South Coast Chamber event features address from county officials
The Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber held its 2020 State of the County, featuring the County CEO, the assistant CEO, Chair of the County Board of Supervisors and the director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project.
Although the address was filmed Thursday, Dec. 3 before the stay-at-home orders were announced from the state, regional leaders reflected on the last several months dealing with the pandemic and discussed what the future may hold for Santa Barbara County.
Gregg Hart, the Chair of the County Board of Supervisors, reviewed the county’s response to the crisis, including prohibiting commercial evictions related to COVID-19, assisting schools and creating partnerships, addressing inequities in the health care system, creating new COVID-19 Task Forces and more.
“2020 has been a year unlike any in our lifetime,” Mr. Hart said. “So many have suffered physically, emotionally and financially. But we will recover, thrive and prosper.”
He said that until the county, and nation, has a widely distributed vaccine next year, “We’ll be living with the ebbs and flows of this virus.”
Mr. Hart also mentioned positive projects moving forward, such as providing housing opportunities and support for community members experiencing homelessness, transportation projects to increase jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions with the county’s Climate Action Plan.
Santa Barbara County CEO Mona Miyasato covered the county’s operating budget by function since the response.
With $1.19 billion, 36% was spent on health and human services, 31% on public safety, 19% on community resources and public facilities, 9% on general government and support services and 5% on policy and executive.
“We are depending heavily on the state and federal government,” Ms. Miyasato said.
She added that most local revenue is from property taxes.
“These have been relatively stable. We don’t see, hopefully not yet, hopefully not ever, a sharp decline in the values that we witnessed following other recessions,” she said.
Cannabis taxes were also less impacted and have been critical in filling budget gaps.
Nancy Anderson, the assistant CEO of the county, led the new local reopening guidelines, Reopening in Safe Environment, or RISE.
She said that as of Dec. 1, the county received 4,357 business submittals, 3,968 of which were in cities and 389 from the unincorporated areas.
This included: 988 retail stores, 891 restaurants, 483 office work spaces, 191 hair salons/barber shops, 177 limited services, 168 gyms and fitness centers, 137 hotels (tourism), 115 wineries/bars, 108 personal services and 87 places of worship.
“We acknowledge the struggles of businesses that are having to adapt quickly to varying rules, procedures and directives issued over the past nine months, and truly applaud their collaboration and their resiliency,” Ms. Anderson said.
Finally, UCSB Economics Professor and Director of the Economic Forecast Project Dr. Peter Rupert spoke to the county’s uncertain and troubling financial trajectory.
“In the history of civilization, one disease has been eradicated. It’s smallpox,” he said. “What this means is that these diseases are hard to win. They’re hard to beat even with a vaccine, and just like in a war, there’s collateral damage.”
He pointed out the concern of increasing hospitalizations and reaching over 100% ICU capacity, and the fact that there has not been another stimulus package from the federal government.
“There’s going to be a structural deficit moving forward over the next several years,” Dr. Rupert said.
The main economic risks he sees are the ending of some government programs, lack of a stimulus package, the future deficit in the state budget and long term unemployment.
“In a few months, we’re seeing more people, almost 50% of the unemployment pool, being unemployed for 27 weeks or longer,” Dr. Rupert said. “So what does that mean? What it means for individuals is they lose skills.
“They lose being in the labor force — those kinds of long term effect can be very damaging, not just for their future economic lives, but also things like depression, alcoholism and those kinds of things when people are not able to work for a long period of time.”
In just a couple of months, the county’s unemployment rate went from 4% to 15%.
The typical number of unemployed individuals in Santa Barbara County is around 7,000, according to Dr. Rupert. During the Great Recession over many years, that rose to 10,000 and then to about 20,000.
In April and May of 2020, the number was at about 30,000, and since it has dropped to about half, but, “We’re still about where we were at the bottom of the Great Depression.”
“Who did this hit? We know where people got hurt, and the problem with that is the people who were hurt were people who could least afford it,” he said. “These are workers who are very low-income.
“Typically, those individuals do not have savings to last six, seven, eight months, and now if we’re going to look at another shutdown or partial shutdown moving forward into next summer, we’re going to see a lot of individuals who are suffering even more.”
Dr. Rupert also pointed out the tens of thousands of excess deaths due to evictions, even in states that had moratoriums.
“Here, what we’re talking about is businesses shut down by government fiat,” he said. “Government said non-essential businesses must close.
“That then tells me that those legislators who make this decision should also help those people who they force out of business. That’s a tough call in this environment, obviously.”
The State of the County is available to view at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHDCGO8O6lM&feature=emb_title.