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Challenges, innovation and successes at City Hall


I’m like everyone else.  At some point in my life, I wondered (probably out loud) what is going on back in Washington, D.C. or Sacramento or even City Hall.  Well, I’m the mayor now, and I think I can answer the third one.  So, thanks to the graciousness of this paper’s editor, I would like to share with you in this column some thoughts on our challenges, innovation, and successes we are working on at City Hall.  

The first thing one should know is that we have a very good city staff.  And by good, I mean they are conscientious, dedicated, and forward-thinking.   We are not the highest paying city, so retaining a good staff is a reflection of the staff leadership and the work environment they create.  It’s easy to think of a government organization as anonymous.  But it is not, it is made up of people, and so having good ones is important. And having the forward-thinking trait in one’s resume is especially important because we want Escondido to not just run smoothly, but be the city we want it to be for generations to come. 

Challenges

If you have not heard or didn’t read my last column, you should know the 1 cent sales tax did not pass.  That is going to have an impact on the city’s revenue stream and so we need to go forward with our eyes open.  There is simply less money available, and it’s significant.  This loss of revenue coupled to a reduction in sales tax revenue due to COVID-19 will have an impact in the coming months.  In practical terms, that means we will have to be more creative in our approach—which will be tough because we are bare-bones already in our budget.  Volunteerism and private sector solutions will have even more importance as we go forward. I think as a community we can do it but it won’t be a cake walk.  

Innovation

The city is at work developing a long-term vision.  We would like to say that we are the gold standard for whatever we attempt.  We are looking at creating a more holistic solution to land management.  Creating this vision is a big task because we want it to include our water and energy needs for generations to come.  You should see more on this topic in the coming months, but two things that are worth mentioning at this point are our efforts in homelessness and our developing partnership with SANDAG.  

The North County cities elected leadership created an ad hoc group to work with the two North County supervisors to address homelessness using a more unified approach.  I was elected as the group’s chair and so in concert with the North County cities’ staff, local organizations, and elected members, we just finished our plan for our supervisors to review.  Solving homelessness is not easy.  It is complex and nuanced.  There are laws that one has to follow.  Finding balance, compassion, and funding is not without challenge.  That said, I think the group did a good job capturing and understanding the scope of the issue as well as presenting “doable” solutions that will have impact.

As you may be aware, SANDAG is working on and developing a Public Transportation plan for the county of San Diego. It is called the 5 Big Moves and the briefs are available on the SANDAG website.  Obviously, a project of this size is going to be phased.  Typically, they would start in San Diego, but SANDAG is in discussion with us to do some of its early prototyping in Escondido.  Our downtown offers a great place to transition the concepts to reality.  

Successes

Thanks to our dedicated staff, the City of Escondido was awarded $8.5 million from the California State Parks Department to fund the Escondido Creek Trail Expansion and Renovation Project. Only 9 projects in the entire state received this maximum funding, and we are the only one in San Diego County. The project is currently in the design phase. Construction will be completed by March 2024.

The Project will fund improvements along the 6.2 mile Escondido Creek Trail which runs through the heart of the City from Harmony Grove on the west end to El Caballo Park on the east. Improvements include creating double-sided trails in sections in order to separate wheeled users (on pavement) from walkers and joggers (on DG soft surface), trail fitness stations, passive play areas, water bottle filling stations, wayfinding and educational signage, native drought-resistant landscaping, new park-like fencing, lighting, and identifying areas for art features. Through a separate funding source, improvements will also be made to 10 intersections where the trail crosses the street in order to make these areas safer and more visible for trail users. 

The City is partnering on this project with The Escondido Creek Conservancy, Escondido Education COMPACT, Neighborhood Healthcare, and Urban Corps.

Finally, a community workshop will be held this October and additional opportunities to provide feedback and stay connected on project updates will be made available. For more information visit www.escondido.org/ect.aspx

Summary

As the mayor, I talk with a lot of our residents in a host of ways.  If I could leave you with one thought about those conversations it would be this.  We are fortunate to live in a community where we have so many people who care about our future and who quietly work to ensure our future’s success.   

Mayor McNamara welcomes ideas or issues or questions for him to address in this column. Write him directly at pmcnamara@escondido.org.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

One response to “Challenges, innovation and successes at City Hall”

  1. Stein says:

    While I will admit to being one who voted against the .01 sales tax increase (and did complete the online questionnaire where it asked the same questions over and over, each time asking for less of an increase in an attempt to get a positive response), I also would like some clarification please. The intent (as I recall) was to fund police and fire, among other items deemed essential for the City. While I believe these to be top priority, I did not then, and do not now, believe that this money would have been properly funneled in that direction (I do get upset when folks cannot live within a budget and decide that taxing others to get out of their bind makes sense. Nobody pays me extra if I over spend!). I have recently read that the majority of this increase would have been to cover pension shortfalls within the City.

    If the .01 tax would have passed, what would its primary use have been? I imagine that this will come up again at some point, and I think the citizens of Escondido deserve the truth. To be told “There is simply less money available, and it’s significant. This loss of revenue coupled to a reduction in sales tax revenue due to COVID-19 will have an impact in the coming months” without clarifying what the impact, and to who, seems a bit shady to me.

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