There was no jackpot. But the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa’s ballroom was still a scene of celebration Thursday morning, Dec. 8.
The casino near Cabazon hosted Riverside County’s first State of the County event in four years.
Close to 520 people, including elected officials from across the Inland Empire, heard speeches and watched videos heralding the county’s accomplishments, praising its employees and resolving to tackle its challenges.
If you didn’t have a ticket, here are five State of the County highlights.
No taxpayer money
In September, the Board of Supervisors approved use of $75,000 in public dollars to host the State of the County. Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, who didn’t attend Thursday’s event, was the lone dissenting vote.
As it usually does, the county sought outside sponsorship money for the event. That money covered all but approximately $5,000 of the event’s costs, county spokesperson Brooke Federico said.
Among the listed sponsors were the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Pechanga Resort Casino, the Soboba Band of Luiseňo Indians, UC Riverside and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Other sponsors included companies and interests with a financial stake in county government decisions, such as the sheriff’s deputies’ union, Waste Management and American Medical Response.
The county’s child protective services have had a rough go of it in the past year after allegations of neglect and poor care of the 13 tortured Turpin siblings.
Two supervisors used parts of their speeches Thursday to defend the beleaguered unit.
“Over the last couple of years, they’ve been beat up pretty bad (by the press) on one or two cases, here or there, that people find fault in,” said Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, the board’s 2022 chairperson.
“We can certainly always get better,” Hewitt said. “ … (But) I am so proud of all those workers in that department that arguably have the hardest job in the county. And every day, they’re toiling to help families and the most vulnerable people … They are absolutely amazing people.”
Supervisor Karen Spiegel said county agencies serving vulnerable children and adults “are comprised of highly dedicated employees. We have to give them the tools — that is our job, to give them the tools — and we are.”
“We’re working very hard … things have gotten a lot better and I’m excited the direction that we are going in Riverside County to protecting” vulnerable citizens, she added.
Beyond the pandemic
Thursday’s speeches acknowledged the devastation and lost lives in the county from the COVID-19 pandemic. But there was also a resolve to move forward and tackle other pressing matters.
With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus state of emergency set to end in February, there are “no more excuses,” said Spiegel, who talked about entering office in 2018 with a “a long list of policy items” derailed by the pandemic. “No more holding us back. We have to move forward. And the best way to do that is together.”
Going forward, Spiegel stressed the need to crack down on the fentanyl trade, which is blamed for fatal overdoses that led District Attorney Mike Hestrin to charge some fentanyl dealers with murder.
Supervisors also talked about efforts to help the homeless, including an outreach team dedicated to connecting those living in the dry Santa Ana River bottom with housing and social services.
A team approach
County Executive Officer Jeff Van Wagenen said resiliency and partnerships were the themes of this year’s State of the County.
On the partnership side, Van Wagenen and others talked about an overhaul of how the county serves the public. Instead of departments working separately, the new model calls for them to work closely together when it comes to serving the same person, especially those in need.
“Under the leadership of the Board of Supervisors, we are moving from a ‘Next window please’ form of government to a ‘No wrong door’” form, Van Wagenen said.
His remarks accompanied a video of a former addict who, instead of being bounced around different agencies, got his life back on track thanks to Family Preservation Court, which helps parents battling addiction.
Thursday was Hewitt’s last State of the County as a supervisor. He will leave office in January after losing a re-election to Moreno Valley Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez.
In January, supervisors V. Manuel Perez and Chuck Washington abstained from voting to appoint Hewitt as board chairman in January. But on Thursday, Perez praised Hewitt.
“I look forward to working with you, Yxstian,” Perez said. “But Jeff grew on me.”
“We were totally opposite in the beginning,” Perez said. “Now towards the end, we can have a beer together and hang out and crack jokes and have a good time. I think ultimately, that’s what democracy is all about is making sure that we figure out ways to work together.”