Before El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells ascended the stage at the Ronald Reagan Community Center on East Douglas Avenue to report on the State of the City Tuesday evening, he sang the praises of the newly developed Magnolia theater venue, formerly known as East County Performing Arts Center.
Speaking candidly, Wells pushed aside mention of fiscal responsibility or plans for affordable housing — those he saved for his planned speech. Instead, his eyes twinkled as he said it was the success of the Magnolia that made the past year different from any other:
“We’ve got lots of good things like a balanced budget and a reserve of about $13 million but the most fun thing is definitely the Magnolia theater. We were projected to turn a profit through a partnership with Live Nation within three years and that turned into seeing a profit within the first quarter.”
The mayor cited local business successes over the past year. The Salvation Army center at 1025 E. Main St. with its food bank, social services center, and youth facilities was prominently listed as a success story.
He also mentioned the mixed-use redevelopment of the former Sears building at Parkway Plaza and the Courtyard by Marriott hotel located downtown as areas of ongoing success.
Additionally, the mayor mentioned five opportunity zones in the downtown area that were identified as areas for focused development with possible attached federal funding.
“All this growth has helped our bottom line,” Wells said.
The mayor said the city of El Cajon has shown fiscal restraint and has $48 million in current reserves, and cited an average of $13 million as a standard in comparable cities.
Wells segued into discussing homelessness and praised East County Transitional Living Center for partnering to clean up almost thousands of pounds of litter.
“Last year, East County Transitional Living Center helped shelter 350 homeless individuals and served 400,000 meals at a cost of 14 cents per meal,” Wells said
Wells also mentioned Cornerstone Place, an apartment complex that participates in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program; 20% of residents at the development are veterans.
Although Wells accounted for city accomplishments, he also reminded attendees that there is work to be done.
“Despite the success of the city’s homeless outreach programs, we would be naive to think the problem is solved,” Wells said.
With a call for mental health and substance abuse treatment, Wells suggested that the financial burden should not lie solely on local government.
“Sacramento, with its one-party fiscal control forces our city to spend money on social programs that are unfunded mandates… state legislators actions continue to do more harm than good,” Wells said.
The mayor took a brief look to what lies ahead in the coming year. Those plans include a Mazda dealership, completion of Hampton Inn, his hopes for a city promotional campaign, and —to laughter— a Texas Roadhouse BBQ restaurant.