ENCINITAS — In a sign of the times, Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear delivered the first-ever virtual State of the City address on Oct. 27, calling for continued compassion and unity among residents.
Set to a backdrop of the continuous pandemic and a chaotic election season in which the mayor is seeking another term, Blakespear’s address remained positive, praising the city’s response to COVID in financially assisting businesses and struggling residents, while still advancing the city’s own infrastructure improvements, financial goals, and record of environmental conservation.
Hosted by the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce, the annual State of the City event was attended by over 100 virtual attendees and sponsored by 21 local businesses, including The Coast News, and “platinum” sponsors Scripps Health, SDGE and Encinitas 101.
The evening included statements from Scripps Health and SDGE, breakaway discussion panels, as well as a virtual drink tutorial prior to the Mayor’s speech.
Welcoming council members, city staff, the Chamber and guests, Blakespear highlighted the community’s accomplishments while also acknowledging the challenges fraught by 2020.
“While this national crisis has truly upended life as we know it, it has also brought out the best in Encinitans,” Blakespear said, noting the theme for the evening: “In it together.”
“Through vibrancy and ingenuity, Encinitas is uniquely our own,” Blakespear said. “Its spirit is something that I have always cherished, and even more so after having had the privilege of serving as your mayor for nearly four years. With the insights I’ve gained, I can say that we establish priorities that matter to our residents and businesses, and with determination work to enact positive change.”
According to Blakespear, Encinitas ended the 2018-19 fiscal year with a $6.5 million surplus, enabling the city to dedicate $8.2 million to needed capital improvement projects. Furthermore, despite the economic downturn prompted by the pandemic in 2020, the city’s reserves remain at “$15.8 million with no reductions in service delivery to the public.”
“Like many cities throughout California, Encinitas is experiencing a decline in revenue due to COVID,” Blakespear said. “However, due to solid property tax revenue and years of conservative budgeting, we are weathering the storm well.”
According to Blakespear, the city’s positive financial health and regional partnerships allowed for a robust response to the negative impacts of Coronavirus, distributing $500,000 in grant funding to 200 small businesses, $110,000 to the three Mainstreet organizations and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as funding 42 families with rental and utility assistance programs aided by assistance from the $1.9 million in CARES Act funding by the state.
“When the Governor shut down indoor use for non-essential businesses, we were among the first cities to allow no-fee permits for use of sidewalks and streets for both retail and restaurant use,” Blakespear said. “To date, almost 50 restaurants are now able to operate in outside cafes.”
During 2019 the city also instituted infrastructure improvements including the Coastal Rail Trail, additional bike lanes along Highway 101, as well as improvements to the I-5 corridor among others, with the long-anticipated Leucadia Streetscape Program (link to my recent article) breaking ground in late 2020.
According to Blakespear, this amounted to 1,625 feet of sidewalks, 8 crosswalks, 2.8 miles of bike lanes, 8.5 miles of traffic mitigation measures, and 6.5 miles of pavement resurfacing.
In regards to Environmental Conservation, the city’s Climate Action Plan was named “Outstanding Planning Document of the Year” for a third time by the California Association of Environmental Professionals and the city launched it’s Community Choice Energy partnership, working towards 100% renewable energy in Encinitas.
In light of civil unrest in June, the city also hosted a public safety forum to discuss policing in Encinitas, working with groups such as Encinitas 4 Equality to “educate and mobilize the community to work in allyship to support and protect diversity.”
Blakespear also spoke about the city’s low-income housing and homelessness initiatives, touting the city’s Accessory Dwelling Unit program, which earned the Helen Putnam Award from the League of California Cities; and the Safe Parking and Opening Doors programs assisting the homeless.
“Our proactive approach to protecting public health, our collective desire to be prudent stewards of our environment, our commitment to protecting our City’s finances and character, and our innovative approach to solving our housing challenges is the result of knowledge gained through years of thoughtful community engagement,” Blakespear said, ending the address by thanking the city’s residents and night’s attendees.