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San Marcos officials dream of bright future

SAN MARCOS — City staff and council members gathered for a five-hour brainstorming session at City Hall on March 27 to articulate their visions for the next several years as their community transitions from a sprawling suburb to an infilled city.
The ideas presented will help guide the creation of San Marcos’ first general plan, scheduled to be finished within two years, which serves as a blueprint for future construction and zoning.
A big topic of discussion was the San Marcos Creek District, a 214-acre multi-story, mixed-use development along San Marcos Boulevard that will provide an anchoring downtown for the city.
The council members agreed that they wanted to see a wide variety of uses to keep people visiting throughout the day: restaurants, professional service offices, government offices — perhaps even a court house.
“My vision is to somehow capture the urban environment with the mixed use but also to keep a somewhat small town feeling,” Councilwoman Rebecca Jones said. “I don’t think I personally have seen that anywhere.”
“It’s not downtown Manhattan, it’s downtown Mayberry,” Councilman Chris Orlando said.
As San Marcos grows, so will traffic. In the near future, the city is looking to complete interchange improvements at the Woodland Parkway and Nordahl Road exits along Highway 78. Longer term, council members suggested a variety of internal transit systems including shuttles, share taxis, even pedicabs.
The streetlight synchronization along San Marcos Boulevard has increased traffic speeds. Mayor Jim Desmond said he hoped to extend this synchronization to the rest of the town using wireless technology. City Manager Paul Malone told the council that it was not currently cost-effective, but that might change in the near future.
One popular technology that the workshop attendees did not see in the future for San Marcos was red light cameras, which take photos at intersections and issue citations.
“The primary purpose of red-light cameras should be for preventing accidents, not for creating revenue,” City Engineer Mike Edwards said. “We don’t have the accident history or the type of accidents that red-light cameras would correct.”
Sustainability was a big buzzword at the workshop. In anticipation of stricter state mandates, the council members advocated stronger energy and water efficiency guidelines to be outlined in a standalone document within the general plan. Vice Mayor Hal Martin maintained the importance of having new construction be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certified to ensure conformity to city rules.
“You need a standard to go by,” Martin said. “We definitely need a third, uninterested party to check on these things. Not city staff, certainly not the contractor.”
The council members last discussed ways to improve the city’s image to attract new residents and business.
Communications Officer Jenny Peterson said the city’s new Web site would be a vehicle for establishing the San Marcos brand. Her department would commission programming for the largely unused city television channel, provided by Cox.
The mayor said he wanted to see a signature event for the city along the lines of Escondido’s Grape Day or Poway’s Rodeo Days. Councilman Mike Preston threw out what he described as the wildest idea he had, suggesting that they try to bring the San Diego Chargers to San Marcos.
“I think it generates the kind of prestige you want for the city,” Preston said, pointing out that a football stadium would only generate traffic on eight Sundays of the year.
“That is the wildest idea,” Desmond said. “I just can’t picture it anywhere in San Marcos.”