On the last day of February, the city of Escondido held a celebration of the virtues of community when Mayor Sam Abed led more than 450 attendees in the annual State of the City address at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
It was the mayor’s eighth such address, and if he has his way there may be a few more such addresses in the wings.
It began solemnly when the colors were escorted into the chamber by the Escondido Police and Fire Color Guard, which included the awesome wailings of a bagpipe.
The San Pasqual High School Showtime Choir performed the National Anthem.
Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter was master of ceremonies. He introduced dignitaries, including three area mayors, the city council, and all the city of Escondido department heads.
Carter lightened the mood with some topical remarks, including one about the mule that was stolen and returned to its owner a few days earlier. “The last time that happened in Escondido was in 1889,” he quipped. He also joked about how, once again, he was Sam Abed’s “third choice” to be the MC.
Later on, as part of the annual sniping that she and mayor engage in (well, at this event, anyway), councilmember Olga Diaz said it was OK that Chief Carter wasn’t the mayor’s first choice, “Because Sam Abed wasn’t my first choice, either!”
The mayor got the last word in that exchange, saying that he was happy that “I’m the first choice of the voters!”
It was all in good fun.
Each council member presented some of the annual council awards. The recipients are profiled below, after the speech. To see the speech in its entirety, visit: www.escondido.org
State of the City
Mayor Abed recognized the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, for sponsoring the event, the city council and the city’s 1,000 employees, headed by City Manager Jeff Epp and City Attorney Mike McGuinness, Chief Carter, and Fire Chief Rick Vogt.
He declared, “I am honored to have served as your Mayor since 2010 and as your Councilman since 2004. I am so proud to report that the State of our City is absolutely outstanding, dynamic and quite frankly, very inspiring. We have held true to our promise to all of you of delivering a safer, cleaner, and more efficiently run City that is more vibrant and better than ever before. Our city is now a great place to visit, explore, do business and raise a family. We promised you a better city and we delivered a better city!”
He introduced the five-minute video that was produced by city staff.
Afterwards, he began: “Our City Council Action Plan sets the stage for success in Escondido by focusing on core functions of local government: Economic Development, Financial Stability, Public Safety and Neighborhood Improvement. Together, we build a positive image and pride in our community,” said Abed.
“In the area of Economic Development, Escondido has seen unprecedented intense economic growth. We lead our region in business attraction and private investment. This is reflected in thirty-five significant upper scale projects, collectively valued at $1.5 billion that have been approved or going through the approval process,” he said.
Referring to the recent sale of the old hospital by Palomar Health to Integral Communities, he said, “We look forward to working with Integral Communities to develop the Palomar downtown campus to its full economic potential. And Palomar West continues to provide outstanding health care services in Escondido and the region.”
Last year the council approved the “Get to Yes” program, zoning amendments that streamlined the development process. This, “created a minor conditional use permit, moved some public hearing projects from Planning Commission to Planning Director, streamlined the micro-cells permitting process, reduced restrictions for accessory dwelling units, and created incubator opportunities for start-up businesses in our industrial park.”
Building activity was strong and included approving the 380-unit Country Club project by New Urban West Inc., commencement of the 112-unit Latitude II project, continued construction on the 179 homes Canyon Grove development and completing the 65-unit City Plaza project.”
The old police station will soon be replaced by the 126-unit Gateway project, he said.
“Last year, we added 723 net new businesses. And since 2010, we have attracted more than 2,200 net new businesses to the City. Jacked Up Brewing, Escondido Brewing Co., Forgotten Barrel Winery and Gravity Skateboards are just a few of the new businesses that moved to our City last year. Marriott Springhill Suites and the Centerpointe 78 Commercial Center will contribute to our growing tax base. A new 10-acre industrial park will be the future home of Fortune 100 company Veritiv, and Escondido’s agriculture industry continues to expand with the addition of Henry Avocado’s new 52,000 SF headquarters and distribution facility,” he said.
Escondido Disposal Inc. (EDI) partnered with the city to open a 70,000 SF recycling center, while SDG&E built the world’s largest lithium-ion battery energy storage facility in Escondido.
“Finally, just last month, One Stop Systems kicked off 2018 by becoming the first IPO of the year from the San Diego region. Escondido’s economic indicators are doing exceptionally well: unemployment rate is 4.1%, our retail/commercial vacancy is 3.7% and our industrial vacancy is at a record low of 2.4%. Economic prosperity is a promise made and a promise delivered to our community,” said Abed.
The booming economy boosted Sales Tax revenue from $22 million in 2010 to a projected record of $40 million. “This is a result of City Council policies focused on strategic economic growth,” he said.
During the first half of the fiscal year, 15 development plans were approved, and 31 additional active projects received plan reviews. A successful pilot program for expedited plan review was completed and reduced plan check time by 30%, he said.
“Escondido remains a dedicated partner in the unprecedented and dynamic regional collaboration ‘Innovate 78,’ working together to attract capital, jobs and talent to North County,” he said.
Abed declared, “I am proud to say we are rock solid financially! Since 2010 and for seven consecutive years we have balanced our budget without using reserves or raising taxes.” The city ending this year with a surplus, making for eight consecutive balanced budgets. “We turned a $16 million deficit into a $10 million surplus. We maintained a $17 million reserve fund and have plans to grow that reserve.”
The council recently approved a $2 million Section 115 Irrevocable Pension Trust. “I will soon ask the City Council to put an estimated $28 million one-time revenue into the pension and reserve funds to reduce and stabilize our long term pension liability and to continue to provide sustainable services to the general public,” he said.
The city’s policies led to a general obligation bond rating of AA- by Standard and Poor’s. “This . . . makes our City’s bonds more attractive to investors and will help us lower our borrowing cost and save ratepayers millions of dollars over the next 15 years,” he said.
“Public Safety remains a key priority for the City Council. Escondido’s Police and Fire departments are fully staffed,” said Abed. “With our state of the art Police and Fire Headquarters, our own firearms training range, our own SWAT team, and our new and upgraded fire stations, I believe we have the finest public safety departments in the entire County.”
The mayor praised “proactive Community-Oriented Policing” and the 3rd Neighborhood Transformation Project which was completed in the west-end. This program will move to the downtown area in 2018.
Abed noted that the City Council “reaffirmed unanimously our commitment to ban marijuana in our City to protect the health and safety of our community.” Despite California’s Sanctuary State law, “which has made the job of law enforcement more difficult and communities less safe, we will continue to do everything we can under the law to ensure that criminals here illegally, including gang members, will be removed and deported from our City.”
City policies, he said, have reduced crime in the city by 33% since 2010, “and this last year, crime is down another 17%. Auto theft is down 41% just this year.”
He noted that the fire department hosted the CalFire Base Camp at Kit Carson Park during the Lilac Fire. “I am so proud of the response of our firefighters to the tragic fire in the Greencrest Mobilehome Park last year. Escondido Fire Department partnered with Rincon Del Diablo Water District, the American Red Cross and the Burn Institute to provide free smoke alarms and installation for 1,000 residents. “We promised you a safer city and we delivered a safer city,” he said.
He praised “neighborhood improvement” and noted that sports tourism is thriving (the city hosts 35 local, regional and national sports tournaments annually,) and San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Stone Brewing Company, the second and third largest tourist destinations in North County, attract over two million visitors annually.
“When Stone Brewing Company submits their plans to build a new hotel, the City promised to approve their application in 60 short days. We are proud to have such a successful business here in Escondido,” he said.
The Pavement Management program resurfaced 94-lane miles of streets, the city added 5-miles of bike lanes and the 7-mile bike path in our City will soon be completed. “And finally, the $10 million Bear Valley/E. Valley project will soon be completed to provide traffic congestion relief in East Escondido,” he said.
He praised the city’s private and public schools and colleges, including Heritage Charter and the Classical Academy, and John Paul the Great Catholic University.
The mayor listed some of the challenges facing the city, including the “surging homeless population” which he attributed “directly to state bad policies like AB109, Propositions 47 and 57, releasing hundreds of criminals from State prisons to our neighborhoods and local jails. 33% of our homeless population today are either on probation, parole, or have severe mental illness or substance abuse.”
He praised the city’s partnership with and $.5 million investment with Interfaith Community Services, and another $2.1 million with Solutions for Change to build 33 transitional housing units for homeless families. “These significant investments are in addition to our $35,000 annual funding for North County Regional Solutions for the Interfaith Haven House year-round homeless shelter,” he said.
“Our City Manager has established Police, Code Enforcement, and Public Works teams to address the issue as well. Our Police Department COPPS team partnered with several health and human services agencies to provide much needed counseling support, particularly to our veterans. COPPS also began a reunification program and has united several homeless with their families.”
He pointed out that “Escondido was one of the first cities to implement pension reform at the lowest level allowed by the State. Even then, the pension obligation continues to skyrocket. A recent PERS projection lowering the return on investment from 7.5% to 7%, will dramatically increase Escondido’s annual obligation from $20 million this year to an estimated $38 million annually in 2022. Between pension, health care, salaries and benefits, our cost of doing business will increase by $40 million in the next four years. The state has to solve this unsustainable model and move from defined benefits to defined contributions. The pension cost will soon force many cities in California to limit services to just public safety.”
Looking forward, Abed said that Springhill Suites at La Terraza will open this year. “I believe the Stone Hotel near Stone Brewing will become a reality. We are excited to start transforming the old downtown hospital into a great urban living development.”
He promised an additional $3 million a year to street maintenance. “The city is spending $300 million over the next twenty years to improve and expand our water delivery system including a state of the art recycled water facility at Ash and Washington to provide more competitive water rates to 3,000 acres of agricultural land and 125 farmers in Escondido.
“At City Hall, we streamlined our agenda management process by ‘going paperless.’ Within the next 60 days, we will roll out a new online Utility Billing System. We are also very excited to be working on an online renewal process for business licensing,” said Abed.
” I also want to see us become a Smarter city, providing real time civic engagement, like the Report It application, to more effectively address service calls. Escondido has been on the forefront of using technology and innovation to enhance online services, reduce cost and engage people more actively. We continue to evaluate and assess our readiness to innovate, ensure connectivity and create public/private partnerships. Technology will be a catalyst in our journey for adaptive sustainable change and provide creative solutions to advance our strategic priorities.”
He said that, for the first time, the city has developed an actual draft policy for a future Business Park at I-15 & HW 78 to attract technology companies.
The mayor concluded, “In closing, my resolution for our community for this year is to reflect on the values that made America a great country. A resolution inspired by the values entrusted to us by our Founding Fathers, values that we all share as Americans, values of tolerance, understanding, respect and love. Respect and love each other, our neighbors, our friends and our families.
“The America that I immigrated to 30 years ago is not the same today. With a new year upon us, we should count our blessings and cherish the wonderful country we have. Let us commit to embrace all the things that unite us and bring us together as one country, one community, one neighborhood and one family.”
The following awards were given out:
Ashley Grncarevski – Youth
Ashley Grncarevski is 14 years old and is in the 8th grade at Rincon Middle School. For the past three years, Ashley has diligently focused on a variety of volunteer efforts to help those in need here in Escondido including blanket drives, collecting items for the Escondido Humane Society and serving monthly meals to residents of Serenity House.
This past year, Ashley was crowned Miss Teen Escondido Princess and received the pageant’s “City Spirit” award for her philanthropic work. In just the last several months since she has been Miss Teen Escondido Princess, Ashley has organized a backpack drive for local elementary schools and a blanket drive for seniors at Redwood Terrace.
Ashley is an inspiring young woman who serves as an example to young people everywhere with her generous spirit and hard work helping those in need.
Barak Smith – Education
Barak Smith is a Digital Art and Photography teacher at Classical Academy. He was nominated by one of his students, who describes him as a “phenomenal” teacher who “engages his students and allows them the freedom to pursue their passions in photography. He helps them make creative decisions and supports the failures, learning and growth that come along with learning this art form.”
Smith helped create the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s CARE program, which brings art to Title 1 elementary schools across the county, and taught art at the university level prior to coming to Classical Academy. He continues to work with many San Diego organizations creating art curriculum for Qualcomm, LUXE Art Institute, College Board, and Cal Coast Academy, to name a few.
Cynthia Weir – Arts Leadership
Cynthia Weir has been a dedicated contributor to the Escondido arts community for many years and is one of the founding members of the California Center for the Arts. In 2012 she began serving on the Arts Center’s Board of Trustees, and has been the Board Chair since 2016.
Weir’s passion to enhance the Escondido community extends past her involvement with the Arts Center, and she has been an ardent supporter of countless other local philanthropic efforts.
Forgotten Barrel Winery, Presented to Rodger Grove
If you are familiar with Escondido’s history, then you are familiar with Ferrara Winery. The Ferrara family is the oldest grape-growing, wine-making family in San Diego County. For the several decades following Prohibition, Ferrara was a prominent winery on Escondido’s west side. Unfortunately, business and production at the Ferrara Winery declined around the early 2000s, and the winery closed permanently in 2008.
In March of 2016, Rodger Grove purchased the Ferrara Winery property with the purpose of bringing the historic winery back into operation as the new home of Forgotten Barrel Winery.
Mr. Grove has done substantial restoration to the property, and has passionately focused on preserving its historic nature. Forgotten Barrel Winery officially opened in June of 2017, welcoming visitors back into the original Ferrara Winery tasting room that had been dark for many years. Forgotten Barrel Winery produced their first wine at their new facility last fall, and the label proudly touts the historic Escondido property as its home.
In addition to its winery, Forgotten Barrel is also heavily active in volunteer efforts. They are strong supporters of the Escondido History Center, and have participated in the 2017 Grape Day Festival, the City sponsored Wine Tasting at Cruisin’ Grand, and dozens of community events.
Marty Tiedeman – Arts
Marty Tiedeman has been involved in Escondido’s arts community for over twenty years. She co-founded Artists Gallery, the first co-op gallery in Escondido. There she established the Honor our Veterans show, which is a visual tribute to the military and all who have served in the armed forces throughout history.
Tiedeman created and ran the DreamAbility show for 17 years, which was an incredible showcase display of original artwork by professional artists with personal physical and mental challenges. Additionally, Marty was on the Board of Directors for First Night Escondido, was one of the community members who spearheaded the construction of the Military Tribute & Wall of Courage in Grape Day Park and has served on the City’s Public Art Commission for the last six years.
Stephanie Shumate – “Beyond the Call”
Stephanie Shumate is the owner of Blue Mug Coffee and Tea on El Norte Parkway in North Escondido.
Being a small business owner is a risky endeavor that takes a lot of hard work and long hours, often for very little payoff. Despite this, Shumate has become a tireless supporter of the Escondido Police Department and the Escondido Police Athletic League through countless donations of refreshments over the past several years.
Refusing to accept any payment, she catered the funeral service for Escondido Police Officer Laura Perez and memorial services for Escondido police officers’ children. She sets up a collection box every year in her shop to collect toys for the Escondido PD annual children’s Christmas party, and adds many of the donations herself. She has donated many hours, and volunteered her teenage boys, to help out with the Escondido Police Athletic League and also hosted a successful fundraiser at her shop for fallen officers in Palm Springs. She is someone our public safety community respects and admires tremendously.
Tom Hawthorne – Mayor’s Leadership Award (Presented by Mayor Abed)
Tom Hawthorne was born in Houston, served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, flying B-29s in the Korean War. The Hawthorne family business legacy and success spanned 50 years in San Diego and expanded internationally under Tom’s leadership. He has been awarded the prestigious Golden Beaver Award.
Tom and his late wife Dorothy helped in the areas of education, contributing to the Diesel Technology Center at Miramar College. Made half million dollars to open the Hawthorne Veterans and Family Resource center here in Escondido to provide services for 20 homeless veterans in partnership with Palomar Health.
Hawthorne serves on the boards of Sea World, the Associated General Contractors of America, and is a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts of America and Interfaith Community Services. Tom was appointed by the governor and served as Chairman of the California Transportation Commission.
Tom Hawthorne is an ordained minister and active in his church, a prominent and humble businessman and a generous philanthropist. He is a shining example of a servant leader in Escondido for the last 58 years.
Sara Slade – Community
Sara Slade was unable to attend to accept her Community Award.
Slade was nominated for a City Council award because of her hard work in helping people in need. For three years she managed the Escondido Friends Giving Tree Facebook page, which leveraged social media and the local community to match up those in need with community members willing to help. Subsequent to that, she managed the Hearts Aplenty of North County Facebook page, which provide a similar service to the community but on a larger scale.
She is known for her unending generosity, regularly providing low-income families with clothing, blankets and baby necessities. She has successfully fundraised for a program that provides diapers and formula to families facing financial hardship at no cost.
In addition to her work for low-income families, she has volunteered countless hours with the Special Olympics, having a special connection to the games as she is the parent of a special needs child herself.
Sara is an inspiring example of selfless giving.