Several days ago, I had the honor and pleasure to once again deliver our annual Encinitas State of the City address. This year was even more special as we transition back to in-person events!
Sponsored by the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce and held at our beautiful new Alila Marea Beach Resort, the sold-out celebration was in high spirits as we recalled the challenges and achievements of the past year, and shared a view of what’s to come.
If you’re curious about the State of the City of Encinitas… [SPOILER ALERT!] it’s excellent!
Now for the highlights…
Compassion and resilience during a difficult year
When I think back on this past year, I’m inspired by Encinitas’ unbreakable spirit, sense of community, and how we’ve managed to always come together, stay connected and remain resilient in the face of difficult social conversations and an isolating pandemic.
We united in service to each other, and extended a comforting hand to the most vulnerable in our community. During the pandemic, this included immuno-compromised folks who are most susceptible to the virus, and those without consistent or reliable housing.
Our Safe Parking Program
Our Safe Parking Program is a prime example of providing a safe space for people who find themselves suddenly without shelter to get back on their feet before they fall into street homelessness. I’m in awe of the social workers and staff at Jewish Family Service, who bring help and hope directly to people staying in their cars to help reunite them with family or find roommates, and to access what could be life-changing benefits.
The leaders at the Leichtag Foundation must be thanked for temporarily allowing the use of their agriculturally zoned space to host this 25-spot program. Nearly half of the participants are over 60, and more than 90% have never been homeless before.
The Safe Parking Program is a homeless prevention program, mostly for seniors.
We’re finding more common ground on housing
The statewide housing crisis is deepening and Encinitas is not immune. We all want to protect the charm and prosperity of our town, and we’ve struggled with finding the Encinitas equation – the secret sauce, if you will – to peacefully and productively add new housing.
It’s necessary and possible for us to say “yes” to new housing in Encinitas. Thanks to our innovative and very successful Permit-Ready Accessory Dwelling Unit program, we’ve discovered new ways to thoughtfully, carefully, and less contentiously integrate new homes into our city. So far, 293 accessory dwelling unit permits have been submitted, 40 of which were pre-approved plans provided by our permit-ready program.
For decades, housing has been synonymous with division and disagreement in Encinitas. I’m not suggesting that we’re suddenly in complete agreement on the future of Encinitas housing, but I’m hopeful we can agree that housing is a challenge we need to solve together. People finding a home in the community they love at a price they can afford benefits everyone.
We’re succeeding at moving past the shouting, and are more able than ever to productively discuss housing in Encinitas. Here’s a strong example – on April 7, 2021, the city council adopted its forward-looking housing plan on-time for the first time ever.
As a community that ends at the Pacific Ocean, Encinitas is limited when it comes to new housing opportunities. We need a diversified housing stock with a focus on attainably priced homes. Just because a family can’t afford a multimillion-dollar house, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a place to call home in Encinitas.
Broadening our definition of who’s included is what makes Encinitas exceptional. It is the right thing to do to help make our city and world a better place for all of us.
Preserving our environment
Building a better city and planet is reflected in the progress we’ve made by strengthening our Climate Action Plan. We unanimously backed an aggressive greenhouse gas reduction target – from 41 to 44% of all emissions. And we recently introduced an ordinance to ban natural gas infrastructure in new construction projects.
Last Wednesday, after my State of the City address, I’m happy to report that the Encinitas City Council unanimously approved my resolution supporting U.S. Rep Mike Levin’s bill calling for a ban on new federal offshore oil drilling leases in Southern California.
Helplessly watching the oil spill head south from Orange County into San Diego County makes it more clear than ever that we need to wean ourselves off our dependence on oil, whether that’s in cars or in buildings. There continues to be an unfortunately large amount of tar globs washing up on our Encinitas beaches and into our lagoons.
Our our new energy provider is San Diego Community Power, another key project that reflects our ambitious climate goals. Every home and business in Encinitas is automatically enrolled in 100% renewable energy as the default option. Coupled with other efforts to add more EV-charging stations, redefine new construction standards, not to mention our transportation and mobility initiatives, we’re on track to hit our bold environmental goals.
Our award-winning Cardiff Living Shoreline project is in the national spotlight as a pilot project that looks to nature to build coastal resilience against sea level rise. We were able to rewind damage done to this fragile coastal ecosystem by creating sand dunes that mirror the local ecosystem that my mom remembers growing up here in Cardiff.
The project also introduces new pedestrian walkways and buffered bike lanes, adding a barrier between cyclists and cars, providing more lifesaving space and safety for everyone.
Last February, the Encinitas planning commission approved the installation of the Beacon’s coastal bluff restoration project. Beginning soon, it will stabilize surface soils using native vegetation while increasing coastal bluff habitat.
I firmly believe that projects that benefit our community can and should also result in a positive change to our environment.
Exciting city improvements
Another great project we can be proud of is Leucadia Streetscape and the El Portal undercrossing. The active construction has certainly has had its inconveniences over the last few months, but when completed we will have dramatically and visibly improved North Coast Highway 101 and reclaimed this thoroughfare as the neighborhood road it was meant to be, not the crowded commuter shortcut it has become.
The project includes a safe pedestrian crossing underneath the train tracks at El Portal, while making it easier, cleaner and safer for area residents to get around without needing to rely on cars. We’ll also be adding of hundreds of trees to our urban canopy and introducing new native vegetation.
All of this strengthens and preserves our environment – more trees to absorb greenhouse gases, new biofiltration systems for stormwater, and of course fewer cars.
Some parts of Streetscape are not as visible, but they are just as critical. The stormwater work being done, for instance, will improve our ability to respond to heavy rain, and the flooding we have experienced in previous years could become obsolete.
Encinitas is a safe city
Our safety is always top-of-mind for me. I am proud – but never completely satisfied – that Encinitas continues to be ranked as one of the safest cities in San Diego. In 2020, we were the 17th-safest city in the entire state, according to the Safewise Safest Cities Report (seen above). Our ranking jumped 12 places from last year, for a total 36 spots over just two years. That’s real, tangible improvement you can see and feel.
And it’s brought about by the talented and dedicated team of sheriff’s officers, firefighters, lifeguards and emergency services personnel who risk their lives to keep Encinitas safe, secure and welcoming.
The importance of these first responders cannot be overstated. In addition to their everyday heroics and life-saving duties, they answered the call of COVID and helped protect our community from an insidious and invisible threat.
We’re now working to make sure that all city staff are vaccinated to ensure the highest level of safety when the public interacts with the city’s personnel.
Working with our cherished local businesses
Everyone deserves a fair and equal shot at upward mobility for themselves and their families. For many, that means the chance to start and own their own business, something at the very heart of the American Dream. Encinitas is honored to be home to so many small businesses that are the lifeblood of our town. Our small businesses are the creative, active and energizing fabric that unites this city, and ensures our future.
Last year, city staff and council quickly approved a plan to allow businesses to use outdoor public spaces as extensions of their dining rooms or store floors –and today, this popular policy is still working for Encinitas business and customers.
We’ve supported local businesses with $325,000 in grants to help them keep up with the daily fight to stay open. Owning a small business before COVID was already a challenge, so the city continues to do all it can to support them.
While our recovery is picking up speed, unfortunately some beloved businesses in Encinitas lost their battle for survival. The tenacity and resilience of our business owners, and their hardworking employees and loyal customers, is something to be proud of and celebrated.
Encinitas city finances are safe and solid
Even against the headwinds of COVID, Encinitas’s finances remain robust and sound.
In our last fiscal year, we reported a surplus budget of $9.1 million. We were able to pay down our pension liabilities and invest $14.8 million for important capital improvement projects such as Leucadia Streetscape, El Portal undercrossing, trail and park improvements, facility maintenance, and transportation and safety enhancements. Our reserves remain healthy at $15.8 million, which will allow us to continue to be prepared for economic downtrends and emergencies.
Our prudent financial planning keeps us in a position of strength to implement broader plans and priorities that will improve the lives of our residents and respond to future issues and challenges that will certainly confront us.
Much credit for the success of our city goes to an amazing team of dedicated people. Encinitas Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz and Councilmembers Joe Mosca, Kellie Hinze and Joy Lyndes deserve our appreciation for their thoughtful and dedicated service to Encinitas. I am very grateful for the colleagues I serve with.
And where would we be without the tireless work of the “face of our city” – our city staff? Thanks to their expertise and commitment to our city and our residents, they’re dedicated to getting the job done right.
Lastly but not least-ly, my heartfelt thanks go to you for your support, civic interest, and enthusiasm for making Encinitas the best it can be. Being your mayor is an honor I will never take for granted!