CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Persevering in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, the mayor of Chula Vista delivered her annual state-of-the-city address Tuesday night virtually because of coronavirus restrictions.
Members of San Diego County's second-largest city are coming together to meet the COVID-19 crisis head-on as this pandemic continues to hit the South Bay particularly hard.
Mayor Mary Casillas Salas pointed out that her city, just like the entire nation, is facing the toughest economic challenge since the Great Depression.
"2020 has been the most challenging year we have faced in our life time, " Salas said.
She also highlighted the progress being made by Chula Vista just as COVID-19 struck.
"Before the pandemic hit, Chula Vista was boldly moving toward the future," Salas said.
Here is the entirety of Mayor Salas' address:
"Good evening and welcome to the 2020 State of the City address. I am Mary Salas, Mayor of Chula Vista. A community that believes in the values of compassion, peace and progress.
I have never been prouder to work with the staff and community to move the City forward in spite of the fact that 2020 has been the most challenging year we have all faced in our lifetime. Together, we are enduring an unprecedented global pandemic that yields economic challenges not seen since the 1930’s, while we are confronting the ongoing battle against racism and bigotry.
These issues can bring a feeling of anxiety and despair, and of feeling overwhelmed. We see the news, watch our social media feeds, it is easy to go online and feel a gloom around us.
It’s been said, “Yet it is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” And I have seen our community light a candle in the spirit of hope, as we have come together to face these challenges. Before this pandemic hit, Chula Vista was boldly moving towards the future. Chula Vista was one of five cities included in a statewide study for a potential new California State University campus.
The Port of San Diego had just approved the Coastal Development Permit to RIDA Development for the proposed Hotel and Convention Center on our Bayfront and we had just rezoned portions of the old Rohr plant footprint to become a tech incubation area, to encourage new start-ups to the area. 2 New businesses, like Williams Aerospace and MGP Caliper Covers, opened manufacturing facilities in Chula Vista. Bringing highly skilled jobs to our community.
We opened the Willow Street Bridge by Rohr Park. We were recognized by The New American Economy as one of the top two cities in the nation, behind Chicago, in providing opportunities of economic empowerment, inclusivity, and community building, to immigrants and officially became a Welcoming City. New businesses opened in Millennia, and some expanded in the Otay Ranch Town Center. Our Library premiered RUTH: Remember Us The Holocaust. An exhibit featuring 12 Holocaust survivors that made the South Bay their place of work, worship and home.
The exhibit was a dream of Ruth Sax, a Holocaust survivor, Chula Vista resident, advocate and inspirational speaker who passed on December 29, 2018 and it also includes stories from the Armenian Genocide and the impact to our local Armenian families. It is the first exhibit of its kind in the South Bay. We started and continue renovating the Norman Park Senior Center. We dedicated Orion Park and Strata Park in the Millenia Development, bringing the total number of parks in Chula Vista to over 60, and the Rohr Dog Park, the largest dog park in the South Bay, in coordination with Councilmember John McCann, the Development Services Department and, Parks and Recreation. 3 We formed San Diego Community Power, with San Diego, La Mesa, Encinitas, and Imperial Beach.
This community driven local electricity provider was created to empower our communities to shape a clean energy future that is local. We were on track to have $1 million in surplus and had $24 million in our Operational reserve, and $7 million in our Emergency reserve. But then, the COVID-19 pandemic came upon us all. An ongoing global public health crisis that shut down the world. Like you, our City had to shift overnight to meet this enormous challenge. As Mayor of this incredible city, I’ve been proud to see our community organize food drives, and call their elderly neighbors, and donate to numerous charities. Our city government did too. Our Community Services Department took immediate action. While Libraries closed, staff transitioned to answer the San Diego County’s 2-1-1 line to provide our community with information on where to access food, utility and financial assistance.
Our amazing library staff has been working diligently to assist our community and answer 250-350 calls per day and the number of calls continues to grow. Parks and Recreation established the #maskthecitychallenge to encourage everyone in the community to wear masks and face coverings and distributed them to homebound and senior residents. 4 Many residents and staff made and donated masks, like Emily Bonafilia, Christy Vasquez, Yolanda Garcia Blackwelder, Alice Hauptmann, and Sandy Scheller and her family. The Chula Vista Library served as a centralized location for the donated masks and face coverings and also helped to promote the challenge. When our schools closed, we took action and purchased 2,000 WI-FI hotspots to serve those families that are most in need during this time of distance learning. The hot spots were allocated to the library and were distributed through the Chula Vista Elementary School District. The library shifted to an all-virtual program and has been recording story times, crafts, and workshops for the community to keep our children and families engaged at home.
These programs are at your fingertips on the Library’s web site. Our Public Works Department executed coronavirus emergency response efforts and services throughout our city, providing disinfecting supply kits to public counters in open city facilities, servicing over 100 first responder vehicles and equipment critical to public safety. The Public Works Department, working with the Economic Development Department, Fire Department, Police Department, and Code Enforcement formed a local COVID-19 public health campaign and community outreach task force. In just five days, the COVID-19 outreach task force contacted almost one thousand businesses, over 360 members of the public, and distributed over 1,000 masks.
On May 5, our City Council authorized a 90-Day economic recovery plan. The plan includes a $6.1 million Small Business Relief Fund. The plan also includes one-time loans of up to $5,000 available specifically to restaurants who are still operating. We did this because we know that small businesses are the lifeblood of our community and a large part of any economic growth and prosperity that our City needs. But also during the pandemic we looked for innovative ways to reach even the most vulnerable in our city.
We expanded COVID-19 outreach by using speaker equipped drones for humanitarian missions and homeless outreach with local law enforcement to share vital information to help this very vulnerable population during the ongoing pandemic. The City of Chula Vista, despite multiple crises, isn’t stopping with helping residents. We care about our four-legged friends too. I know my dog Wally is a member of my family. Our Chula Vista Animal Care Facility started the “United 4 Fur Pet Pantry” program to provide pet food supplies to families in need during COVID-19. Our City Attorney’s Office has drafted numerous Emergency Orders to protect renters in the City from eviction and to implement safety standards to slow the spread of the virus. 6 Because of the urgency of the crisis, for the first time ever, our city created a $1 million rental assistance program to help families meet their housing needs during this emergency. We have done all of this with little federal or state support. We used our emergency financial reserves.
The federal government only provided direct funding to cities with a population over 500,000 people and under the Governor’s proposal, the state will provide direct funding for cities with more than 300,000 people. With no consideration about the impact of COVID-19, the Federal Government and the State are using arbitrary population numbers to assign funding. This is why it is so critical that all our residents complete the Census 2020 so we that can our fair share of State and Federal funding. As we look forward to a path of recovery, we continue to advance vital projects that stimulate our economy, revitalize our community and our region.
We are still moving forward with our Bayfront development. The Costa Vista RV park construction is happening now and is scheduled to be completed and opened by January of 2021. I’m proud to say our City, with our partners, the Port of San Diego and RIDA Development, is committed to completing these major projects, which will be an incredibly positive impact to our region. 7 These achievements happened thanks to the work of Councilmember Steve Padilla and his role as our representative and Chair of the California Coastal Commission. In our Third Avenue Village, we started construction on the final phase of the Third Avenue Streetscape Improvements and Beautification project. This last segment, between F street and E street will finish the work along our downtown village. The final phase should be complete by October of this year. We have repaved the worst of the worst streets and will continue to repave our streets that are considered in poor condition thanks to Measure P, the sales tax measure passed in 2016.
We have begun numerous Sidewalk Removal and replacement projects as well. We have focused most of this investment in our older communities. Measure P will also fund the rebuilding of Fire Station 5. It will move to Moss Street and is expected to open February 2021. Fire Station 9, will be rebuilt at Orange Avenue, behind the South Chula Vista Library. That station is expected to open April 2021. These stations were built more than 60 years ago and needed to be replaced to better serve our residents in Western Chula Vista and ensure that they have better response times and latest equipment. 8 And continuing the renovation and revitalization of the West side,
Councilmembers Jill Galvez and Mike Diaz created a Mural program that has begun to beautify storefronts up and down our major commercial corridors. In the new area of Millenia we just opened Fire Station 10, on May 22 of this year. It's the first new Fire Station to open in 14 years. The Fire Department increased staffing on fire engines from 3 to 4 firefighters throughout the city. Federal safety rules do not allow two firefighters to enter a burning structure unless two firefighters are outside to support them. We implemented Fire Department SQUADs, a two-person team to answer medical calls. Our data show a significant improvement to response times. And we are preparing the Fire Department to do medical transport to lower the cost to our residents and provide a higher level of care. We are also moving forward with plans to help those most in need among us, our unsheltered population.
COVID-19 made it glaringly clear that helping this population find and secure a home is not only the moral thing to do but also a way to help our community overcome COVID-19. Thanks to the donation of the Lucky Duck Foundation and the City of San Diego, we will soon open the first homeless bridge shelter in Chula Vista. A first step to give that hand up and help this population find stability, dignity and hope. 9 I am proud that our City Council unanimously approved accepting this donation and we intend to have the shelter up and running by 2021.
We also adopted a Digital Equity and Inclusion Plan, the first such plan in the County and lays out actions the city will take to ensure every Chula Vista resident has affordable access to high-speed and quality internet, as well as the skills and devices needed to use it. This is especially critical during the COVID-19 crisis. We are still investing in our University and Innovation District and foresee it becoming a new tech hub in our region that will bring quality University education to our young people, and the high-end jobs to keep them here. Now we, like the rest of our nation, are facing the biggest economic challenge since the 1930’s.
Our economic recovery will depend on all of us. Chula Vista has faced challenges before and has always come out stronger. The tradition of innovation has always been a hallmark of Chula Vista and this was strengthened by our City Manager, Gary Halbert. Gary continued our city’s leadership in embracing Smart Cities concepts and Climate Action. Thanks to his efforts we are a global leader in integrating new technologies with civic growth and engagement, while maintaining environmental sustainability.
We are one of only ten cities to be a testing site for Autonomous Vehicles and for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones, and we were one of the first cities in the world to integrate drones into public safety. 10 Gary is retiring this month with over 30 years of experience in local government. I would like to take this time to show a short video thanking you for all that you have done for us, Gary. (Begin Video Tribute) We now welcome a new City Manager, Maria Kachadoorian. She will continue the tradition of bringing new ideas and innovation. Maria, was our Director of Finance during the Great Recession, and helped our city come out stronger from that crisis and was key in having our city achieve a balanced budget, a better credit rating, and the $30 million surplus that has sustained our City during this COVID-19 crisis.
Both I and the rest of the City Council agree she is the perfect person to lead our City’s Administration during this time of economic uncertainty. But, there is another challenge that impacts us and our nation, and that is the state of race in our country. From the genocide of the first people, the enslavement of Africans, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1888, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the forced deportations of American Citizens of Mexican descent in the 1930’s and 50’s to today’s kids in cages. Way too often we see reports of African Americans and people of color who have been murdered or lost their lives for no reason.
The latest is George Floyd, before that, there was Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police while sleeping in her bed, and Ahmaud Arbery was shot while jogging. This is wrong and simply unacceptable. It has resulted in the Black Lives Matter movement that many wrongly perceive as anti-police. The Black Lives Matter was, in turn, co-opted into an All Lives Matter slogan. But All Lives Matter is a false slogan unless all lives matter equally—and it seems that, for some, black and brown lives matter less. I fully support the peaceful protests seeking justice for all, including for taking the lives of Floyd, Taylor and Arbery, whether the perpetrators are police or civilian. Now is the time for self-examination. We change when there is conflict and pain, when things are uncomfortable. I, and my family, have seen and experienced racism firsthand. From when my Grandparents moved to Chula Vista in 1919, to my sisters and me. I marched for equality as a teenager during the Civil Rights Movement and I continue to march because we have seen that racism and prejudice is still endemic to our nation. However, we are fortunate to live in a community like Chula Vista.
While we are not perfect, we are a city that has achieved national recognition for embracing and celebrating our diversity and for integrating immigrants in our society. I am particularly proud of the relationship that we have developed between our police and the community-at-large. Every year SANDAG conducts a survey about residents’ satisfaction with their police department, and every time it finds that Chula Vistans are very satisfied with our police department. In 2019, 90% of Chula Vista residents surveyed indicated that they were satisfied with the performance of our police department. Our department is a model of professionalism and continuous community outreach. It is one of the most diverse Departments in our County and many who serve are multi-generational residents of Chula Vista. This is a tribute to every member of our police department and speaks to the fact that we hire the best candidates possible, train rigorously, provide outstanding leadership, set high standards and, most importantly, promptly weed out those that do not measure up.
It is also a tribute to our Chief, Roxana Kennedy, and the rest of her leadership team who are open to listen and to learn. We were the first Police Department in the county to extensively train our officers in the use de-escalation techniques. We require all officers to not use their firearm except in the face of serious injury or death, we require comprehensive reporting of all 13 incidents of use of force, and our officers have a duty to intervene if they witness any officer acting inappropriately. And most recently we abolished the use of the carotid restraint, referred to by some, as the choke hold. While, we are not perfect, our residents and our police department help make this a great place to live. This is a testament to the kind of community that we have and the Public Safety employees who serve our city.
Even though we have made some progress in breaking down barriers for equality, racial equality, gender equality, and marriage equality, recent events have shown us that there is still so much to do. That we have not achieved the goal of judging a person by the content of their character, that we continue to judge them by their skin color, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion, or their primary language. Our City and its people continue to hold on to the spirit of lighting that candle of hope. A candle that represents every one of us. I’ve been inspired by the young people who, in their activism, call upon us to form a more perfect union and a better, cleaner world. We are rising to the challenges that are before us and we will overcome them. In that spirit we, as a city continue to look toward the future.
Chula Vista, like our nation, will continue to strive for that most American of ideals, equality for all and reject the calls that attract “the darker impulses of the American Spirit” and forge our city 14 head in that bedrock of American principles: peace, progress, justice, and compassion. Our city can be that example for our nation, that a community built on these ideals will thrive and all share in its benefit. I am certain of it because that is who we are. A community of compassion, of diversity, of strength, of love. A shining example of those true American ideals. The ideals of our community. The community of Chula Vista. Thank you."