By Joe Tash
Standing before an oversized American flag on the wall of a cavernous jet hangar at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Fifth District County Supervisor Bill Horn delivered his 18th annual “State of North County” address on Thursday, March 14, touting county accomplishments and highlighting his priorities for the future, which include economic development, relief of traffic congestion and increased regional cooperation.
Horn’s 45-minute speech was frequently interrupted by airplanes landing and taking off on the airport’s nearby runway, although the supervisor and other speakers jokingly welcomed the noise because they said the air traffic generates revenue for local government coffers.
About 200 people including elected and appointed officials from throughout Horn’s district attended the event. The venue — a corporate jet hanger belonging to Premier Jet —may have been chosen to highlight a proposal to lengthen the county-owned airport’s runway.
Horn said he initiated a study of the runway expansion in 2011, and results are expected “any day.” That project would allow the airport to accommodate quieter jets as well as international commercial traffic, Horn said. The county is also working with California Pacific Airline to offer service to such destinations as Las Vegas and Mexico, he said.
The past year has seen two changes at two top leadership positions, Horn noted: longtime Chief Administrative Officer (and former Rancho Santa Fe Association Manager) Walt Ekard retired, and was replaced by his chief deputy, Helen Robbins-Meyer. Also, Supervisor Pam Slater-Price stepped down after 20 years on the board and was succeeded by Supervisor Dave Roberts, a former Solana Beach City Councilman.
Roberts attended the speech. His Third District includes Del Mar, Solana Beach and Escondido, and adjoins Horn’s district, which covers Rancho Santa Fe, and the northern tier of San Diego County, from Carlsbad and Oceanside east to Borrego Springs.
“I’m hoping Dave will become the second supervisor for North County. We haven’t had that,” Horn said, in apparent reference to Slater-Price. John Weil, who served as Slater-Price’s chief of staff and was retained by Roberts, said after the speech that he believed Horn was referring to his former boss’s decision not to help fund Prosperity on Purpose, a North County economic development effort that Horn initiated. Slater-Price determined the initiative would not have directly benefitted her district, according to Weil.
Horn spoke about POP, showing a map of North County the program has commissioned, which details land use designations, transportation facilities and other elements that he said would assist companies considering a North San Diego County location.
“We want to promote North County as an economic destination for a lot of companies,” bringing high-skilled, high-wage jobs to the area, Horn said.
One theme of Horn’s remarks was that North County, with nearly 1 million residents, should be on a par with the city of San Diego when it comes to transportation funding decisions made by the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, a regional planning agency overseen by elected officials from the county and San Diego County cities.
“We need to all be on the same team,” Horn said.
In recent years, Horn said, some $23 million has been spent on road projects in District 5, and another $26.5 million is expected from Transnet, a voter-approved sales tax for transportation. In addition, he said, $15 million will flow from Proposition 1B, a statewide transportation bond.
He specifically mentioned traffic-relief projects along the State Route 78 corridor that are slated to receive funding.
As he has in the past, Horn defended the county’s Neighborhood Reinvestment program, under which each supervisor controls $1 million per year which can be granted to nonprofit groups within his or her district. While critics have called the program a “slush fund” that allows supervisors to curry political favor, Horn said his constituents should know that the money goes for good causes, such as $235,000 in grants to the Carlsbad Boys and Girls Club over the past 12 years.
So far in the current fiscal year, which runs through June, Horn has disbursed nearly $400,000 in grants, ranging from $60,000 to the Mainly Mozart Festival to expand its North County presence, to a $100,000 grant for North County Solutions for Change, a nonprofit that assists homeless families. The grant will be used to help the group build an “aquaponics farming system” at a Vista location, according to county records.
Ivan Holler, assistant manager of the Rancho Santa Fe Association, said he was glad to hear Horn talk about the North County region working together to secure funding for road projects.
“We are working with Supervisor Horn’s office and (county) Public Works to make sure they come out and repave and resurface roads on a regular basis,” Holler said.
Another attendee was Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Haley, who recently took over as head of the Encinitas sheriff’s station, which serves Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas.
“He’s incredibly supportive of us, he always has been in North County,” Haley said of Horn. “He’s very engaged which we’ve really appreciated.”