ESCONDIDO — Much is going according to the vision of Mayor Sam Abed and the City Council.
Abed gave his annual State of the City address Wednesday at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido in front of 450 attendees.
A short video highlighted the day-to-day activities and lifestyles of residents as well as Abed commenting on the increased development and economic activity.
However, Abed discussed the city’s increasing requirement to meet its state obligation. He railed against the state and its management of pension obligations across California.
Abed said, as the council discussed at last week’s City Action Plan meeting, the lowered return of investment from 7.5 percent to 7 percent will increase the city’s spending on the fund by $20 million by 2022. Currently, Escondido pays $20 million toward pensions.
The city has created a $500,000 pension liability reserve for long-term stabilization.
“This unsustainable unfunded mandate by the state is a financial crisis,” Abed said. “I am willing and ready to lead a class action lawsuit against the state to protect the taxpayers. Sacramento says we are your government and we are here to help you. We say, ‘Sacramento no thank you, just leave us alone.’”
He also touched on poverty and the rising numbers of homelessness in the city. Since 2007, the poverty rate has climbed from 12 percent to 16 percent, a rate similar to San Diego County.
As for homelessness, Abed said there are 532 people without homes, although 307 are sheltered, but the number of unsheltered has doubled in the last year to 225.
Abed blamed the rising number of homeless on the state’s action to release criminals from prison and lower the threshold in prosecuting drug and theft charges.
“We have partnered with Solutions for Change and contributed $2.1 million to build 33 transitional housing units in our city to provide permanent solutions for homeless families,” the mayor added.
On the economic front, Abed boasted about the city’s success with 560 new net businesses last year, while Westfield North County has also expanded.
The city has also fast tracked 35 “major” industrial, commercial and residential projects with a value of $1.2 billion.
As a result of new businesses, sales tax hit a record high of $36 million in 2016.
Two of those projects in the pipeline, however, are also addressing a need the city has been chasing for decades in the form of hotels. Stone Brewing and the Marriott Springhill Suites at La Terraza were approved and a needed addition to the city, Abed said.
“Our first full service hotel will break ground in the next couple of months,” he added. “When Stone Brewing Company submits their plans to build a new hotel, the city promised to approve their application in 60 short days. We are proud to have such a successful business here in Escondido.”
Abed also discussed city projects such as $3 million to fund street maintenance, $300 million over the next 20 years to improve water quality including the controversial recycled water facility at Washington Avenue and Ash Street and using technology to push Escondido forward as a smart city.
Abed highlighted the Track it Program and Report It! and PulsePoint apps as creations from the city used to take advantage of technology.
Prior to Abed’s remarks, he and the city council honored a nonprofit and several residents for their contributions to Escondido.
The two-term mayor honored the Escondido Charitable Foundation with the Escondido Mayor’s Leadership Award.
In 2016, the ECF celebrated its 10th anniversary and focused on programs preventing homelessness and promoting housing stability. In 10 years, the ECF has distributed $1.8 million in grants and an endowment of more than $960,000.
The four other city council members also handed out awards to numerous Escondido residents and business owners for their contributions to the city.
Robert Barrientos, community, is president of the Lansing Circle Neighborhood Group, who transformed the 16 apartment complexes to eradicate crime and bring a family-friendly atmosphere.
Margie Ballard, 94, was recognized for compassion as she has volunteered with Palomar Health Group for 29 years, assists the birth center and Behavioral Health Unit. She has volunteered more than 13,000 hours.
Dominic Polito, public safety, is an Escondido firefighter and started the StachetoberFest, which has raised nearly $100,000 over the past nine years to aid families in need.
Dan Forster and Heather Moe, business, were tapped for their efforts with Design Moe Kitchen and Bath, a specialty business in downtown. Forster and Moe also volunteer with the Downtown Business Association and Escondido Art Association’s scholarship program, respectively.
Keith Roynon, youth, opened a museum in his garage in 2000, which eventually evolved into the Roynon Museum of Earth Science and Paleontology on Grand Avenue in 2015.
Don Piller, education, volunteers with Oasis to teach seniors computer skills and has served more than 3,000 people. He also volunteers with the San Diego Hiking Club and Forest Fire Lookout Association.
Barbara Preston, arts, started as a board member of the Escondido Arts Partnership, First Night Escondido, Escondido Art Association, Public Arts Commission and library.