On a recent visit to the Rancho Santa Fe Association on July 2, Supervisor Jim Desmond reflected on the issues he has tackled in his first six months on the job at the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
“I’ve learned a lot about the county, it is vast, it is huge,” said the former mayor of San Marcos, who went from overseeing a budget of around $70 million to the $6.2 billion budget that the county approved last month. “It’s been a busy six months…I enjoy learning how all these things work and then hopefully come up with positive ways to try to fix them.”
Desmond touched on county issues that effect Rancho Santa Fe, including fire safety, the resurfacing of many of the roads in and around Rancho Santa Fe this summer and next year following the completion of the RSF Connect fiber optic network, and the arrival of 5G mobile wireless.
“It’s actually a good thing as far as communications go, the 5G are smaller, they’re not the big cell towers or trees, they are smaller cell sites mostly on telephone poles and will provide much better wireless service,” Desmond said.
Desmond said the arrival of 5G is a “mixed blessing”--the FCC ruled in 2018 to remove barriers to wireless infrastructure deployment to make it more ministerial rather than discretionary and the county must work to promote deployment while balancing the needs of communities. Locations cannot be disputed for reasons of health concerns and at the county level Desmond said they want to make sure the new cell sites are screened as much as possible.
The supervisors are set to approve a new ordinance in August regarding small cell wireless facilities and at the July 2 meeting, the Rancho Santa Fe Association board members approved sending a letter with their concerns about the proposed ordinance.
Regarding fire safety, Desmond said he fears this year’s fire season will be a big one due to all of the rain and the resulting vegetation growth, providing fuel for wildfires.
“We’re making sure that we’re prepared,” Desmond said, noting that they are working to reduce fuel along evacuation routes and next month will add a new firefighting helicopter to the county’s arsenal. With CalFire, Desmond said the county is working to strengthen the coordinated effort with evacuations between firefighters and the sheriff’s department.
“The weak link in the fire evacuations is actually us,” Desmond said of county residents.
As mayor during the Cocos Fire in May 2014, he said he witnessed a lot confusion about the evacuation process, some people choosing to self-evacuate, which led to some “pandemonium” and traffic jams as they worked to evacuate specific communities.
The county’s goal is to make fire evacuations a more coordinated and effective process and he encouraged everyone to register with AlertSanDiego at readysandiego.org to stay informed in an emergency.
As supervisor, Desmond sits on several boards including the San Diego County Water Authority board and the Airport Authority board, where he’s the only pilot on the board. A pilot with Delta Airlines, Desmond flies two weekends a month.
He is also on the board of directors at SANDAG, whose new transportation vision and its “5 Big Moves” has been a main topic of conversation for the supervisor.
“SANDAG’s plan is to get everyone onto buses and trains for transportation which I don’t think is actually going to work,” Desmond said. “Even if their big vision comes into place, it’s only going to get 10 percent of the people onto transit.”
Desmond said currently three percent of the people in San Diego County actually ride transit and the regional transportation plan needs to address the 90 percent of the population who will remain on the road.
Desmond stated that SANDAG’s vision for the regional transportation plan is primarily new public transit projects, removing 14 highway projects that were promised in the 2004 TransNet ballot language. TransNet, the half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects, passed with 67 percent of the vote.
“Many of those road projects have not been started or attempted,” Desmond. “We’re 11 years into a 40-year tax and now we want to switch to transit.”
Desmond said taxpayers in North and East County will be for the next 29 years -- until 2048 -- paying taxes on projects they will never get.
“I’m down there fighting to make sure we still put in money for roads, we still put in money for infrastructure, we just don’t put everything into transit,” Desmond said. “I’m not anti-transit, it works in certain areas like the more dense areas of the city of San Diego, but not necessarily in Rancho Santa Fe or up in North County or East County so we want to make sure we get a balance.”
Desmond said one of the first meetings he had when taking office was on the big issue of asylum seekers at the border. Under “safe release” it used to be the process that following a screening, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would help people seeking asylum to connect with sponsors around the country and travel to their destinations to await their legal asylum hearing date.
“When numbers were more manageable, the government acted as a travel agent,” Desmond said. “90 percent (of asylum seekers) were transferred out of San Diego County.”
The Trump administration ended that process in October and the county is now left to deal with the overwhelming numbers at the border, Desmond said. A coalition of nonprofit groups called the San Diego Rapid Response Network set up a shelter to temporarily house asylum-seeking families and the county is acting as the health and human service provider, making sure everyone is screened and provided medical care.
In April, the county sued the federal government over the ending of safe release, estimating they had spent more than $1.3 million addressing health and safety issues of asylum-seekers.
“San Diego County residents are paying for health screenings and services of asylum seekers and we think that the state or someone else should be chipping in,” Desmond said.
RSF Association Vice President Mike Gallagher took advantage of Desmond’s visit to request that the county and Association work together to identify county funds to underground utilities in key areas of Rancho Santa Fe that have a high potential for fire risk.