North County Mayors Join Forces To Help Region
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
A group of North County mayors has decided it’s time to join forces to crystalize the region’s identity, and attract money and jobs.
There are beautiful beaches in North County, a huge Marine Base north of Oceanside, and the Safari Park is just east of Escondido. Most people know about the Del Mar Racetrack, and Legoland in Carlsbad. They may know Valley Center is in North County, but what about Ramona?
These are the kind of questions that make it difficult to define North County, and therefore difficult to sell it to prospective employers - or to government agencies handing out grants.
That’s one reason five elected mayors from cities in North County decided to set aside their differences, and work together to attract opportunities for their citizens.
Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood says the catalyst for their cooperation happened at SANDAG, the regional planning agency where all 18 mayors in the county meet and divide millions of dollars for transportation funding.
“We, meaning the mayors in the North County, have decided that in the pecking order of things like SANDAG, we’re the redheaded stepchild,“ Wood said. “We’re the smaller cities. Now, we’re a region of San Diego, and we’ve decided as mayors we’d like a little more support for the North San Diego County.”
North County mayors saw millions of dollars in transportation money diverted from the expansion of Interstate 5 to build transit projects further south in San Diego.
Matt Hall, the mayor of Carlsbad, says cooperation is about more than winning transit money - it’s about positioning the region to attract more economic development.
“We’re better positioned to attract companies than if we try to do it individually,” Hall said. “Our staffs are working on a plan or a program right now. The city managers, they’ve got all of our economic development people talking amongst themselves to come up with what they think is a viable plan.“
Mayor Sam Abed, elected in 2010 in Escondido, is all about attracting more business.
“North County will be able to attract higher profile businesses here and better jobs and we’ll coordinate,” Abed said. “If they need more land in one city, we can refer them to the other city and work together on this."
The mayors are quick to point out what each respective city has to offer.
“Beaches, pier, harbor, small airport - Oceanside has a lot to offer to the North County," said Wood. "Everyone has something to add to the pot.“
“In Escondido, we have Palomar Pomerado Hospital,” said Mayor Abed, “A state of the art, $1-billion investment that will serve North County.”
“We have a great educational cluster than will provide the educated workforce to help us grow in North County,“ he said.
One of the most important elements of the mix is Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. It’s a small airport, but it already has commuter flights to Los Angeles and beyond. Studies are underway into the feasibility of lengthening the runway to accomodate bigger planes.
“The airport is very key,“ Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said. “I think it’s going to have great benefit for the City of Carlsbad, but great benefit for all of North County.”
The mayors are not the only ones planning to build on North County’s reputation as a destination. North County’s Economic Development Council has also begun to explore the potential of the region, with an initiative recently renamed “Prosperity on Purpose.” County Supervisor Bill Horn has chipped in $140,000. The council plans to roll out an economic development strategy by the summer to benefit the whole of North County, including the more rural, unincorporated areas.
The two separate initiatives reflect the reality that North County still hasn’t defined its boundaries. But Mayor Abed is optimistic.
“Before, yes, we were shortchanged, and now I think our voice is more united," he said. "Are we getting our fair share? Maybe next time around."
The mayors said they hope to unveil some preliminary ideas to define the economic potential of the amorphous “North County" region later this month.
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