Beloved Imperial Beach

Nov 09, 2015 10:23PM, Published by Paul Spear, Categories: City+School, Today

Letter to Editor from Ed Spriggs, Imperial Beach Councilman           

I appreciate very much Dig-imperial-Beach creating an opportunity for IB City Council Members to communicate with IB residents and other readers. In this first article, I would like to introduce myself to community members who have not yet met me in person. I have been blessed with a very interesting life — a career that has taken me from San Diego to tough neighborhoods in the Bay Area, to New York and DC for school and work, then to developing countries in Africa, and after many years, back to my alma mater, UCSD, and fabulous Imperial Beach.

I hope that by describing my journey, IB residents will get a better sense of who I am as a person, and the life experiences and values that drive my vision for our beloved IB.  In future articles, I will offer my thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing IB, the role of the City Council, and the things Councilmembers do for the City other than attend Council meetings. I hope readers will enjoy these articles.

IB has been my home since August of 2001, so I have lived here long enough to know the community pretty well, but not so long as to be so wedded to the way things were that I cannot appreciate the possibilities of what we can be as a community in the future. I am honored to have been re-elected to a second four year term last November, by far and away the largest margin of votes among the successful candidates.

My family moved to San Diego from Minneapolis when I was five years old, because the doctors said my asthma was so severe I might not survive another Minnesota winter. By the age of 12, my asthma was gone, and I was able to get into sports, playing football, basketball and baseball in high school. I greatly admire my late parents, Laura and Edward Sr., for the faith and courage they demonstrated in pulling up stakes and moving across the country to a place where they had no awaiting friends or job prospects. I also admire their bravery as an interracial couple at a time when such marriages were illegal in many states, including their native North Dakota, and frowned upon here in San Diego, back in those days. I had to deal with minor acts of discrimination and name calling, but nothing compared to what they had faced over their lifetimes.

I grew up in Linda Vista and Logan Heights, graduated from Morse High, went on to attend UCSD and earn a BA in Economics, becoming the first member of my family to receive a college degree. When given the choice of attending law school in California or New York, I decided to go to NYU because I wanted to learn what life was like on the East Coast. I seemed always to be the family member with the travel bug, but I have never regretted that decision or others that have taken me to many interesting places.

My travel and work experiences have proven to be useful in my service as a City Councilmember. After UCSD I took a job with the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development working in community economic development in the Bay Area. I was assigned some of the tougher areas, such as Marin City, Richmond and Pittsburg, CA, where I helped city governments and civic associations select and use federal programs that best suited their community improvement needs. I had been given a two year grace period to attend NYU Law School, so I left the Bay Area to move back East.

Desiring to continue working on how economic development can improve quality of life in the U.S. as well as in African countries,  I focused on business and international law while at NYU and spent one summer on a study tour in Kenya and Tanzania. After graduating I worked at a well known firm in DC, doing mainly corporate, federal regulatory and international law. There were great lawyers at that firm, and my brain and work ethic were tested to the max. To keep up with my caseload, I typically worked 60 hour weeks. But it was worth it. My desire to work abroad to help people in Africa was fulfilled when I was recruited by the US Agency for International Development. I spent many years abroad as a Foreign Service Officer with USAID, first as a lawyer, but later as a senior manager overseeing aid programs abroad.

The Foreign Service works in some ways like the US military: Foreign Service Officers are assigned to “posts” for “tours of duty” usually lasting 2 to 4 years. As a regional lawyer based at first in Nairobi, Kenya and later in Swaziland in Southern Africa, I traveled on short term assignments to work in some very dicey environments, such as Uganda toward the end of their civil war, and Somalia right before it tumbled into chaos. But there were also some great assignments, where I had an opportunity to make a difference, such as frequent trips to South Africa to work with anti-apartheid groups to prepare them to one day be part of the government after free elections. It was really a privilege to work with people who faced persecution and indefinite detention (or worse) every day simply for standing up for their rights in that unjust system. At the same time, that assignment was very stressful for me, as I was frequently stopped and questioned by the authorities, but luckily protected from arrest by my diplomatic status.

Years later I was sworn in as the American AID Director in Namibia, and asked to turn around a troubled US program that had lost the trust of the host government. Once on the ground, I was able to rebuild trust by learning and understanding Namibian priorities, and by getting the Washington bureaucracy to listen also. This enabled me to lead joint US-Namibian efforts to address that country’s top priority, reconstructing and modernizing a colonial-era primary education system so that all Namibian kids, regardless of race or economic status, would have a chance to achieve their potential.

As USAID Director, I was also able to help Namibia establish a system of wildlife conservancies, where poor rural villages could reap economic benefits from tourism in return for protecting the environment and endangered species. My final USAID tour of duty was as Regional Director for Southern Africa, based in Botswana, where I led a staff of 100, working on many cross border issues affecting the 14 countries in the region, including cross border trade and management of natural resources such as wildlife, rivers, game reserves and tourism.

Looking back after I had achieved a high rank in the Senior Foreign Service, I felt I had served proudly and, I believe, well, under four different presidential administrations (Carter, Bush I, Reagan and Clinton). However, the need to help my aging parents in Long Beach and San Diego, led me in mid-2001 to move back to Southern California. I had been offered an Associate Vice Chancellor position at UCSD and saw that as a perfect opportunity for me to share my experiences with students and help the campus expansion that was being planned. The biggest bonus, however, was that after many years of travelling and living in so many different places, making Imperial Beach my permanent home was and continues to be the best decision I ever made!

At UCSD, I served essentially as chief financial and operating officer in Student Affairs, managing an $80 million budget, overseeing the planning, financing and construction of many buildings and being a leading proponent in the development of the central part of the campus, known as the “lively downtown,” with its retail, active streets and gathering places. I retired from that position in 2014 to devote more time to my work in Imperial Beach and to representing IB on various public boards and commissions around the County and State. (More on that in a future article.)

My hope is to be able to continue to give back as much as I can to the City of Imperial Beach from what I have learned over my career. My wife, Leah Goodwin, and I love this community and its people and expect to spend the rest of our lives here. I hope this piece has helped readers understand my background and my lifelong commitment to improving lives through good planning and wise use of resources.

In future articles, I would like to discuss my vision for IB to continue being a classic Southern California, family-friendly beach community while taking steps to become more visitor and eco-tourist oriented and guarding against excess public spending; the goal being to ensure our long term financial viability while retaining our wonderful community character. I also plan to write a bit about what Councilmembers do to serve and represent our community, beyond showing up for City Council meetings every first and third Wednesday.

Best wishes until then.