ENCINITAS — The parking lot at the Encinitas Community Center was abuzz the evening of March 26 with scores of arrivals for the ninth annual State of the City and Awards Banquet.
The event was sold out, and more than 60 people were turned away. The large turnout and friendly cajoling among presenters and award recipients extended the scheduled end of the program from 9 to after 11 p.m.
Channel 8 reporter Jeff Zevely, who served as emcee, kept the audience laughing with self-effacing humor and anecdotes from his youth spent in Encinitas.
“I love Encinitas but you guys deserve someone big like Dan Fouts or Tony Gwynn,” he told the crowd. “I went to Capri (Elementary School) and Oak Crest (Middle School) and haven’t been back since I was 13. I drove through the parking lot and tripped out.”
Zevely introduced his wife, Heather Lucas, who he said he met during his early days in television in New Mexico when she was a source of frustration by scooping him for a competing station.
A savory four-course dinner prepared by El Callejon included chipotle soup, chicken enchiladas, beef with cilantro, rajas (roasted chile strips in sauce), salad, guacamole, beans, rice and chips.
The buffet was donated by restaurant owner Bernard Jourdain.
“We like to help the community and schools,” Jourdain said. “My customers are locals and I want to give back when I’ve been getting.”
The official program began with a pledge of alliance led by the Troop 776 Color Guard sponsored St. John’s Catholic Church.
Encinitas Chamber CEO Marshall Weinreb received an enthusiastic welcome from the audience for his efforts in rallying the local business community.
“This is a rejuvenation of the chamber,” said Angel Haag, president of the board of directors. “We are transforming the chamber to make new things happen. We are here for you.”
Weinreb celebrated the contributions of the Rancho-Coastal Humane Society on its 50th anniversary and asked President/CEO Jim Silveira to stand up. He also acknowledged the presence of all five Encinitas council members, City Manager Phil Cotton, Sen. Mark Wyland, Assemblyman Martin Garrick, Mark Olson from Supervisor Pam Slater-Price’s office and Brian Jones from Congressman Brian Bilbray’s office.
He thanked the chamber’s Marilyn Phenow for her efforts in producing an obviously successful State of the City dinner.
Weinreb also put in a plug for the upcoming A Sporting Life Health Family Festival on May 23 at Oak Crest Middle School featuring skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and announced the launch by the chamber of a business-school partnership that would generate paper goods and food for special events.
When Mayor Dan Dalager took the podium, he framed his State of the City speech around three strategic business priorities: public safety, infrastructure maintenance and citizen services.
“The city enjoys the second lowest crime rate among all cities served by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “Much credit can be given to Capt. Don Fowler and his crew at the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station for their proactive law enforcement and prevention activities.”
He added that while many cities in the region were forced to reduce law enforcement personnel in 2009, Encinitas maintained its level of law enforcement. In fact, one school resource officer slated to be dropped by the school district due to budget cuts was saved and re-deployed to the Sheriff Department’s community oriented policing team.
Dalager announced that in October 2009 the four North County Fire Agencies entered into a join Fire Management Service Agreements that resulted in Encinitas providing senior management support for the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach including sharing of Fire Chief Mark Muir.
He added that in 2009 lifeguards conducted 2,034 service contacts from minor incidents and first aid to rescues.
The mayor reported that several projects to improve the city’s infrastructure were completed.
Encinitas Boulevard was repaved from Highway 101 to the city limits.
San Elijo Avenue was recently repaved from Santa Fe Drive to I-5.
New curbs, gutters and sidewalks were installed along McKinnon Drive and Regal Road providing missing sidewalk links and other street improvements.
The Cardiff Alley improvement projected was completed.
In addition, a new 22-space parking lot in downtown was constructed at Vulcan and E St. A contract was just awarded to construct an additional 80-space lot to be completed by the end of this year.
Two local excavation projects helped to revitalize local beaches with 39,000 cubic yards of sand.
Dalager reported additional improvements in infrastructure last year:
— 78 percent of reported potholes were repaired within one day;
— 79 percent of streetlight outages were repaired within three days;
— 100 percent of all sewer spill calls were responded to within one hour;
— 207 miles of sewer and storm drain pipes were cleaned;
— 60 cubic yards of debris was removed from storm drains;
— 100 percent of speed limit signs on arterial and collector streets were replaced.
“In 2009, both the San Dieguito Water District and the Olivenhain Water District declared a Level 2 Drought Alert,” he said. “Water users have stepped up to the plate, reducing potable water usage in 2009 by 10.4 percent in the San Dieguito District and 14 percent in the Olivenhain Water District from the prior year.”
Dalagar was pleased to announce that construction plans are under way for the 44-acre future park site off Santa Fe Drive known as the Hall property which was acquired in 2001.
“Time is right to begin construction of the new park,” he said. “Construction costs are lower than they’ve been in years.”
The mayor reported that more than 400,000 visitors passed through the doors of the Encinitas Library in 2009.
He emphasized the importance of arts to the city, citing the Cardiff surfer sculpture, the “Encinitas Child” sculpture by Manuelita Brown that was commissioned by the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association and the Art Alive banner program.
Dalager concluded his remarks by stating that there remain challenges for this year.
“The state legislators continued to seek ways to raid local government’s pocketbook,” he said. “They don’t seem to have the ability or desire to put their financial house in order.”
Another frustration he added is that courts and the state are eager to take away local land use decisions.
“We’ll fight tooth and nail for the physical and the fiscal control of the city,” he promised.
Another challenge for the city is that revenues have dipped during the past year.
“Sales tax was down just over 10 percent and is anticipated to continue to be weak throughout 2010, but we have accounted for this in our planning.”
Special awards were presented to:
— Susan Volklander, Teacher of the Year, Encinitas Unified School District
— Brian Shay, Teacher of the Year, San Dieguito Unified School District
— Dave Toner, Police Officer of the Year, Encinitas Sheriff’s Department
— Paul Reed, Firefighter of the Year, Encinitas Fire Department
— Danny Salzhandler, Citizen of the Year.
In accepting the award, Salzhandler reminisced about hanging the first banners in the middle of the night using heavy equipment, and being slightly inebriated. This didn’t seem to please Officer Toner who as top DUI enforcement officer made 201 DUI arrests in 2009. Salzhandler went on to say, “Art is not a necessity of life, but a necessity of a civilized life.”