Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich was center stage Wednesday afternoon at the State of the County luncheon at the Valencia Hyatt Regency.
More than 300 people attended the event, where the supervisor outlined the County’s accomplishments and made suggestions to solve some of the problems facing the state, especially in the fiscal arena.
Transportation was the first subject on his list, where his first priority was enhancing the connections between Santa Clarita Transit, MTA and Metrolink.
One of the new programs announced was a two-year, county-funded connector bus between Santa Clarita and Palmdale; Antonovich also lauded the success of the Metrolink express train between Santa Clarita and downtown Los Angeles, saying that a 60-minute commute had been shortened to 45 minutes with this project and adding that he is looking into adding trains to that line to expand the service.
Moving on to private vehicles, the supervisor announced the groundbreaking of the I-5 truck lane project – southbound lanes will connect from Pico Canyon to the 14 freeway, northbound lanes will connect from Gavin Canyon to the 14. When completed in 2014, the project will encompass 70 miles of truck lanes that will not only help truckers ease into the grades of the Newhall Pass and beyond, but will also separate passenger vehicles from the heavy 18-wheelers.
The 161-mile car pool lane project connecting the high-occupancy lanes of the I-5 to those on the 14 is scheduled for completion in July and when all projects currently underway on the I-5, 14, 134, 118, 170 and 210 are completed, there should be more than 100 miles of HOV lanes between Palmdale and San Bernardino.
Antonovich also said that he is dedicated to continual upgrades of a high desert corridor for train travel, which will further reduce travel times.
Moving on to crime and punishment, Antonovich reported that the governor’s realignment of correctional procedures has resulted in nearly 7,000 prisoners now under the jurisdiction of LA County’s Probation. Of that population, nearly 1,800 were assessed by mental health practitioners, but 600 have refused services; of 2,500 referred to Public Health for substance abuse, more than 50 percent have not shown up for treatment.
Of the 7,000, more than 2,000 have been arrested on new charges; 439 of those were found to be in the country illegally and have been turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
On the upside, more than 4,000 non-violent, non-sex offenders recently convicted of felonies are serving in county facilities, but some of those are serving sentences of up to 25 years. Sheriff Lee Baca predicts that county jail facilities will be at capacity by the end of 2012.
Antonovich called the recently-released Austin Report on Jail Conditions flawed, claiming that Austin and the American Civil Liberties Union are targeting closure of the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. While he acknowledges that Men’s Central is old and in dire need of repair, experts have stressed that closing it before a replacement is built would jeopardize public safety.
He also said that the report does not take into consideration realignment and state felons being sent to county facilities and bases future projections on current conditions, including vacancies caused by early release.
A February decision by the state to purchase land in Castaic for a new regional courthouse and sheriff’s station has been put on hold for reevaluation (along with other court negotiations in other areas of the state). Future siting will be done working in concert with the City of Santa Clarita and the Sheriff’s Department.
In the area of development, Antonovich was pleased to announce that the One Valley, One Vision plan had been adopted by the Board of Supervisors, with minor changes:
- Phase II of Tesoro has been updated to “urban” status
- In Agua Dulce, Davenport Road, Agua Dulce Canyon Road and Escondido Canyon Road have been classified as “limited secondary highways,” which preserves their width and makes them eligible for grant monies.
- Increased density will be allowed in Charlie Canyon.
In addition, the Dark Skies ordinance was passed by the Board, which will require communities in rural areas to reduce glare and preserve sky views.
On the trash front, as of July 1, residents in the unincorporated areas of the county who are currently utilizing commercial dumpsters or roll-off for trash collection will receive free recycling, bulky item and e-waste collection, graffiti removal, cleaner fuel collector trucks and holiday tree collection. Customers will also have the freedom to choose their own waste hauler and negotiate pricing.
Antonovich announced that the county is moving forward with the Gorman Post Road project in Stevenson Ranch, which will include upgrades to The Old Road, Calgrove Avenue, Chiquella Lane and Pico Canyon Road. A bike lane will also be installed on The Old Road between Stevenson Ranch Road and Sagecrest Circle.
Animals have always been a priority to the Supervisor, and those at the Castaic Animal Shelter will get renovated kennels, a new 1,600 square foot spay and neuter clinic, new signage and a new 1,440 square foot modular administration building. This project should be completed by the end of 2012.
With budget on everyone’s mind, Antonovich put their fears at ease by pointing out that the County’s 2012-2013 budget was $23.8 billion, with a $196 million rainy-day fund, an overall net decrease of $565 million. He told the crowd that the county assessor had predicted a 3.5 percent increase in sales tax, but because of recent questionable figures (including a significant decrease in property tax values announced shortly after the sales tax predictions), he is skeptical of the predictions. Antonovich added that these predictions did not take into account the $6 million cost of realignment.
He credited county labor unions for not taking cost-of-living increases for the last four years and several other cutbacks for keeping the county on balance, including decreased department budgets, a hiring freeze for non-essential services, consolidation of departments and elimination of some commissions.
He said that the governor’s proposed tax increase on the November ballot will make matters worse, not better.
Antonovich did have suggestions to cut the state budget without raising taxes, which included:
- consolidating the Franchise Tax Board with the Board of Equalization, which would save $100 million annually,
- consolidating the licensing/certification functions for health care professional and facilities, to save $66 million,
- consolidating the state’s mental health and alcohol/drug programs, to save $7 million,
- consolidating the State Personnel Board and Department of Personnel Administration;
- biannual vehicle registration (to save residents $1.2 billion over 5 years);
- electronic kiosks for DMV testing (to save $10 million);
- a part-time legislature,
- a two-year budget,
- contracting out services and
- repealing term limits.
He also alleges fiscal irresponsibility in Corrections, using three prison doctors as examples: all three contributed to one or more patients’ deaths, yet were rehired for annual salaries exceeding $235,000 each.
Echoing the familiar mantra “Texas rolls out the red carpet, California rolls out the red tape,” Antonovich said that in 2009, 51 businesses left California; in 2011, 254 left. He also noted that California had the highest corporate tax rate (8.84%) west of the Mississippi. In addition, Texas and Nevada are actively recruiting workers, drawing jobs and families away from California; finally, he said that California is ranked 46th among states in small business survival.
While the business flight issue was paramount, Antonovich made sure to praise the efforts of the Santa Clarita Valley Small Business Depvelopment Center and the Enterprise Zone accomplishments.
Other areas of note included the placement of a county library in Stevenson Ranch; Antonovich said his staff was committee to finding property to build a library “in the West Ranch Town Council area.”
Parkland did not escape his purview, with the announcement that the $7 million visitor center at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area is scheduled for completion in August 2012 and that construction on the Darrell Readmond Memorial is underway. Readmond’s boots and horseshoes will be cast in bronze and incorporated into the memorial, in recognition to his dedication and contribution to trails in the area.
The $1 million front entrance renovation of William S. Hart Park in downtown Newhall will soon break ground; the chain link fencing along the front of the park will be replaced with wrought iron and masonry, with landscaping at pedestrian and vehicle access points. The project should be completed by the end of 2012.
At the Castaic Sports Complex, a recreational pool, shallow with a zero entrance (walk-in) splash pad and a new bathhouse building has been budgeted at $13 million and should be completed in September 2013. Castaic Lake’s fishing pier will be getting a new sidewalk and retaining wall, a new ramp and storage shed has been built and the parking lot will be paved.
A 50-year operation agreement between the State of California and the County of Los Angeles has been signed, allowing the county to operate the Placerita Nature Center and surrounding parkland. In addition, new exhibits will be paid for using a $1 million grant from California State Parks.
Antonovich makes it a point to keep constituents informed on the situation posed by undocumented residents in the county; according to the Department of Public Social Services, more than $646 million in welfare and food stamp benefits were issued in 2011 to illegal alien parents for the native-born children, a $21 million increase over last year. The total cost to taxpayers for illegal immigrants is more than $1.6 billion, with $550 million in public safety costs and $500 million for health care. The supervisor was quick to add that education costs have not been figured into the equasion.
Finally, the DISARM program, a program founded by Antonovich in 1999, which teams law enforcement and social service agencies together to enforce conditions of probation and parole, resulted (in the last 12 years) in the seizure of more than 8,100 weapons, more than $363 million in illegal drugs and drug money and its agents made more than 16,500 arrests.