Remarks by Outgoing Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Hall of Administration on December 5, 2017.
Thank you, Madame Chair Sheila Kuehl, for allowing me the opportunity to make remarks at the conclusion of what has been a historic year. First, I would like to thank Sachi Hamai, Lori Glasgow, Mary Wickham, and their teams for their exceptional work over the past year.
So much of the facilitation and implementation of our work is guided by the Chief Executive Office, County Counsel and Executive Office, and I believe we are incredibly well served in each capacity. I’d also like to extend my appreciation to all of the other departments, offices and commissions, as well as my four outstanding colleagues.
We have gotten a substantial amount done collectively this past year. And we do it all in service of the more than 10 million residents of Los Angeles County and the millions more who visit, do business, work, worship, or attend school in the County.
A Historic Board with Daunting Challenges
A year ago, we welcomed our newly elected colleagues, Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger, to the dais. But the November election also compelled us to keep a watchful eye on imminent changes to the federal agenda that threatened to endanger the health and economic well-being of our residents. And we have had to shift that vigilance into action on multiple occasions. When the House bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was first introduced last March, we were ready, largely because this Board had unanimously approved a motion to develop options for maintaining health insurance coverage within the County in the face of a federal repeal.
Despite a stream of harmful policies and threats that have emanated from Washington – ranging from immigration to tax reform – this Board has enacted inclusive and progressive policies that strengthen the social services safety net. And we have done so while responsibly overseeing a $30.1-billion balanced budget – the largest in the County’s history. Our fiscal prudence was reinforced by stellar ratings from the three major rating agencies: Standard & Poor’s, Fitch and Moody’s, earlier this year. Moody’s upgrade from Aa1 to Aa2 represented its highest rating of Los Angeles County in a decade. Every upgrade allows us to obtain lower interest rates that translate into real savings to the County.
Priorities and Successes as Chairman
When I assumed the chairmanship, I asked the Board to join me in championing three priorities:
- Funding and executing the strategies put forth by the County’s Homelessness Initiative
- Expanding the footprint of the bioscience sector, which has outpaced all other sectors in job growth since 2001
- Cultivating a renaissance of the arts across Los Angeles County.
I am proud of the substantial strides we have made in all of these areas.
Homelessness and Our Moral Imperative
Last March, voters overwhelmingly passed Measure H, which established an unprecedented 10-year funding stream for programs to end and prevent homelessness in the County. And although the tax increase went into effect just two months ago, we have seen incredible progress to date:
- From May through September 2017, multi-disciplinary street engagement teams have initiated contact with more than 4,000 people; engaged more than 3,000 people, and connected more than 1,000 people to services. Almost 400 people are being helped to find permanent housing.
- From April through September 2017, disability benefits advocates embedded in Department of Public Social Services offices and the jails have screened and enrolled more than 2,000 people eligible for disability/Veterans Affairs benefits, and almost 400 people have been linked to permanent supportive housing and/or mental health services.
- And last month, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Los Angeles to dedicate Measure H funds to provide supportive services for 10,000 individuals and families who will live in new homes being built with Measure HHH bonds.
Sixteen other cities have expressed interest in similar partnerships to create new permanent supportive housing through the commitment of Measure H-funded supportive services, in tandem with new construction opportunities. We are well on our way to showing the voters that we will make use of the additional resources they have entrusted to us to help solve this crisis.
Bioscience and the Innovation Economy
Over the past year, we have also made progress in establishing bioscience hubs at the County’s medical research facilities. These campuses are poised to become great incubators for scientific discovery, life-saving medical treatments and devices, and generate well-paying jobs in the process!
Specifically, we broke ground on two County-funded bioscience incubators, one at Cal State LA and the other on the Harbor-UCLA Campus. We continue to support our world-renowned research institutions as they formulate new discoveries that improve the lives or our constituents, such as the development of the first new sickle cell treatment in the last 20 years by Dr. Yutaka Niihara at LA BioMed. Additionally, we are exploring the feasibility of establishing a bioscience investment fund to assist early stage companies. We have also retooled our workforce training programs to provide training in the bioscience and life science industry.
Arts and the Creative Economy
This Board also understands the potential of the arts to deepen the vitality of our communities. Our work in the arts has been guided by a commitment to a new cultural policy for the County that focuses on equity, diversity, inclusion and access. We have seen investment in art institutions and organizations in all corners of the County, placed artists in our own County Departments, and expanded the Arts Internship Program. Moreover, we are considering transforming our Arts Commission into a stand-alone County Department.
Complex, Challenging Issues with Unanimous Support
But our work extends far beyond these initiatives and the other Board-approved priorities. We have also collectively worked on:
- promoting affordable housing development
- expanding mental health services
- connecting young people with employment and educational opportunities and diverting them from commercial sexual exploitation, homelessness, and the juvenile justice and child welfare systems
- developing cohesive policies to regulate the legal use of cannabis
- expanding workforce development opportunities
- improving the environment
- implementing Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Department with the Commission’s first meeting occurring last January
- and reforming the Probation Department
And while this list is far from exhaustive, it is critical that this Board continue to elevate these matters in order to make meaningful, systemic change. We must do so by continuing to build a culture of integration across County departments, promoting transparency in our work and collaboration with the many external stakeholders we serve.
In closing, I want to again express my gratitude to Dr. Lori Glasgow and her team, who provide daily support for the Board Chair. My staff and I have appreciated the consistent professionalism, responsiveness and leadership displayed by her office. The innovations made by the Executive Office over the past year to increase transparency and enhance the experience of our constituents at these meetings have been impressive and long overdue. I am most proud that this Board continues to be governed by the values of integrity, inclusivity and diversity. And I am confident that we will continue to practice intentional civility towards one another and our constituents, as we remain resolute in tackling the wide range of issues before us. I have the utmost confidence in our new Chair, Sheila James Kuehl, to guide us down that path.
as Chairman of the Board