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San Diego County Budget Proposes New Spending On Mental Illness, Homelessness

 June 12, 2019 at 10:49 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Well, the city of San Diego's figuring out how to handle the ongoing problem of homelessness. San Diego County supervisors are holding meetings this week to unveil how they plan to spend a $6 billion budget next year. San Diego Union Tribune reporter Charles Clark is covering this year as deliberations and joins us now to give us a glimpse of the county's priorities. Charles, thanks for joining us. Speaker 2: 00:21 Thank you for having me on here. Really appreciate it. Speaker 1: 00:23 So now this budget appears to have a lot of good news in it. There's plenty of money to devote to new programs and it looks like health and Human Services has overtaken public safety in terms of the amount of money being invested in next year. So can you tell us about the big winners? Speaker 2: 00:38 Yeah, yeah. So you know, health and Human Services is certainly, I think the biggest winner in the group. I think that's one of the areas that's got a lot of praise from, you know, certainly activists and people who have been advocating on behalf of the agency for Awhile now. Um, when you specifically get down into it, you know, it's looking like it'll be two point $5 billion in spending in health and human services this year. That's just shy of a 6% increase over the past year. And specifically it looked like mental health services is the biggest winner and they're going to be investing $408 million in spending there. Um, a lot of that has to do with staffing, including 123 a new staff positions at the edge. More district nursing facility. Yeah. And a as also there's the child welfare, uh, which obviously has been a big issue on getting a lot of attention of late and they're going to see a $218 million in spending, including 65 new staffers, which is primarily to assist with the caseload. Speaker 1: 01:33 Now the mental health budget says apparently it'll add 177 beds for mental health services. Do you, do we know if any of them will go into North county where tri city's been in the news recently because it closed down psychiatric beds. Speaker 2: 01:45 Right. So it, to me, I'll say, I don't know the exact specifics there. Presumably that seems to be the idea. Um, and I think that's part of, you know, I'm sure that contributes a bit more to the contentious exchange we've seen going on over late or have laid over that Speaker 1: 01:59 it, we remember the police shooting death of Alfred a long ago back in 2017 in alcohol and which happened partly because there was no PR teen that's the psychiatric emergency response teams available to respond to that call. Do you know if this budget would add to those psychiatric teams to respond to people in mental health crisis? Speaker 2: 02:18 Yes. So per is expanding into the program and that actually kind of ties back to something that a supervisor, Diane Drake of, uh, outlined at the start of the year. As, you know, one of her goals during her, uh, state of the county address. Um, you know, it's not quite as dramatic as say child welfare, but they are expanding the team to a degree. Speaker 1: 02:37 No, the county did invest millions more in, um, mental health services last year as an example. I think they set aside 25 million for affordable housing. Do you know, what did we actually get to show for that big budget for mental health services last year? Speaker 2: 02:51 So, you know, that's a really, you know, good question. I think as you look at it, you know, obviously our problem hasn't gone away at all. Um, I think they're doubling down on the efforts. You know, I know they've seen a lot of things, uh, specifically with affordable housing, although they dipped into the housing trust fund more to try to expedite that. Uh, if I'm not mistaken, they saw or they're in the process of creating hundreds of new units already. Um, and they've now allocated another 25 million, uh, to, you know, doubling that effort and get up to a thousand new units throughout San Diego County Speaker 1: 03:27 and drug and alcohol services as course related issue. How is that going to change? Right. So I know under the budget that it looked like they were proposing some increases as far as clinicians in particular. Uh, so that would be a big point of concern as well as, you know, just overall spending would increase. Now would you say that these priorities are reflecting a shift as a result of the change on the board of supervisors after the last election? Speaker 2: 03:51 You know, I, I think when you look at it, I think undoubtedly there's been a change obviously and how they've approached things or at least the dialogue we've seen going on. At the same time, you know, you, you still have three of the same people there. Uh, and I think in large part it's also just, you know, going back to Diane Jacobs, you know, address she can outlined at the beginning of the year that as times change, priorities change and maybe it took them a bit longer than, you know, certainly a lot of people I think in the county would have wanted, but it seems like they're really focusing in on all those issues. And I know I, in particular supervisor, Jacob and Cox have a long list of things they're hoping to get done here, uh, before they end their tenures. So that might help explain a bit, you know, this increased investment in focus, Speaker 1: 04:32 well they do have a quite a bit of money to, to play with this year. Um, in the past, I know the county was accused of having huge cash reserves, which meant they could borrow money for capital projects very cheaply, but they were accused of not spending enough money on programs for things like community health and, and housing. So would you, would you say that people who criticize them for that are satisfied now? Speaker 2: 04:55 You know, I don't know if you're going to say they're, say they're satisfied. Um, I kind of go back to one of the things that happened right when the budget initially came out. I talked to a few of the people over at sci, you, the large a county employee union. Uh, and you know, one point they made is, you know, while they're excited to see the increased investment, they also contend that you're compensating for, you know, chronically under staffing to begin with. So I'm sure there's more things they'd like to see done. It's certainly, I think in the right direction for a lot of people who are critical at the same time. Obviously the county reserves continues to be a big topic and it'll be interesting to see Thursday night at the public budget hearing if that becomes a point of contention again. Speaker 1: 05:36 Right. There is a hearing on Thursday night for the general public after work. Um, I just wanted to ask one last question, which is the, the, the actual budget is a bit smaller than last year. So where did these millions of dollars come from to expand all these programs? Speaker 2: 05:49 Right. So it's really, it was pretty clever counting, uh, from what I could tell here, you know, the, it's an overall 1% actually decrease the budget. The current budget is 6.2 $7 billion. The one that they're proposing is 6.21. Um, a lot of it is driven by reductions in one time expenditures, especially capital spending, which they spent, you know what? I think it's at 160 million less dollars on this year. Um, as well as the, you know, the way they're actually kind of compensating for some of these changes, increase in staffing as you know, they can make up for it with pulling from other places. I mean, public safety actually loses 27 staff positions under this proposal. So building less, slightly less public safety, but more in a, especially mental health. Yes. Well, thank you so much for filling us in, Charles. Yeah. Thank you for having me. That's ut reporter Charles Clark.

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Monday began reviewing the 2019-20 fiscal year budget and heard from the public during the first of several hearings on the $6.21 billion recommended spending plan.
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