Swamps and alligators have been on Mayor Kristin Gaspar’s mind lately.
She repeatedly turned to a southern expression during her State of the City address on March 22 at the Encinitas Community Center: “Are you draining your swamp or are you simply whacking alligators?”
Her point: Encinitas should tackle today’s demands (alligators) without losing sight of long-term goals (the swamp).
“When you’re up to your neck in alligators, sometimes you forget your mission is to drain the swamp,” Gaspar said, adding the metaphor stuck with her after recently hearing it during a business meeting.
Gaspar pointed to housing needs in Encinitas as an example of where both short- and long-term vision is required. She said that her kids and other children are lucky to grow up here, but without city action, they’ll struggle to return to the area after college due to such high home prices.
On that note, Gaspar reminded the crowd that residents in November will vote on the housing element, which proposes to rezone select sites for higher density to accommodate 1,300 units.
“It will be one of the most important decisions that you’ll ever see. So will our swamp be drained, or will we be back to whacking alligators?”
Earlier, she acknowledged the housing element has been a big challenge.
“If you think (San Diego) Mayor Faulconer has a challenge keeping the Chargers in San Diego, try being the mayor and getting a housing element update passed…Nonetheless over the past six years we’ve launched a monumental effort to have a real conversation with Encinitas residents regarding housing needs for our future.”
Continuing with the forward-looking theme, Gaspar recalled that the city made major strides last spring with a plan to regularly replenish local beaches over 50 years. Top brass at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last April voted to advance the plan, making it eligible to receive federal funding.
She also noted as an initial step to address the spike in local homelessness, the council recently approved a one-year pilot program that focuses on outreach.
Gaspar applauded the council for adopting an 18-month work plan last summer, saying the process involved a lot of compromise, but “the swamp is in sight.”
As an added reminder of the 30-minute speech’s theme, attendee tables had candy alligators, and Gaspar placed a stuffed alligator on the podium in front of her. It’s not the first time Gaspar has turned to props during the State of the City to illustrate a point — two years ago, she used rocks, sand and a container to criticize the council majority for buying the Pacific View property.
But her assessment of the city was much more upbeat this year. While Gaspar emphasized long-term planning, she said there’s much to celebrate on the fiscal front at present.
Notably, more money is flowing into city coffers. Compared to the previous year, there was a 5.5 percent increase in property tax revenue, a 16.5 percent jump in transient-occupancy tax revenue and sales tax revenue rose 4.5 percent, according to Gaspar.
And she said thanks to city pension reform five years ago, the city’s long-term pension liability is about $32 million, down from a peak of $41.5 million.
Gaspar gave a shout-out to new Sheriff’s Capt. John Maryon, saying he’s a believer in officers getting out of their cars and interacting with the community, or what’s known as community-oriented policing. Having more boots on the ground has resulted in a drop in calls for service and increase in citations, Gaspar stated.
“The state of the city in Encinitas is strong.”
The Encinitas Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, which featured food from local restaurants. Also speaking was Leucadia 101 Main Street board President Nick Winfrey and chamber ambassador Thomas Witman.
Gaspar finished up by saying Encinitas has succeeded in the past at addressing short- and medium-term goals, but looking beyond that has been challenging.
“With proper focus over the years to come, I remain optimistic that we can drain the swamp while we manage those alligators…I ask the community to hold us accountable during this time.”