Hope, grim words at state of city address

VISTA — Mayor Morris Vance’s 2009 State of the Community address Jan. 21 marked a radical departure from the status quo. Instead of the posh Shadowridge Country Club, the more casual Krikorian Cinema was the venue. And in comparison to years past, the normal optimism was dampened by the souring economy.
A lot was accomplished in 2008, the mayor said. Ground broke on two new fire stations. A sheriff’s task force against gang-related crime showed positive results. The venerable Moonlight Amphitheater Stage House began a complete reconstruction. City Hall itself is being rebuilt on a grand scale, and construction on a new Sports Park began Jan. 24.
Redevelopment was a huge issue last year, with 1,700 acres added to the redevelopment area. Planned new establishments include the Sonic burger franchise, two new hotels in west Vista and a downtown parking structure.
The economic downturn has hit the city’s coffers hard, however. The mayor reported that sales tax revenues are down $2 million from budget projections. Charges for services have declined almost $900,000 and interest earnings about $300,000, stalling a number of redevelopment projects. Parcel acquisition on the blighted South Santa Fe corridor is going slowly, as is the mixed-use “demonstration block” downtown.
City services are anticipated to take a big hit as well. Last year, the city had a $3.8 million surplus. Typically, any money left over is spent on one-time expenditures like road maintenance or playground equipment. This time, the money was used to balance the overall budget. There will be no cushion going forward, and the 2009-2010 revenue is projected to be $5 million short.
As a result, few of the 24 unfilled staff positions, most of them trade-related, are likely to be filled any time soon. The mayor indicated that cuts in service were likely. Vance also said the city would try to secure grants and other funding, but the political climate in the state capital has thrown everything up in the air.
“There is no spirit of cooperation in the various political parties,” Vance said. “What’s taking place in Sacramento is discouraging. They continue to spend as they continue to fight.”
The mayor ended on a hopeful note anticipating more housing opportunities, street improvements and a renovated sewage service. He urged the audience not to emulate the fragmented example demonstrated by the state.
“The economy is not going to get better real soon, but we can survive if we are willing to sacrifice and work together,” Vance said.
Paul O’Neal, Vista Chamber of Commerce CEO, was optimistic. Vista’s chamber is one of the few in the county enjoying a growth in membership, he said. O’Neal said Vista was more economically stable than its neighbors thanks, in part, to the biomedical companies it attracted to the city.
“The industries that they’ve brought into the business park, they don’t necessarily ride the wave of the economic fortunes of the state,” O’Neal said. “Seaspine is doing just fine. DJOrtho is doing great. These kinds of businesses are even looking to expand. That bodes well in terms of riding this thing out.”
Assistant City Manager Patrick Johnson was more subdued, placing Vista in the median of economic diversity, not the top.
“We’ll survive,” Johnson said. “We’ll get through this, but there will be difficult decisions to be made in the coming months.”

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