San Mateo County supervisors approve legal aid fund for undocumented immigrants

County's 2018-19 fiscal year budget, while promising, carries warnings

With a unanimous vote just days before the beginning of a new fiscal year, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on June 26 approved revisions to the county's two-year budget to solidify a spending plan of $2.749 billion and 5,528 employees.

In response to comments by members of the public expressing outrage in recent weeks over President Trump's policy of separating undocumented immigrant families who cross the U.S. border, supervisors also voted unanimously to dedicate $764,000 toward the creation of a deportation defense fund to help undocumented immigrants in the county get legal aid.

Deportation defense fund

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley said he plans to talk to the community to better grasp the extent that undocumented people are immigrating to San Mateo County and what those immigrants' needs are.

"It could be that there's some activity that is going undetected by at least me," he added.

He said he supports providing legal representation to undocumented people who are applying for asylum and could qualify for residency in the country.

During the 2017-18 fiscal year there were 182 unaccompanied minors reported to have entered the county, he said. All but two have been reunited with a guardian, custodian, or other family member. In the two cases in which the children have not been reunited, he said it was because the county had questions about the guardians.

A county subcommittee is fleshing out the details of the fund; the working concept is that it would be mainly dedicated to legal aid, and relevant organizations would have to apply for the funds.

Words of caution

County Manager John Maltbie, who formally proposed the budget, wrote in the document that the county's fiscal situation is generally rosy.

The county received $17.1 million in unspent ERAF money, or dollars from what's called the "Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund" -- a pool of tax revenue that's automatically deducted by the state from jurisdictions' property tax revenues to help it pay for local schools, unless there's enough property tax funding to cover a base amount. In such circumstances, the state gives the money back to the jurisdiction. And property tax revenues have continued to rise for an "unprecedented" nearly nine years straight, Maltbie said.

"We've enjoyed in the last several years a very robust increase in property tax," he noted.

However, he emphasized, it behooves the county to exercise prudence since it has a big five-year capital improvement plan and increasing labor costs. And like all times of booming economic growth, there is the cautionary "looming specter of a future recession."

Even a small reduction in the county's property tax revenue growth rate could spell fiscal trouble for the county, he said. For example, a 2 percent decrease would likely mean a revenue decline of $8 million a year, Maltbie said. By contrast, giving county workers a 2 percent increase in their salaries would cost the county an estimated $14 million a year, he noted.

Maltbie said he asked each county department to trim its budget by 2.5 percent, and expenditures that were deemed unnecessary were trimmed from the budget. That yielded a reduction in net county costs by $13.4 million, he reported.

Another wild card: The county is, demographically speaking, one of the oldest if not the oldest county in the state, Maltbie said.

Horsley said that the county provides health care to the indigent – people who do not have or are not eligible for health insurance or other health coverage – and that changes to the federal Affordable Care Act could increase county costs. Medicare coverage for people in skilled nursing facilities also can fall short of the full costs, he said.

"Those are costs we have to anticipate," he said.

Maltbie also questioned whether county residents will continue to stomach tax increases. One big question is what will happen if the state's new gas tax, Senate Bill 1, gets repealed. A repeal would leave the county short on funds for fixing roads. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the county plans to use those funds for street reconstructions in North Fair Oaks, West Menlo Park, Emerald Lake Hills, El Granada and Colma, among other locations. If the gas tax stays, it is expected to bring in about $9.6 million during the 2018-19 fiscal year. According to the budget document, the existing gas tax -- not counting Senate Bill 1 -- can keep overall pavement conditions at their current levels but won't cover emergency repairs or discretionary improvement projects.

The regional housing crisis is another continuing challenge for the county, Maltbie said. Exorbitant housing costs continue to make it challenging for the county to hire and retain a quality workforce, he said.

Costs for retirement and "post-employment" benefits are also expected to continue to rise, he said.

Long-term goals

In 2015, the board identified its top three priorities: to end homelessness, improve reading proficiency and ensure that all foster children graduate from high school and complete the equivalent of two years of college or vocational training.

According to Maltbie, the county is seeing a decline in the number of unsheltered adults, but there has been a shift from people living on the street to people living out of vehicles. On the children's literacy front, he said, a countywide effort called the "Big Lift" -- aimed at helping at-risk kids boost their reading skills -- is narrowing the knowledge gap that can develop during the summer if some children don't practice the skills they've learned during the school year while others get access to enriching activities. The Big Lift started as a federally funded program in which the county was given five years to demonstrate "proof of concept," but funding decreased under the Trump administration. Now, the county and its partner agencies have to make up for that funding gap to keep the program running, according to county Superintendent of Schools Anne Campbell.

Maltbie also reported that fewer children are going into foster care, and of those that do, more are graduating from high school or receiving their GED certificates.

Spending priorities

Another key area of county spending is affordable housing. Maltbie reported that the county's "Home for All" program has resulted in $103 million being invested, and 1,715 units being built, preserved, under construction or "in the pipeline."

On the infrastructure front, the county plans to spend its Senate Bill 1 funding on road maintenance and rehabilitation projects. It currently costs about $1 million to repair one mile of road based on current construction costs in the Bay Area, Maltbie reports. Some of those projects are to reconstruct some streets in West Menlo Park on or near Croner Avenue, and to reconstruct parts of 7th Avenue in North Fair Oaks. According to Horsley, the county is also working on plans to improve safety near the Santa Cruz Avenue/Alpine Road/Alameda de las Pulgas intersection.

With the countywide half-cent sales tax, called Measure K, the county expects to spend a total of $143 million on a range of public safety, housing, and social services. About $49 million of that will go to the county's new Regional Operations Center under construction in Redwood City, $16 million to specific affordable housing initiatives and $8.9 million toward projects laid out in the North Fair Oaks general plan.

The county also set aside $1.1 million for a restoration project at Tunitas Creek Beach on the Coastside. Funds will go toward the restoration and toward hiring two new park rangers and a capital project manager.

Maltbie, who plans to retire in November, included in his written and verbal budget remarks a farewell of sorts to the Board of Supervisors. He wrote: "As I think about the future of this County I hope this Board maintains your sense of urgency. Resist the temptation to rest on your laurels," and later said, "It's great to shoot high, but the real test of those policies is where the rubber meets the road: Are people better off?"


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31 people like this
Posted by San Mateo County resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 9, 2018 at 1:07 pm

So "The county received $17.1 million in unspent ERAF money, or dollars from what's called the "Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund". Instead of spending more on education the supervisors are going to create a fund for illegal immigrants. Will there be an equal amount of money set aside for legal residents who want to pick and choose laws they feel are unfair and,if caught, need legal representation? These supervisors need to be voted out; they do not represent the legal residents.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident Zero
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 9, 2018 at 2:07 pm

Keep drinking the KoolAid! #WalkAway!

21 people like this
Posted by Winnie
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 9, 2018 at 2:10 pm

Absolutely RIDICULOUS waste of taxpayers money!!! Are you serious?? Agree entirely with “San Mateo Cty Resident”....
WTF??? How about LEGAL immigrants and citizens getting legal representation???
I am outraged.
VOTE THE %*#]+*=!~# OUT !!! Stupidest decision I’ve ever heard of.

164 people like this
Posted by Schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 9, 2018 at 2:45 pm


How quaint! Using a rw made up hashtag to simulate some fantasy where liberals are somehow walking away into the arms of Trump. Funny how virtually every election since 2016 has Dems clobbering the GOP.

A party I walked away from 2 years ago.


Wasn't it a unanimous vote? Where were you guys? Didn't you go to the meetings?

8 people like this
Posted by not so rich
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 9, 2018 at 3:51 pm

I usually use my real name, but in these times..

I don't employ immigrants to cook my meals, clean my toilet, wash my car, or water my garden. I am not well enough off to afford that. Some of these immigrants are my neighbors, and many of them are very nice. They go to Atherton to work in mansions. Apparently the people in these mansions don't pay their workers enough, so my tax dollars must be used to help out.

I am so happy the county is so financially healthy. But I just see health care and rent zooming up, and lowering my taxes would help.

18 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 9, 2018 at 4:22 pm

I'll say the supes have their heads in the sand though I really want to say they have their heads up their arses.

13 people like this
Posted by Semantics
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 9, 2018 at 5:51 pm

What's the difference between an 'undocumented' immigrant and an 'illegal' immigrant?

86 people like this
Posted by Malcolm
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 9, 2018 at 5:57 pm

I am proud to live in a county that cares for all of those who live here. We all have a background of family immigration. Studies show that immigration in this country has actually raised average wages of native-born workers during the last few decades. Immigrants are at the forefront of innovation and ingenuity in the United States, accounting for a disproportionately high share of patent filings, science and technology graduates, and senior positions at top venture capital-funded firms.

In addition, the presence of immigrants often creates opportunities for less skilled native workers to become more specialized in their work, thereby increasing their productivity.

20 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 9, 2018 at 6:50 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


what part of ILLEGAL immigration don't you understand? We all came from immigrants. Immigrants that came here LEGALLY. Let's not conflate the two. Even LEGAL immigrants don't like ILLEGAL immigrants jumping the line that LEGAL immigrants spent years standing in. We owe ILLEGALS NOTHING. We need to fix our immigration system and laws. In the mean time we need to abide by the laws we have and giving money to ILLEGAL immigrants isn't abiding by those laws.

17 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2018 at 8:01 am

Wow. When I was waiting to get my Green Card in the US in the 1970s.. I was told I had to go back to my country of origin and wait my turn, pay a fee, go through interview process. I played by the rules... No way a county in California or anywhere in the US would have offered me legal aid..This is a slap in the face to those who played by the rules, paid our dues and emigrated to US legally.

This is just another reason why I am so glad I don't live in California

12 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2018 at 8:02 am

Semantics: There is no differenence between an "undocumented immigrant" and "illegal immigrant."

46 people like this
Posted by Nate
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2018 at 8:04 am

Virtue signaling is not virtueous.

10 people like this
Posted by Furious in Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 10, 2018 at 9:06 am

There is a new program in the State of California that allows Medi-Cal to pay for assisted living for disabled individuals who need full time care. Under the program, disabled people don't have to live in nursing homes which are much more expensive than assisted living. It is a pilot program that is just getting started. However, it is not available in San Mateo County because the County has no budget for the program. Would it not be much better to take care of the disabled in our own community, rather than provide legal funds for people who are not citizens and are here illegally? No question in my mind.

6 people like this
Posted by Mark L
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 10, 2018 at 10:03 am

>In 2015, the board identified its top three priorities: to end homelessness,...

Seems to me nothing has been done about homelessness, there are just as many around as 3 years ago. Instead they want to setup a fund for illegal immigrants? Why isn't this money being spent on our homeless citizens?

2 people like this
Posted by Winnie
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 10, 2018 at 10:07 am

Dear “not so rich”.... my grandparents were LEGAL immigrants from Scotland. I employ 2 LEGAL Latino staff and pay one $25/hr and the gardener (legal and has lived here for over 25 years) $45/hr ! It is insulting to think that people here in Atherton would pay cheap wages to illegal aliens.

22 people like this
Posted by Schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 11, 2018 at 10:19 am

Wasn't Jesus an 'illegal'?

And my great grandpa clearly showed up without papers, to Ellis island.

But, hey, let's not help the least among us.

4 people like this
Posted by Supervisor Criticism
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 11, 2018 at 11:24 am

What I find hypocritical about the supervisors is that they approve this legal defense fund, then they complain they don't have any money to fix our roads or improve our transit options. So, they plan to ask us for sales tax increases in the next election.

The economy is booming. Unemployment is really, really low in the county. Property tax revenue is breaking records year after year, yet you don't have enough money to spend on our roads, but do for an illegal immigrant legal defense fund?

Here's an idea: use the money spent on these special interest projects to repair the roads and keep our sales taxes where they are.

It feels like we're voting to increase our sales taxes every couple of elections anyway.

4 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 11, 2018 at 1:28 pm

If the supes keep wasting our money on these shenanigans they are going to need their own legal defense fund.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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