OXNARD, Calif. – County Executive Officer Mike Powers presented his State of the County report to a sold-out crowd of about 300 at the Ventura County Taxpayers Association summer luncheon on August 1st. The title of the presentation was “Connecting our Region to Collectively Strengthen our Community.” The event brought together the east, central and western areas of the County through the co-sponsoring of the event by the Conejo Valley, Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo Chambers of Commerce.
“What we have seen this year is when we focus priorities and work together collectively, great things can happen,” said Powers. “We’ve seen it in our disaster recovery efforts. We’ve seen it with our new economic and energy initiatives, and we’ve seen it with our growing response to the homeless crisis. Public, community and private partnerships work. Look what we can get done. Let’s highlight areas where we can apply this collective effort going forward.”
Powers began the presentation discussing the County, city and community response and recovery efforts to the Thomas Fire, the Borderline shooting, and the Hill and Woolsey fires. He stressed the cooperative relationships between County, state, federal government, the cities of Ventura and Thousand Oaks, and community organizations and businesses that facilitated debris removal, assistance programs and permitting. He also mentioned how organizations such as the Ventura County Community Foundation worked collaboratively with local government and many others to aid victims by working as a trusted clearinghouse for donations.
Economic vitality was a key focus of the presentation. Powers noted the force multiplier effect of new connections formed as a result of the County’s Economic Vitality Strategic Plan actions; citing the new strides made in housing vouchers for the disabled through connecting the housing authorities across the cities. He also shared the new business opportunities being generated through the innovation collaborative formed by the Economic Development Collaborative, Port of Hueneme, U. S. Navy and the Went brothers from Matter Labs, further emphasizing the power of public-private partnerships. Powers highlighted the startup culture in the region spotlighting the venture capital firm BioPartners who are bringing in $300 million in BioTech startup funding. He reflected the importance of fostering the startup culture in the County. He highlighted the county’s 9th place ranking in a recent study of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem as a reflection of the good work of the chambers, education system, cities as well as the County and that the County is a strong supporter of the Startup Weekend program with the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce. The Startup Weekend program facilitates new startup businesses in the areas of Information Technology, Health Care and Agriculture and provides funding and startup office space at the County’s Camarillo Airport.
Pointing out that the workforce is essential to a vibrant economy, Powers shared the partnership efforts of the Workforce Development Board with local educators to align education with workforce demands to create employees who are well equipped with the skills county businesses need to succeed. The County has also established a robust internship program to further assist in developing the workforce of the future. Emphasizing the benefits of a highly diverse workforce, Powers shared that the County has established a diversity and inclusion task force to focus on increased diversity. He noted that the County has hired new leaders in strategic, hard-to-fill positions in areas including Agriculture, the Airport and Harbor, Animal Services, and Health Care through open recruitments.
Innovation and technology were also a strong theme throughout the address as Powers highlighted the many ways the County is using advanced technology to deliver improved government services, citing the County’s recent recognition by the Center for Digital Government as a leading Digital County in the nation, and noting that technology is a huge difference-maker for the County and the community. Among some of the many examples shared were the County’s use of artificial intelligence for crime analysis, Internet of Things (IoT) sensor technology for improved water management and the use of advanced telemedicine robots for critical care treatment of stroke patients. Powers also shared the portfolio of services available through mobile apps and web sites that are designed to serve the public online versus inline.
The County is also investing in infrastructure. Development plans have been received for a new hotel and restaurant at the Channel Island Harbor. New hangars are under construction at the Camarillo Airport, bike lanes are being constructed throughout the county, a new Mental Health Unit has broken ground at the Todd Road Jail Facility and plans are well underway for the construction of the Rice Avenue railroad overpass. Additionally, opportunities are being assessed to use existing assets such as street lights and existing underground conduits for expanding broadband in the region.
While homelessness remains a concern, the County is working to address the complex issues involved with housing, health and employment for the homeless. In a further demonstration of working together, the County and all 10 cities were the first in the state to adopt a countywide homeless resolution. In 2018, homeless services were able to place 170 homeless households into permanent housing. And the County has partnered with the cities of Oxnard and Ventura by covering half of the one-time and annual operating costs necessary to open and run permanent shelters in both cities. Powers pointed out that joining in this partnership with the cities and the County is the private shelter operator, Mercy House, who is a leading organization in the operation of shelters throughout the state, once again emphasizing the significant accomplishments that are achieved through working together. The combined partnership will offer 165 beds along with other supportive services.
Also noted was the work to ensure housing for the 109 homeless veterans in the county. To date, 73 of the Veterans are working with homeless services to find housing and, within a few weeks, 19 will be housed at the Ormond Beach Villas in Oxnard. Powers suggested a call to action to the group to work together collectively to put an end to homelessness for all the veterans in the county.
Touching on community well-being, Powers shared the effective work taking place across the county to provide a proactive and innovative approach to improving community health through programs such as ‘Whole Person Care’ that works to improve health conditions of some of the most chronically ill and has had positive results in reducing diabetes and heart disease as well as 64 percent reduction in emergency room visits. The Area Agency on Aging has partnered with in-home service providers to provide over 150,000 hours of support services, helping the elderly stay in their homes and out of nursing homes. A new dementia friendly training program has been launched with over 100 businesses to help them provide improved services to those suffering from dementia.
The County Board of Supervisors leadership in establishing the farmworker resource program, the first of its kind in the state, served to bring agriculture producers and farmworkers together to cooperatively improve services for farmworkers and help the county continue as a leader in the agricultural economy across the state.
An innovative program (known as RISE) that teams mental health experts with law enforcement officers in the field has generated improved treatment and service delivery to the mentally ill. Powers shared the successful results of the crisis stabilization unit (CSU) for children and adolescents which has helped 61 percent of the youths treated avoid mental health related hospitalization (339 youths). The Ventura County Medical Center (VCMC) recently opened a CSU for adults in April and the results have been similarly successful. VCMC is also working to expand the number of beds in the inpatient mental health unit. While these have been great strides in treating the mentally ill, Powers noted that many more inpatient mental health beds and CSUs are needed throughout the county and this is an area of further opportunity for the public and private organizations to collectively address.
Ventura County has not escaped the terrible effects of the opioid crisis. But the County’s Behavioral Health Department is rising to the challenge through working with physicians, law enforcement and others. They have distributed 4,500 life-saving kits as part of their Overdose Prevention Program and have documented 629 overdose reversals. In addition, they will have trained and supplied all Ventura County law enforcement with emergency Naloxone overdose reversal medication by December and worked with physicians to establish a safe pain medication prescribing policy countywide.
The County is looking beyond its borders to provide energy solutions to its residents. The Board of Supervisors voted to use 100 percent clean power in all its facilities. Partnering with two other counties, the Tri-County Regional Energy Network was formed to deliver energy efficient “green” business and home programs. The network has received $48 million in funding through 2025. The funding will be used for workplace education training for energy efficiency jobs, energy efficient home improvements, and training on energy efficient building codes and practices.
The hour-long presentation also touched on the County’s highest possible long-term credit rating; health care; multiple efforts to improve financial operations at VCMC, libraries; public safety; social services; agriculture; pensions; and the upcoming census, adding that eight of ten cities in the County are at high risk for an under-count and that each person not counted in the census results in a loss of $2,000 annually in federal funding for things like education, roads, health care and more.
“We are studying everything we do to improve efficiency, enhance services, and spend taxpayer dollars wisely while delivering critical safety, social, and health care services in areas including mental health, child welfare and homelessness,” said Powers. “Our balanced budget dedicates funds for continued investments in infrastructure and technology while at the same time, increasing the unassigned, or ‘rainy day’ fund, to $150 million, the highest level in County history.”
In closing, Powers said, “This is a beautiful place to live with wonderful, caring people, how can we leverage our strengths to make it better for people seeking jobs and those in need.”
The PowerPoint presentation – along with the websites with information referred to in the State of the County Presentation – can be viewed at: https://www.ventura.org/sotc-2019/