SAN MARCOS — Public servant. Community-oriented. Authentic. Concerned citizen.
While San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones’ party affiliation is Republican, she prefers to define herself in terms unrelated to party politics but instead through measures that improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
“The truth is that whenever you pick party over people, you’re not serving the community,” Jones said. “When you look at the City of San Marcos we have a lot of people in different political parties, and I don’t want anybody left out…Once you start bringing parties into the mix you’re disenfranchising people, which is why I don’t like labels. If somebody labels me, call me someone who cares for the community and wants to put people first.”
In a sit-down interview with The Coast News, Jones shared her takes on a variety of issues affecting North County residents ranging from affordable housing to public safety to her reelection campaign. But throughout the conversation, Jones wanted to set the record straight — she doesn’t see policy issues from the standpoint of a party platform.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a servant…I worry about people, I don’t worry about party politics, because quite honestly, I think that both parties do a disservice to people when they alienate folks…so I’m a unifier, and I do what’s right for the community and always ask how I can make their lives better,” Jones said.
After 16 years in public office, Jones has kept busy and accomplished quite a lot. Over the years, Jones served for more than a decade as an advisory board member for the San Marcos Boys and Girls Club and as a board member for local nonprofit The San Marcos Promise, which helps San Marcos youth find career paths. Jones has been recognized by the Red Ribbon Commission for her youth advocacy work and helping create and adopt city ordinances restricting tobacco sales to minors and outlawing synthetic drugs.
When it comes to supporting local businesses, Jones serves on the board of the San Diego Regional EDC and is a member of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County. Jones also hosts the podcast “The SheEO Lead In,” highlighting women in leadership by exploring their professional journeys.
Jones’ action-oriented, nonpartisan approach to governance continues to shape her campaign for reelection as she seeks to appeal to a broader swathe of voters.
“I know how to bring people together…it does take a person that has that as their main goal to run for this office,” Jones said. “With the right leadership, you can always bring people together from across the aisle…so even if I don’t always get along with someone in government you have to be intentional with leadership and focus on how do we get San Marcos to become the city that it is and what it’s going to be, say, 20 years from now.”
Affordable Housing & Homelessness
When it comes to homelessness, Jones touted the city’s progress on the issue, noting that San Marcos currently has one of the lowest rates of homelessness in San Diego County (during the last point-in-time count conducted by the county in 2020 San Marcos recorded just eight persons experiencing homelessness, although Jones acknowledged that the number almost certainly rose during the COVID-19 pandemic).
During the pandemic, Jones said she’s proud that city leaders came together and agreed to devote $500,000 specifically to those economically affected by the coronavirus and at risk of homelessness.
Most of all, the mayor credited the low homeless population to the city’s considerable efforts in recent years towards investing in affordable housing developments.
San Marcos currently boasts 2,300 units that are deed-restricted for affordable housing, which comprises over 7% of the city’s total housing stock. On top of this, San Marcos has 1,000 mobile home units that are designated as affordable, which are mostly reserved for seniors at risk of experiencing homelessness, Jones added.
Much more affordable housing is coming down the pipeline as well, including the Alora project on Richmar Avenue, which will provide housing to 100 low-income residents and families. Jones also talked about the Villa Serena development, which will provide 148 apartments all ranked as affordable by standards of Area Median Income.
Some of the Villa Serena Units will be set aside for foster youth, Jones added, another population at severe risk of becoming homeless.
“We were able to get the county to work together with the developer and they’re going to set aside 7-9 units for just foster youths,” Jones said. “This is a huge deal because a lot of times you turn 18 and you have nowhere to go…they are very vulnerable to being homeless or even trafficked because they don’t have that support system in many cases,” the mayor said of the development. Serena Villa is set to be completed in the fall of this year.
Another San Marcos project nearing completion is “One Safe Place,” a family justice center that will provide temporary shelter and a whole range of services to domestic violence survivors. Since many victims of abuse often live with their abusers, domestic violence survivors often struggle to find a place to live after leaving and disproportionately suffer from homelessness, Jones said, making the project a key initiative to the city’s efforts in assisting the unhoused.
“We’re going to be opening the first domestic violence shelter in North County, One Safe Place, and it’s being spearheaded by the District Attorney Summer Stephan and Supervisor Jim Desmond and all the supervisors, and it’s going to be opening up in April…it’ll be dealing with child abuse, sexual abuse, and a whole lot of different things,” Jones said.
One Safe Place will provide case management and advocacy for survivors, therapy services, food, clothing, a temporary restraining order department, child welfare services, housing navigation, transportation, and career and educational opportunities. The shelter is set to open in April.
When it came to transit, Jones made it very clear that she’s for forward-thinking solutions but not in favor of some of the current proposals on the table in San Diego County. In particular, she reiterated previously expressed opposition to SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan, which was passed in December.
The plan imposes significant taxation costs on middle-class North County residents while doing virtually nothing to actually improve regional transit infrastructure, Jones has argued. In addition, she says the plan conceptually ignores how most North County residents commute on a day-to-day basis.
The plan, with its proposed mileage tax and managed lanes (toll roads), seems to be geared towards getting more residents out of their cars. But according to Jones, this simply isn’t feasible for the majority of San Marcos residents who will want to continue to use their vehicles because of how the city is set up for sprawl rather than for density, noting that 97% of North County residents don’t use any form of public transit.
“People still want their independence,” Jones said. “When I think about my city, in particular, I think we’re a bedroom community, many of my residents have to leave the city to go to work, have to get kids where they need to go…have to get our kids to soccer games, after school dance classes, all these things are important to parents. There’s a complete disconnect with [SANDAG] in terms of the actual transit needs of this community.”
The plan doesn’t serve the transit needs of San Marcos and also imposes heavy costs on residents in the form of its gas mileage tax and the managed lanes (toll roads) that are proposed in the RTP, Jones said. She also criticized the plan’s cost, which is in excess of $162 billion.
“I don’t believe that low-income and middle-class citizens should have to pay to drive on the road…and I don’t think it’s fair for North County residents,” Jones said. “We need to live within our means, and the plan as it’s approved is not within our means, it puts several new tax measures on the backs of all San Diego residents and it’s just too much.”
Proponents of SANDAG’s plan have contended that the mileage tax is going to be eliminated from the proposal in a “future update,” however Jones said that she’s seen no evidence yet that the tax has been removed or will be removed from the plan in the future.
“You’re taxing people to drive on roads, and this has not been eliminated, by the way, I asked very clearly at the last [SANDAG] meeting in December and it’s a lie that it’s been removed, it’s not out of the plan at all,” Jones said.
Overall, Jones emphasized that she’s immensely excited by the economic growth she’s seeing in San Marcos right now as well as a number of infrastructure and development projects that she says will be vital to the city’s continued growth and prosperity.
“There are so many things that I’ve worked on for years that are now coming to fruition,” Jones said. “It’s an exciting time and I’m so blessed, there are so many things that are finally happening that I’ve seen from inception to becoming reality…what a cool place our city is becoming and I get to be a part of that.
Business growth has skyrocketed in the past several years despite the pandemic, and San Marcos presently currently has around 4,500 businesses employing approximately 45,000 residents, Jones said.
“Something we definitely want to do is continue that business growth that we already have, really continue that momentum…these businesses are the places where our kids are getting jobs, growing up and starting their own businesses…our breweries, our cafes, our restaurants, these places need to be celebrated and they need the community to come alongside them,” the mayor said.
Under her tenure, Jones said that the city has eased regulations on small businesses while promoting local store owners as much as possible to foster continued growth and expansion. San Marcos also set aside $3 million in low-cost loans to assist community merchants during the pandemic, which proved to be a vital source of relief for struggling businesses, Jones said.
“We’ve kept our government regulations down to allow our businesses to be so resilient and flexible, and a lot of the things we as a city have implemented in this COVID time has been just to keep our businesses staying open,” Jones said. “Helping cultivate businesses is really important to me as a mayor, I have other city business owners saying I wish my mayor would do those kinds of things for me, helping promote my business and providing that kind of assistance.”
Jones said she’s also excited about a number of development and infrastructure projects coming soon to San Marcos, including the building of the Kaiser Hospital off Craven Road and San Marcos Creek Bridge Project.
The hospital, which will be located at 360 Rush Drive, will be seven stories in height and will include 206 single patient units, 39 emergency department bays, eight operating rooms, 10 labor, delivery, and recovery suites, and a Level II neonatal intensive care unit. The health care center will open in the fall of 2023, according to Kaiser’s website.
“To see the Kaiser hospital built, which will bring new beds, new jobs to our community, I’m just so proud of that finally happening after all this time, to see this hospital built is a big deal to me personally and it just shows how our city has bounced back after this pandemic,” Jones said.
Jones is also looking forward to the completion of the Creek Bridge project, which is supposed to be finalized in early 2023. The project is aimed at expanding access to San Marcos Creek and its enhanced roads, while also establishing a slew of new bridges, sidewalks, bike paths, and walking trails.
Additionally, the project will supposedly reduce the flooding risk posed by the creek by improving the watershed’s ability to handle rain during storm seasons.
“With the creek infrastructure project during my time on the council, we’ve been talking about that for at least a decade. It will change the city so much, which has already been divided physically when it rains, you have this creek area that essentially shuts down a part of our community — it’s a major pain and it’s also dangerous, so to see this thing actually break ground is really significant for me personally,” the mayor said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the second in The Coast News’ three-part series profiling inland North County mayors. Please read the first profile on Vista Mayor Judy Ritter. The final profile will be on Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara.