Supervisor Ron Roberts A Master Architect

| July 3, 2019 | 0 Comments

This past year, Supervisor Ron Roberts of Mission Hills, who represented the Fourth District of San Diego County, was termed out of office. For those of us who worked with him on various City and County projects, he was a pleasure to work with and true to form. Honesty and integrity are two of the adjectives that come to mind when I think of describing Ron Roberts.  For me, it’s difficult to believe that he is no longer in office representing us on City and County matters.

For over 30 years Ron Roberts served as an elected official of the City and County of San Diego. However, what many people may not know is that he started his career as an architect. Roberts had a successful 20-year career in architecture and was the managing partner of a large, San Diego-based, architectural firm with offices in San Diego and San Francisco. During this time he accepted numerous volunteer civic positions, including chairman of the Planning Commission for the City of San Diego. It was due to this role that eventually he would be approached to seek the position of a city councilman.

In 1987 he left his practice to launch a campaign and was triumphant in being elected to a seat on the San Diego City Council. After serving two terms, in November 1994, Roberts was selected by voters to represent the multi-ethnic Fourth District as one of five members of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. This district has over 630,000 residents and covers 100-square-miles.

What Roberts learned quickly after becoming a county supervisor is that the County of San Diego was facing financial ruin.  Roberts and his new colleagues steered the County away from bankruptcy. With a private-sector approach, they selected Larry Prior as chief administrative officer and engineered a phenomenal turnaround. This fresh, business effort took the County from the brink of financial disaster to one lauded as among the best-managed counties in America.

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association would go on to hail the Board of Supervisors as “the model of creative and innovative government leadership,” and “the poster child of good fiscal governance.” Washington, D.C.-based Governing Magazine would later label the County of San Diego one of the three best-run counties in the nation.

While it is Robert’s commitment to fiscal discipline that helped him manage a highly successful architecture firm and then turn around a teetering government, his heart has always been with the less fortunate, especially at-risk youth.

In the late 1990s, Roberts played a leading role, along with Supervisor Greg Cox, in the creation of the San Pasqual Academy, a one-of-a-kind residential campus exclusively for foster teens. When the Academy began operating in 2001, there were many skeptics questioning its potential success. Today it continues to be recognized and modeled for its success.

Roberts informed me that this was not an over-night process; it took years of research and cooperation with politicians on both sides and different governmental agencies.  Because of this commitment to help foster teens that have had little encouragement, the graduation rate at San Pasqual exceeds most public school districts, and many of these graduates have continued their education at colleges and universities around the country.

Dedicated to children, their health and wellbeing, Roberts has helped develop numerous youth facilities, including the Clairemont Skateboard Park; a library, gym and teen center multiplex in Spring Valley; the Barnes Tennis Center for youth; and the Linda Vista Boys & Girls Club. A jewel among these gems is the Pro Kids Golf Academy and Learning Center in City Heights, which he helped to establish when he was on the City Council.

He has continued his strong support of the Pro Kids Golf Academy and Learning Center in City Heights. Since 1994, it has enriched the lives of more than 18,000 youth (as of 2017). Along with an excellent par-3 golf course, the academy operates a state of the art learning center, helping these kids with their studies along with learning a new sport.

For a growing population which needs much assistance, Roberts helped found Veterans Village of San Diego, which houses homeless war veterans and provides a comprehensive array of services. He has also been a strong supporter of Father Joe’s St. Vincent de Paul Village andJoan Kroc Center as well as the Monarch School for disadvantaged and homeless youth.

In early 2017, Roberts joined a reconfigured Regional Task Force on the Homeless and was elected its chairman. The organization has since hired nationally respected housing and homeless experts for the top two staff positions, and seen its budget boosted to record levels, in part through private sector donations.

With mental health rising as a serious issue among the homeless, Supervisors Roberts and Cox in 2016 led the establishment of Project One For All, a fully-funded commitment to provide wrap-around services to the estimated 1,200 severely mentally ill homeless individuals in our community. Since it began, about 450 severely mentally ill individuals have been moved from the streets into supportive housing.

Going back to his roots and love of architecture, Supervisor Roberts experienced the realization of a nearly 15-year-old dream in May of 2014 when the 1,100 space asphalt parking lots surrounding the County Administration Center on Pacific Highway were transformed into a 16-acre park. The new County Waterfront Park boasts an artfully-designed playground, large lawn area for special events, quiet planted zone that blooms with native vegetation, and the featured attraction, a 31-jet ultra-shallow linear fountain with water treated and re-circulated at swimming pool standards, making it open for play to children of all ages. The popularity of the park has exceeded expectations.

Knowing that San Diego County has its share of wild fires and other potential disasters, Roberts has been a key player to create a regional communications system. The objective is to allow emergency responders and dispatchers across jurisdictions to contact each other during a major disaster without the need of special patching.

Understanding the importance of being proactive and prepared, Roberts has also been an advocate of innovative, year-round protective measures. He was instrumental in the lease, and subsequent purchase, of the City of San Diego’s and the County of San Diego’s first firefighting helicopters. He also was responsible for the leasing of two Bombardier Superscooper Amphibious Aircraft in 2008. In 2009, Ron helped craft an on-going partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric that has provided the county each subsequent year during peak fire season with an S-64E Helitanker, the world’s largest helicopter of its kind for attacking blazes of all types.

In 2012 Roberts introduced an initiative to create an emergency app for smart phones. Two years later SD Emergency was launched, and now runs on the phones of thousands of San Diegans, providing information on emergency preparation, response and recovery, including incident maps and evacuation routes.

When I met with Roberts recently, we discussed all of the projects that he is proud to have had a role in creating and developing.  The ones I have mentioned in this column are only a few of what he has accomplished. And, though the list of accomplishments and successes are quite long, Roberts still has some projects that he would like to see come to fruition.

Will we see Ron Roberts in office again any time soon?  He declares that it isn’t in his future plans. Instead he is going to spend more quality time with his family, which includes his wife Helene, his three grown daughters and their husbands, and three grandchildren. 

As we look back at his career as an elected official, those of us who truly know him realize that he created a legacy of public safety, fiscal stewardship, capital improvements, clean environment, economic development, transportation improvements and support of seniors and children.  And even though he is out of office, I expect he will continue to offer his expertise to those of us who want to further the prosperity, health of and wellbeing of San Diego City and County.  

Ron Roberts, thanks for 30 years of public service and representing us well in office as councilman and county supervisor.

Ron Roberts (far right) is joined by members of his family at the five-year old, County Waterfront Park.

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