San Mateo County has the lowest unemployment rate and highest per-capita income among counties in the state, and manages a budget of nearly $3 billion.
It also has more than 100,000 people who receive MediCal, and one in three children in public schools qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty.
These statistics set the stage for a speech given by Dave Pine, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, at an inaugural "State of the County" event held at the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Hall in Burlingame on Oct. 24.
"You know, for many in the county, it's not the golden age. It's more the Gilded Age," Pine said.
He went on to discuss a number of initiatives that the county has launched to address four key problems he identified: a shortage of affordable housing, an abundance of traffic, a growing need to reduce environmental impacts, and the swelling threat of sea level rise.
Since 2013, the county has spent $115 million on efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing, which, Pine said, has led to the production of 1,880 new affordable housing units and the preservation or renovation of 255 housing units. The funding has also gone toward programs like home-sharing and the production of second units on single-family-home properties to provide people with lower-cost options to live in the area. Much of this funding has come from the county's half-cent sales tax, Measure K.
On the transportation front, Pine said, county leadership is involved with transit because a supervisor sits on the various transit boards in the county, and because the county has invested directly in certain transportation programs (such as SamTrans to help with paratransit).
Senate Bill 1, passed earlier this year, is expected to provide $21 million to fix potholes and improve road safety, $160 million for Caltrain improvements, $250 million for a project to put "managed lanes" on U.S. 101, and $4.5 million to support bike and pedestrian projects.
Caltrain is in the process of being electrified, a project that is slated for completion in 2022; SamTrans just bought 10 electric buses and is planning to eventually convert its entire fleet to electric vehicles; and Facebook and the Plenary Group have teamed up with SamTrans on a public-private partnership to look into the possibility of a revitalized Dumbarton rail corridor.
"The future has never been brighter for the Dumbarton corridor," Pine said.
When it comes to the environment, Pine cited the recently released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicts dire environmental consequences unless immediate action is taken to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As a county of about 760,000 people, Pine said, "We can't solve the world's problem, but we can lead by example."
He pointed to a few environmentally focused projects going on in the county, including Peninsula Clean Energy, which buys cleaner energy at cheaper rates than PG&E that is delivered via the PG&E power grid to customers in all 20 cities in the county and in unincorporated areas. The standard power mix is 85 percent renewable, although customers can opt to use 100 percent clean energy.
In its first year of operation, the PCE program reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 261 million pounds, the equivalent of 13 million gallons of gas, Pine said.
The county has also committed to strict environmental standards at its new buildings, he said.
One of the biggest environmental threats to the county over the next century is sea level rise, Pine said. According to research, about 3 feet of sea level rise is expected by 2100, which, when combined with a major storm, could result in damages of up to $34 billion to property throughout the county. The county is supporting a range of projects aimed at reducing its vulnerability to sea level rise.
"San Mateo County is not shying away from these challenges," Pine said. "Much more will be achieved in the years ahead."
Access the video recording of the State of the County here.