San Bernardino County is the pathway of future growth in California. The state faces some serious challenges, but I believe each challenge also provides an opportunity to improve our regional economy and quality of life for our residents.
As Chair of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, my colleagues, Supervisors Rutherford, Ramos, Hagman and Gonzales, all have strong entrepreneurial and private-sector credentials. As leaders, we highly value job-creators and are committed to pro-business, pro-growth policies here in San Bernardino County.
We know that government doesn’t create jobs. But it does create the conditions that encourage or discourage economic growth. Our focus is on freeing the economy to provide greater opportunity and prosperity for all. So at the County level, we are rolling out five interconnected goals that, working together, form a proven plan for growth. Specifically, the five points are:
• Enhance County Land Use Services;
• Increase public safety funding;
• Expand technical training;
• Re-target economic development;
• Increase infrastructure.
Land use services
Increasing well-paying construction jobs and boosting revenue for public safety and infrastructure go hand-in-hand. In business, time is money. So we need to implement a fast-track permitting system for commercial, residential and industrial developments.
An important step is to assess Land Use Services and ensure the department has the staff and resources needed to speed the entitlement and permitting processes. We need to communicate better with project applicants so they will know exactly when plans will be complete and ready to go.
When entitlements and permits for commercial, industrial and residential projects linger, it delays the creation of new jobs. These projects create well-paying jobs and have an astonishing economic multiplier effect: Each new home built creates seven well-paying jobs. And the higher property values generate property tax revenues that can put more deputies on our streets, repair roads and build infrastructure.
Home ownership in California continues to wane, and that will likely continue with rising interest rates. In Los Angeles, median first-time homebuyers need to spend 88 percent of their income to purchase just a simple starter home. Educated workers are being priced out of the Los Angeles/Orange County housing markets. And many employers who leave California cite the lack of affordable housing among their reasons for leaving. So by focusing on Land Use Services, we can increase local jobs, draw educated workers to our region and grow the economy.
Here in San Bernardino County, we are facing a housing shortage that is expected to grow to 65,000 homes within two years. A significant number of San Bernardino County renters spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. When renters become homeowners, it makes our communities stronger.
I am also proposing that we explore innovative ways of increasing revenues without burdening taxpayers. One way is to lease available space on county communications towers to cell phone service providers. This could generate a few million dollars a year. Bottom line: When we generate more revenue from commercial, residential and industrial projects, we will have the money to improve public safety and other services to strengthen our economy.
Strengthening public safety is essential to our quality of life. No one wants to live in a dangerous community. Site selectors and business decision-makers consider crime rates when deciding to relocate. So adding more deputies and prosecutors is a good investment that pays off with safer communities that are attractive to new companies.
Sadly, a series of misguided policies from Sacramento is opening the door to let more criminals out of state prison and putting them on our streets. Many crimes that once were felonies in California are now only misdemeanors. Criminals who just a few years ago were doing time in state prison are now roaming our communities around the state. At the same time, the state is pushing other hardened, career criminals into our county jails, taking up valuable space for new offenders and increasing the County’s costs for beds and health care.
Since the state continues to abandon its responsibility to protect the public, San Bernardino County has no choice but to take on greater responsibility in keeping criminals locked up. So we are advocating for increases to both the Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s budgets. One of our goals is to increase staffing for the Sheriff’s patrol operational needs. In other words, more deputies on the street. We also need to move forward with the phased staffing plan for the High Desert Detention Center. This will provide more space to lock up criminals. So that makes it all the more important that we adopt pro-growth, pro-business policies to free our economy and grow revenues.
In the end, all of these policies are aimed at bringing accountability to those who commit crimes in our County. We are confident that Sheriff John McMahon and District Attorney Mike Ramos will keep more hardened criminals off our streets and provide routes to rehabilitation for those who can be rehabilitated. When we make the right investments, we can make San Bernardino County one of the safest counties in the entire state.
Renowned authority on economic, political and social trends, Joel Kotkin has long been a student of the Inland Empire. In assessing San Bernardino County’s options, Kotkin concludes, “It would be foolish to dismiss the traditional sources of higher wage blue collar growth: construction, manufacturing and logistics. All these industries pay higher than hospitality, retail and other lower-end services, which make their resurgence critical to restoring prosperity …”
Opportunity is here knocking, indeed, begging at our doorstep.
Local manufacturers say they have roughly 3,000 well-paying local jobs that they cannot fill because job candidates do not have the necessary technical training. That’s a shame, but it is also a chance to create new partnerships to bring business and labor together to create technical training classes tailored to the unique needs for local workers and manufacturers.
So we are proposing an initiative to create a series of short, technical training courses on the sites of local manufacturers. The courses will be designed with input from local manufacturers so the coursework is relevant and practical. We will combine classroom instruction with hands-on internships or apprenticeships so students can immediately start applying what they learn.
The long-term goal is to establish a technical training campus in the High Desert. California Steel in Fontana is already doing this in partnership with Chaffee College. Their InTech Center provides hands-on training and certifications that employers need — all at no cost to students. With 3,000 good jobs on the line, this is a tremendous opportunity for local workers and industry. These technical jobs don’t require a university degree. They not only pay well, they provide a path to career advancement and a ladder into the middle class and the American dream of homeownership.
Technical training dove-tails with economic development. While California’s infamous regulatory environment is a burden to many businesses, San Bernardino County and the High Desert in particular, have much to offer. We have an available workforce, affordable land and housing, clean air and pro-business local governments. We also have interstate freeways, rail lines and airports to move cargo anywhere in the nation or world without the gridlock experienced in L.A.
Another initiative is to assist residents and manufacturers by lowering electric rates through a Community Choice Aggregation project. Under a CCA, the County would develop one or more solar projects and negotiate wholesale electric power agreements to provide discounted electricity to customers. CCAs currently operate in 1,300 communities in seven states. In California, the City of Lancaster and the counties of Marin and Sonoma have done a good job. CCAs provide competition that helps lower electrical rates. This will help both residential customers and prospective employers.
For more than a decade, the Public Utilities Commission has restructured electric rates. The warmer inland areas (which depend on air conditioning in the summer) pay higher tiered rates for higher electric consumption. The average summer electric bill in the southern coastal areas is $113, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. But in the desert, the average summer electric bill is $172 per month — 52 percent higher. That higher cost comes on the backs of the hard working families of San Bernardino County who can least afford to subsidize coastal areas.
The result is that inland regions in effect subsidize the cooler coastal households that use far less air-conditioning and therefore have lower electric costs under lower tiers. But it is the sunny, inland areas that are ground zero for massive solar projects. So we will begin advocating for legislative and regulatory reforms to compensate inland communities that bear all the downside of solar projects without enjoying lower rates or other benefits.
Solar projects will continue to find a home in San Bernardino County, which leads the state in generation of solar-thermal power. Unlike neighboring Riverside County, San Bernardino County does not charge an annual fee on large solar projects. Solar projects on federal land pay no property tax to the county. And projects on private land pay only nominal property tax. So it’s time to consider an annual solar parcel fee to compensate the community for the impacts they create.
In unincorporated areas, the County collects a hotel bed tax, which goes into the general fund. In the interest of fairness and economic development, we propose earmarking bed tax revenue to benefit the community of origin to promote local events that attract tourist dollars.
We will have a stronger County when we are successful in jump-starting construction, strengthening public safety and providing the technical training that workers and industry hunger for. Fewer people will be on public assistance, and more will be earning good wages. More people will be able to buy homes, contributing to our community and economy. All of these are important prerequisites for improving roads and infrastructure across our County.
Cities are responsible for maintaining roads within their city limits. And the County is responsible for county roads in unincorporated areas. But we propose the County and cities create new partnerships to jointly fund improvements on roads common to both jurisdictions. We also need to join in P3s — public-private partnerships — to cut costs, increase efficiency and generate savings that can be channeled into other needed projects.
Companies considering leaving the Southern California market as well as companies returning to America from overseas need to look at San Bernardino County. Our County has a lot to offer businesses of all sizes. We have the available workforce, affordable land and housing and strategic air, freeway and rail corridors — and close proximity to Southern California’s 22 million consumers. In 2016, the Inland Empire led the nation in industrial construction, with almost 25 million square feet. Together, with the right plan, we can expand that growth to other sectors of the economy.
We have some significant challenges but we have even greater opportunities. With your support, I know we can make San Bernardino County a more prosperous place to live, work and play.
Robert Lovingood is chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors representing the First District.