VICTORVILLE • In one of his last public speeches as San Bernardino County 1st District Supervisor, Brad Mitzelfelt spoke candidly about the High Desert to several hundred local business people and community members who turned out in Victorville early Wednesday morning for the State of the County address.
The event, hosted by the Victorville Chamber of Commerce, covered a myriad of general topics, including Mitzelfelt's local obstacles and accomplishments in light of the coming end to his tenure following the November election.
"We were faced with great challenges to deal with and have had to make adjustments," Mitzelfelt said. "We've had to make difficult decisions and reforms, but crisis gives us the opportunity to do that."
Mitzelfelt said the drop in sales and property tax revenues over the last few years, billions of dollars lost in pension funds and prison realignment have been the top challenges facing the High Desert, San Bernardino County and California as a whole. Prison realignment is one of the biggest issues Mitzelfelt said he has faced thanks to Assembly Bill 109, which moved offenders to county probation while non-safety discretionary spending has been cut by almost 50 percent in the last four years.
Although Mitzelfelt maintains that public safety has been a top priority for him, he acknowledges that taxpayers should not have to pay for the retirement funds of public employees at the cost of the services that they pay for.
"We live in a state that is largely run by unions, there's no way to sugarcoat that. As a result, there are things that come along with that. We can't just put something on the ballot for the voters to vote on that affects benefits or contracts for their employees unless we have negotiated with them first," Mitzelfelt said. "The public employee unions in this county recognize that they have to be part of the solution. If not, the voters will take matters into their own hands, and I don't think they will like the result."
Initiatives that voters will see during the November election were also a hot topic for Mitzelfelt, saying that there's a possibility that future supervisors' positions could be cut to part-time.
"The reality is that the job and the responsibilities of the supervisors doesn't change, but they just will have to go and work for a paycheck during the day instead of being around the county overseeing the county government," Mitzelfelt said. "I'm not so sure that's a great idea, but I certainly understand if the voters approve it."
Mitzelfelt also touched on the civic development going on in the High Desert, highlighting the new Public Safety Operations Center in Hesperia, the new Spring Valley Lake fire station and the construction of new bridges and road widening projects going on around the Victor Valley. He also recapped many of the accomplishments brought about by the Board of Supervisors, including development code change, the new Animal Services Center, pension reform, Route 66 highway signs and the proposed High Desert Corridor.
"We want to be able to build this community up the way we've planned, through our general plans, and the High Desert Corridor will give us the opportunity to plan and develop this new area between the Antelope and Victor valleys," he said. "Over 40,000 jobs will be advanced by this project."
Mike Arias, a real estate agent at Chicago Title, also gave a presentation Wednesday morning on the housing market, saying that there are fewer homes available today than there have been in long time. His charts showed that in 2007 there were close to 5,000 High Desert homes on the market, 12,000 homes in 2009 and 687 homes on the market today. Arias said that the median home sales price in the Victor Valley is $115,000 and that re-buyers who had previously lost their homes have began to flood the market, looking to rebuild their dreams of home ownership.
"People want to know how the real estate market is," Arias said. "We are making progress. There's multiple qualified buyers. If we stop listing homes today, at 687 homes on the market, we would exhaust that inventory in 15 weeks. That's how fast this market's moving."
"We have something really special here," Mitzelfelt said. "It's really ... on all of us to promote that, to tell our story and help me do that, even when I'm not your supervisor."