County’s $7.36 billion budget highlights investments in mental health, homelessness

County administration building
File art of the San Diego County Administration Building
(Sentinel File Photo)

Board of Supervisors approve spending plan that adds hundreds of positions, boosts funding


San Diego County’s $7.36 billion budget for the next fiscal year includes hundreds of millions of dollars to tackle behavioral health, homelessness and environmental issues.

County supervisors on Tuesday, June 28, unanimously approved the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and it represents a bump of $200 million over a draft budget released last month.

“Today we are approving a budget that I believe is the greatest investment in some of the most pressing needs in our region’s history,” Chair Nathan Fletcher said.

The budget boosts spending by $126 million, or 1.5 percent, over the current year, and adds 1,000 new staff positions, county Chief Financial Officer Ebony Shelton said. That’s a reversal of proposals in the draft budget, which would have trimmed spending by 1.1 percent over last year.

“We have made the largest investment ever in behavioral health services in the history of our county,” Fletcher said in a statement. “Unprecedented investments on programs to help unsheltered San Diegans. Significant funding to upgrade the health care services and staffing in our County jails. Plus, we are investing more to fight climate change, address storm water issues and plant more trees countywide; keep our communities safe by funding public safety; protect neighborhoods from the dangers of wildfires; and build more affordable housing.”

About half of the $200 million funding increase between the draft and final budgets comes from a newly negotiated labor agreement with county workers, with an additional $97.6 million dedicated to that contract, Shelton said.

Among the other additions are an extra $29.8 million in extra funds that will cover capital projects at park and recreation facilities, including Lindo Lake in Lakeside, the San Luis Rey River Park, and plans to rehabilitate Mira Mesa Epicenter, a teen café and cultural center. The budget also designates $8 million for improvements to the Chula Vista Bayfront. And it adds $16 million for a dual engine firefighting helicopter, along with $2.2 million to reduce wildfire risk through brush clearance and construction of fire breaks.

Public safety spending is up a quarter-billion dollars over the current year budget under the final version, from about $2.25 billion for the current year to $2.5 billion in the coming year. That boost includes $130 million in spending for health care in county jails, which have come under scrutiny for high rates of in-custody deaths in recent years.

Health and Human Services spending is down by about $27 million, due to the elimination of some one-time pandemic funds. Despite the overall cuts to the department, the board approved new investments in behavioral health care and other social services.

The new budget reflects the board’s ongoing efforts to reform treatment of mental health and substance abuse, with an additional $71.8 million and 115 new positions for behavioral health programs that emphasize prevention and maintenance over crisis care, supervisors said.

Instead of leaving patients with mental illness or substance abuse issues cycling in and out of emergency rooms, the board aims to “really build out a broad system of care that recognizes the very real nature of mental health, that changes our approach to addiction with the desire to get people well and give them an opportunity to live lives that are thriving and stable,” Fletcher said.

The budget also adds money to address homelessness and bolster resources for children, families and seniors. That includes $11.9 million from one-time stimulus funds to develop affordable housing and $10 million to collaborate with cities on new shelter space, according to Fletcher’s office. The budget adds 100 new positions for Child Welfare Services, another 100 staff positions for Calfresh and Medi-Cal programs, and 60 new positions for in-home services for seniors and people who are blind or disabled.

The budget also slightly boosts spending in the Land Use and Environment group from about $615 million last year to $630 million. The spending plan adds about $60 million for environmental improvements, including $40 million for storm water mitigation, $16.3 million for the Multiple Species Conservation Program and $3.4 million to improve the Tijuana River Valley, which faces continual water quality problems from untreated wastewater flows across the border with Mexico.

“One of the things I’m most excited about in this budget, I particularly want to acknowledge the way big and small sustainability has been highlighted and elevated across all our county operations,” Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said.

Supervisors said they were satisfied that the county spending plan will benefit residents in cities as well as those in unincorporated communities.

“This delivers to the county across the board,” Supervisor Joel Anderson said. “Everybody rises with this tide. And to do it in a fiscally sound way is really remarkable.”