Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear delivered her annual State of the City address on Tuesday, March 27 to a crowd of about 300 community members gathered at the Encinitas Community Center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive.
Blakespear's speech focused on the city's four main strategic initiatives: obtaining a legally compliant housing element; enhancing all modes of transportation, mobility and connectivity; promoting green initiatives and protecting our natural resources; and making the rail corridor a better neighbor.
The State of the City was hosted by the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce. A rebroadcast of the Mayor's speech will be made available online for the general public to enjoy.
It is my exceptional honor to be here tonight to deliver my second State of the City Address to you.
The honor comes in part from being a fourth-generation Encinitas resident who gets to serve my community as mayor.
But more so, I'm delighted to report on the great strides we made in 2017 and highlight what's to come in 2018 and beyond.
At a time when some levels of government seem to be more acrimonious than ever, it gives me great optimism that Encinitas is leading by example.
The city routinely works collaboratively with other government agencies and community partners.
We adapt and modify our direction based on public feedback.
We are truly here to serve the public and this motivates all of our actions and policies.
Before I get started, I'd like to recognize a few individuals.
First, I'd like to recognize our remarkable city manager, Karen Brust.
Karen has served our city for the last two-and-a-half years and we are fortunate to have her level of expertise with us at city hall.
In fact, she was just honored by the International City Managers Association for her 30 years of outstanding service in local government.
Karen is supported by an incredible city staff and an excellent executive team, many of whom are here with us tonight.
Please hold your applause until the end as I recognize the following individuals: Assistant City Manager Mark Delin; Fire Chief Mike Stein; Sheriff's Captain John Maryon; Development Services Director Brenda Wisneski; Finance Director Teresa McBroome; Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director Jennifer Campbell; Public Works Director Carl Quiram; Risk Manager Jace Schwarm; City Clerk Kathy Hollywood; and Management Analyst Lois Yum.
I also want to thank Bob and Mimi Gattinela, CEO and Director of Operations, and all of the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce volunteers for making this important event possible.
And last, but certainly not least, my loving family.
Here with me tonight is the solid foundation on which I stand, the people who enable me to do this often challenging but deeply rewarding work of serving in public office.
I believe that there is no more sacred responsibility than being entrusted by voters in this American democracy of ours to make decisions that affect the entire community.
My ability to do this job with 100 percent focus rests on the unwavering support of my family, who has joined us tonight.
My aunt Rosemary KimBal, my father John Blake, my mother Tricia Smith and my step-father Richard Cottrell, my wonderful husband Jeremy Blakespear and my beloved children Ava and Oliver Blakespear.
Thank you for supporting everything I do to help make our community a better place.
When I gave this speech last year, at my first State of the City, I talked a lot about the city's budget and how budgets are a blueprint of a city's values.
I'm not going to repeat that speech.
This year I've shaped this brief 20-minute talk around our city's four key strategic initiatives.
These four areas are all forward thinking and forward looking.
It is important to realize that the City of Encinitas has this luxury to look ahead because the city is doing a great job of meeting our core city responsibilities.
In fact, just about everything is tilted in our favor.
First, our crime rate is extremely low and our public safety response times are some of the fastest in the nation.
Our heartfelt thanks go to the women and men who serve in our sheriff, fire and marine safety departments, who work hard every day to make our community so safe.
Next, our community is thriving economically.
That's thanks in part to the fact that Encinitas has a natural cache that attracts businesses and residents here without a whole lot of effort from city hall.
In addition to a strong small business community, we're also fortunate to be home to national brands born or headquartered in Encinitas like Nixon, Sun Bum, Vuori and Electra.
I'm also very grateful that we have a long history of elected officials and staff who were fiscally responsible.
Because of that, our revenues outpace our expenses and this allows us to set aside savings for a rainy day, pay pension obligations and think strategically about what we want for our future.
And finally, we have a city unmatched in beautiful scenery, parks, recreational programs and cultural events.
And there's more to come.
Construction on a new park in Leucadia will get underway later this year, and we'll be adding a new public art program with rotating displays at four locations.
Suffice it to say, we have a very solid foundation.
And because of this fortunate position, we're able to set our sights on loftier aspirations, which form our four strategic planning goals.
These goals center around topics near and dear to our community.
The first strategic planning goal is for the city to FINALLY have a legally compliant housing plan.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that this is our most pressing, urgent, and critically important issue.
We need to determine where we are going to put new homes that are smaller in size and therefore more attainable for residents at all income levels.
This is housing that is affordable for teachers, mechanics, administrative assistants, medical office employees, EMTs, and service workers. All of these people are already working in the city of Encinitas.
We want to, and are required to, provide places for people to live.
By way of context, we currently have about 25,000 housing units and we need to add the zoning for 1,600 more homes.
This is an increase of 6.4 percent, which really is relatively modest.
The bottom line is that we need more housing. We need to follow state housing laws. We need to get ourselves positioned to end the major housing lawsuits we're currently in the midst of fighting.
In recognition of the severity of the problem, the city is proactively tackling this on multiple fronts.
We are embracing accessory dwelling units, otherwise known as granny flats, by waiving fees, increasing the maximum allowable size of the unit and allowing residents to have junior accessory units inside existing homes.
We're also updating ordinances to have developers build more affordable homes when they build market rate development projects.
And this November you'll see a new housing plan on the ballot after the last one was rejected by Encinitas voters.
This time it will be simpler, more straightforward, more narrowly tailored to comply with state laws and hopefully more acceptable to residents.
With focus and dedication, I have every intention of helping the city re-position itself when it comes to housing.
Our second strategic area of focus is enhancing all modes of transportation, mobility and connectivity in Encinitas.
I want to frame this issue with an interesting fact: about one-third of the trips we collectively take are less than a mile. Trips to the grocery store, to school, a friend's house, to coffee, the park or the beach. But two-thirds of these short trips are taken by car.
If we could just shift people who drive these short trips to travel by bike, we would eliminate about 20 percent of all car trips. Studies show when people feel safe on a bike or walking, they will bike and walk more.
You may have noticed bike lanes on La Costa Avenue and Leucadia Boulevard recently painted green. Travel lanes were also narrowed to give cyclists more of a buffer from motorists.
So, with that in mind, let's talk about the projects underway in Encinitas that will help make this shift enticing to our residents.
The long-awaited Leucadia Streetscape project will begin later this year and will add improvements to Highway 101, including bike lanes, parking and landscaping.
We spend millions of dollars each year to maintain and improve our pavement throughout Encinitas, and it is paying off as we eliminate all of our city's failing streets. Expect to see many more projects like this in the city.
In addition to these city-funded projects, there happen to be a number of regional mobility projects underway in Encinitas.
You've likely noticed the massive freeway project around Manchester, the I-5 freeway and the lagoon. This project will be ongoing for four years, and will bring new carpool lanes on I-5 from Solana Beach to Carlsbad, a park and ride facility at Manchester Avenue, a new bike lane underneath the new bridge being built across the San Elijo Lagoon, a new multi-use path along Manchester Avenue, west of I-5, and a new bike path between Manchester and Birmingham Drive.
And then there is the Coastal Rail Trail in Cardiff.
Sandag's construction on this section of the rail trail is expected to take about a year to complete.
The segment runs 1.3 miles from Santa Fe to Chesterfield east of the railroad tracks along San Elijo and Vulcan avenues and will provide dedicated bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to allow people to safely travel this stretch of road.
To say there is a lot of construction going on in Encinitas is likely the understatement of the year. And once this is done, we won't likely see this level of construction in our community for multiple decades.
We appreciate your patience and understanding about the disruptions, which sometimes are substantial.
We all look forward to greatly enhanced transportation options when these projects are finished.
Our third strategic priority is promoting green initiatives and protecting our natural resources. We did, after all, just pass the gold-standard of Climate Action Plans in January. This new plan has measurable and attainable goals, meaning it is not simply aspirational as our last plan was.
We have specific strategies and tactics that will reduce greenhouse gases produced in the city. In other words, there is accountability in this plan. A key feature of the Climate Action Plan is shifting our energy source from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
We are working with Del Mar, Carlsbad and Oceanside regarding Community Choice Energy, which would bring local control and competition to the energy market by allowing cities to purchase power on behalf of their residents.
Encinitas has a long history of environmental stewardship.
We were one of the first cities in the county to ban plastic bags, even before the statewide ban took effect. Then, the city became the second in the county to ban Styrofoam containers for takeout food. We've also made a shift in how we maintain our city parks by eliminating the use of glyphosates for weed killing. Instead, we are piloting organic measures at a number of parks.
And for those of you considering switching to an electric vehicle, Encinitas City Hall will soon be home to a new EV charging station. The station will open later this spring with 10 charging bays and a state-of-the-art drivers' lounge for motorists to wait while their vehicles charge.
In other environmental news, we'll be stabilizing the coastal bluff and improving public access at Beacon's Beach later this year. This will help ensure that the bluff habitat is protected and that pedestrians have a safe pathway to the beach.
The city will also undertake an exciting dune restoration project in Cardiff near the Solana Beach border to protect the shoreline from storm surges while also preserving beach habitat. The project will construct four acres of beach dunes and a dune footpath.
Finally, our fourth strategic focus area is to make the rail corridor a better neighbor. To do this, we are relentlessly pursuing quiet zones and planning more safe rail crossings. This seems like it should easy, but it is a remarkably complex task dealing with federal and state regulatory agencies.
These types of negotiations are sometimes outside our wheelhouse, so to speak, and therefore we need to bring in outside experts to help us make progress here.
Work on the first quiet zone at Chesterfield is currently underway as part of the overall SANDAG project I discussed earlier, and will be the first quiet zone of many for Encinitas.
Another significant project to file under improving the rail corridor is completing the long-awaited El Portal underpass in Leucadia. This underpass will create a safe route for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross underneath the railroad tracks. It will look similar to the Santa Fe underpass, and will include paths and landscaping to add to the aesthetics. Construction on this project should get underway in early 2019.
As we get ready to wrap up our time together, it's interesting to note that the city council will convene tomorrow to begin our next strategic planning session.
We'll check in on these four goals, determine what else should be added or adjusted and most importantly make tough decisions about which projects should be funded in which order.
Of course, you're always welcome to attend and offer feedback - we're meeting at the Encinitas Library tomorrow at 3 p.m.
Tonight, as we close, I hope you share my sense of gratitude for where we are and where we are headed as a community.
Encinitas is a city that is committed to improving the quality of our resident's lives, whether you live in Old Encinitas, New Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff or Olivenhain, we're raising the bar high in important areas.
We know that Encinitas is a stunning place to live. Nearly everyone I speak with tells me how fortunate they feel to live here. Now we want to make it even better, with more ways to enjoy the outdoors, with a commitment to cherish and protect our environment.
With respect and gratitude, I look forward to working hand-in-hand with all of you as we press forward on issues that may challenge us.
Equally, I look forward to standing side-by-side as we celebrate our triumphs together.
At this time, when the youth voice is uniquely able to capture the essence of a moment, I would like to invite my two children, Ava Blakespear, age 10, and Oliver Blakespear, age 9, to come forward and say the concluding words tonight.
(Oliver Blakespear) - The State of our City is strong. This is a great city for people but it is especially great for kids. I ride my bike to school, to parks, to the store and to the library. I feel safe and independent. This is a great city to grow up in.
(Ava Blakespear) - As I get older, I can see that you adults are setting me up for success. Encinitas has so many opportunities for us kids to grow up into model citizens that will make our parents proud. Then it will be our time to be in charge.
Thank you and goodnight.