ESCONDIDO — Mayor Sam Abed held a town hall meeting on Wednesday to talk about the city’s developments and to allow residents the opportunity to formally voice their concerns.
Abed announced that the city’s long-term and underlying bond rating has been upgraded from A+ to AA- by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, which means the city can borrow money more cheaply, according to Abed.
“When everybody else is struggling with their bond rating, Escondido’s bond rating has been upgraded,” said Abed, “This is great news for the taxpayers.”
The city will be able to borrow money for city services with a lower interest rate, according to Abed.
The Neighborhood Transformation Project was also discussed.
The initiative is a collaborative effort between the police, faith-based organizations, residents and businesses to improve property values in order to bring in better business.
Police Chief Craig S. Carter talked about the success the program has had on the area between West Grand Avenue and Thirteenth Avenue along South Centre City Parkway.
“During one point we might have had 10 or 15 auto thefts in a two week period and now we have zero,” said Carter, “It’s actually making an effect.”
Carter said his budget has not increased at all.
Once the area becomes prosperous and self-sustaining, the police will focus efforts on a new area in the city, said Carter.
Neighborhood improvement is one of the top four priorities for the city, said Abed.
“Creating a safe and healthy neighborhood is our top priority,” said Abed.
Residents also asked about the move to a charter city, which Abed said he supported.
“We want to be as independent as possible from the state’s failed policies,” said Abed.
He referred to past failures at the city level, like the city of Bell in Los Angeles, which was embroiled in a scandal after city council members were found to be giving themselves exorbitant salaries.
He said the city would not be able to “arbitrarily give ourselves money.”
“We have left the risks out of the charter city,” said Abed, “The power is with the people of Escondido, not with the government in Sacramento.”
Another resident brought up the solar panels the city installed in Kit Carson Park.
City Manager Clay Phillips said the panels are not generating tremendous amounts of money.
“It’s not so much savings as protection from future costs because obviously electric costs are going up,” said Phillips.
“We may not have reduced costs but we also won’t be subjected to higher electrical costs in the future.”
Mayor Abed was also asked whether or not he will participate in the land use decision appeal brought by the American Civil Liberties Union about the Southwest Key proposed shelter.
“You have expressed, in your usual passion, your personal opinions broadcasted on Fox News. Will you excuse yourself (from the appeal)?” asked Roy Garrett.
“I will not,” Abed quickly responded, “because I am the mayor and I have my First Amendment as well to express my opinion any time. I haven’t said how I’m going to vote, but Roy, you can make a guess.”
The council will hear the land use appeal by the ACLU Sept. 10.
Abed was also asked what he was doing to combat homelessness in the city.
Abed agreed that something needed to be done, including having a year-round shelter. He said that if the five cities along the state Route 78 corridor were willing to collaborate, so would he.
Abed closed the meeting by saying how far the city has come in civic engagement.
“I think out of every town hall meeting, this was the best,” said Abed. “Every single question that was asked today was relevant to our community, our city and we appreciate it very much.”