Blakespear highlights accomplishments, challenges in State of the City address

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear forecasted the city's present as "clear and beautiful" and the future as "bright" in a State of the City address on March 28.

After being introduced by her two children, Blakespear detailed city finances, public safety and housing, among other topics.

"By all objective and subjective measures, the state of our city is strong," Blakespear said at the sold-out event attended by nearly 250 city officials, businesspeople and residents and hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. "Objective numbers show that we have low crime and high property values. We are fiscally sound and responsible, and boast high-quality public amenities and community gathering places."

The biggest challenge facing the city, she said, is developing a state-compliant housing element for Encinitas.

Measure T, the city's last attempt, failed in the November election. Since then, the city council developed a subcommittee — comprised of Blakespear, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, No on T spokesman Bruce Ehlers and former Planning Commissioner Kurt Groseclose — to strategize a plan that would be both law-compliant and please residents.

The group is trying to create a plan that stays within two stories, with a goal of achieving more affordable housing, the mayor said. To help meet that target, the city is considering tiny houses and accessory units, she said.

"The question will come down to whether it’s possible to achieve the state requirements and meet the needs of the stakeholders," she said. "We’re working as diligently as possible to do that, and right now I’m feeling very optimistic about our progress in putting together a new plan that we can take back to the voters."

In finances, Blakespear encouraged the community to shop local. Sales taxes made up 14 percent of the city's budget last year, she said, and almost half of the city's $85 million yearly operating budget comes from property taxes.

But Encinitas isn't without its financial threats. The city has faced several lawsuits from developers because it has not yet implemented a housing element, Blakespear said.

The mayor also said the city's budget is balanced, as required by state law, and there is about $31.8 million in reserves.

"We are in the enviable position of having a substantial amount of money in our Capital Improvement Program," she said. "Many cities devote the majority of their revenue to operating expenses and debt service which leaves very little for capital projects."

Encinitas' capital projects include the Leucadia Streetscape project, rail corridor quiet zones, drainage improvements, street and pavement improvements and a new park in Leucadia.

The city has an unfunded pension liability of close to $40 million, but over the last three years has allocated five percent of annual savings toward the unfunded pension liability, which equates to about $1 million, Blakespear said.

Additionally, the city sends the state about $4.8 million per year in pension costs, which is a number that is rising, the mayor said. She expects the city council to consider pre-paying additional pension liability during upcoming strategic planning sessions.

Most of the city's money last year — 27 percent — was spent toward public safety, Blakespear said.

Violent crime citywide decreased 17 percent in 2016 compared to 2015.

Blakespear referenced a $100,000 allocation from the city council toward an overtime fund for the San Diego County Sheriff Department's North Coastal Station to use as needed, with a particular focus on preventing and managing problems downtown. Calls for service downtown decreased by 2.5 percent in 2016.

A new sheriff's station is also expected to open downtown later this year.

Regarding fire and marine safety, Blakespear said the fire department responded to 5,883 incidents last year, most of which were medical related. CPR training was also provided by the fire department to all seventh graders in Encinitas, the mayor said.

Lifeguards also performed more than 1,000 rescues and provided medical aid to more than 2,000 people. More than three million people visited Encinitas beaches in 2016.

Blakespear also touched upon other ongoing city projects, including the updated Climate Action Plan, the revitalization of the Pacific View site, efforts to help alleviate homelessness and efforts from parks and recreation to promote quality of life.

She also discussed business development, and said Lazy Acres and the Crack Shack are a "good reminder of change being good."

One of the city's "biggest priorities" is the Coastal Mobility and Livability Study, which includes quieting train horns, the mayor said.

"So is the State of our City stormy or clear?" Blakespear asked in closing. "Let me assure you, it’s clear and beautiful and our future is bright. Much has been accomplished and many opportunities lie ahead."

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