Mayor Sam Abed
February 20, 2013
Good morning Escondido and thank you all for attending our third State of the City Address. Thank you to the Escondido Chamber of Commerce for co-sponsoring this event. Thank you to all of our sponsors for your support. Special thanks to my longtime friend, George Chamberlain, for emceeing this event. Listen to George’s “Money Matters” radio program every Sunday. Congratulations to the awards recipients, we are very grateful to your generous contributions to our city. And finally, thank you to Mona, my wife of 34 years and my two daughters, Linda and Julie, for their support as well.
The beautiful pictures you have been watching this morning capture the spirit of our great city and its history. The video you are about to watch highlights our successes last year. 2012 was an incredible year for Escondido.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to have served as Escondido’s Mayor since 2010 and your councilman since 2004. I am also very humbled today to tell you that the positive state of our city and the bright future ahead of us is inspired by the strong support we continue to receive from you and the entire community. The progress we have made and the success we have achieved in taking the city in a new direction is also driven by the leadership of my City Council colleagues and their unwavering commitment to deliver on the ambitious goals set in the City Council Action Plan. We will not rest until we restore Escondido’s position as a vibrant city, playing a prominent role in North County economic growth. Only then we can provide a better future for all who live in Escondido.
As you know, we have been working very hard to make significant changes at City Hall. We will continue to work every day to restore traditional values in managing our city. This morning I will share with you the progress we made last year, my strategic plan to address the challenges still facing our city. I will also outline my aggressive goals that will lead Escondido to economic prosperity.
I am truly very proud of our accomplishments of fiscal discipline, smaller government, increased efficiency, streamlined regulations and a transparent city hall. These fundamental reforms are making our city a sustainable model for local government, Escondido was profiled last year by the League of California Cities highlighting our success stories of good governance across the state.
Keeping a major promise, we balanced our budget the past two years, after four years of deficit spending, saving tax payers millions of dollars, while maintaining the level of service stated in our general plan. We have downsized government and integrated advanced technology to improve efficiency. The pension reform we implemented, praised by the San Diego Taxpayers Association, will reduce cost and long-term funding liability and helped us meet our goal of financial stability without raising your taxes.
We have restored competitive wages and benefits with all our city employee groups. And our City hall is now open 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday to provide better service to the general public. The East Valley branch library has been reopened as a technology and internet center to provide better educational opportunities to East Escondido. I want to thank Cox communications for partnering with us to make this happen. Our main library has also received additional funding to improve services and start the design of our future new library.
Technology and innovation have been integrated into our information systems, website and social media to better connect with the general public and increase transparency in government. According to Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm, technology will have a greater impact on our lives, San Diego will soon move to a wireless education, wireless health and yes a wireless government. Escondido needs to be in the forefront of advanced technology for us to succeed.
I have engaged the general public on policy discussion and gathered valuable feedback from our two Town Hall meetings held last year and learned more about the issues our citizens and businesses face in their daily lives. I will continue to hold theses meeting to address the issues that you our citizens and businesses deeply care about.
Economic development remains our top priority. I have tremendously enjoyed making many business visits in our city to learn more about the issues our businesses face, and to provide assistance to make sure they are successful in Escondido. Confidence in our city is accelerating; we have attracted more than $200 million in new private investments and created over 1000 new jobs last year. Public investment was strong too, including the new $1 billion Palomar Medical Center, the $2.5 million dollar Maple Street Plaza, and the $41 million Nordahl Bridge project that was build and funded by the cities of Escondido and San Marcos as well as SANDAG and Caltrans. Palomar College is also spending $9 million to upgrade the Escondido campus.
The cities of Escondido, Carlsbad, Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista have developed an unprecedented collaborative relationship to create a regional economic development plan and we are now hiring a consultant to create an identity and brand to position North County as a regional destination for capital, businesses and visitors. These projects, as well as the Economic Development Master Plan we approved last summer and the General Plan Update passed by the voters last November, will be at the core of our success in bringing new jobs to Escondido. A thriving business environment stimulates business expansion, strengthens our economic base, adds more services and generates more revenues to our city. However, I remain concerned about the financial crisis and the burden of over regulation imposed by Washington and Sacramento.
A federal government in denial of a $16.5 trillion in debt and over $1 trillion borrowed every year to cover deficit spending is a government heading to a financial collapse.
A State, like California with the second worst tax and business climate in the nation, according to Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, continues to have a $6 billion deficit after $6 billion tax increase and a $38 billion in debt, is a state destined to fail. And with five cities in California in bankruptcy and more to come, I have more cheerful news about your local government, ladies and gentlemen, Escondido is in a much better shape with a brighter financial outlook. We have balanced our budget and turned around a $7 million deficit to over $4 million surplus in 2012. Additional revenue has been allocated to restore core city services such as public safety and opening Friday at City hall. We have also built a healthy $23 million reserve and economic development fund, Escondido has retained Its A+ bond rating.
The good news is our financial stability is also benefiting from a modest improval in our economy. We have now recovered $7 million in sales tax out of the $13 million we lost during the recession. Our sale tax revenues are now $28 million, $5 million less than the $33 million we had in 2006. But we still have to deal with the elimination of the Redevelopment Agency.
We recognize that the strength of our city goes beyond economic development. There is a strong connection between our quality of life and the local economy. A clean and healthy environment, recreational facilities, good working and living conditions, quality health care and education, retaining local businesses and attracting capital investment are also vital to stimulating economic growth. To that end, we have been devoting resources to the Escondido Creek Master Plan and making improvements to our parks, the Sports Center and Daley Ranch as well as the allocation of $50 thousand to develop the Caballo Park Master Plan.
We are also building capital to upgrade our water and wastewater infrastructure to provide reliable services to our residents, businesses and the agricultural sector in Escondido. We have spent $5 million on repaving roads to improve city’s appearance. We also are capitalizing on the success we have in partnering with the 17 community groups to improve our neighborhoods. Our goal of urban renewal and the development of our historic downtown as a regional destination will remain as strong as ever. Our efforts to restore Escondido’s image as an attractive place to visit, do business and raise a family have already made a big difference. Our partnership with the Escondido Chamber of Commerce in marketing “Visit Escondido” as a tourism destination has already delivered tangible results.
The analysis conducted in the creation of our Economic Development Master Plan increased our awareness to how critical education is to our success and prosperity. I want to recognize the school districts for their excellent efforts to improve the quality of education in our city. The Del Lago Academy, will soon provide a unique educational opportunity for high school students. I also would like to recognize the Escondido Charter High School and the Classical Academy for their outstanding achievements and the honorable State and National recognitions they both received.
Public Safety has always been a top priority of mine. Fire Station 4 at Kit Carson Park has been completed on time and on budget. We also fulfilled our promise to the voters by fully staffing Fire Station 6 using an innovative and cost effective operating model. With that, we have now fully implemented the $84M Public Safety Bond passed in 2004, and we are returning nearly $400 thousand from the bond back to taxpayers.
In the area of crime, a 29% decrease in crime since 2004 has made Escondido a safer city. The community task force established to create a family environment at Grape Day Park and the downtown district has been very successful. But more work needs to be done. I am very pleased to announce that we are now hiring more police officers to continue to aggressively fight crime and gangs. This is particularly important after the state’s decision, under the realignment law, to reduce the prison population, since that would eventually release 2500 criminals to the San Diego region. Our successful police policies, including Traffic Safety Check Points and our partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be maintained and strengthened. Theses effective policies resulted in the arrests or deportation of 1047 criminals since May 2010. We have also implemented the E-Verify federal program to ensure employment eligibility at City hall and urge all businesses to do the same.
As your mayor, I am very proud of our diversity. And I take my responsibility very seriously to bring our community together. We need to promote a spirit of collaboration and work toward our common goals of public safety, cultural values and economic prosperity. These goals are shared by all of us regardless of color or ethnicity. We need to embrace this inclusive approach focusing on our mutual interests, building on the strength of our diversity and growing as one united community under the rule of law. As a united community, working together with shared interests in achieving the American dream, a promise inspired by the greatness of America, then each of us in Escondido will have the opportunity to succeed and provide a better life for ourselves and our families. I am deeply committed to making this happen.
The positive changes we have made would not have been possible without the involvement and support of many community leaders here today. You have been more engaged than ever before. I want to thank my Economic Advisory Board for their contributions in helping us shape our strategic goals. Special thanks to all who serve on our Boards and Commissions, and to the hundreds of volunteers who give of their time and talent, and to the nonprofit organizations who provide a safety net to the needy people in our city.
I also want to thank our 1,000 city employees for serving our community, with special thanks to the city manager’s staff. I also want to recognize our dedicated departments’ heads: Mark Becker, Sheryl Bennett, Ed Domingue, Diane Halverson, Fire Chief Mike Lowry, Joyce Masterson, Chris McKinney, Acting Police Chief Cory Moles, Barbara Redlitz, Gil Rojas, and Assistant City Manager Charlie Grimm. A great deal of appreciation to our City Manager Clay Phillips and our City Attorney Jeff Epp for a job well done. They have successfully implemented the city council policies and adapted to new ideas in managing city government today.
My priorities for 2013 are crystal clear: Build our economy, focus on 4 key areas:
Economic Growth, Public Safety, Neighborhood Improvements, Fiscal Management
For Economic Growth, my emphasis will be on:
- Implementing our Comprehensive Economic Development Master Plan
- Collaborating with North County mayors on our Regional Economic Plan
- Preparing our business park for development to accelerate job creation
- Developing a marketing plan to attract capital and promote Escondido
- Establishing proactive annexation policy for the new 500 acres approved by Prop N
Under Public Safety, we must:
- Continue to address Police and Fire staffing levels
- Maintain and strengthen existing police and fire policies
- Expand targeted community policing to the entire urban core
For Neighborhood Improvement, I am committed to
- Develop an urban renewal plan to improve our aging neighborhoods
- Restore proactive code enforcement to improve city appearance
- Create a more vibrant and appealing Downtown
- Maintain and improve recreation facilities, programs and parks
- Expand the city’s collaboration with our 17 Neighborhoods Groups
Finally, under Fiscal Management, I pledge to continue to support
- Sound fiscal policy of a balanced budget and healthy reserve
- Increase city’s reserve fund to 25% of the general fund
- Improve the city’s bond rating, and reduce the state pension debt
- Integrate new technology and innovation to improve efficiency and cut cost
- Asking the City Council to resubmit the Charter City proposal to the voters.
In conclusion, America is a proud country that has always overcome challenges. We are at a crossroads in the history of our city, our state and our nation. The debt crisis that our government faces today is the most pressing issue of our time. We need to confront this challenge head-on to protect the future financial health of our great nation. We also need to defend the constitutional rights granted by our founding fathers, protect our values, our freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. We must reward hard work, personal responsibility and success, not penalize them. I reaffirm to you my pledge to continue to lead the city, we all love, to economic prosperity. I want to thank you for your continued support and the trust you have given me these past two years, I am honored and humbled to continue to serve as your Mayor for the next two years. I will continue with passion, commitment, resolve and determination to faithfully fulfill my obligations to you and deliver on the promise I made to turn this city around, and I will not let you down.
Together, we can build our homes, businesses and parks. Together, we can build our schools, hospitals and our future library. Together, with hard work, perseverance and pride, we can build our hopes and our dreams. Together, we can build a brighter future for our families and together we can build a better city. It our time to shine Escondido, and we will. God bless our city. God bless America.