STATE OF EAST COUNTY: CITY LEADERS REVEAL PLANS RANGING FROM DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION TO A WATER SKI PARK IN SANTEE; JACOB TO PROPOSE FIRE DEPLOYMENT STUDY

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May 2, 2009 (El Cajon)—Speaking at an East County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Grossmont College yesterday, Supervisor Dianne Jacob took a cue from President Barack Obama and offered her own “100 days” post-election report. But she noted one key difference, “I did not take over any banks,” she quipped, then offered her own “to do” list. Mayors of several East County cities also offered their perspectives.

 

The County still faces a “triple whammy” of budget challenges driven by a weak economy, declining revenues and a state budget crisis, she observed. “We will very likely be eliminating over 700 positions,” she disclosed.

 

On a more positive note, the County’s budget is balanced, its credit rating has improved and the County has broken ground on a new $500 million city operations center that will ultimately save taxpayers money and put over 3,500 San Diegans to work, Jacob said. She also praised the County for opening a new Edgemore Hospital in Santee, paid for in part with federal funds, and the opening of the new Lakeside Ballpark complete with batting cages, turf fields and stadium lighting.

 

Jacob also addressed fire safety. “I heard you loud and clear when 63% of you said you want to invest in better fire and public safety protections,” she said, adding that she plans to propose a deployment study that will be a “sweeping review” of what our region needs to improve fire and emergency services—and how much it will cost to get the job done.

 

The Supervisor also urged Chamber members to contact their state legislators and ask support for Assembly Bill 920, which would allow homeowners to be paid fair market value for excess energy produced by rooftop solar. She also called for an overhaul of In Home Supportive Services, citing “abuse and brutality” in the program. In addition, she asked support for AB 91, a bill to require ignition interlock devices for convicted drunk drivers.

 

La Mesa’s Mayor Art Madrid called his city a “poster child for smart growth,” noting that 1,600 residential units are located within 50 to 100 feet of transit stations. But the big news for La Mesa is allocation of over $1 million to revitalize the downtown village. “$900,000 is coming from the stimulus,” he said, referring to the Obama administration’s federal economic stimulus program. The city also received a state grant to improve parks.

 

But overall, the city remains in “crisis mode” due to revenue shortfalls in the current conomy, Madrid disclosed. He slammed the San Diego Taxpayer Association for criticizing La Mesa officials who voted to put a ¾ of a cent sales tax increase on the ballot, noting that taxpayers’ approved the measure to protect vital city services. La Mesa voters have previously approved a tax increase to fund a new library, post office and police station, he observed. “We get chastised for being visionary and having political will,” he said. But even with the tax increase, La Mesa will need to address costs including pension funds, Madrid added. “Everybody needs to share the pain.” He also called for support of AB 1284, a bill to place restrictions on location of halfway houses in residential neighborhoods.

 

Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Sessom reported that crime in her city has decreased and sales tax revenues are down. “We are tightening our belts and dipping into reserves, “ she said in a notably brief address, “but we are still taking care of business and our people.”

 

Bill Wells, Mayor Pro Tem of El Cajon, praised El Cajon’s revitalization of its downtown as well as programs to assist homebuyers. Redevelopment has brought 16 new businesses into downtown and resulted in five major expansions even in the current challenging economy, he said. He praised police for arresting a serial bank robber and shutting down a burglary ring. The city also remodeled two fire stations and saw opening of the East County Family Justice Center to help victims of domestic violence in recent months. A new public safety center will be built soon near City Hall and a 30-year new downtown specific plan is also in the works. Upcoming festivals, including Cajon Classic Cruises, Concerts on the Green, and Western Days are hoped to give downtown merchants a boost.

 

Councilman Jack Dale presented Santee’s report. Noting that the city is home to the “Las Colinas Girls Club” (Las Colinas Women’s Prison) and Sycamore Landfill, Dale jested, “If you don’t want it, we’ve got it,” then went on to focus on some positive developments.

 

Santee is in better financial shape than some neighboring communities because it has managed to save some money for rainy days, Dale said. The city also saw construction and opening of a new Henry’s Marketplace, opening of a Sonic Burger, and is building a new Towne Centre park. In addition, Santee is considering adding a water ski park to Santee Lakes.

 

Dale told the audience to expect to hear a lot more about mass transit in the near future, citing SB 375 as an example. “We’re required to reduce greenhouse emissions and improve air quality. The only way to do that in East County is more mass transit,” he said, the offered this light-hearted advice for those who have opposed mass transit for the area. “You can drive your truck and everybody else gets out of your way,” he said, predicting roads would be less congested if “others take mass transit so you won’t have to.”

Dale offered good news for those weary of gridlock. “In 2010, Highway 52 will be connected to Highway 67,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd.