Cox announces initiatives for foster youth, renewable energy in State of the County address

San Diego City and County Administration Building.
(File photo)

The longtime San Diego County Supervisor calls for a new housing voucher program for foster youth and eliminating debts for families of youth formerly on probation


San Diego County in the past year has become more aggressive about addressing some of its most pressing issues, said Greg Cox, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

Residents should know that new approach isn’t going away anytime soon, Cox said during the annual State of the County address Feb. 19.

From expanding mental health services and renewable energy projects, to launching new education programs and initiatives to assist foster youths, Cox said the supervisors will continue to take a more forceful approach in the year ahead.

“Your County of San Diego has new energy and momentum to tackle the critical issues of today and, working with my colleagues, we are going to take giant leaps in 2020,” Cox told a packed house aboard the USS Midway Museum.

Cox’s address was the fifth he’s delivered during his 25 years on the board. It comes as the board is on the precipice of change.

Cox and fellow longtime Supervisor Dianne Jacob will leave office at the end of the year because of term limits. And Supervisor Kristin Gaspar — the only other supervisor who’s served on the board for more than two years — is embroiled in a fierce re-election bid that will determine the Republican-Democrat balance of the board.

Despite the potential for change on the horizon, Cox’s address largely focused on the present.

The South Bay supervisor reflected on the dangerous state of the county’s finances and infrastructure when he joined the board in 1995 but focused the bulk of his speech on how the current board could meet some of today’s demands.

“The challenges of yesterday are far different from those we face today,” said Cox. “Today, the issues of homelessness, affordable housing and mental wellness seem much more intractable, and county government must be agile and reinvent itself again to meet and overcome these new challenges.”

Cox focused on improving services for foster youths and the next steps in what has been a yearlong process of re-examining how the county approaches child welfare services. That review began in the wake of several news stories highlighting breakdowns and serious problems in the county’s child welfare and foster care system that, in some cases, resulted in children being returned to their abuser.

Cox outlined several new efforts he’ll bring forward to help foster youths, including plans for adopting a youth-led, trauma-informed code of conduct and creating a mentorship program. He described a “Housing our Youth” initiative, which will provide housing vouchers and wraparound services to former foster youths and other homeless youths.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that there are still people slipping through the cracks,” said Cox. “We should do everything we can to prevent former foster youth from entering homelessness, by supporting them early on in their lives.”

The longtime supervisor also announced that he and Gaspar will bring forward a proposal to eliminate debts for families of youths formerly on probation.

And he said the county will partner with schools in the South Bay to create a pilot program where social workers and district staff meet face-to-face and provide case coordination, individualized plans and services for young people.

“Frequent team meetings between the county and school districts and daily check-ins will hold all of us accountable on the progress of each youth and ensure they, too, have a chance to live well,” Cox said.

Cox also unveiled other proposals related to behavioral health and renewable energy.

Cox said he and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher plan to work with the city of San Diego to develop a $25 million Behavioral Health Impact Fund to help community-based organizations make capital investments to expand their capacity for long-term care. Under the proposal, the county and city would use some of their former redevelopment funds.

In regard to renewable energy, Cox said he hopes to build on the momentum the county gained with community choice energy programs last year. The county hasn’t officially adopted a program, but the board — at the direction of Jacob, Fletcher and Cox — took steps in that direction.

So far eight cities in the county have opted to form community choice energy programs.

Cox said there will be a greater demand for renewable energy, so he and Supervisor Jim Desmond plan to simplify the process for new renewable energy projects to come online.

“By boosting the supply and use of renewable energy, our region will take the lead in California’s efforts to reduce harmful greenhouse gases,” Cox said. “My hope is that by 2030, all homes in the unincorporated area will be powered by renewable energy.”

— Charles T. Clark is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune