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National City mayor wants to finish what he started last decade

Ron Morrison spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s moving back into the National City mayor’s office.

It’s an office he occupied from 2006 to 2018 but has belonged to Alejandra Sotelo-Solis since then. It’s safe to say that the two mayors don’t have the same taste in interior decorating.

Solis removed the stuffed buffalo head that hung over the mayor’s desk for more than a decade. And, Morrison said, she covered up the “beautiful, red mahogany walls,” with lavender and purple paint.

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Morrison brought back the buffalo head and his collection of Civil War-era figurines — but he’s not getting the mahogany walls back.

“It was too expensive to strip the paint,” he said. “So, we just painted over the lavender and purple with a neutral tone.”

The mayor’s office decor isn’t the only thing Morrison is trying to bring back to the South Bay city of 55,000.

He wants to use his second run as mayor to continue initiatives he started during his first tenure. That includes attracting more businesses to National City, expanding public access to the waterfront and pushing back against special interests he believes other elected officials in National City pay too much attention to.

“Probably in the last 4, 5 years, we’ve centered more on nonprofits and listened to nonprofits and their concept of business,” he said. “There’s a reason you call them nonprofits. They have their place, but they should not be our economic advisors.”

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He is also wary of building too much housing — affordable or otherwise.

“Affordable housing doesn’t pay property taxes,” he said. “Even on a regular house property, taxes do not pay for the level of services that (a) house needs. The way that we make money to provide services is through business. That’s some of the economics 101 that seems to be lost on the new politics.”

National City is surrounded by freeways. Morrison believes the future of its economic growth lies in using that reality to the city’s advantage. He wants to line the highway with attractive businesses that will make people stop and spend money in National City instead of continuing down the road.

“The In-N-Out is a perfect example,” he said. “You put an In-N-Out in that corner and you’re going to be getting people coming into National City and see that it’s different than what they thought or what they’d heard.”

A second In-N-Out location is scheduled to open along Interstate-805 later in 2023. And San Diego County’s first cannabis consumption lounge will also open next year. Both of those projects are estimated to generate a combined $700,000 in annual sales tax revenues, according to reports from the city’s economic development staff.

Morrison said the city is also in advanced talks with Carmax to open a lot near Plaza Bonita. That business would generate approximately $1 million in sales tax revenues, he said.

Apart from growing the city’s tax base, Morrison wants to increase access to the waterfront.

“We’re the only city on the West Coast that either fronts on the bay or the ocean but does not have one inch of public access to the bay or ocean,” he said.

The key to that plan is Pepper Park, which is located along the Sweetwater River channel in the Southwest corner of National City. The city has been working with the Port of San Diego to expand the park and give it more public amenities.