On the road: Supe’s travels bring issues close to home

The travel schedule for San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon has been jampacked this summer. He has trekked to the crop fields of the Central Valley, the overcrowded jails of the Sierra Foothills and the front lines of California’s war on methamphetamine. But no matter where he’s traveled, he said, he was struck by the same sticky issues that are facing San Mateo County.

“Our counties are very different,” Gordon said. “Our geography, our economies, our populations are different. But there are some things that are very much in common throughout California.”

Gordon is on a whirlwind tour of as many counties as possible in the next month to prepare for his new seat in November at the head of the California State Association of Counties. The association, based in Sacramento, represents the interests of the 58 counties in the state.

“We have a fleet of lobbyists that work on behalf of counties with the Legislature and with the governor and his staff,” Gordon said.

Gordon currently serves as vice president of the association, which has 30 full-time staff members and an annual operating budget of $6.2 million.

Last month, he traveled to counties in the Sierra Foothills and Central Valley and is now visiting the coast on what has been an eye-opening experience.

In Calaveras County, for instance, the antiquated county jail has a court-ordered cap of 65 inmates. With 10 to 15 new prisoners booked each night, jail officials are forced to release people each day. San Mateo County’s overcrowded jails have been the subject of scathing grand jury reports.

“Every county I have visited to date has overcrowded jails. There isn’t a county that isn’t struggling with this,” Gordon said.

In rural counties trying to combat methamphetamine use, Gordon could see parallels with San Mateo County.

“It’s the number-one drug in our county,” he said.

Another universal worry is money for health care — an issue Gordon plans to stress.

“Counties are very concerned about the reimbursement levels they get from the state government to provide the mental health, drug and alcohol and health services that are mandated by the state,” he said.

Gordon said he hopes to use his new position to bring fresh ideas back home.

“This experience is allowing me to see best practices other places, so I can steal them and bring them back to San Mateo County,” he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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