Union Tribune Thursday Feb 26,2015

Escondido in good shape, mayor says

— Escondido is doing well and getting better by the minute, Mayor Sam Abed told several hundred people who gathered Wednesday morning at the downtown California Center for the Arts for his annual State of the City address.Abed said he was humbled by the “mandate delivered by (voters)” in the November election in which he easily secured a second term as the city’s mayor. “I will honor the trust you have given me and will not let you down,” he said.

Several times during Wednesday’s speech Abed talked about doing what is morally right.“Let’s build a city driven by values, optimism and faith, where work and family are the center of our lives and the foundation of our dignity as a free people,” he said.  Abed said the city has come out of the Great Recession with guns blazing and he cited numerous positive economic statistics. “Our budget last year ended with a $2.3 million surplus,” he said. “We turned around a $16 million deficit over four consecutive years to over $8.2 million surplus in the last four years without using reserves or increasing taxes.”

Westfield North County, the sprawling shopping mall on the southern end of town, has seen a 25 percent growth in revenues since spending $100 million remodeling the facility, he said. “The growth puts Westfield North County among the top shopping malls in the country.”  Abed also spoke of the phenomenal success of Stone Brewing Co., which has gained international fame and helped ignite the white-hot craft brewing industry. “Since (Stone) moved to Escondido in 2005, their annual sales have increased from $5 million to $175 million today,” Abed said.

He also praised the city’s firefighters and police, saying crime was reduced by 22 percent last year. “With this dramatic decrease, Escondido now enjoys the lowest crime rate since 1980,” he said.

As for the future, Abed said the City Council’s “action plan — which focuses on the priorities of Economic Development, Fiscal Management, Public Safety and Neighborhood Improvement — will soon be implemented.

Highlights of those priorities include moving forward with plans to relocate the Public Works yard and preparing the site for a future business park; working toward bringing a full-service hotel to Escondido (which brought loud applause from the gathering); maintaining a balanced budget and using surpluses to improve core services; completing sweeping revisions to the city’s approval process and building codes; and strengthening proactive code enforcement activities. “By nature, I am a positive person,” Abed said. “So I see the Escondido that has a tremendous sense of pride, great generosity, and strong community spirit. I see the Escondido that welcomes people from all walks of life. I see the Escondido where people of different interests work together for the common good.”

Abed and other members of the City Council also honored a number of residents with this year’s State of the City awards. Honorees were:

Arts — Brian Murphy, a master craftsman who owns American Furniture Design & Murphy's Fine Woodworking.

Business: Escondido Disposal Inc.;

Community Service — Juan Arjona, who over the last six years has gathered and distributed over 6,000 pounds of food every Saturday at Pioneer Elementary School to people who struggle to feed their families;

Education — Derry Connolly, president of John Paul the Great Catholic University;

Public Safety — NK Towing & Roadside Services, which through its “Tipsy Tow” program keeps drunk drivers off city streets by giving temporarily impaired drivers and their vehicles a free ride home;

Youth — Elana Karoly for her efforts with Go2Grow, a teen counseling program;

Mayor’s Leadership Award — Rorie Johnston, executive director of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce.