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State of the City: Mayor cautiously optimistic about leaving COVID behind

This year’s State of the City address, usually given to a packed hall of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, was instead delivered remotely at the beginning of Wednesday’s night’s city council meeting.

It was an introduction to a short video chronicling the year in Escondido produced by the city’s staff and which is posted to the City’s YouTube channel, its website, and social media.

Mayor Paul McNamara’s address, “albeit abridged,” was shaped, as have been all of our lives, by life in the time of COVID. “If I were to name these past 12 months, I would call them the Year of COVID 19,” said the mayor. “Because it was just about this time last year during the last state of the city that we started to feel the impact of a pandemic that up until this point had been a news story in another country.”

He continued, “So, I would like to begin by offering on behalf of the city council and all of the staff, our heartfelt condolences to all of our neighbors who lost someone to this terrible pandemic. While words cannot heal the sorrow you have felt, please know, you who have suffered have been in our thoughts and prayers from the very beginning. In addition, our policies and actions have been designed to relieve the suffering this crisis has caused within our power.”

A Silver Lining

The mayor continued, “It is no secret that many have suffered this past year -physically, emotionally, and financially. However, there is a silver lining. Our residents and our city have fought back and not laid down. We have demonstrated innovation, the power of community, and a spirit that I think makes Escondido the place we all love to live-in. If this crisis were a test, I think we would have passed it with flying colors. And these are not just the words of encouragement from your mayor, but in the following film you will see a city that in a very dark hour, actually beamed very brightly.”

McNamara added, “The examples you will see shortly are a testament to the character of our community. I think they honor those who went before us who faced the challenges of their time and overcame them. I also think you will see that this collective character of our city portends great promise for our bright future. Cities, communities, and friendships can only be built on solid values. And like all things, the strength of a value is determined under adverse conditions. Well, I am pleased to report that the city of Escondido and its residents have values of the highest rating.”

After the film, McNamara concluded, “I think you would agree that was an inspiring film. It tangibly reminded us that we can overcome and adapt to adversity. And that this pandemic will not last forever.”

Ideas and Projects

McNamara said, “Well, it wasn’t just our neighbors and small business owners who were moving forward during this crisis. It was our city as well. So now, I would like to update you about some ideas and projects we are working on. A number of them were started before the pandemic and candidly, the crisis slowed us down as other priorities took precedence, but it didn’t stop us.”

Agriculture

“We’ve had a number of meetings about the future of the Ag industry in Escondido,” he said. “And what can the city do in its long range planning to facilitate the success of this industry that is over 2 billion dollars in North County? It is not only our roots, but Agriculture in general is part of our culture. We want to preserve those values of community, hard work, and environmental stewardship that come with it.”

Mountain View Park

“ We’ve had a number of discussions about the park’s future whose ideas have been presented in Council meetings,” he said. “But we’ve also had discussions with local residents and volunteers to transform the two city buildings adjacent to the park. Right now, we are looking at an Ag museum/Learning center with touchpoints to education. We expect that it will have a community feel to it with community gardens available and other amenities that support education.”

Ag Tech Research

He then spoke about research and ag. “Research- Coupled to the Agricultural theme is Ag Tech and the associated research. We’ve had several meetings with representatives of the UC system as well as Federal representatives regarding initiating AG Tech research in the city. While these discussions are still in their infancy, we have had a positive response, and remain hopeful that we can bring this concept to fruition.”

Land Management

On the subject of Environment/Development McNamara declared,  “One of the challenges of any city is land management. To that end we have worked closely with environmental organizations, developers and even SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) to ensure we are on the right path for our city of the future that meets our housing needs but not at the expense of the environment.”

Homelessness

McNamara called homelessness: “One of the most difficult issues we have.” He continued, “Finding the balance between the rights of the homeless person, their needs, and the rights of the property owners is not a trivial task. As the lead—but in partnership with—other North County cities, we just completed a comprehensive plan to address this issue. The plan is being reviewed at the county level. We are hopeful that we can move forward in continuing to engage the business community in the solution and addressing more robustly this challenge.”

Economic Development

“Recruiting and encouraging businesses to locate in Escondido has not stopped in spite of the pandemic,” said McNamara. “Our staff has been successful in growing new businesses like BackPack Jacks, Daydream, and Kismet Distillery, attracting businesses like Drive Up Comedy, and supporting new businesses to open like Good Omen Mead, Off the Grid, and very soon Barrel Republic and there are more in the works.”

He concluded, “This effort is important because it is not only jobs but conveys a sense of confidence in our future from the outside. In summary, I know this was just a sampling of what is going on. But I thought it was important that our residents were aware that despite the doors being closed there was a lot of activity in work. We will survive this pandemic. Our future is bright and we are fortunate to live in Escondido. God bless you all.”

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