Currently the cities of San Diego County are having to confront the ever growing task of balancing uncontrolled growth, infrastructure maintenance and rising energy prices, while preserving the quality of life their residents expect. Is it little wonder that financing public services is often a hot bed of controversy?
The City of Encinitas, always ripe with complaints about how it manages public funds and services, has recently entered the minefield cities must navigate to adapt to economic reality when faced by distrustful and disenfranchised critics of municipal mismanagement.
Hardly an impoverished or blighted city, Encinitas, with a growing population of over 63,000 is having to reassess how to fund it's underfunded lighting and landscaping district. According to Assistant City manager Richard Phillips, the Lighting and Landscaping District, which is responsible for street lights, stop lights and roadside landscaping, is finding it hard to maintain the current level of service, with revenues limited by a decades old fee structure.
The fee structure responsible for generating funds for the Lighting and Landscaping was legislated as a result of passing Prop 13; since that time major developments have transpired, most notably the sprawling Encinitas Ranch project, the completion of Leucadia Blvd, phase one of the downtown street scape and the ongoing gentrification of Sante Fe Drive.
The maintenance of the Sante Fe Drive landscaping alone will cost taxpayers $45,000 a year.
The problems for Encinitas city government lie in the rising cost of energy coupled with the costs of maintaining landscape medians. The city contracts landscape maintenance crews to maintain labor intensive non-native landscaping. The funds for water to sustain these park-like plantings also comes from the Lights and Landscaping budget.
Of course, no one is suggesting the city of Encinitas diminish it's commitment to public safety or municipal aesthetics, as both help preserve property values and our much prized quality of life. The choices before the city are: reducing services, raising fees, or dipping deeper into the city's general fund.
Although the remedy for the funding shortage has yet to be decided, Encinitas Councilwoman Teresa Barth is suggesting innovation and energy efficiency as the long term answer. Citing solar technology and native landscaping as sustainable options, Councilwoman Barth is well versed in what other communities were doing to adapt to rising energy costs, while encouraging self-sufficiency.
Asked about converting streetlights to solar technology, Barth pointed out the California Department of Transportation is already using photovoltaics to power roadside call boxes and the portable information units used to warn motorists of reduced speeds in construction zones. Barth also produced examples of solar powered transit shelters.
When asked about the nexus between lighting, landscaping and funding shortages Barth said "Until Encinitas government adopts the philosophy of Triple bottom line accounting, the money chase will continue as energy and labor costs rise and revenue sources are stretched thin to make ends meet."
Triple bottom line accounting expands monetary framework to include environmental and social performance as well as economic considerations.
Proving there is a way, Barth added "There is a willingness at the staff level. Because they keep up on what's happening, and it's happening. It's council that needs to be convinced."