Escondido is a growing, thriving, well-run city, if you ask the Hidden City’s best pitchman, Mayor Sam Abed.
“Our city enjoys one of the most vibrant economies in San Diego,” he told the gathering in his speech at the State of the City event at the California Center for the Arts on Wednesday, February 24.
“Today we have 25 significant residential developments on 1,800 housing units, upscale retail and commercial properties that are being built or going through the development process,” said the mayor.
Abed said the building surge is valued at nearly $1 billion, adding,“That is billion with a B.”
More: “The private sector’s confidence is stronger than ever. Between 2010 and 2014 we attracted 500 net new businesses. Last year alone, we brought another 450 net new businesses to Escondido, creating hundreds of new jobs.”
The mayor said city government was delivering on promises in four categories: Economic Development, Financial Stability, Public Safety and Neighborhood Improvement.
On local economy
Under development he noted that Westfield North County has attracted a Black Angus Restaurant that opened in October and is adding an upscale movie theater and 24-hour FitnessCenter.
He said tourism, a “significant part of Escondido’s diverse economy,” brought in an 8 percent increase in hotel taxes due to successful promotion by the city’s Visit Escondido campaign.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park led the way with “a banner year … with 1.5 million visitors,” Abed said.
The internationally known craft beer maker Stone Brewery (formerly Stone Brewing Co.) was the third best destination in North County. The Escondido based business is the ninth largest craft brewery in the nation, and is building a brewery in Germany.
“Our historic downtown is full of specialevents and activities,” Abed said. “Last year the Downtown Business Association launched its first ever Tamale Festival in Grape Day Park, which was an instant hit.”
He hailed new downtown businesses that are “Cruisin’ Grand”: Cute Cakes, Burger Bench, and Wooden Spoon. “In addition to the Children’s Museum and the History Center, families can now enjoy the amazing Roynon Museum of Science and Paleontology,” he said.
Along with the increase in “Transient Occupancy” or hotel taxes, the city’s sales take has increased from $22 million in 2010 to $34 million in2015. The city’s budget came out $26,000 in the black and has had an $8 million surplus over the past five years and has a reserve of $17 million today.
“Our successful financial policy, five year financial plan and our current reserve balance at 19 percent of the General Fund have improved our general obligation bond rating to AA- by Standard and Poor’s last year,” Abed said.
Public safety matters
Abed shared some bad news: “San Diego County faces challenges attributed to Assembly Bill 109, which has released hundreds of criminals fromstate prisons to our neighborhoods and local jails,” he said.
Proposition 47 lowered the punishment for many non-violent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, which will put more criminals on the street, according to Abed.
“This year the Governor (Jerry Brown) will likely introduce sentencing restructuring laws that will add to the challenges to crime reduction this year,” he said.
Community-oriented policing and a second Neighborhood Transformation Project “in the urban area” and the East Valley Business Association has been revived “to help create a better business environment,” said the mayor.
The Fire Department hired an EmergencyPreparedness Manager last year and will work with the Public Works Department on being ready for fire, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.
The Fire Department received $626,000 last year for training and equipment, the mayor noted.
The city is working on infrastructure projects, including the “final stretch” of Valley Center Road, which was partly funded by $800,000 donation from the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians.
North County city officials are working with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to improve freeways, including the widening of the Hwy 78, I-15 and I-5 freeways.The city is also seeking grants to fund an extension of Citracado Parkway to link the 78 and I-15 freeways. The mayor and mayors of Vista, Carlsbad, Oceanside and San Marcos formed the “Innovate 78” to work toward widening and improving the 78 Corridor.
Mayor takes a bow
The mayor said culture is on tap in Escondido with the California Center for the Arts, the Escondido Arts Partnership and Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden at Kit Carson Park. Nearly 300,000 visitors are expected at the Center for the Arts alone.
Near theconclusion of his remarks, Mayor Abed said: “As my favorite president Ronald Reagan once said, ‘America is too great for small dreams.’ So is Escondido.
“Our big dreams should be inspired by our social and economic potentials and not by our limitations. When we work together, we can make our dreams a reality.”
“Let’s build a city driven by values, optimism and faith, where work and family are at the center of our lives and the foundation of our dignity.”
He ended with a quote by Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give.”