SAN JOSE -- Outlining his goals for the coming year as president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, Ken Yeager on Tuesday told a standing-room-only crowd he will continue to emphasize programs that elevate the health and safety of the county's residents -- including efforts to curb gun violence by reducing the number of firearms.
What Yeager called "the horrific, senseless shootings we have seen over the past year'' only serves to highlight the need to focus on gun violence, he said during his 30-minute State of the County address.
The supervisor stunned many of the 300 or so gathered inside the board chambers when he talked about monthly "armed prohibited persons'' reports compiled by the state Attorney General's office for local law enforcement agencies.
The program cross-references five databases to find people who have legally purchased handguns and registered assault weapons since 1996 with people who are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. The county's most recent list reveals 529 people who have become ineligible to keep a gun because of felony convictions, restraining orders placed against them, or have been determined by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.
Yeager said the latest report indicates those individuals own 1,239 guns, 54 of which are assault weapons. He said he will work with Sheriff Laurie Smith and District Attorney Jeff Rosen to have those residents surrender their guns.
Smith told the Mercury News that her staff already has been engaged in this work since 2007. But, she said, "the list itself is not prima facie evidence -- there has to be an investigation into each one of these people on the list.''
Still, Smith noted that "given the recent events, this is now becoming a priority,'' and her department will be establishing teams to do the work on a more concerted basis.
Yeager didn't stop there: He also wants the county to create a gun buyback program that would allow county residents to voluntarily surround their firearms for cash -- no questions asked.
But the bulk of Yeager's speech continued to focus on health care, both the challenges the county faces in implementing national health care reform, as well as specific local initiatives aimed at preventive care. The latter is something he has championed over the years and for which he was recognized Tuesday by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
The board president proudly cited his track record, highlighting 12 key health and environmental objectives he'd proposed in 2010, when he was last board president -- all of which he said have been achieved since.
Among his best known victories: enacting the nation's first ordinance that prevents restaurants in unincorporated areas from using toys to lure kids to meals high in fat, sugar and calories; instituting comprehensive nutrition standards for food and beverages purchased, served or offered at county facilities and provided by the county; and banning smoking in apartment buildings in unincorporated areas of the county.
Yeager also pushed the county to ban single-use plastic bags in unincorporated areas and ensure that county-sponsored events reduce the amount of waste that's produced.
"He is unafraid of taking on vested interests, from tobacco to plastics,'' said Dennis King, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley. "He's looked upon with some skepticism, but also with respect, and I'm assuming he'll accomplish what he sets out to do.''
Yeager also said he hopes to tackle many public health priorities identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as "winnable battles,'' including reducing teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, smoking and child obesity.
For example, he is working with the county's public health department to reduce the number of sweetened beverages kids drink. One solution Yeager pointed to is to use some funding from Measure B, the $548 million Santa Clara Valley Water District parcel tax voters approved in November, to install 250 "hydration stations'' -- special water fountains used to refill water bottles -- in local schools.
Yeager said his goals for 2013 are as ambitious, if not more so, than those in 2010.
But his top priority, Yeager said, is to make sure the county is prepared for three key health care reform goals by the time the national Affordable Care Act takes effect next year.
"We must measurably improve health outcomes, improve client satisfaction and lower the total cost of care,'' he said.
Yeager takes over the board presidency from embattled Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., who is under investigation by both a state political watchdog agency and the District Attorney's office for not filing required campaign reports, as well as misusing his county credit card.
As the violations have been detailed in the media, Yeager has aggressively pushed to make sure Shirakawa reimburses the county for any inappropriate expenditures. On Tuesday, during the board meeting that preceded his State of the County address, Yeager asked that the county study imposing a penalty for late campaign finance reports for every day beyond the due date until the delinquent report is filed.
Yeager -- who was elected as supervisor in 2006 -- also announced that he intends to run for his third and final four-year term on the board in 2014; he had previously explored running for a seat in the State Assembly.
"There is very important work to be done here, and I would be honored to be part of the team that accomplishes it,'' he said.
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.