WHAT ED STANDS FOR: A COMMITMENT TO OUR COMMUNITY
"I possess the professional experience, determination, fiscal ability and know-how to build consensus and get the job done. Thank you for your support and your vote of confidence." ~ Ed Spriggs
Photos: Supporting Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce; Little League Opening Day; and with new IB business owners
WHAT THE COMMUNITY WANTS
During his recent re-election campaign, Ed and his hard working volunteers knocked on over 5000 doors and spoke with hundreds of IB residents about their concerns and priorities:
- Residents are pleased with the low crime rate, but hope it can improve further in specific neighborhoods, particularly east of 12thand South of IB Blvd;
- Residents are happy about new shopping and restaurants, but very unhappy about the high density development in the Bernardo Shores area as well as in smaller multiunit residential infill housing projects in various locations
- Residents like the street and alley improvements, but overwhelmingly oppose reduction of IB Blvd to one lane in each direction from Connecticut eastward and are very concerned about speeding on neighborhood streets.
- Residents throughout IB are pleased with efforts to stop cross border pollution.
Ed will continue to work for improvements the community needs and for solutions to the problems identified by large numbers of residents he and his volunteers spoke with during the campaign.
VIEWS ON KEY TOPICS RAISED BY THE "EAGLE AND TIMES" DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN
I am honored to serve this community and have a strong history of successful efforts that help improve IB for the benefit of all residents. I have a personal commitment to enable our town to be a vibrant, classic and sustainable southern California beach town, and there are some important ongoing matters that will need my hard work for one more term to be completed. With the voting public’s support, I pledge to do my best to keep our wonderful community on track toward a great future that our children and grandchildren will enjoy.
One of these important works-in-progressis the fight against cross border pollution. In 2013, I applied for and was appointed to the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) Citizens Forum. I wanted to learn more, from a somewhat inside perspective, about what IBWC was doing about river valley pollution. In 2016 and 2017, as chair of the Forum Board, I wrote a series of detailed, often scathing critiques of the lack of action by the IBWC and its US and Mexican Commissioners. I believe these demands contributed to the resignation of the ineffective US Commissioner, Edward Drusina earlier this year.
With my international law background, I have been an advocate for and supporter of IB’s lawsuit against IBWC, given that all other efforts, including my own, to get IBWC to fulfill its mandate to address cross border pollution have failed. That lawsuit, and other efforts we are undertaking, needs the City Council’s and my continued support if it is to succeed, and my re-election will help ensure it receives that support.
Another related example is my work as IB’s Commissioner on the countywide Metropolitan Wastewater Commission, where I negotiated with San Diego Public Utilities to change their plans to increase treated sewage flows out of the South Bay Ocean Outfall between the river mouth and the border. Had San Diego’s plan gone forward, it would have worsened our already bad pollution situation. My continued work on the Metro Commission, and its continuing support of recycling, will help achieve actual reductionsrather than increases in wastewater discharges into the Pacific.
Another ongoing effort relates to vacation, or short-term rentals. My first appearance before the City Council as a member of the public was in 2002, when an ordinance was proposed that would allow vacation rentals in residential areas all over IB. This would have helped the real estate business and property speculators, but hurt our neighborhoods, and reduced the supply of housing available to residents. We won that battle -- our current ordinance restricts vacation rentals to the mixed-use commercial zones. However, with the more recent rise of the home share industry (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.), many vacation rentals now occur where they are not permitted. I requested a study of the issue last year, and a detailed report was presented to the City Council about six months ago showing the prevalence and location of these illegal STRs. Soon on the Council agenda will be options for solutions. We need to solve this problem over the next year or so, and I plan to be part of that solution.
Other important efforts I have been part of and that are still continuing are completion of the paving of all our alleys, completion of street lighting improvements in our neighborhoods, solutions to our problems of speeding in residential areas, increased traffic and decreased parking availability, updating our zoning to remove no-longer-needed pro-developer loopholes or incentives that are creating too much density, and completion of our General Plan and Local Coastal Program Updates that address flooding and sea level rise and contain IB’s economic roadmap to a prosperous ecotourism and tourism-based future while retaining our small town character.
These are all important issues to IB residents. They are all on either the City Council’s or my personal councilmember’s list of priorities that must be tackled with energy, persistence and smarts in the very near future, or we risk losing the Imperial Beach we all cherish.
I have the proven experience both inside and outside Imperial Beach, the track record of success in addressing key issues we have faced, the longstanding commitment to our community, the educational background, and the vision needed to help IB keep moving forward while avoiding the pitfalls that have plagued other beach communities. Please see my website for more background information (www.edspriggs4ib.com) and give me your feedback on these ideas and your own so we can move forward together.
Short term rentals (or STRs) are a controversial issue in many communities, especially those that are attractive to tourists, like Imperial Beach. The questions of whether and where to allow them often pit owner-occupied homeowners and advocates for quiet neighborhoods against investor-owners, the local real estate community, and more recently, the on-line vacation rental industry.
Add to that mix the policies of the California Coastal Commission, which regulates land use in the coastal zone, and favors a generous approach to STRs as one way to promote affordable public access to the beach, and you have a quagmire that creates very different outcomes in every city.
Fortunately, IB went through this complex and contentious process back in 2002-2004, and since Coastal Commission approval in February 2004 we have had an ordinance in place. But now it is being violated as much as it is observed, and we need to do something about that, and soon.
To understand our options, we should consider briefly what happened in 2002-2004. In January 2002, the City Council held a public hearing to consider whether to adopt a moratorium on STRs in residential neighborhoods. Many public comments were heard on both sides, including my first public comments as an IB resident (supporting a moratorium). The ordinance restricting STRs to the Seacoast commercial zone passed but was rejected by the Coastal Commission. The City sued the Commission for exceeding its authority, negotiations occurred, and a settlement was reached in February 2004. The revised ordinance defined STRs as a commercial use, made it applicable to rentals under 30 days, and added the other commercial zones (Palm Ave and 13thnear IB Blvd.) plus the Seacoast mixed use overlay zone to the area where STRs can be allowed through a permit application process.
I support this approach, and believe it protects our neighborhoods while supporting our tourism, ecotourism and our joint (with the Coastal Commission) public access goals. But what about the violations?
In early 2017, at my request, the City commissioned an investigation of STRs in IB and presented the results to the City Council that October. The study found that there are 1100 residential units in the STR-permitted area, but only 50 known STRs. Meanwhile, there are 49 known STRs operating outside the permitted areas. In my opinion, both are highly understated figures.
So, the first step should be a more thorough investigation. Next, the City needs to adopt an ordinance that allows fines to be administered to owners of illegal STRs. In the legal zones, the fine might be based on a percentage of estimated lost revenue over the period the unit was on the STR market, reduced somewhat as an incentive to seek an STR permit going forward. Collection could be subtracted from new STR revenue.
STRs outside the legal areas are a more complex problem. We need to fine them but not legalize them by allowing continued STR operation. We need City staff to develop some best practices options for Council consideration.
Now that Imperial Beach has accepted “relinquishment” of Rt. 75 from Caltrans and received the tidy sum of $5.3 million for doing so, we have more options for both improving the streetscape and encouraging the kind of mixed-use commercial development that will benefit all of us and the city.
My biggest concern, and I will get to vision later, is that we not get too fancy and lose the main purpose and function of this highway, namely the efficient movement of traffic through the corridor.
This is my major concern because of the Palm Avenue Master Plan Study the city completed in 2014 with $400K in grant funding from SANDAG. The new master plan would create parallel side roads for parking, cycling, public transport, and access to businesses while reducing the main roadway to two lanes in each direction. The City Council was presented models that attempted to demonstrate that with better traffic light synchronization, this change would not result in more traffic delays than we already are experiencing.
Caltrans rules would not permit such a change, but with IB taking over it can now happen. In my view, that would be a mistake from the standpoint of the primary purpose of this major transit route to Interstate 5 -- the efficient movement of traffic. With all the new development already occurring in Imperial Beach, to say nothing of the Navy campus and IB’s future growth, we need to ensure that this primary function is not sacrificed in favor of important, but less vital interests such as cycling. We can create bicycle friendly routes along other streets that will be safer for and probably more heavily used by cyclists.
These same points apply to the proposed changes to Imperial Beach Blvd, also a major thoroughfare for all IB residents who go to work elsewhere every day. Both projects were developed with grant funding that favors a “multimodal” or “complete streets” concept -- the creation of multi-use corridors, that are more pedestrian and bicycle friendly with better crossings and other safety features. These concepts are very important and should be included in the new road designs – but notat the expense of the primary purpose of these key freeway access routes.
My overall vision for Rt. 75 is that it should be a unique mixed-use commercial corridor, distinct from the Seacoast and 13thStreet commercial areas. It is anchored by the new Breakwater Shopping Center, which should serve as a model for good design for future commercial development. The new Blue Wave hotel, apartment and commercial project proposed for the El Camino Motel site and the recently built American Legion affordable housing project near 13thon Rt. 75 are examples of good design for mixed use and housing. If we are diligent, future projects should be even better. In the end, Palm Avenue should be an attractive, commercially vibrant gateway to IB with shopping and services that benefit residents, attract visitors and add to the City’s tax base.
I voted for and support the lawsuit against the International Boundary and Water Commission as one of several ongoing strategies the City Council has authorized under the emergency declaration I helped draft and we passed last year after the big cross border sewage spills.
The IBWC is the federal government unit charged with managing the international waterways between Mexico and the U.S. and operating the international water treatment plant on the US SIDE. That plant is supposed to but does not capture all dry weather wastewater flows from Mexico through the river basin and the bluffs and canyons leading to it.
There have been many efforts over the years to get IBWC and its Mexican Counterpart CILA to take actions required by US-Mexico treaties, including the US-Mexico Treaty of 1944 which obligates the parties to “give preferential attention to the solution of all border sanitation problems” and Minute 320 of 2015 focusing on the Tijuana River specifically.
The IBWC and CILA and their respective governments have dragged their feet on these treaty obligations. Hence, our lawsuit.
For many years I and many others long before me have tried to work collaboratively with the IBWC and Mexican authorities, as well as NGOs on both sides of the border to clean up the river valley. These efforts are continuing, maybe with greater urgency and likelihood of success because of the lawsuit.
I served on the IBWC Citizens Forum Board for 5 years, including as co-chair in 2016-17. I wanted to better understand the issues and then press for timely solutions. I made sure meeting agendas addressed the real problems and organized off site meetings to formulate strategies. I wrote at least 3 letters from the Board to BOTH the US and Mexican IBWC-CILA commissioners urging specific cleanup actions under Minute 320 as well as specific infrastructure improvements. The responses at first were vague and noncommittal, then later addressed plans for infrastructure planning and studies, but no action.
While we may eventually see some results from a faster pace of infrastructure planning by IBWC, there are other options that should be or are being pursued while litigation is pending:
- Diversion of Tijuana’s wastewater to recycling plants for agricultural use in Mexico;
- Work with the incoming new Mexican president and his administration to make upgrading Tijuana’s sewage treatment and trash collection a top priority;
- Reopen NAFTA negotiations with Mexico to withhold tariff relief until this problem is fixed, since NAFTA contributed to Tijuana population increases that overran sewage infrastructure;
- Initiate a bilateral aid project like others around the world (that don’t affect US interests as much), where Mexico would put up pesos and labor and we would do the engineering and construction oversight;
- Build a catchment basin on the US side just east of the IBWC plant, enabling the plant to treat most of the wastewater in the river channel.
With enough political will this problem can be solved. The lawsuit will help keep this key issue on the front burner.
There is no question about it, IB has been “discovered.” People want to move here; developers want to invest here; more businesses want to open here. As a result, property values are rising faster than anywhere else in the county.
Homeowners are happy but about 65% of IB residents are renters – and many are in trouble. Just in the last few days of campaigning, I have met families preparing to move to El Cajon, Temecula, or out of state. They love IB but cannot afford the rising rents.
At the same time, more people want to move here than to other cities in the county (one reason why our property values are rising the fastest). Vacancy rates are low. Simply building more affordable housing in IB won’t solve the problem because anything built, market rate or below, will immediately attract new buyers or renters, as our recent building boom has demonstrated.
The issue is how do we make new or existing housing more affordable specifically for IB residents who are renters, not everyone else looking for housing within 30 miles of the major employment centers in San Diego. Without a special, targeted effort, something that counters the market pressures already mentioned, IB residents will not benefit from just from building new affordable housing here.
Rent control, assuming Prop. 10 passes, is not a viable solution. We already know from experience elsewhere and basic economics that rent control will create disincentives for both maintenance of existing rental properties (landlords losing money tend not to invest in maintenance) and construction of new housing when investment dollars can yield more in cities without rent control.
City government can intervene to slow down gentrification even if we cannot stop it entirely. Bold new strategies might include:
- Make new residential projects help IB residents by requiring them to include 25% affordable units with all of them available for a defined period only to qualifying IB residents;
- Support higher incomes and savings rates for IB renters enabling them to become home buyers or afford higher rents through help locating higher paying jobs, securing the training or interviewing skills needed, and improving credit ratings and money management skills;
- Improve home purchase funding options for IB renters through creation of a down payment revolving fund in collaboration with one or more local banks or union pension funds, or an increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax (another benefit of our planned new hotels), or through reintroduction of tax increment funding; such a fund could co-sign and co-own in some cases or provide repayment insurance in others;
- Enforce current prohibitions on vacation rentals in residential areas, thereby freeing up these properties for longer term renters.
To retain our character as a classic southern California beach community, we will need to address gentrification in creative new ways, just as we will need to address our density, traffic and parking issues. We will need to engage our best minds on these challenges. Failure (doing nothing) is not an option.