Watching the Implosion of the South Bay Power Plant From Imperial Beach

After more than 50 years, the South Bay Power Plant crumbled as a set of explosions demolished the facility, making way for the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan. Shortly after 7:00 a.m., on Saturday, February 2, 2013, here is what the implosion looked like from across the bay in Imperial Beach, Calif.


Hotel Sparks New Seacoast Stakeholders Group

The Seacoasters, a group of local residents, business owners and politicians, focus on immediate and long-term goals for Seacoast Drive.

City inaction, gloomy city budget projections and differing views on how to spur economic growth in the city have spawned a new business group called the Seacoasters.

Made up primarily of waterfront business and property owners, the group has more than 20 members who want their voices heard when it comes to future plans surrounding the new hotel scheduled to open in 2013.

“This is an altruistic effort,” said owner of Imperial House Apartments Robert Miller. “Not just for the new hotel and developing Seacoast, we want to use this as a springboard to help the economic base of the city. This hotel could very well be the catalyst to get this city moving in the right direction.”

Miller brought the group together last fall. In October 2011 Miller submitted a letter to the city at a workshop meeting to discuss waterfront business.

Among other things, Miller recommended regular meetings with stakeholders.

Inspired by the letter and talk at the meeting, city council directed city staff to compile short-term and long-term plans for, among other things, marketing and partnerships between the city and its business community and organizations.

The plan has not appeared on a council agenda for approval since it was first considered in November 2011, said Assistant City Manager Greg Wade.

The city has already initiated some of the directives of the short and long-term plans, like continuing to work on a commercial zoning review, street improvements and applying for capital improvement funding from the Port of San Diego, Wade said.

“It is expected that more specific direction will be given when we go back to the council with a report on last week’s workshop,” Wade said in an email Monday. Last week developers and entrepreneursspoke to city council about ways for the city to generate revenue.

At its core Miller said the Seacoasters are made up of of long-term businesses and active civic-minded people.

“The legacy of this city council and staff will reflect what you have done to take advantage of the new Seacoast Inn,” he said in the letter.

The Seacoasters were formed in part due to a lack of action to get IB ready for the hotel, Miller said, but the group would exist whether or not short and long-term plans were approved.

“If it’s not the Seacoasters, then it needs to be businesses or some other stakeholders to be resources and a constant reminder to council and staff that we have a long way to go to do the best we can long-term on Seacoast,” he said.

Even if council acted in the beginning of 2012, it would still be a year behind when plans should have been in place, said Councilman Ed Spriggs, a member of the Seacoasters and Seacoast Drive resident.

Spriggs said the IB city council works really well in most matters, but lack a common vision for specific things to do to develop the city’s economy.

City council does not want to recognize that the hotel will turn the city into a visitor serving economy, Spriggs said.

“This is my biggest disappointment with the council,” he said. “No change in priorities, no recognition that something big is happening here that now redefines us as a community.”

The largest issue of focus for the Seacoasters has been pedestrian scale lighting in hopes that it can support an after dark economy on the waterfront.

One issue has defined the Seacoasters more than any other: pedestrian scale lighting.

In a 3-2 vote earlier this year, Spriggs and Councilwoman Lorie Bragg, both Seacoasters, were the sole votes in favor of pedestrian scale lighting on Seacoast Drive.

Spriggs and Bragg wanted lighting 13- to 16-foot tall lights to make the area more inviting to residents and visitors to walk to local businesses and services.

Opponents of the measure argued that if additional lights were added to plans for new 22-foot tall street lights on the waterfront weren’t approved then the city risked losing redevelopment funds to pay for the lights to the state.

Seacoasters attended the March 21 meeting to voice their support for pedestrian scale lighting.

Spriggs said every community looks at its primary assets as a way to facilitate economic growth, and the city needs to focus on investments around the hotel.

“We have people operating under old software and we have to shift gears and look at where we are going to go,” Spriggs said.

Deric Fernandez is a member of the Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Redevelopment Oversight Committee, the Kiwanis Club and an active member of the Seacoasters.

As a Seacoaster and native Imperial Beachian, he said his goal is for his children to grow up in a great community like he did.

He said his interest in the Seacoasters came when former mayor Diane Rose told him about the group and their desire to attract business day and night, reduce crime and create a destination point that would have a positive ripple effect throughout the city.

The Seacoasters’ focus is pedestrian scale lighting, Fernandez said. At night the street is dark, dingy and not a destination point if people don’t want to walk and there is nothing to do at night.

The beach is great during the day, but if nothing is done, hotel guests will leave IB for other cities at night.

“We don’t want that,” he said.

Visitors need something to do at night other than stay in the hotel, and so pedestrian scale lighting is vital, Miller said.

“Now the city has not bought into this,” said Miller. “If you look at Chula Vista, Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado, they all have pedestrian scale lighting where they have major business centers.”

The idea of better lighting for Seacoast Drive goes back as far as 2004 when he worked with Public Works Department Director Hank Levien on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the design of the Seacoast Improvement Program, Spriggs said.

At that time, it was ranked 10 out of 11 in priorities.

He said the Seacoasters are not only concerned about nighttime pedestrian lighting, but also with public safety, filling vacant lots, crime reduction and helping businesses near the hotel take advantage of a new customer base.

“Lighting didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. The image of what Seacoast Drive could be was pretty clear to all of us in that working group,” he said. “Now, I think the Seacoasters see a broader sense of what needs to happen with many being business people with a direct stake in the hotel’s success.”

Jersey Boys Diner owner Gregg Lalka said the Seacoasters are an energetic group ready to help Seacoast Drive reach its full potential. He said all the members are team players willing to support one another.

Lalka said projects they want to see include better street lighting in order to encourage evening foot traffic, tourist brochures promoting the businesses involved and making Seacoast Drive more dog-friendly.

“We think IB is a hidden gem waiting to be enjoyed by so many more people, which is what attracted us to IB when searching for a spot for our diner,” he said. “As a newer business, my wife [Nicole Lalka] and I felt it was crucial to band together with other businesses to brainstorm new ideas to show the world how wonderful it is to visit this beautiful stretch of Southern California.”

Former president of IB Beautiful Kitt Williams said she is optimistic that with the hotel scheduled to open in 2013, the Seacoasters can make a difference. The city does not have enough staff to keep up with the development, she said.

Money needs to be spent to improve the grounds and public spaces in the city.

“The city needs to improve the sidewalks so they are truly walkable; pedestrian- friendly lighting, and more stores with higher-end merchandise,” she said.

Julia Simms, founding partner of CHE Marketing, moved to IB last year.

She said she is excited about the progress of the Seacoasters and in a bad economy, it is wonderful to see the group’s involvement in creating a better atmosphere and working together to promote IB.

“As a resident, I walk along Seacoast Drive frequently. I believe that pedestrian friendly lighting at night will encourage more residents to participate in what the businesses have to offer,” said Simms. “I think it will bring more people down there and create an environment that discourages crime.”

In April Simms was appointed to the chamber’s Board of Directors.

Earlier this year she headed efforts to try and put together a sandcastle competition after the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition Committee disbanded. CHE is currently working to make a brochure to advertise local businesses.

The Imperial Beach City Council chose not to renew the city’s public relations contract with Simms’ company when a revised budget was approved last month.

Simms said IB is in competition with many other parts of the county and thinks it is important to make Imperial Beach stand out as a prime destination for all who want to visit here.

“It is important that we promote and work with the locals to promote the look and feel of the city as a friendly, fun and safe atmosphere for everyone,” she said.

Pacifica Companies owns the new hotel.

Allison Rolfe is the hotel project manager and a member of the Seacoasters.

Pacifica sent a letter to the city in support of pedestrian scale lighting when the matter was considered earlier this year.

“It is amazing how ambiance can be created by lighting,” Rolfe said. “It makes a huge difference. It is ideas like this that will bring that first time customer back and recommend Imperial Beach as a destination point.”

Miller said the hotel could be the most significant development in the history of Imperial Beach. He said a business owner working in their daily tasks might not have time to think about the impact the hotel could have on their business.

“One of my purposes is to close that gap because they are going to be serving a different public. We want to make sure this hotel is a success,” said Miller.

To join the Seacoasters or recommend ideas, email Robert Miller at

Seacoasters Roster

Bob Miller, Imperial House Apartments

Edward Spriggs, Imperial Beach City Council

Allison Rolfe, Pacifica Companies

Alma Skerston, The Bridge

Lorie Bragg, Imperial Beach City Council

Deric Fernandez, Imperial Beach Chamber Board

Christine LaPausky, D’ames Day Spa

Dick Pilgrim, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

William Massih, Seacoast Grill

Gregg and Nicole Lalka, Jersey Boys Diner

Mike Bibbey, Bibbey’s Shells and Rocks

Julia Simms, CHE Marketing

Matt Morgan, I.B. Forum

Kitt and Richard Williams, IB Beautiful

Richard and Cheryl Schaumburg, Coldwell Banker

Dave Van de Water, Seacoast Drive resident

Paul Meschler, Sea Breeze Apartments

Along with the rest of the bay, Imperial Beach’s 4th of July Big Bay Boom goes up in smoke

City Council Approves Revised Budget

“We are not out of the woods yet,” said Finance Director Michael McGrane. The loss of redevelopment agency funds and escalating sheriff and retirement costs are expected to continue to play a major role in the city’s financial future.

The city’s budget has been “precariously balanced,” said City Manager Gary Brown, with a projected revised $33.5 million 2012-2013 fiscal year budget and five-year outlook unanimously approved by City Council Wednesday.

Finance Director Michael McGrane said the budget has been balanced in part thanks to a one-time transfer of redevelopment agency (RDA) funds and by dipping into general fund reserves.

He said the budget reflects the city’s attempt to reshape its administrative infrastructure and modified labor agreements approved since the adoption of the budget last year.

With $17.6 million in general fund operating costs, McGrane said the city made difficult choices in a financial scenario that is constantly changing.

Operating costs may appear to have increased in some city departments, he said, but this represents an increase in general fund spending to fill a hole left by the elimination of redevelopment funds.

“In the past, redevelopment paid part of the cost and wages of staff in these departments,” he said. “What you are seeing is the impact of RDA going away.”

About one in four city employees salaries were paid through redevelopment funds.

McGrane said last minute changes include the consolidation of the Tidelands maintenance supervision duties, retaining a maintenance worker for graffiti removal, but the city still needs to continue to look at ways to balance costs and expenses in the future.

In looking at the five-year projections, McGrane said that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department contract and retirement costs may result in an $857,500 general fund shortfall by the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

New revenue may come in the form of fee increases, hotel taxes and increased growth, but that money is expected to fill only a small portion of increased expenses, he said.

Mayor Jim Janney said the city could not keep up with the sheriff’s projected increase in costs. He said council “needs to come to grips with what the city does not have—revenue.”

“It is ludicrous,” he said. “This is not a very rosy picture. In fact, it is really ugly. Everything increases around us except for our revenues.”

Councilman Jim King said that with fewer officers he wondered what the driving force is for such drastic increases.

“This is so disproportional to any other thing I see on the budget,” he said. “It leads me to believe that we are not considering this amenity on what our specific needs and requirements are.”

McGrane said the sheriff negotiatates a multi-city contract and it is the largest expenditure in the city’s yearly budget. Sheriff costs increase annually for cost of living increase, he said.

King said he understands law enforcement and public safety is an absolute necessity, but that with the constant negotiating of contracts in this economy he does not understand the continuous rise in costs.

“It rubs me wrong,” he said. “I find this a little bit egregious. I am really not very happy about it.”

Councilman Ed Spriggs said that despite disliking the current arrangement that this city has to move forward in finding sources of revenue to cover it.

“There’s just no other choice, it’s there,” he said. “It’s inevitable, just like the retirement cost. These are fixed costs that just keep going up.”

Spriggs said the city’s challenge is to look at mid and long-term ways to increase property value, the use of commercial space and the attraction of visitors.

“The elimination of redevelopment has wiped out our source and means of land and property tax base improvement, but also a major source of salary support for city and staff,” he said. “We have to revisit how we balance quality of life versus growth in Imperial Beach.”

In other line items questioned by Spriggs beginning in the 2014-2015 fiscal year (vacation rentals, further restructuring and a decrease in Sheriff positions), McGrane said these items are only examples of how much revenue and savings will be needed to cover the expediential rising costs.

“It is not that staff is recommending vacation rentals or sheriff reductions,” he said. “It is giving you a view of the seriousness of the city’s five-year outlook. We are not out of the woods yet. We are going to have to constantly revisit the budget.”

Brown said council has a workshop scheduled for July 11. A panel of people including, developers, economists, multi-housing and business people that know how to bring in growth and help council develop a stronger long-range plan.

Councilwoman Lorie Bragg asked McGrane about a San Diego UT article in April that said IB is among cities with the highest reserves in the county.

At the time IB was 7th on the list with $10.3 million, or 54 percent general fund reserve. Dipping into the reserves, staff projects for FY-2012/13 a beginning reserve balance of $9.5 million and ending balance of $9.1 million.

McGrane said there is no “one size fits all” answer to reserve accounts. He said with the city’s limited tax revenues and property taxes, past city councils were cautious in their spending and proactive in building reserves in case of emergency needs, such as filling in the current budget deficit.

He said the city needs the reserves because it has no way of having large amounts of revenue come back into the city within one year.

“With a net operating budget around $17 million, you have about half a year operational ability for emergency use,” he said.

Bragg asked if the city’s reserves were proportionally out of line in withholding too much, but said she believed that council was on the right track.

McGrane said with RDA funding going away, the city has taken major hits.

“You have enough reserves to fund things that may blow up or other significant changes that increase your level of costs,” he said.

Spriggs asked if the estimation of additional revenues saved were an accurate view of what the city will actually see.

McGrane said in the case of the Recreation and Park Maintenance funds, the city drastically cut expenses in half with reduction of hours, operation, staffing hours and increase of park recreational fees.

Projections of savings are $105,475 and an increase of $9,000 in recreational fees approved by council at their June 6 meeting.

Spriggs said he previously had concerns about the city’s profile with the elimination of fireworks and public relations contract equaling $45,000 in cuts.

“At this point I concede that we have get down to balancing the budget,” he said.

Fourth of July fireworks will proceed this year, but next year the decision is “up in the air” depending on the state of the city budget at that time. Other ways to finance an Independence Day fireworks show may be sought. The Port of San Diego currently covers half of Big Bay Boom costs.

2012 Pow Wow by the Sea

Native American Chief

With more than 50 Native American tribes represented the 2012 Pow Wow by the Sea was held this weekend on Kumeyaay land, i.e., Imperial Beach.

native american pow wow clothing

native american pow wow clothingnative american pow wowNative American Chief head dressnative american pow wow clothingnative american pow wow head dressnative american pow wow clothingPow wow by the seanative american pow wow clothingnative american pow wow clothingnative american pow wow clothingnative american pow wow dancersnative american pow wow clothingnative american pow wow clothingnative american pow wow dance

Roller Rink Night, Fee Increases and Sports Park Cuts Proposed to Help Close City Budget Gap

Roller Rink Night, Fee Increases and Sports Park Cuts Proposed to Help Close City Budget Gap

Sport Park employees laid off, reduction in hours and an increase of fees part of city’s plan in reducing imminent $327,000 budget gap.

In an attempt to help swerve a possible $1.5 million deficit over the next two years, the Sports Park and Recreation Center may take some drastic steps.

A rollerskating night may be held in the gym once a month, baseball and softball leagues may be charged for lighting and near half of staff have already been eliminated.

Since April, the Sports Park and Recreation Center has eliminated five out of 11 employee positions, reduced operating hours from 51 hours a week to 40 and the city terminated the Sports Park maintenance contract.

The Sports Park and Recreation Center is no longer open Saturdays. At one point there was even talk to hand control of the Sports Park and Recreation Center back to the Boys & Girls Club who managed the property in the 1990s.

Since city staff open and close the skate park, hours changes at the Sports Park and Recreation Center will not impact the Imperial Beach Skate Park.

Combined, extra steps presented to City Council May 2 could save the city near $100,000, said director Jim Coates.

City Council took no action on the proposed fee increases. A hearing requesting public comment and final decisions will be scheduled for June.

Other ideas proposed to generate revenue include an increase in usage fees, additional after school programs and increase café sales. Rental of audio equipment and possible advertisement space and sponsorships of the park were also recommended.

Proposed fee increases will be based on a comparison of similar facilities in South San Diego and Chula Vista.

City staff estimates an annual increase of more than $35,000 in increased fee revenue for usage of the gym, music room or BBQ and picnic table rentals and expansion of the Café’s menu.

Combined with the money saved from cuts, the city could be $135,585 closer to closing its immediate $327,000 fiscal year shortfall.

City Manager Gary Brown said the projected numbers in fee increases are conservatively estimated by last year’s facility usage and other revenue generating ideas.

Sports Park and Recreation Center Director Jim Coates said park facilities are operating smoothly and its closure on Saturdays is an easy transition.

He said Saturdays are high competition between the Café and league snack bars and parking and the most of the park’s clientele are Monday through Friday.

“It leaves the park open for those that pay to play little league or softball and the picnic shelters,” Coates said.

Mayor Jim Janney said it is now up to council to look at the proposed fee increases and possible revenue streams recommended by staff.

“I think that the reductions that you are doing is a no brainer,” Janney said.” We had no choice but to do that.”

Councilwoman Lorie Bragg said she is most interested in the revenue enhancing ideas.

She said exploring advertising revenue streams, seeking corporate sponsors, renting facilities and fundraising ideas were innovative and had great potential for generating revenue.

She asked if city staff contacted to YMCA to run the programs and Brown said they were exploring the possibility at this time.

“I would like to throw a couple more ideas in there,” she said. “A 5K run and an e-waste recycling event. [The] National City Chamber of Commerce did that and raised more than $4,000 in an afternoon.”

Janney said he is continuing discussions with the Navy to utilize the facilities for personnel from Naval Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach at times when students are not using the facilities.

Brown said the goal is to have the fee increases in place at the beginning of the new fiscal year July 1.

For a complete list of proposed fee increases, see Item 6.3 in the attached City Council agenda packet.

Mayor Janney: Property Value Increases Key to City’s Future

Rezoning for increased density, business permit applications and tourism focus of long-term goals to close looming budget deficits.

The City of Imperial Beach faces a $350,000 budget gap with the start of the new fiscal year July 1, and possibly a $1.5 million gap in the next two years.

City Council took immediate action on one of its short-term goals to incentivize staff to quit last Wednesday, and talked about the city’s long-term vision.

Mayor Jim Janney said Imperial Beach is already a “lean and mean” government and with possible state and federal tax increases, raising local taxes is not an option.

“If some of these employee incentives work, we are going to be at bare bones,” he said. “The disparity between our property tax revenue versus our sales tax, property tax revenues is much larger than sales tax. It is property value that drives those numbers.”

Janney said the city has to inspire property owners to do more with their land.

He said underutilized places to look are the 13th Street quarter, Palm Avenue, the north bay front and the west side of 7th Street that could hold more density if rezoned.

He said there is no motivation for current and prospective owners to move forward with rehab of old property or construction of new property.

“I think we should look at some of the zoning changes that would fit in the corridors that would not affect single-family residential areas,” he said. “We need a real bang for our buck here in these times.”

Councilman Ed Spriggs supported Janney and said with the public safety budget being the “guerilla in the room” that the city had difficult decisions to make. He said council really needs to grow a larger local economy and tax base.

He said at a recent economical development presentation the core point was identifying the city’s major assets and investing around them.

“Ours is in tourism, specifically manifested around the new hotel,” said Spriggs. “Every community needs to decide on where its growth engine is and who its anchor tenants are.”

He said along with the Port of San Diego the city has put out millions of dollars into the waterfront area and that is where investment is necessary. Spriggs said not to take a “scatter gun approach,” but to be strategic and focus efforts likely to have the best return.

“We know through our ecotourism study that tourism and ecotourism are keys to our growth,” Spriggs said. “The tourism environment also improves our quality of life because we can use some of those same amenities in this community. It is a clean industry and something we should all be thinking about more seriously.”

Spriggs said he was not looking to rezone Seacoast Drive, but to focus on what is available to work with around the hotel.

“This is not an area that we have had a consensus as a council,” he said.

Spriggs said businesses he spoke with would like to see the city streamline permit applications to get their businesses operating.

“That is what is going to drive filling in those lots, but we have to do as much as we can to attract more people coming in,” he said. “I think we need to listen to what the businesses are saying.”

Councilman Jim King said this is hard now because redevelopment was the city’s “basket of tools.”

“It is also the question of putting all of your eggs in one basket, and I don’t think we should do that either,” he said. “We are not on the decline, financially we are, but as far as Imperial Beach being a place to go, people love this place.”

Long-term goals was a discussion item only, no actions were taken.

Councilmember Brian Bilbray was absent.

To see all recommendations by city staff, see agenda item 6.3 on the attached agenda.

Earlier in the meeting, council unanimously approved a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) to create vacancies, providing flexibility to restructure city staff. VSIP offers a cash payment based on years of service and offered to all fulltime positions with the exception of city managers, finance director and fire safety positions.

Approved employees with 10 years of less receive $7,500, 11-19 years—$12,000 and 20 years plus—$20,000.

The city will pay $501 per month for a year to cover those under the city’s health plan, and $240 per month for those not.

Additionally law required the payment of vacation and sick leave where applicable.

Capped at $250,000 these onetime expenditures will be paid with contingency reserves. City staff said it is too early to give a savings estimate until it knows how many participate.

%d bloggers like this: