity issues, but it will cost $40 million per year just to staff it.”
He spoke about housing shortages.
“I don’t believe we can build our way out of this,” Jefferies said. “Every new residence in unincorporated Riverside County costs us for services and infrastructure, and we only get 22 cents on the dollar to the county. Based on an average $350,000 sales price, we would need to build 3,000 to 4,000 homes to fund one fire department. Commercial development is what is needed to offset and balance these costs.”
Jeffries also addressed questions on issues of marijuana growth and dispensaries, legislation regarding outsourcing, health care, homelessness, internal process improvements and technology.
Jeffries concluded his speech optimistically.
“I think we can figure our way out of this, but it takes time,” he said.