Supervisor Cox unveils new county initiatives on youth, mental health

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SAN DIEGO -- Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox unveiled new initiatives on mental health and at-risk youth Wednesday during the annual State of the County speech, part of an ambitious agenda that also includes giving young people a greater voice on policy and advancing more clean energy projects.

Speaking on the USS Midway, Cox outlined several major initiatives, including:

-- Housing Our Youth (HOY), to provide housing vouchers for former foster and other homeless youth, offering them with services including quality childcare, behavioral health and workforce training;

-- Partnering with the city of San Diego to use a portion of former redevelopment money to create a $25 million behavioral health fund that would serve as a catalyst for nonprofit organizations to provide more mental health services;

-- Fostering Academic Success in Education (FASE), a pilot program to get social workers and school districts in South County to provide onsite case coordination, planning and team decision-making;

-- Moving forward with a Community Choice Energy plan, along with a streamlined approval process for renewable energy projects in the county's unincorporated areas;

-- Youth Engagement in Service (YES), which is slated to include the perspectives of young people on county boards and commissions to help shape policy.

Cox also boasted of some recent achievements, including what he called improved behavioral health programs, an expanded safety net for the poor, an improved foster care system, a parks and trail system totaling 50,000 acres; and the nearly completed, 24-mile Bayshore Bikeway.

"And with your help, we can make this county a better place," he told the audience of several hundred people, including his fellow board members and various elected officials. "We are going to take giant leaps in 2020."

Cox will leave office at the end of the year because of term limits.

On Wednesday, he said that during his time as an educator, some of his fondest memories and greatest accomplishments were "motivating and guiding young men and women, and seeing them graduate and achieve success."

"Our county leadership has seen tremendous change," Cox added. "Change is good for organizations, as it allows younger leaders to bring new vitality and new visions. It's time to pass the torch to a new generation," Cox said. "But make no mistake, this old cowboy still has some fight in him."

Cox said that 25 years ago, when he first joined the Board of Supervisors, the county was in dire shape.

"Our finances were in disarray and we didn't even have a plan to pay for our future needs," Cox said, adding that county buildings were falling apart, "and our technology was closer to the Stone Age than the digital age. Under those circumstances, we had to act fast and make some tough choices. You can't right the ship without first plugging the holes. And we plugged a lot of holes."

On the environment, Cox said "it's critical we bring renewable energy projects online ...  My hope is that by 2030, all homes in the unincorporated area will be powered by renewable energy."

One major environmental challenge for the county is cross-border sewage, Cox said. "The Tijuana River and tributary canyons are the major source of untreated sewage, trash, sediment, and hazardous toxins," he said. "In December 2019, there was a spill of at least 255 million gallons. As I stand here tonight, the sewage flows continue. And this affects not only residents and beachgoers, but it compromises border security, and affects military readiness."

In September 2019, Cox led a delegation of local readers who met with White House officials on the issue. Through the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, $300 million has been identified to help alleviate the problem, he said, but the county must press for more funding.

"I will fight tooth and nail throughout the coming year to make that happen," Cox said.

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