El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells held his annual State of the City address at the Ronald Reagan Community Center on Dec. 14, with a small reception following. Wells began by saying the city of El Cajon has emerged from the past two years of COVID-19 struggles and it is stronger than ever and in excellent condition.
Wells said he could spend hours going over all the city’s accomplishments, but he was only going to highlight a few, and addressed the ongoing challenges and solutions that the El Cajon community is currently facing.
Wells said the top five priorities for the city were communication and civic engagement, homelessness, public safety, and focusing on city beautification. Wells said public safety has always been a city priority.
“In fact, while many elected officials were distancing themselves from the police, we embraced the men and women that wear the El Cajon uniform,” he said. “We know that our residents expect us to support those that are protecting our community. In the meeting just a few hours ago, the City Council unanimously agreed to add an additional 10 officers to our ranks. This will allow the city to bring on talented police officers from other departments, especially the city of San Diego, that have taken the politically motivated position of discarding their unvaccinated employees. It is important to state, we do not support vaccine mandates or other excessive regulations on our employees. From the policies and practices emanating from the state’s capital, it seems like many are embracing lawlessness. It is El Cajon’s position that we do not accept lawlessness. Rather, we support a proactive and strong law enforcement strategy.”
Wells said that homelessness continues to impact the community and the council has taken a two-pronged approach in addressing the issue. First, enforcing the law, and second, providing help to those that seek it.
“In the past year, despite the State’s reckless legislation that continues to perpetuate an endless state of homelessness, the city continued its proactive clean-up of illegal open drug scenes and deplorable living conditions,” he said, adding that in 2021 the city cleaned up 390 tons or trash left behind from locations and power-washed 26 encampment areas, provided 766 homeless individuals with temporary shelter.
“Since 2017, the city has provided temporary shelter to over 3,000 individuals and has connected over 800 of these folks with permanent housing,” he said.
Wells said this would not have been possible without its community partners, the East County Transitional Living Center, Home Start, and The Salvation Army.
Wells said the city needs to remain focused on this issue, continue to be passionate, but also meet expectation from residents. He said he is convinced that homelessness will never be resolved until it honestly characterizes the politically motivated policies that keep many in a state of homelessness.
“Until the state of California allows us to address root problems, I am sad to say that the conditions we see around us will remain largely unchanged,” he said. “Incomprehensively, too many believe that it is humane to allow individuals to destroy themselves with a slow and miserable death at the hands of illegal drugs. These same individuals, many of them representing us in Sacramento, also believe it is compassionate to allow mentally ill citizens to wander in states of psychosis and delusions though streets and alleys of our communities.”
Wells said people need to stand up to these policies and allow local governments to work with programs that make a difference. He also “called on the county of San Diego” to start putting the millions of dollars it has received for homelessness to work in the El Cajon community.
In the city’s economic development, Wells said during the height of the pandemic in mid-2020, many businesses forced to remain closed struggled to survive. The city distributed nearly $2.5 million in grants, and this year it implemented a second round of grants to bolster the economy, lift businesses, and get people back to work. Launching the second round in May, he said nearly $3 million assisted 216 businesses, and through business and capital improvements, 270 employees were hired by local businesses.
“While we are doing this, the county of San Diego has been attempting to counteract our efforts,” he said. “I am proud that City Council stood up to the majority of the Board of Supervisor’s ill-conceived idea of an ordinance that would hurt over 300 of El Cajon’s businesses. We need to continue to push back on the county’s dangerous policies. Whether it be half-baked policies from the county, business-killing COVID polices from the state, and the growing anti-business sentiment permeating from Washington D.C.”
Wells said he looks forward to supporting big ideas that have positive economic impacts for years to come.
Wells said the city’s economic health is “solid” even though it went into the pandemic planning for the worst. The City instituted a hiring freeze, cut the budget where feasible, and sought to bolster the economy by not shutting down businesses.
“I am proud to say that our efforts, along with a robust economic boon in El Cajon, have resulted in more revenue than anticipated,” he said. “Rather than experiencing a loss, the city collected about $9 million more than projected. We have pro-actively set aside $53 million in rainy day funds. With an annual General Fund budget of about $84 million, this is the most reserves the City has ever had.”
Wells said the city had some great events this year with its first-ever Foodie Fest in September, Hauntfest returning to El Cajon, Wells Park turned into a Winter Wonderland where families played in real snow and held it annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony.
“Foodie Fest, Hauntfest, and the Winter Wonderland are just a few examples that demonstrate the city’s commitment to put on large scale, family-friendly events, for which El Cajon is known,” he said.
Wells said looking to 2022 he hopes the city will continue with many of the same core priorities by increasing public safety, protecting businesses, keeping the city clean and safe, and proactively bringing in new development and revenue streams.
“I am excited for our city,” said Wells. “I am pleased that we have weathered storms and are poised to take on any other challenges that may come our way. I encourage our community to be engaged and join us in solving the challenges discussed tonight.”