The jury is still out on the impact of the state decision to dump certain criminals into the county's lap, according to Orange County Fifth District Supervisor Pat Bates.
About 3,500 nominally nonviolent felons will be transferred to the county's jurisdiction, to be jailed or put on probation, Bates said in her State of the County report to Laguna Canyon Conservancy on Monday. The state presumably will compensate the county.
"We are supposed to get $26,000, but we all know the state doesn't always come through with its promises," said Bates, who's now in her second and final term as a supervisor.
Under Assembly Bill 109, two types of offender populations will be transferred to county jurisdiction. Potentially, 1,970 felons could be released for supervision by the county probation department, under home detention with electronic or GPS monitoring, Bates reported.
"They are called non-non-nons or N3s, as they have been incarcerated for nonviolent, nonserious and non-high-risk sex offender crimes," Bates said.
Another 1,464 convicted criminals will be sentenced to county jail, rather than state prison. This group will have committed no current or prior violent, serious or "registrable" sex offenses, Bates said.
"The Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office are comfortable that the county will be able to manage this, but it is something to keep your eyes on," she said.
All in all, the county is doing pretty good, coping with the economy better than some other governments, including the federal and state levels, according to Bates' report.
However, it has taken some severe pruning to trim the county budget.
"We have continued cost-cutting measures over the last four years, which include a hiring freeze, deferring capital projects and deletion of non-essential positions," Bates said.
Annual department cuts of 5% starting in fiscal year 2008-09 have resulted in a $1.3 billion reduction in expenditures.
"By succeeding with our cost-cutting mandates, the county has demonstrated that government can operate with less, yet deliver quality services taxpayers have paid for," Bates said. "There is evidence to prove this as the county just received a national award from the American Planning Assn. for the reorganization of our planning department and delivery of improved service to the public."
Further proof: Credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's gave the county the highest short-term ratings, Bates announced.
All of this was done while the state continues to wallow in an economic quagmire.
"The biggest threat to the county's financial health remains our state government and its inability to balance its budget by cutting spending levels," said Bates.
State revenues have dropped, but spending hasn't, she said.
"The state spends a lot more time arguing about raising taxes instead of balancing declining revenue with expenses," said Bates, who served two terms in the state legislature. "When all attempts for a tax increase ballot measure failed, local government became the solution."
On a happier note, Bates reported implementation of transportation improvement projects, funded by the voter-approved Measure M2 sales tax.
Projects cited by Bates include widening the San Diego (5) Freeway from Avenida Pico to Pacific Coast Highway; interchange improvements at the 5 and Ortega Highway and at Avery and La Paz Road; signal synchronization; and expansion of Metrolink service and parking.
Funding also includes competitive grants for high-priority projects such as the La Pata Avenue Gap Closure that will provide an essential evacuation route and a critical north-south alternative to the 5, Bates said.
Bates is working on obtaining federal money for the gap closure.
M2 also funds the acquisition and restoration of open space.
The Orange County Transportation Authority, which Bates chaired in 2011, has acquired five properties to date, amounting to 950 acres and costing $31 million, she said. A county offer for the Driftwood Property in Aliso Canyon was declined last month.
Restoration contracts cost $5.4 million in 2010-11.
Another $5.1 million will be available for the second round of restoration projects, six of which will be brought before the supervisors in May.
Recommended projects include Aliso Creek and Big Bend Phase 2, both submitted by the Laguna Canyon Foundation.
Two percent of M2 sales tax proceeds also fund grants for water quality programs.
"In 2011, we awarded nearly $3 million for 34 projects to be completed this year," said Bates.
A second round of grants for up to $5 million for regional treatment of high priority pollutants will be approved.
"A sophisticated computer model has been developed to help cities design projects that deliver the greatest return on investment, and the model will be used by OCTA to rank applications based on their effectiveness in cleaning up our streams and beaches," said Bates.
The county has initiated a new management program for artificial lakes in county parks and the county's only two natural lakes in Laguna Canyon.
Watershed planning has been addressed, including mapping of non-native plants identified as a threat to water supply, habitat and a fire hazard.
State grants will finance non-native eradication efforts in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. Additional funds from OCTA's Environmental Mitigation Program will be tapped to clear almost the entire watershed, Bates said.
Beach access will be improved in Laguna, and the county is working on updating signs with consistent messages and information about the Marine Life Protection Act all along the Orange County coast.
The county has also addressed the issue of homelessness and will provide the $50,000 requested by Laguna Beach in fiscal year 2012-13 to fund the Alternative Sleeping Location.
Bates said she met recently with representatives of the community services and the Orange County Rescue Mission to discuss ways Fifth District cities can work together on homeless issues.
Bates concluded her report with a reminder that she hosts an ongoing forum on coastal environmental issues at 9 a.m. on the fourth Thursday of every other month at the Newport Beach Public Library. For more information or to suggest topics, call (714) 834-3550.
Bates will be termed out of office in 2014.
"On up days, I say I've got three more years," said Bates, who began her political career on the Laguna Niguel City Council. "On bad days, I say only 34 months to go."
Asked if she would consider running for federal office, Bates said the cost is daunting and not something one goes into lightly. But she didn't close the door.
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