Encinitas mayor says city’s finances are robust, despite pandemic’s impact

City of Encinitas
City of Encinitas
(Karen Billing)

Despite the challenges brought on by a global pandemic that has battered the U.S. since early last year, Encinitas continues to thrive, the city’s mayor said during the annual State of the City address Tuesday night, Oct. 12.

“Our finances, even against the headwinds of COVID-19, have been robust and sound,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said, mentioning that the city concluded the last fiscal year with a surplus budget of $9.1 million and there’s a “healthy” $15.8 million in the city’s reserves.

Speaking to a crowd of some 200 people at a sold-out event sponsored by the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce, the mayor touched upon a wide range of topics, including the challenges of building housing for lower-income people; the need to reduce the city’s dependence on fossil fuels; and the city’s latest improved ranking in a crime statistics report.

It was the first time since the start of the pandemic that the State of the City event was held in person, rather than online, and the first time in its history that the mayor’s speech was livecast on the city’s YouTube channel during the event. At times, the video picture was slightly fuzzy, but the mayor’s speech could be clearly heard in the audio.

Blakespear drew a chuckle from the audience when she praised the Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas — the new, high-end bluff-top hotel in Leucadia where the event was held — by saying many attendees told her that they were pleased the chamber gathering was happening at the resort, “because this is the cheapest way I’m ever going to get here.” Actually, she said, there’s a lower-priced option, they can just buy a cup of coffee at the resort.

The high cost of housing and the city’s challenges in obtaining housing for the less-well-off was a major theme in the mayor’s speech.

“Just because a family can’t afford a multimillion-dollar house, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a place to call home,” she said during one point.

She began her list of the city’s recent accomplishments by praising Jewish Family Services for creating and managing an overnight parking lot program for homeless people who are temporarily living in their vehicles. The program opened early last year and is scheduled to relocate from the Leichtag Foundation property to the city’s Community & Senior Center next month.

Blakespear also noted that this past spring was the first time in city history that it adopted a state-mandated Housing Element planning document on time. Also, she said, the city has issued nearly 300 permits allowing people to build small “granny flat” accessory dwelling units on their properties in the two years since that permit program was started.

The mayor also highlighted the city’s recent environmental protection efforts, particularly achievements related to the city’s Climate Action Plan goals. Among other things, Encinitas is taking steps to update its decades-old transportation plan and it’s participating in a new regional energy provider organization, which focuses on obtaining power from renewable energy sources. The need for Encinitas to “wean ourselves off our dependence on oil” is abundantly clear this week because tar balls are washing up on the area’s shoreline from the Huntington Beach oil spill, Blakespear said.

Other recent notable city environmental achievements, the mayor said, included the recent rollout of a food and green waste recycling program for homeowners that’s soon to be expanded to restaurants and supermarkets. The food and yard waste is taken to a digester where it’s processed into methane gas that powers the trash trucks and produces a crop fertilizer by-product.

As she neared the conclusion of her talk, the mayor said she had stressed themes of “inclusion and diversity” because it is a “long overdue and critical conversation” that the city, the state and the nation are having. Encinitas can count among its achievements this past year the opening of the Encinitas 4 Equality storefront business, she said.

“Everyone deserves a fair and equal shot at upward mobility for themselves and their families,” Blakespear said. “For many that means the chance to start and own their own businesses because that’s really the very heart of the American dream.”

One other new business Blakespear mentioned was the city’s recent “major coup” in getting Flock Freight — a tech start-up company valued at $1 billion and previously located in Solana Beach — to move into the Nixon building in downtown Encinitas.

It certainly hasn’t been an easy year for any city, but Encinitas has shown it is very resilient, she said as she concluded.