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Taking A Closer Look At San Diego County's $2 Billion In Reserves

Katie Schoolov
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is shown in this photo, Jan. 10, 2017.
Taking A Closer Look At San Diego County's $2 Billion In Reserves
Taking A Closer Look At San Diego County's $2 Billion In Reserves GUEST:Lisa Halverstadt, reporter, KPBS News

You are listening to KPBS Midday Edition I am Allison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. County supervisors have a $5 billion budget and today they have hearings on next year's spending plan. For years they have argued their only role in helping the homeless was to provide services and not bricks and mortar. This is why this announcement of the investment to build more housing for the homeless is a major shift in policy. Here to help us get a sense of the budget and how important that is is reporter for the voice of San Diego. Thank you. Your friend articles about the budget and the decision to invest in homelessness. First you point out that the County has incredibly large reserves more than other counties at $2 billion. They claim that the money is tied up. Are their hands really tired. County supervisors have a lot of discretion. They could take some boats to free up the funds. Wanting the County has really emphasized over the years have been infrastructure and facility needs of the County. To set aside a lot of money. About 300 million was in an account for buildings. They have also taken some steps for paying them attention but. Have strings attached that help the fund to be sure it does not get drowned down. Supervisors could make policy changes to free up. We have known about it. It has gone up 64% since 2010. They are trying to take the long view on issues that could potentially hit their budget. At the same time many progressives and district advocates have been calling on them to focus more on the problem today. Historically they have not always had a large reserves. Do you think the way that the supervisors document to office may have an impact on their conservative attitudes. Back when the longest serving supervisors came into the office they came in at a time when the County was at -- was in dire financial straits. There have been some big cuts. They talk to me about curtains that were tattered. There were just a few million dollars in their reserve. They did have a plan for capital improvements. So that really need to get the County in a better financial lease. They really prioritize that over the past 20 years. So they spent 47 million presumably on the waterfront Park. Perhaps 25 million on homeless is not that surprising. Tell us a little bit about what they would like to do with the money. The $25 million but they are hoping to do is to contribute to the house and development throughout San Diego County. This money would basically be leveraged for other folks who want to come in. It would not be the sole source. You want to make a statement about trying to push for that greater development. I think what they have been seen at the time of the initiative that they have with 1250 homeless individuals with serious mental illnesses is that in order to solve the homeless problem you need housing. The lack of housing to try to address this big problem. In addition to the 25 million in reserves is they are proposing that the County look at developing 11 of its own properties with affordable housing. That is another crucial piece because those are significant assets but one of the major issues and building housing is to find locations where you can build it. How significant the shift do you see this? In terms of the supervisors I see it is a major shift the County prioritize the service delivery. When is realizing is this is a big housing problem as well. One thing that struck me. What we need to do is reframe this and it's an affordable housing problem. Have put the substantial resources into this cost. They have contributed through mostly state and federal dollars 20 years they have not used reserve money to address this cause. It's a significant chunk of money that they are looking at that they think will spur a lot of local action Just looking ahead there's going to be a major change of who is on the County Board of Supervisors and the next four years. Jacob and Cox are turned out. You have a sense of how any of the candidates who might be shaping up to run for office and what they think about this very healthy reserve and how it should be spent. I spent some time talking to about a half a dozen candidate and one thing that struck me is only one openly came out and said that they supported the County's reserve policies as they stand. Every other one including Jerry Kern who is a Republican trying to replace the County supervisor Bill Horn said they feel the County needs to free up more of these resources and invest more in service expansion. That is a huge potential change for the County and really could hit some major change coming down the pipe between in the next five years since in 2020 all of these County supervisors who have been on serving that we talked about it before will be turned out so you will essentially have an entirely new board joining Kristin Gaspar who is the newest addition to the Board of Supervisors. Service action to perhaps loosen the purse strings may be evidence of things to come. I think it is also reflective of the fact that many folks have been calling the County were in the past the County maybe have not heard as much from people who are concerned about the issue of homelessness. Now they cannot escape it. Thank you for their reporting. Thank you for having me.

As San Diego County goes through its budget process for fiscal 2017-18, activists are again bringing attention to the county's $2 billion reserve account.

Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halverstadt has taken a closer look at the county's reserves in a recent series:


The Truth Behind Claims Of Vast Piles Of County Cash

Outsiders Clamor For County Officials To Loosen The Purse Strings

Priorities May Be Shifting On County’s $2 Billion Reserve

Halverstadt joined Midday Edition on Wednesday to discuss how the county came to have such a large reserve account and how the board's approach to its reserves may change in the future.

The county board of supervisors is taking public comments on its proposed budget at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Wednesday at the County Administration Center.