This is the time of year when I contemplate the ups and downs of the previous 12 months as your mayor. And, on balance, I’m feeling great about what we’ve all accomplished.
As time passes, I understand more deeply what it means to serve in this role. Author and cultural observer Malcolm Gladwell famously said that to master any major ambition, you’ve got to have clocked at least 10,000 hours of practice in pursuit of it. And it helps to have a passion and a knack for it, of course.
After nearly five years serving you in local elected office, I’ve got those hours under my belt, and I’ll share with you an insight I’ve discovered. When we’re performing at our best, we’re working to solve the great moral and practical problems that face our community, while simultaneously inspiring the action and collaboration of our citizens.
What we strive to avoid is spinning our wheels with too much talk and rhetoric but no action. Or perpetual disagreement and analysis paralysis.
I believe people trust a process they can see. Integrating valuable public collaboration with the need to take definitive action creates forward motion. This artful balance is what I think Encinitas does so well.
Together with the city’s talented team of City Councilmembers and our dedicated and knowledgeable city staff, we have worked to provide the leadership that forms the foundation of our achievements. We’re never completely satisfied, though, and are always striving to improve.
Here’s my Top Five list of the accomplishments we’ve achieved together in 2019:
#1 Finally, a housing plan
For the first time, Encinitas has a state-approved housing plan. This ends the costly, wasteful lawsuits, charts a course forward for our city’s housing and gets the state off our back. I can’t overstate the importance of this feat, or the amount of time, money, and energy it took to get us here.
One way that Encinitas is saying “yes” to more housing is through granny flats, or accessory dwelling units (ADU). We won a prestigious statewide award this year and lots of recognition for our multi-pronged program. Shown above is a look from last May showing granny flats located in Encinitas, demonstrating that they are feasible nearly everywhere in the city.
#2 Community Choice Energy
Encinitas created a new Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to supply local, renewable energy to residents and businesses through Community Choice Energy (CCE). We’re in the vanguard here, helping lead the county with our environmental commitments. Forming this organization addresses climate change on the local level and gives residents an alternative power source. Plus, our very own Encinitas City Councilmember Joe Mosca, shown in the center of the photo above, was chosen by his peers to serve as chair of the newly named San Diego Community Power!
#3 Leucadia 101 improvements and pedestrian undercrossing
We secured approval from the Coastal Commission (and every other possible regulatory body!) to build the city’s largest current infrastructure improvement, overhauling Highway 101 through downtown Leucadia and building the first railroad undercrossing in Leucadia at El Portal (see artist’s rendering above). Construction is slated to start next year. The collaboration, negotiation and compromises associated with getting this project over the finish line were monumental and intense throughout 2019.
#4 The Cardiff Rail Trail and more
We opened the long-awaited 1.3 mile Coastal Rail Trail in Cardiff, quieted the train horns there, added beach dunes and native habitat along the beach and Highway 101, and made it easier and safer to cross the railroad tracks and the road. It required a lot of drive, patience, and coordination between city, county, and state agencies. This is some expensive, once-in-a-generation infrastructure, folks!
#5 Proactively addressing our homeless issues
(Photo courtesy of the Jewish Family Service Safe Parking Program.)
We’re getting in front of the homeless problem that is coming to every city.
The most common misperception I hear is that cities invite or welcome homeless people to move into their community by the programs that are created to help them. This is entirely untrue. The data shows that people become homeless in the cities in which they already live and work.
A city can choose to ignore the problem as it steadily gets worse with more people on the streets and the attendant problems – tent cities, communicable diseases like Hepatitis A and environmental degradation in canyons and riverbeds, or a city can see what’s coming and get in front of it.
This year the City of Encinitas commissioned a homelessness plan and took meaningful action by approving the next steps for an agreement to open the city’s first Safe Parking lot for 25 pre-vetted participants who have lost their homes, but still own a car, so that they can get back on their feet.
Becoming homeless is not a direct, one-step process. The road to homelessness starts, most commonly, with a precipitating financial event (job loss, family death or illness, medical bills) that results in people unable to pay their rent or mortgage and losing their homes, then people stay with friends or family, in and out of motels, living in their cars until they lose the car and then to ultimately living on the street. The Safe Parking Lot provides services to people to get them back into housing before they fall into street homelessness.
For more info, here’s a link to my Safe Parking newsletter from November 24.
Exploring California’s past to build a better future
This year I set out to learn more about California history. And it’s a conflicted history, to say the least. But I feel the more I learn about our past, the better leader I can become.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Diego. The events in recognition of our county’s history are collectively called San Diego 250: Where California Began and commemorate the first permanent Spanish settlement in what is now California.
Essentially the entire state of California was “founded” in San Diego in 1769, when Father Junipero Serra established the first of 21 missions, the Mission San Diego de Alcala, overlooking what is now Old Town State Historic Park in San Diego.
The issue of whether this 250-year recognition is a “commemoration, condemnation or celebration” has been carefully navigated by many, especially after previous annual San Diego commemorations were criticized as being culturally insensitive.
And to some, the entire notion of a “founding” is troubling.
“Although settlers continue to replicate and replay these ‘foundings,’ and in so doing, perform a public display of historical amnesia, the real issue that needs to be examined is why there is still a need in 2019 for the dominant culture to re-assert and maintain its fictious sense of primacy and entitlement to the land.”
– Dr. Theresa Gregor, from “Decolonizing San Diego History: An Iipay Reflection on the Context and Impact of 1769,” which appeared in the Journal of San Diego History, published by the San Diego History Center, a Smithsonian affiliate that is one of the oldest and largest historical organizations on the west coast.
One of the main goals of the interesting essays in the journal, and the events at the commemoration, was to assert and re-affirm the importance of the Native American presence on the Kumeyaay’s ancestral homeland.
The commemorations that I’ve witnessed this year, like the event shown above at the Junipero Serra Museum in Presidio Park, have attempted to critically examine the legacy of the mission period, particularly as it relates to those who were displaced – namely the Kumeyaay Native Americans. Events have included Heritage Weekend, a Scholar’s Symposium, and the landing of a replica of the tall ship San Antonio, among other events.
Understanding history is critical to understanding the present, in my opinion, and vital to charting the course for the future.
The “founding” stories for me bring up one of the most insightful quotes from “This American Life” radio host Ira Glass: “Great stories happen to those who can tell them.” I’ve reflected on this sentiment hundreds of times in my life because in reality, great stories and remarkable experiences are happening to people every day regardless of whether they can give them voice.
But as history moves forward, whether that’s in families or in larger society, unless someone knows how to tell the story, it becomes lost. This is what the Kumeyaay and other native groups are struggling to accomplish when they try to “decolonize history” by telling their stories.
I’m currently reading the book The Browns of California: The Family Dynasty that Transformed a State and Shaped a Nation, about the lineage of Pat Brown (former governor), Jerry Brown (two-time former governor) and Kathleen Brown (governor-hopeful).
I’m struck that in reading about our state’s past, the stories – the narratives, the problems, the strivings for a better world – are so cyclical. We have had decades of anti-tax movements, immigrant fears, struggles to combat poverty and racism, opposition to growth and development, efforts to better the environment, strife relating to the labor force. Jerry Brown’s first speeches could be the speeches of today.
While it’s tempting to feel cynical about the repetitive nature of society’s problems, I believe that the takeaway for all of us is to share our stories and listen to each others’ stories. That’s how we make progress, no matter how incremental.
We can accomplish anything when our collective stories include everyone.
In service, and in reflection on that service,
P.S. Speaking of the first European settlers…
This week I joined my son’s fifth grade class on a field trip to Cabrillo National Monument, built in honor of Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, the first European to land on the west coast of America in 1542 (see photo above). It also features San Diego’s first lighthouse, put into service in 1855, stunning tidepools and sweeping views of the south bay area. This is one of the only national monuments in San Diego County and is well worth a visit.