New county budget pushes past $8 billion, steers more money to mental health, housing and homelessness

San Diego, CA - February 25: Team members for San Diego County's Mobile Crisis Response Team
Team members for San Diego County’s Mobile Crisis Response Team.
(Lisa Hornak/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved 2023-24 budget that increases spending by 11 percent over last year


San Diego County supervisors on Tuesday, June 27, unanimously approved an $8.17 billion budget that boosts spending 11 percent over last year, and adds money for mental health, housing and homelessness.

The revised 2023-24 spending plan adds $60 million and 50 new staff positions to the draft budget released last month. Most of the extra funding will go to the Public Safety Group, while two-thirds of the additional positions are slated for Land Use and Environment.

Supervisors redistributed almost $5 million from various departments to a suite of measures intended to pave the way for more housing.

They also added money to pay for a special election for District 4, and rolled over this year’s remaining community grant money for that district to next year, when it can be spent by the next supervisor.

“Through this budget, we are making significant investments in addressing homelessness, public safety, behavioral health, health and human services and the environment,” Board Chair Nora Vargas said.

The biggest chunk of funding goes to the Health and Human Services Agency, which includes the public health and behavioral health departments, along with other social service agencies.

Its budget will jump some $400 million over last year, to $3.2 billion, to pay for mental health and substance use treatment. The added funds will also fund immigrant and refugee services, expanded food assistance and other aid.

The Public Safety Group, including the sheriff, district attorney, public defender, county fire and other departments, represents the next-biggest spending category, at nearly $2.7 billion, a $200 million increase over the current budget.

That money is slated to improve victim services, expand the juvenile diversion program and ensure better health care to incarcerated people.

Public safety will also receive the lion’s share of extra funding in the updated budget, with another $50 million added. Most of that will cover raises and 10 new staff positions.

“Roughly two-thirds is to invest in our workforce, to reflect new public safety labor contracts,” Chief Financial Officer Ebony Shelton said.

The Land Use and Environment Group, which which oversees environmental health, water quality, agriculture, infrastructure and more, will see a bump of more than $44 million over last year’s spending, including an extra $7.2 million added to the updated budget.

Much of that would would pay for infrastructure projects including road maintenance, traffic signals, sidewalks, bike lanes, curb ramps and pedestrian crossings, as county officials lay plans to repave county roads and improve pedestrian safety in unincorporated areas.

The updated budget also adds 36 positions to several departments within the group, all aimed at speeding home construction to ease the county’s housing crunch.

Planning & Development Services will get 29 new staff members, while Public Works and Environmental Health and Quality will also hire more employees.

The new positions will support a county plan to expedite housing construction with guaranteed timelines for permit review, pre-approved home plans and streamlined home-building regulations.

To pay for that, the board redirected $4.7 million of general purpose funds from various departments toward its “removing barriers to housing initiative,” Shelton said.

The revised budget also adds funds to cover the cost of a special election to replace former Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who resigned from his seat representing District 4 after facing a lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct.

The election will take place Aug. 15, with a runoff in November if no candidate wins a majority of the vote. The vote is estimated to cost up to $5.2 million.

The board also agreed to roll over remaining District 4 grant funds from this year to next so the new supervisor can hand out those grants. Almost $1 million in grant funding from the current year will be available to the next supervisor.

Although county spending is increasing in the new year, Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer warned that some cuts might be necessary in 2024.

“We are pushing up against our fiscal limits,” she said. “We have to dampen our expectations going forward. Hopefully that won’t happen. Hopefully the economy will be strong and continue to grow. But if not we’ll have to limit the growth.”