From housing to labor issues, North Coast city leaders see full slate for 2015

Alex Groves

At the start of a new year, city officials across North County are attempting to prioritize issues and come up with comprehensive solutions to challenges associated with growth and an improving economy.

Many cities are also trying to determine the best way to finance projects while being fiscally disciplined.

From Solana Beach to Carlsbad, here are the issues that city officials say will be most important for their communities in 2015.

Solana Beach: Projects move to the front burner

Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said 2014 was a good year for Solana Beach in terms of tourism and sales tax revenue. She said she looks forward to another good year that will bring many visitors to her beachside town.

Lisa Heebner
Lisa Heebner

Heebner said the primary challenges that she and other City Council members will have to address in the coming year will have to do with development. There are a number of projects that the city has approved or is one the cusp of approving, and Heebner said 2015 will be a year where those projects will be at the forefront of conversations by the City Council.

“With the uptick in the economy, and the completion of our Highway 101 renovation, we’re seeing increased applications for commercial redevelopment. In our neighborhoods we’re seeing the same, not for commercial, but for residential,” Heebner said.

“We’re going to be looking at those and making sure that, while we’re in favor of seeing these new projects, that they continue to fit in to our community character and enhance what we have,” she added.

Among the proposed developments is a mixed-use project for Highway 101 that would be built by American Assets Trust in an area that used to be a mobile-home park and a renovation of the Solana Highlands Apartments at South Nardo Avenue.

Also slated for council approval is a proposal for the expansion of the city’s train station and construction of a mixed-use project on land owned by the North County Transit District at Lomas Santa Fe Drive and North Cedros Avenue. The train station expansion project was not greeted happily by Solana Beach residents when it was first proposed in 2007.

“A previous proposal by developers was thoroughly rejected by our community and the developer eventually pulled the design,” Heebner said. “We’ve been working the North County Transit District ever since then with a concept and guidelines so that the developers would have some assurances on what would be embraced by the community.”

Heebner said she expects that she and the council will be looking at the proposal at the tail end of 2015 for approval.

Encinitas: City tackles housing, labor and budget challenges

Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar outlined three key areas the city has prioritized for the coming year. Those areas are housing, labor disputes and the city’s budget.

Gaspar said state law requires the city to be involved with availability and affordability of housing, meaning that the city must enact a long-term plan for diverse housing opportunities.

Kristin Gaspar
Kristin Gaspar

The city’s plan for adding 1,300 state-mandated units became known as the Housing Element, and a number of different options for adding those units were proposed on a portion of the city’s website that allowed members of the public to contribute feedback.

“The public outreach process for this update has concluded and council can expect to see the results over the next few months,” Gaspar said. “Residents will have the opportunity to vote of these housing plans in 2016.”

The city will also be working with its employees to foster change in its labor agreement.

Gaspar said that for the first time since a series of failed bargaining discussions in 2012, the city of Encinitas and its employee union will once again enter into labor negotiations. City employees have been operating under an imposed contract since the city and employee union reached an impasse nearly three years ago.

Encinitas will be trying facilitate a new contract with its employees at the same time it searches for a new city manager. Interim Manager Larry Watt will serve for the next four to six months while the council undergoes a recruitment process with the help of labor consulting firm William Avery & Associates.

Lastly, Gaspar said the city’s budget and how it’s spent will be important in the coming year. She said the city operates under a two-year budget cycle and is entering the final year of the cycle.

Gaspar said she hopes the city will prioritize spending for its capital improvement projects, road and infrastructure maintenance and city services that provide public safety.

San Marcos: City shifts from growth to maintenance

San Marcos City Councilwoman Kristal Jabara said her city has grown in leaps and bounds over the past several years, but will soon be shifting its focus from growth to maintenance.

Kristal Jabara
Kristal Jabara

“As we move forward the city will be transitioning from a growth-oriented city to maintenance- oriented community,” Jabara said, adding that the City Council is in the process of putting together a list of goals and long-term visions this year for how to keep the city vibrant and attractive to businesses as it begins to age.

San Marcos is working with multiple cities to come up with a rebranding campaign for the State Route 78 corridor. The rebranding effort is going to be one of the ways the North County city hopes to bolster business, Jabara said.

The city will also be looking for ways to keep its infrastructure in good shape as it ages and will be looking for sources of funding that match its conservative fiscal policy, she said.

Carlsbad: General Plan update, utility development on horizon

Mayor Matt Hall said one of the important things the city of Carlsbad will need to do is finish up its General Plan and get it approved.

The plan has been worked on over the past six years and will reach approval in the first quarter of the year, according to Hall.

Matt Hall
Matt Hall

Hall said there are a number of medium-sized projects that are expected to reach completion soon, one of which is the Westfield Carlsbad mall (formerly Plaza Camino Real).

The shopping center, which is getting a $300 million upgrade, will reach completion by late December 2016. The center will gain a cineplex, 24-hour gym and a Tesla dealership and service center, among other tenants and amenities.

But Hall said there are number of larger projects that the City Council has approved that will see completion soon. Those projects are the Carlsbad Desalination Plant Project, sometimes referred to as the Poseidon Project, and a new peaker plant to replace the Encina power plant, which will go offline in 2018.

“When you think about everything we’re doing, to put it in a number, right now we’re planning, processing and building about $2.7 billion in projects,” Hall said.

The projects are all being backed by private money, according to Hall.

Hall said he hopes to see business continue to grow in Carlsbad and that the city will be working closely with its neighbors as part of the Route 78 corridor branding campaign.

“I’m looking forward to working with all the North County Cities to better life not only in Carlsbad, but throughout all of North County,” he said.

Alex Groves is a freelance writer in the region