Escondido identifies priorities in City Action Plan

Escondido identifies priorities in City Action Plan
The Escondido City Council held a public meeting to discuss it City Action Plan on Wednesday at City Hall. Photo by Steve Puterski

ESCONDIDO — Over three hours, the Escondido City Council outlined its top priorities for the city for the next several years.

Atop the list is the growing concern over unfunded pensions, which are estimated to rise by $40.2 million by 2022, according to Mayor Sam Abed.

He said it is “rising to a crisis level,” which puts the city in a difficult position regarding its General Fund, as a portion of those funds are used to pay for CalPERS, the state pension fund.

The rise in cost, Abed said, amounts to 33 percent of the General Fund, which would wreck havoc on city services provided to residents and cuts to staffs may be possible.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz added to the discussion say the rate paid by the city could force entire departments to be cut.

The five city leaders, though, said the problem begins with the state of California and its investments and rate of returns. Those returns were pegged at 7.5 percent, but cut to 7 percent, which led to the significant rise put on the city.

Councilmen John Masson and Ed Gallo, along with Abed, said the rate of return would be more like 5 percent, which would put the city even deeper in the hole.

However, Escondido isn’t the only city in the state facing the issue, the council said. In fact, it concerns every city and adjustments to funding pensions must be addressed as soon as possible.

“I’m concerned with the lack of control we have as a city,” Masson added. “This thing is a disaster and we could all end up in bankruptcy.”

Perhaps the second biggest topic of discussion centered on the city’s rising homeless population, which fell under public safety.

Gallo said the city should approach San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar to tap the county for funds to get people off the streets.

Diaz said the lack of shelters compounds the issue, and the one catering to homeless kicks them out during the day. As a result, homeless populate parks, sidewalks, libraries and do not get the services required to get them into housing and the workforce.

“They don’t have anywhere to go,” Diaz said. “They need a place to go during the daytime.”

As for economic development, the council had numerous ideas and plans, but all agreed the old Palomar Hospital campus is of critical importance to the city.

Masson said the city must be selective in the project, as the right one would change, for the better, the surrounding areas.

Abed noted the city’s “35 significant” current development projects and how those will also add revenue to city coffers. He highlighted the two hotels approved, one at La Terraza and the other at Stone Brewing.

They also discussed options to streamline development opportunities, which would help the city generate more revenue to combat the pension problem and continue to provide services.

“We need to entice more business, better business,” Councilman Mike Morasco added. “There are too many inhibitors. We need to become better facilitators.”

The new storm water regulations mandated by the state, which many on the council have railed against, said it slows the process and can turn away potential developers.

Diaz said alternative compliance would be advantageous for the city, if they can get a plan approved by the state before any other entity. City Manager Graham Mitchell, said the alternative compliance plan is in the process of being completed, although it wouldn’t be finalized and possibly approved by the state until next year.

They also discussed other areas of improvement such as a stronger and better presence online including the city’s website and social media feeds.

In addition, Masson re-ignited a long running passion project of Diaz’s in stumping for a linear park along Escondido Creek.

Currently known as the “Homeless Highway,” Masson and Diaz said if the city could manage to create the park, it would dovetail into economic development as well as provide numerous recreational activities for residents such as walking and biking paths.

The council also discussed at length cleaning up blight, holding property owners accountable for violating city codes and traffic light synchronization.

5 Comments
  1. Mark Stice 6 months ago

    Unfortunately, Escondido faces many challenges. All of the issues stated need attention. However, I think that before the linear park is developed, the infrastructure needs attention. Only after the infrastructure is repaired/upgraded can we add to the infrastructure, the park. (I do support this idea, by the way) Grand Avenue needs a plan to avold more decline. We still see too many losses mixed in with the successes. The redevelopment of the old hospital site will be a key project for sure.

  2. Jamie Higgins 6 months ago

    Excellent article!

  3. Tough Love 6 months ago

    Notwithstanding CA’s laws, Regs., case law, (and self-interested judicial “decisions”) there are ZERO (yes ZERO) “solutions” to the Public Sector pension/benefit mess that do not include AT A MINIMUM freezing the current DB Plans of all CURRENT workers for their future service. And, doing THAT, is JUST to stop digging the financial hole we are in EVEN DEEPER every day. Anyone who believes otherwise is either a charlatan, a mathematically ignorant, or simply “in the Union’s pocket” (basically 95+% of all CA Elected Officials).

    And even IF we did THAT, we would STILL have the HUGE unfunded liability associated with PAST service. In some cities there MAY be sufficient revenue to amortize that liability over many years, and in others even doing that is impossible and those Past service pensions/benefits will need to be reduced.

    Insatiable Union/worker greed and arrogance HAS consequences.

  4. Joe 6 months ago

    Thank you for an excellent article on this tough subject. The photo is great- what look to be reasonable people having a logical and well facilitated conversation about a topic that has an effect on every citizen. The variables are out there- what should the City expect in the way of appreciation on pooled funds? What is the consequence of doing nothing, which seems to win every time? What City services in its charter will be compromised as the pension obligation grows? I left California last year- such a lovely and diverse state. No plans to return, at least as a property owner. In the 25 years as a resident, it always pained me that nobody was willing to even discuss this issue for fear of getting sideways with a public employee.

  5. Ronald Stein 6 months ago

    It’s unfortunate that future generations, unable to vote today, will bear the costs of many enacted pension programs, entitlements and boondoggle projects, requiring them to pay higher taxes and work later into their lives to pay for these promises. It’s the inmates running the pension Asylum that are loading up system with lucrative packages for themselves, to be paid for by taxpayers.

    The international business world is intelligent enough to know that DEFINED BENEFITS, neither capped nor precisely quantifiable in advance, financial disasters to any business, thus all businesses focus on the known, i.e., defined CONTRIBUTIONS alone.
    Stealing from the young who have no votes, but silently shoulder the costs and bear the burden of unfunded promises of these programs to enrich the old seems to describe the Governments expansion of entitlement benefits and other government services, along with the taxes young people will have to pay to support them, mostly to subsidize older Americans.

    The inmates know that debt for our future generations buys votes. Over the decades, the proven “concept’ practiced by voters is to defer as much financial responsibilities as possible from our current financial responsibilities to future generations, that have no votes on the subject. Simply stated, if we cannot afford it today, pass it off to the future generations to minimize any impact on our current lifestyles.

    Another insult to the taxpayers and future generations paying their pensions is that many of those early retirements collect their guaranteed pensions, and then take a second job.

    Virtually all elected officials are heavily financed by unions which are focused on entitlements for their current members. The unions, government, and other bureaucrats have been very successful in manipulating the system to enrich themselves. Thus, no changes can be expected in the foreseeable future for elected officials to ever abandon their source of votes.

    Even before those young folks can vote our Golden State schools are on track to force substantial budgetary cutbacks on core education spending, as public schools around California are bracing for a crisis driven by skyrocketing worker pension costs that are expected to force districts to divert billions of dollars.

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