New Public Spaces from Encinitas to Aliso Viejo!

Happy May to you!

This sweet spring season means many things to many people, but now’s the time that the Encinitas City Council’s thoughts turn to something decidedly unromantic – budgeting.
 
We’re working on our city budget for the next fiscal year, and our largest focus area is what’s called “capital improvement projects” or CIP. There are quite a few transportation or mobility-related projects that are unfunded, meaning money needs to be designated for the project to be built.

Here’s a list of 11 unfunded projects in Encinitas that have been priorities in previous years. They’re all very worthy, so it’s a tough process!

(In case you’re wondering about the NCTD fence, the transit district, known as NCTD, is building the fence along the rail corridor, not the city. But our city resources are needed to make it a post-and-cable fence instead of the less expensive and unsightly chainlink fence that NCTD was proposing.)

The Leucadia Streetscape along 2.5 miles of Highway 101 is our largest city project. Every year, the cost goes up – it’s currently projected at $37 to $47 million. So we’re revisiting Streetscape to see what can get done with a reduced budget to increase mobility for walkers, bikers and drivers. 

At a daytime budget meeting this week, the City Council gave direction for the city manager to put together a plan for City Council consideration that would allow the city to finance up to $20 million for a “reimagined Leucadia Streetscape” project.

I’m so glad that Phase 1, shown in the rendering above, is already under construction. It includes the first roundabout at El Portal and the dedicated parking lane in the rail corridor, and other improvements. 

Before the pandemic hit, the City Council had authorized debt financing for Leucadia Streetscape. But in an abundance of caution, we pulled back from doing it last March because of the pandemic-related financial uncertainties for the city. 

Currently we can get an “i-bank” infrastructure loan at 2.7% for 15 years, which would cost us about $1.7 million a year to service.

While the city’s revenues were flat for one fiscal year, they appear to be headed back to their usual incremental increases. There’s also the possibility of future stimulus money from the federal government, which could be applied to our list of capital projects, as long as they’re considered authorized expenses.  

I’m excited about where we are, and I remind myself not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Building a majority of Streetscape that is value-engineered to fit into a more modest budget is a good practice, and a healthy challenge. We’re being responsible with taxpayer money, and we’re getting good stuff done to improve residents’ lives.

You can read more details in this Encinitas Advocate article.

Another way to cross the tracks?

An at-grade pedestrian rail crossing is currently in use just up the road in San Clemente. (Photo by Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz.)

Tony Kranz and Kellie Hinze, our two City Councilmembers who represent the rail corridor through Leucadia, requested that the city focus in northern Leucadia on a proposal for an at-grade rail crossing (one you can walk across), instead of an undercrossing (a tunnel beneath the tracks) such as the one at Santa Fe Drive and the one currently being built at El Portal Street.

While it’s an uphill battle with the regulatory agencies to get approval for at-grade crossings – railroads want to minimize conflicts between people and trains – our deputy mayor Tony Kranz is the chair of the North County Transit District, which may have some influence. 

Given the strong community advocacy for this solution and my colleagues’ desires to move in this direction, we asked city staff to explore this option. The downside is that the way forward is less defined and less certain. The upside is that it could cost substantially less than an undercrossing, and result in more than one at-grade rail crossing.

New Equity Subcommittee will help guide our city’s future

I’m also excited to announce the creation of our city’s Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee. The residents who applied were diverse, and different from applicants we get for our more traditional city committees – like Traffic & Public Safety and Planning Commission.

Chosen for the committee were Encinitas residents Allison Blackwell, Joanie Corrales, Sara Langill, Mario Ordonez-Calderon, Ross Ridder, Robin Sales, Marlon Taylor, and Mali Woods-Drake.

The personal, professional and lived experience that each person would bring to this committee was really important in making the eight appointments.

We formed the committee to offer suggestions to the city to help it plan and prioritize projects, “as well as frame how we work with our communities and public safety personnel; define how we recruit and develop our employees; guide our efforts to compile and interpret data and set up expectations for stakeholders and sub-contractors who work with us.”

The genesis of this committee was our community asking for it. At SANDAG we are discussing equity much more deeply, and I understand how we can structure the city’s committee for maximum benefit.

A few weeks ago, the SANDAG board unanimously adopted an equity statement that reads, in part: 

“We hold ourselves accountable to the communities we serve. We acknowledge we have much to learn and much to change; and we firmly uphold equity and inclusion for every person in the San Diego region. This includes historically underserved, systemically marginalized groups impacted by actions and inactions at all levels of our government and society. 

We have an obligation to eliminate disparities and ensure that safe, healthy, accessible, and inclusive opportunities are available to everyone.”

More info, including descriptions of the applicants we chose for the committee, are in this news article.

You’ve got to visit our wonderful new Olympus Park!

One major project we just finished was Olympus Park, a three-acre Leucadia park with nearly every amenity. I think we nailed it! Among the many compelling attractions are a zipline, a skate park, a soon-to-open off-leash dog park, a multi-use sports court, two playgrounds, gazebos, and even a pebble walk, complete with a foot reflexology chart!

This is the first park we’ve built since we opened the Encinitas Community Park in 2015. No new parks are in our pipeline, but playground equipment is periodically replaced and shade structures installed. And there are a lot of community members and Parks commissioners asking for sand volleyball courts at Encinitas Community Park. 

Olympus Park has become immediately very popular in the first week it’s been open. The city is working to manage the large and sometimes overwhelming number of users. 

Here’s an appreciation of Olympus Park, penned by former Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer.

Visiting a neighboring mayor in Orange County

In campaign news… All is going great! I’m exploring District 36, which covers many coastal cities, and was honored to accept an invitation from Aliso Viejo Mayor Tiffany Ackley (above) to attend the opening of Aliso Viejo Ranch, a public space for weddings, classes and a large hydroponic garden. All the food is donated to local food banks. 

I’d really appreciate it if you’d make a contribution to my state senate campaign today, using the button below. I’m looking forward to working hard for all of us in Sacramento!

In service,