Project areas focused on “redeveloping” limited areas within the City where there was environmental and land use blight. It also included business and residential areas that needed to be pulled up by their economic boot straps to avoid being a drain on the rest of the City. This had to be done selectively, since, at that time, this process deflected future property tax revenue from the County and the two school districts to the City.
Saving Chula Vista’s precious sales tax base was important.
Local businesses, like long-time Fuller Ford and People’s Chevrolet auto dealers, producers of a significant portion of the City’s sales tax revenue, were in danger of losing their franchises because of their location on Broadway. Redevelopment helped create the Auto Park on Otay Valley Road to save this revenue source for the City. Money was then available to convert a former hazardous materials landfill across the street to a productive use. This redevelopment area was able to attract the Cricket Wireless Amphitheater and Knott’s Soak City to Chula Vista.
Between H Street and I Street, the Chula Vista Shopping Center was divided by Fifth Avenue. It was deteriorating, and if left untouched, eventually would have been a blight on the surrounding neighborhood. Through redevelopment, the two sides of the shopping center were joined as a single revitalized center. A plus for the community was the reconstruction on the Chula Vista High School campus of a new Girls & Boys Club displaced by this project.
When I arrived as Chula Vista’s City Manager in 1983, the City had a jagged, difficult-to-identify city limits. This was especially true along its southern border with the unincorporated Montgomery area, served by the Montgomery Fire District. Portions of the District went as far north as L Street, with an unclear zigzag border between Chula Vista and the District.
The City covered 22 square miles, and was not a well defined. Over time, I sought to work with the City Council to define the City’s borders, such as San Diego Bay, Otay Lakes, and the Sweetwater and Otay River Valleys. The goal was to avoid the “Los Angelization” of Chula Vista, where one does not know when they are leaving one city and entering another.
Annexing the Montgomery area into the City made since this unincorporated area was really part of the larger Chula Vista community. One Saturday, for example, I drove the Montgomery area and identified 26 businesses which used Chula Vista in their name.
To annex this four-square mile area into Chula Vista required an affirmative vote of Montgomery’s electorate. The annexation had been on the ballot twice before and was defeated both times. The City Council wanted to try the annexation again, and residents in Montgomery obtained enough signatures to place the annexation on the ballot again in 1985.
Mayor Greg Cox and Councilmember Len Moore were at the forefront of the Montgomery annexation. I provided staff support when they went to public meetings such as those at mobile home parks, to answer questions about the proposed annexation.
The elected members of the Montgomery Fire District Board and the members of the District’s fire union were opposed to the annexation. Union members’ salaries were higher than those of City firefighters. Voters approved the annexation in November 1985. Providing services to a population that grew by 24,000 on a single day, January 1, 1986, meant adding over 90 new employees, including police and fire, to City departments, while not diminishing service to the rest of the City, in less than three months.
Second, merging the Montgomery Fire Department into the City’s Fire Department required accommodating 18 fire fighters with a different salary schedule and their Fire Chief into the City’s fire force. The salary schedule was successfully negotiated and the Fire Chief became a Battalion Chief in charge of training.
Third, Montgomery area residents had to be informed that Chula Vista was their new service provider. Newspaper articles and public relations pieces were prepared. The Montgomery Fire Station was the most important public symbol of the unincorporated community. My most important step was to change the signage at the Montgomery Fire Station to Chula Vista Fire Station No. 6 on January 1, 1986. Immediately identifying it as a Chula Vista station and its fire engines as Chula Vista fire apparatus were important and effective steps in announcing the presence of City services.
About two weeks later, at the Loma Verde Recreation Center, the City hosted a welcome reception for the community. Every department had a table with key management and staff to answer questions about City services. Councilmembers volunteered to serve a buffet lunch. The message was clear: the City was there to serve the Montgomery community.
The transition was smooth. The City Council created a Montgomery Planning Board, which for several years would review land use issues and make recommendations on those issues to the City’s Planning Commission and ultimately to the City Council. Doing so maintained Montgomery’s community identity until it was fully absorbed into the City. A moratorium on neighborhood assessment districts were imposed so that residents would not be forced into these districts to install curbs, gutters and sidewalks when large parts of Montgomery were first developed under the County. A Capital Improvement Plan was developed to help overcome the infrastructure deficiencies created by the County’s lower infrastructure standards. A substantial residential redevelopment project in Otay after the 1986 Montgomery annexation addressed streets, alleys, deteriorated housing, and public service facilities.
The Montgomery annexation, along with the Otay Ranch in 1997, helped achieve my vision for creating a distinct, identifiable City of over 50 square miles. Chula Vista is now a City with easily understood boundaries; a City with a clear identity.
One of my greatest accomplishments as City Manager, however, will never be noticed. It was a battle with the Otay Water District that eventually saved $100 - $150 million in infrastructure costs for the development of the eastern sector of the City, particularly the Otay Ranch. It saved money that otherwise could have been added to the cost of housing and other development in this part of the City.
As the Otay Ranch was being planned and developed, the Otay Water District (OWD) sought to install above-ground tanks for short-term water storage in order to have an immediate ten-day water supply in case of a major emergency. Not only would this requirement be expensive, but storage tanks scattered around the City’s eastern sector would be unsightly and a waste of developable property.
I urged the District to look for another alternative-- the Lower Otay Lake. It was a raw water storage facility for the City of San Diego, which means that the water coming from the Lake is treated before it is introduced into the City’s drinking water supply. The OWD wanted to proceed with a master plan for their water system and refused to release the plans.
The City Council approved a $110,000 consultant contract so the City had “water expertise” to combat the “water expertise” of the District. I appreciated the City Council’s bravery. This was precious General Fund money.
Another part of the battle was the City’s threat to annex that portion of the OWD which served Chula Vista. Even though the City did not have a water department, the plan was to annex the part of the District within the City and contract out the water service to the Sweetwater Authority which served most of Chula Vista at that time. The conversation about annexing was long-term and became significant, although no formal actions were requested or taken by the City.
After over a year, Otay finally entered into discussions with the City of San Diego. After several months of negotiations, they agreed to pay for a portion of the treatment plant expansion San Diego was planning at the Lower Otay Lake. In exchange, the OWD received capacity in the Lake which could be used to meet the District’s obligation for short-term water storage. The above ground storage tanks were no longer needed. The cost of installing those tanks was avoided. The battle was over.
It was my biggest project success that no one ever saw.