By Robert Lovingood
In many ways, 2016 was a year of recovery.
We began the long process of healing from the December 2, 2015 terror attack. We continue with hope, as we work through the healing process and the painful aftermath of those directly and indirectly impacted from the attack.
Over the summer, the Pilot Fire burned 12 square miles and forced many evacuations. Days later, the Blue Cut Fire destroyed more than 100 homes, forced the evacuation of 82,000 people and burned 56 square miles. While the devastation is long lasting, it is not insurmountable. We can be thankful that there was no loss of life or serious injuries in the fires. And we owe a debt of gratitude for the remarkable work of more than 2,600 firefighters, law enforcement officers, countless volunteers and others who worked so tirelessly for our community. Amid tragedy and suffering, they are beacons of courage, kindness and service. They exemplify the best in the human spirit and the command to love thy neighbor.
In the past year, we made advances on a variety of issues including public safety, the economy, homelessness and more. Here are some highlights I’d like to share.
For the third year, we allocated county funds for “Operation Desert Guardian,” a three-month series of crime sweeps that ended with 376 arrests in Hesperia, Apple Valley, Adelanto, Victorville and unincorporated Victor Valley areas. We also implemented reforms to welfare fraud policies and supported a series of ongoing welfare fraud sweeps around the county. The board of supervisors added two additional investigators to strengthen the district attorney’s cold case prosecution unit.
After sheriff’s employees gave back raises during the recession, this year we reached a new labor contract with the sheriff’s association that was approved by 88 percent of members. And Sheriff’s Academy Class 205 marked the very first time ever the department had three academy classes going at the same time. Lastly, in the wake of the Dec. 2, 2015 terror attack, the board of supervisors approved $8.2 million in immediate improvements to county facilities, such as expanded security guard services, upgraded security cameras and key card access installations plus $2 million to conduct a security assessment of all county facilities.
The economy & jobs
While government doesn’t create jobs, it does influence the conditions that encourage or discourage job-creators. We are seeing new business investment in the High Desert. Stirling Capital Investments has announced the completion of a fully leased 447,740-square-foot industrial facility in Victorville. Arden Companies announced it is relocating to a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Victorville — and with it 100 jobs. Plans are underway for a 1.3 million-square-foot distribution center, which is expected to create 400 to 500 long-term jobs in the North Apple Valley Industrial Specific Plan area. And in December, Clark Pacific broke ground on its new precast concrete manufacturing plant in Adelanto.
In the fall, my office put on the second annual “Made in the High Desert” manufacturing event that featured school tours for over 500 local students so they might learn about exciting local job opportunities in manufacturing. The next day, the county economic development department put on a local job fair focused on manufacturing jobs.
Throughout the year, my staff assisted over 700 local businesses and individuals who had questions about county departments or who were experiencing delays or issues. We also assisted with organizing a homebuyers resource event in Victorville so those interested in buying a home could learn about financial responsibility and available programs.
Regionally, the Inland Empire continues to expand. Not only has the region reached new records in employment, its job quality is as good as it was before the recession. And as of mid-year, Victor Valley home values had increased 84 percent since 2012. In the High Desert, the average home price at mid-year was $119 per square foot.
Veterans & Seniors
Service providers and prospective employers assisted hundreds of former members of the military during my third annual Veterans Resource Fair. Veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam as well as operations in Iraq and Afghanistan received help in applying for service-related benefits, information on job opportunities and other services. It’s worth noting that San Bernardino County has the highest amount of new veteran cash benefits in the state.
We allocated special discretionary funds in support of a variety of senior programs, including local senior clubs, health fairs and the Meals on Wheels program. We also assisted the High Desert Regional Council on Aging with outreach to the First District senior centers, providing them with information on available resources.
San Bernardino County continues to make progress reducing homelessness. In January, 1,887 homeless people were counted, a 12 percent decline from 2015. This is due in part from successful investments in permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing and workforce investment programs. In January, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald visited the board of supervisors and congratulated the county on its impressive inroads in eliminating homelessness among veterans. The county and its partners housed 862 homeless veterans in 2016. Programs provide the veteran with wrap-around social services which include a social worker, health care, mental health assistance, drug and alcohol assistance if necessary, and employment assistance.
I appreciate the work county code enforcement has done in implementing my initiative to use jail inmates to clean up illegal dump sites. In the past year, inmate crews cleared more than 578 tons of trash and 7,922 tires in the First District plus an additional 68 tons of cement and nine boats at an illegal dump site near Interstate 15 and Dale Evans Parkway. The cement was recycled and the tires were used as fuel at local cement plants.
In August, the board of supervisors rejected the controversial Soda Mountain solar project that gained national attention because of its impacts on sensitive areas of the Mojave Desert. The project, I believe, was ill-suited for the location near Joshua Tree National Park. In February, the board approved a resolution outlining five regions that are best suited for solar projects. This will help protect communities from encroachment and gives fair guidance to solar developers. I still believe that solar developments are best suited for disturbed lands such as fallow agriculture lands, brownfields [sites that are already severely contaminated] and former mine sites.
On December 5, I had the honor of being sworn in for my second term as your county supervisor. As we begin a new year and a new term, I welcome your ideas and suggestions. If you have an issue or concern, please contact my office at (760) 995-8100 or email me at SupervisorLovingood@SBCounty.gov. May God bless you and your family throughout the coming year.
Robert Lovingood is vice chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors representing the First District.