What Are Encinitas’ Priorities?

First of all, I want to say “thank you so much” to those who have contributed to my state senate campaign! 

Because of your support and generosity, we were able to raise $125,000 in the first month of the campaign. Your belief in me, and your willingness to back that up with your hard-earned money makes all the difference. I’m truly grateful to you. 

Today I’d like to share with you some the things that I’m working on, at several levels, including Encinitas upcoming funding decisions, regional transportation projects, and other highlights. 

Our city budget – the backbone of progress

“The role of leadership is to transform the complex situation into small pieces and prioritize them.”

– Carlos Ghosn

In Encinitas, we’re working on the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. With about two-and-a-half months before we must adopt a budget, now is our evaluation period. 

The community has many desires for city improvements. Alas, there’s never enough money to accomplish them all.

Construction of the much-needed railroad undercrossing at El Portal St. is progressing nicely. In the photo above, crews weld the foundations in preparation for the rail bridge installation. This month, they’ll dig, grade, and pave the undercrossing below the newly installed bridge. This railroad undercrossing is connected to Phase 1 of our Leucadia Streetscape project, which has been a longstanding city priority. 

One of the realities that I’ve noticed after several years experience with the city’s budget process is the difficulty of sustaining a specific project’s momentum over multiple years. 

Elected officials receive intense community demand and advocacy for improving certain parts of the city. We respond to these demands by getting started on planning the improvements. But as time goes by, the costs for construction inevitably increase and advocacy dies down. And all the while, new groups with new priorities emerge. 

It’s understandable – people tire of campaigning for the same improvement over many years. Citizens naturally assume that after they get the ball rolling, their elected officials will follow through from beginning to end. 

But here’s the rub – in the meantime new people are elected, new advocates emerge, and new priorities are formed. The result is that there are a lot of projects in planning and design; but nowhere near enough money to complete all of them.

Keeping that in mind, here are projects in some form of design or planning, but have not been fully funded for construction:

  1. Major road improvements on major corridors, including sidewalks/trees/bike improvements/roundabouts/storm water facilities on Highway 101 through Leucadia (Streetscape), Santa Fe Drive, and Birmingham Drive. 
  2. Pacific View, the historic school property purchased by the city in 2014 to become an art center.
  3. A multi-use trail along Rancho Santa Fe Road and a trail connection near El Camino del Norte, in Olivenhain.
  4. A pederstrian and bike railroad undercrossing at Verdi Ave. in Cardiff.
  5. A third roundabout on Leucadia Blvd. at Hygeia Ave.
  6. A 100% affordable housing project.

And there are newer high-priority projects, some of which we’re currently receiving lots of emails about. These include:

  1. At least one, and ideally several, safe legal railroad crossings in northern Leucadia.
  2. Improvements to La Costa Ave to make it safer, calm traffic, and make it easier to bike and walk there.
  3. Roundabouts and road improvements on Rancho Santa Fe Rd.
  4. Extension of sidewalk or nature trail in front of the San Diego Botanic Gardens on Quail Gardens Drive.

So what to do with limited funds? In the past, the City of Encinitas has received grants and taken on debt to accomplish our city’s priorities. We currently have $44.4 million in city debt from previous projects. We pay about $3.5 million a year to service this debt through 2031, when the amount starts to drop off, as you can see from the graph above. Given the relevant guidelines, the city has a relatively low amount of debt.  

What did Encinitas residents get in exchange for this debt? Good question! Those earlier bonds helped finance the Encinitas Community Park, fire department apparatus, the Encinitas Library, the Moonlight Beach Safety Center and Lifeguard Tower, and buying the Pacific View school. These are all important community assets now, and I’m happy that past leaders invested in this way. 

While the city’s revenue was flat last year because of the effects of the pandemic, we expect to be receiving about $8.8 million from the federal government as part of the American Recovery Act. We don’t yet know the authorized uses for this money or the amount of time over which it can be programmed. We expect details next month, and I’ll keep you in the loop.

The chart above shows that the overall economic health of the City of Encinitas is strong. None of the ongoing city expenditures, including paving streets, maintaining parks, or having top notch firefighters and law enforcement services, will change. 

During this upcoming budget session, the City Council will take a deep dive into budget details, with critical consideration for the things that we have set community expectations to accomplish. We’re scheduling a special public meeting sometime at the beginning of May to allow for a thorough analysis.

Designing our county’s transportation future

It’s an exciting time to be the chair of SANDAG, San Diego County’s transportation and planning agency, because there is so much happening that has enormous potential to improve the ways we get around in the future.

Above you can see SANDAG’s priority projects for the upcoming fiscal year and beyond. All five of these projects above are critical to building a world-class transportation network. 

We’re doing a Regional Plan, which will set our county’s transportation course for the next 50 years; building a third land port of entry at our border with Mexico; completing the county’s largest capital improvement project ever, which is a $2.1 billion project constructing 11 miles of transit that will allow residents to have a one-seat ride from the U.S.-Mexico border to the UTC area; creating a central mobility hub; and stabilizing the Del Mar bluffs while beginning the process to move the tracks off the bluffs. 

These photos above are truly stunning. The top one shows the seawall that was built years ago, and the middle photo shows the same spot with the landslide in February covering the wall. The lower photo gives us a bird’s-eye view of the entire area. 

One of the most urgent transportation problems we’re facing is shoring up the Del Mar bluffs where the railroad track runs perilously close to the ocean. While the train track is being secured in place for the time being, it’s critical that we maintain momentum to move the train tracks off the bluff.

This month we convened the beginning of a series of high-level meetings with state and federal leaders to ensure that we maintain focus and momentum on the critical actions needed in this rail corridor.

Four options for the long-term solution of railroad re-routing underneath Del Mar and surrounding areas are shown here.
 
None of the projects involve moving or abandoning the railroad tracks north of Del Mar, which means that Solana Beach, Encinitas and Oceanside will not see a change in their tracks based on this project. 
 
COVID vaccinations gaining momentum

I was so relieved to get my second “Fauci Ouchie” shot last week. I know, not the most flattering photo, but it’s tricky to pull off a vaccination selfie!

Good news on the pandemic front – more than half the US population has already received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, and everybody 16 and over is now eligible to get theirs.

To help schedule a vaccine appointment as soon as possible, I’d suggest a great Facebook group called San Diego Vaccine Hunters, where you’ll find appointment availability information on a minute-by minute basis. It also offers some great tips on the best times and methods for getting your shot.

In Orange County, there’s an Orange County, CA Vaccine Hunters group on Facebook.If you’re interested in helping us get out of this pandemic as soon as possible, you can volunteer at the Del Mar Fairgrounds to help with vaccinations. More info is here.

Arts & crafts at the old schoolhouse

There’s an Arts and Crafts Fair at the Encinitas Historical Society, located at the 1883 School House. It’s on the same site as the Pacific View School, located at 390 West F Street, Encinitas. It’s on Saturday, April 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Experience the colors of spring

The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas has opened “World of Orchids,” the first in what in intended to be an annual spring orchid showcase. The exhibit in the garden’s new, $6.5 million Dickinson Family Education Conservatory is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays (and select days to 8 p.m.) through May 2.

It’s Earth Week!

Lastly, let’s hear it for good ol’ Planet Earth! Encinitas is celebrating Earth Week virtually this week, and the main event is this Saturday. More info is here.

In service,

P.S. Justice or accountability?

After the three guilty verdicts in the George Floyd murder trial, I was struck by the insightful words of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. From NBC News:

“I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration,” Ellison said. “But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice. And now the cause of justice is in your hands.”

Ellison, who was tasked last year with leading the prosecution of Chauvin, praised bystanders for stopping and bearing witness to Floyd’s fatal arrest. He emphatically applauded them for recognizing Floyd’s humanity and recognizing that the scene in front of them on May 25 was “wrong.”

He called it “the work of our generation” to end the lack of accountability for law enforcement and police violence.

“This has to end with true justice,” Ellison said. “That’s not one case. That is a social transformation that says that nobody is beneath the law, and no one is above it. This verdict reminds us that we must make enduring systemic societal change.”