Town Hall with Supervisor John Leopold

John LeopoldSThe 2011 Community Assessment Project Report was released in November, examining various quality of life indicators in the county. What stood out to you as areas we excel in, and what struck you as areas we need to most work on?

In a country where health insurance issues are debated, demagogued and seemingly irresolvable, I think we can all be proud of how our community has rallied to build an effective health insurance system that has resulted in 97 percent of our children being covered by some form of insurance. The community, local business and the county has contributed to the creation of Healthy Kids, which works to insure every child under 18 in Santa Cruz County. This is critically important because we know that getting kids off to a healthy start in life will likely lead to better health outcomes throughout their lives. We are fortunate to have an organization like the Health Improvement Partnership in our county, which manages this program and works with all of our safety net clinics to provide an effective continuum of care for so many people.

It is disturbing to see some of the crime statistics detailed in the report. We need to strengthen programs that address the core issues of anti-social behavior, substance abuse, family dysfunction and lack of education, employment or employment skills. Recently Smart on Crime Santa Cruz County held a successful forum attended by more than 200 people who heard about the struggles of former offenders and the drive to turn lives around which ultimately leads to better public safety. We also heard about innovative efforts in our neighboring county of San Benito that engages the community is determining accountability for offenders. Working together in our community we can support services that use evidence based practices to ensure that we break the cycle of recidivism that our current justice system has proven ineffective in addressing.

The Santa Cruz outpost of Occupy Wall Street had been going strong at the County Courthouse since October. What was your take on it?

From my office window I watched this movement grow. It is an amazing coalition of young and old, housed and homeless, employed and unemployed—a diverse representation of our community. They have formed in solidarity with the worldwide “Occupy” movement and are working to represent many in our county who are suffering as a result of the economic collapse in 2008.

The Board of Supervisors recently heard startling statistics about the local impact of what has become known as the Great Recession/Lesser Depression: one in five county residents is on some form of public assistance; 4,500 homes have been foreclosed since 2008; and unemployment is stubbornly high at 10 percent countywide and more than twice as high in South County at 22 percent.

Perhaps like any movement, protesters are being criticized. Occupiers are being criticized for not having a list of demands, off-shoot groups have engaged in illegal activities and much discussion has been focused on problems that have emerged during this movement, including their sleeping arrangements, health concerns, and unacceptable behavior. While these are indeed legitimate concerns that must be addressed, it is also important to recognize what the “Occupy” movement has highlighted. There is a growing national debate about inequality, people are moving their money away from financial institutions that do not represent their interests, and many are questioning tactics used against peaceful demonstrators. This is all healthy in a democracy. It is important to recognize the significant contributions that the “Occupy” movement has made to public discourse.

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