The Coast News Group

Mayor offers optimism at annual address

SAN MARCOS — Mayor Jim Desmond offered an impressive list of city accomplishments as the backdrop for an upbeat annual State of the City address at the San Marcos Civic Center on March 10. In attendance were more than 100 city employees, commissioners and businessmen.
Beginning with public safety, the mayor touted the 10 percent reduction in crimes reported over the last year, which he attributed, in part, to the city’s anti-gang injunction. Fire Station No. 4 in San Elijo came on line, completing the city’s firefighting network as well as showcasing some notable green technology.
San Marcos also became greener in the literal sense with some 300 acres of new parks completed or started in 2008. Getting to them has gotten easier, too, with the traffic light synchronization on San Marcos Boulevard and the intercity extension of Linda Vista Drive. The mayor described the plan to widen and extend Barham Drive across the city as well as his wishes for a SANDAG-subsidized new interchange between Highway 78 and Woodland Parkway.
Desmond then turned to the subject of the economy and the impact the recent recession has had on the city. Sales tax revenues were down 15 percent or $2 million last year, he reported, and the state government raided another $4 million from the city’s redevelopment coffers.
As a result, all nonessential property expenditures, new city vehicles, travel, training and software purchases have been put on hold. Several vacant staff positions will remain so indefinitely, and city staff agreed to $700,000 in pay renegotiations to keep the city in the black. He praised the city’s fiscal responsibility, jokingly characterizing current City Manager Paul Malone and former City Manager Rick Giddings as being able to stretch a penny across the entire city.
“Unlike the federal and state governments, working with a balanced budget is not an option in San Marcos — it is a requirement,” the mayor said.
Desmond pointed out that the economic cloud has a silver lining. Reduced prices make it more affordable to build streets, storm drains and other infrastructure than during boom times. The city also has an easier time purchasing properties for later development. He noted that the City Hall and Town Center were both realized during the economic slump of the early 1990s.
While development in the city has slowed, it hasn’t ground to a halt. The mayor called attention to the new University of St. Augustine on Borden Road and the Civic Center Plaza now under construction.
“These quality developments show the promise of an inevitable San Marcos economic resurgence is in our future,” he said.
Reaction to the mayor’s speech was generally positive.
“He didn’t give anybody a bill of goods,” Richard Borevitz, Palomar governing board trustee, said. “He just told it like it is. It’s a good city.”
“Rick Giddings set a pattern for this community which is extraordinary,” said engineer Jerry Seelman, echoing the mayor’s praise for the former city manager. “He is one of the few who really knows fiscal management and has done a great job at it. And he trained Paul Malone.”
Sheila Brown, the new chair of the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce, said she was very excited about the future and that the current crisis was strengthening the community.
“Sometimes we are faced with challenges, and we look at them as challenges, but they’re really opportunities for bringing people back together and building relationships,” she said.