By Ed McFadd
The Encinitas Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual State of the City event again this year. Despite all of the troubles of inflation, COVID-19 and intolerable heat, the city seems to be doing quite well.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, approximately 200 business leaders and city officials gathered at the tony Alila Marea Beach Resort Resort on the cliff where Encinitas meets Carlsbad to hear the city’s state of affairs.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear delivered the message and covered a lot of ground in a reasonably short time.
After eight years on the Encinitas City Council, she will be moving on. Currently, she’s seeking higher office in Sacramento as state senator for District 38. If she gets as much support for Encinitas as a senator as the SANDAG board chairperson, Encinitas will benefit.
Widening of Interstate 5, the El Portal undercrossing on the 101 at Paul Ecke School and other projects came through the funding gauntlet with funds cobbled from local, county, state and federal sources.
In her address, she seemed to focus more on the government’s mission than just the maintenance. For example, just outside the door of the Alila Marea where the event took place, the Leucadia Streetscape project continues to be developed with more access for pedestrians and bicycles, more safe crossings, more trees and more parking.
Nearby, the Coastal Rail Trail is a favorite walking path that connects Cardiff to downtown Encinitas.
A bit farther south, there’s a walking and biking trail connecting Cardiff to Solana Beach, and it even goes directly under the freeway and across San Elijo Lagoon. It is now safer to enjoy the coastal setting without being on the road. This mission was innovative, connected and planned over time with the future in mind.
Her comments were not designed to cover everything but she managed to get a bit into the weeds regarding electrical vehicle charging stations, first responders, the San Dieguito Water District, recycled water and cliff erosion at the beach.
A city with a budget of over $92 million has much to manage, a lot to accomplish and a lot to account for. From the mayor’s speech it is clear that priorities are toward improving safety with more funding for law enforcement and fire protection, more focus on treescapes and other environmental protections.
What was not elaborated upon is the role of the rest of the City Council in keeping the city on track for the future.
Tony Krantz has been very active in public transportation progress, Joy Lyndes has been focused on environmental concerns, Joe Mosca keeps the renewable energy issues on the table and Kellie Hinze works with the business entities that support the city.
As in years past with former councils, the current members work to keep the budgets balanced, the city’s maintenance current and the planning oriented toward future needs.
Among the most contentious aspects of our town are the issues with accommodating housing for low-income residents and managing the homelessness crisis.
During Blakespear’s watch, the city put together a Housing Element Update that was long overdue. The folks in Sacramento who run the state set new rules and hurdles every year, making accommodation increasingly tricky.
Residents have also filed suit against the city to challenge the city’s efforts at compliance and promising to tell Sacramento how to handle housing. Thus far, the city has spent millions in the legal tug of war, Sacramento continues making the rules, but the problems are nowhere near solved.
According to the city’s housing data, there are currently 334 affordable housing units built or being built. While impressive, it is not enough, and the state is hovering over the city’s planning department. Our city of 62,000-plus has grown about 6% over the last 20 years.
Given the enormous price of housing, it will be an ever greater challenge to accommodate the needs of all current and future residents. Blakespear pointed out the efforts to generate support for new housing and multi-use development along El Camino Real.
The homeless population has increased over the years both in Encinitas and nationally. Like others who live in the city, these residents are both local and from places near and far.
Blakespear did not discuss the city’s Homeless Action Plan, which has focused on developing partnerships with the Sheriff’s Department, Caltrans and Jewish Family Service, or JFS.
She did discuss the city’s Safe Parking Program, which supports a limited number of first-time homeless folks who live in their vehicles. The mayor pointed out that it is a compassionate effort to recognize that every community has a role in solving this national problem.
As this is an election year, opinions of city government are being shaped by candidates trying to convince the voters that they will be the best fit for the future.
The local campaigns are in full swing, and the barbs are traded liberally. The significant issues are land use and local control with homeless management, environment and energy close behind.
It’s helpful to recall that it’s the small towns that created America way back when and the politics could get pretty feisty even in those old colonial days. George Washington himself was vilified when running for a second term.
And yet we created a thriving democracy that is still celebrated every Fourth of July.
The ability to handle issues in a civil manner, build on the past, plan for the future, seek compromise in conflict — these are hallmarks of effective governance. Our elections, coming soon, will reflect our judgment of our leaders.
This city that began as a farming community and water stop for the railroad has blossomed into one of our nation’s best small cities. It is among the 30 safest cities in California. There is still a flavor of the small town but it is clearly fading.
Walk around downtown Encinitas on the weekend, day or night, and there’s an excitement that just wasn’t there 20 or 30 years ago. And there will be no going back. Into the future we can expect continued growth, infilling, challenges to infilling and new solutions to new problems as they arise.
Next year there will be a new mayor to meet the challenges and a new State of the City address. The Chamber of Commerce will be the business end of progress as the City Council and mayor will be for the governance of the city.
They all have their work cut out for them. Residents will expect the best from our leadership and trust that they will honor that responsibility.
Ed McFadd is a resident of Encinitas.