Outsiders Clamor for County Officials to Loosen the Purse Strings

For years, a progressive chorus has urged the county to unleash its massive reserve savings account. The volume of that conversation’s grown this year – and two county supervisors just responded.

County Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Ron Roberts announced a handful of proposals Monday to pull $25 million from the county’s reserve account to create an investment pool to encourage more affordable housing development and to consider building affordable homes on 11 county properties. They’re also looking to use $500,000 in grant funds from Roberts’ office to catalyze innovative, lower-cost development. The duo hopes fellow supervisors will approve the changes later this month in a bid to help address San Diego’s homeless and affordable housing crises.

“This is a bold initiative for the county,” Roberts said. “These are real assets, cash and properties in a significant way, and this couldn’t be happening at a more important time.”

Yet the chorus pushing supervisors to dip into reserves is unlikely to quiet anytime soon. Supervisor candidates, union leaders and advocates say they want to see more of the county’s $2 billion savings invested in the community rather than in a reserve account that’s spiked more than 60 percent since 2010.

The county’s largest employee union, Service Employees International Union Local 221, is leading a coalition pushing for increased salaries and benefits for county workers plus expanded safety net services and other policy priorities. This spring, the coalition displayed charts breaking down the county’s substantive reserves at a series of community meetings across the region.