Here is an email interview with Randy Walton who is running for San Marcos City Council District 2. San Elijo Life has invited all candidates for Council in District 2 and Mayor to answer the same set of email questions.
Why should the residents in San Elijo Hills vote for you?
I have a proven track record and have been deeply engaged in issues that impact residents of San Elijo Hills for almost 15 years, and lived in the community for nine of those years.
For the last decade, I have been a member of the governing board of San Marcos Unified School District and have helped steer that district through a period of recession and dramatic growth. When I first ran in 2008, my stated reason for running was to rebuild or modernize San Marcos High School, which was in desperate need of upgrade. Once elected, I pushed hard for a bond (Prop K), and then helped lead the campaign. I was deeply involved in the planning and construction and take great pride in what we accomplished in a short period of time.
In my time on the board, academic scores have skyrocketed, we have built, rebuilt, or modernized five schools in total (including Double Peak), and we converted nearly every campus to solar power. In addition, 11 schools have been named California Distinguished Schools, two schools became California Gold Ribbon Schools, and SMUSD is now considered one of the finest school districts in the region, which was not the case when San Elijo Hills was being built in the early 2000s.
In addition to my time on the school board, I have been an advocate for our ridgelines and trails, and helped draft the Ridgeline Protection Ordinance, a local law that seeks to protect our ridgelines from destruction by development.
Longtime San Elijo residents might remember when the San Marcos City Council approved a 120,000 square foot Wal Mart in 2004 at the intersection of Rancho Santa Fe Rd. and Melrose. A few of us San Elijo Hills residents (with some help from some other impacted neighborhoods) took up the fight to overturn the city council’s decision. It took a year of battle (I was sued by Wal Mart in the process), but ultimately the voters were allowed to decide the issue and resoundingly rejected the store. Looking back, I can’t imagine what Rancho Santa Fe and Melrose would be like if there was a huge Wal Mart there.
I have also been involved in other projects that I think have improved the lives of San Elijo Hills residents, or at least the children. I am a founder of the San Marcos Promise, which helps SMUSD students find their post-high school path, and for years was very involved in San Marcos Youth Baseball as board member and coach. Today, I am the coach of the surf team at San Marcos High.
San Elijo Hills has grown to be a really beautiful community, and I wish Curt Noland, who oversaw its early development, was alive to see what it has become.
How can the council/mayor help address cut through traffic and school traffic in San Elijo Hills?
Traffic is a regional problem that requires a regional solution. As the “hub” of North County, San Marcos has thousands of cars pass through it every day to get somewhere else, and like pretty much everywhere else in California, the infrastructure in North County (and specifically San Marcos), to handle automobiles is way behind the growth of housing and business.
There is obviously no easy answer to the question of cut through traffic through San Elijo Hills. The location of CSUSM and the lack of north-south roadway alternatives will always entice drivers to use San Elijo Rd. and Twin Oaks Valley Rd., and some of the cut through traffic is beneficial to the businesses in the Town Center.
But the city shouldn’t be powerless to address it. As a city, we should make our voice heard on projects that are likely to increase traffic through our city and through San Elijo Hills. In the last two years, approximately 3,000 homes have been approved or built in San Marcos and the surrounding sphere of influence and only Chris Orlando has pushed back on these projects due to the negative impacts they will likely have on traffic and our general quality of life.
As for school traffic, it is an issue we have studied in the district, and an issue that is raised at schools across the district. The reimplementation of home-school transportation is something the district would love to do, but currently doesn’t have the funding. To reinstate home-school transportation district-wide, it is estimated that the startup costs would be approximately $8.2 million, with an annual cost of about $4.5 million. It requires about 20 additional buses and 45 routes and would require an adjustment of school start times. If public funds are going to be used for busing, the law would likely require that it be provided district-wide, not just for certain schools. If there is a private pay option, which could help defray some of the ongoing costs, the law requires subsidies for low income families. School busing transportation is highly regulated by the state, and costly, and something the school district simply can’t afford to do for the foreseeable future.
Could the city do it on its own? Possibly. But it would require the political will and citywide support and a realistic revenue stream. It is certainly worth exploring, but ultimately school busing is all about the funding, and any candidate who promises the return of school busing (during a political campaign) without a concrete funding source is playing politics and not advancing realistic policies.
While school busing would help with traffic at certain times of the day, most of the traffic burden in San Elijo is caused by regional growth without the supportive infrastructure. Any future reductions in traffic will be the result of infrastructure improvements, which must be demanded, technological advances, and controlling the pace of growth.
What is your position on future housing and commercial development around San Elijo Hills?
The population of San Marcos has nearly doubled to 100,000 in less than 20 years, and the conventional belief is that San Marcos will outpace all North County cities in growth for the foreseeable future. When you consider traffic and school capacity problems today, and the houses approved but not yet built, there is a real cause for concern.
I think it’s time to pump the brakes on the large tract housing., which is something the developer community doesn’t like to hear. That is probably why it has invested $27,000.00 into an independent expenditure negative campaign against me (and why it so strongly supports my opponents).
As a city, we need to be smarter about how we grow. In 2010, the city was asked by regional housing authorities (like all cities are asked) to produce housing for people at various income levels. For people of upper incomes, the city was asked to build 1613 larger, detached home by the end of the decade. How many has the city approved or constructed? 3189. It has built 200% of what it was asked, and this doesn’t include the Newland Sierra project at the north end of Twin Oaks Valley that was just approved for 2,135 homes (a majority of which will be built within the San Marcos Unified School District boundary). In the same request, the city was asked to build 734 homes for people of moderate incomes. How many have we approved or built? 63. Less than 10%. There is no question that we have grown in an unbalanced way and have been over-producing the very housing that is more likely to crowd our roads, carve into our hillsides, and fill our schools.
If elected, I will likely be supportive of housing projects that advance smart growth principles. That is, housing that is transit-oriented and closer to the city’s core along the 78, designed for walkability, with smaller units that are more likely to be affordable for young professionals, college students, and families starting out. The North City project around the college is an excellent example of that.
Will San Marcos continue to grow? Yes, but we need to take the long view. The city’s current general plan states the total number of housing units when San Marcos will be at “build out,” and I don’t think we need to rush to get there. We certainly shouldn’t sacrifice our quality of life in the name of growth.
How can you work with San Marcos Unified School District to solve school crowding?
In the last 15 years, San Marcos Unified School District has built five new schools, and rebuilt or modernized five others, dramatically increasing the district’s capacity. Considering how difficult it is to fund school construction, this is a remarkable achievement. Yet it is still not enough to keep up with the growth.
As a current school board member, I am deeply familiar with school capacity issues, the school construction process, and the complexities involved. On the city council, I would be uniquely qualified to engage in the issues and am ready to make that happen. Simply stated, the district needs to build more schools, and the city and the district should be united in this cause as it has tremendous impact on our collective quality of life.
What are your goals to improve the quality of life in San Marcos-(events, parks, trails)?
We are so lucky to live where we do and to have the quality of life that we presently enjoy. There are few places in the world that have our beautiful weather, hiking trails, open spaces, nearby beaches, excellent schools, and a burgeoning business community. It’s hard to imagine a place with more life-enriching assets than this place we all call home, which is why my wife, Kristen, and I moved here 20 years ago to raise our family.
The first goal in improving our quality of life is to protect what we have. There is a (well-funded) pro-growth crowd out there demanding rapid growth, and demanding it now, using a state-wide call for more housing to justify large development projects in the region and here in San Marcos. Those who resist are called NIMBY or worse, yet those who stand to profit the most from these projects often don’t live here, don’t travel our roads daily, and don’t have children in our schools. This is why I have taken no money from any developer interests in this campaign and am the only candidate in the race for District 2 to do so.
To me, our trails, parks, and native open spaces are enormously important. I raised my sons hiking the trails around San Marcos and San Elijo and playing sports in our beautiful parks. Those parks, and our native open spaces are integral to our high quality of life, and as a member of the city council, I will make preserving them and expanding them one of my highest priorities.
If elected what are the top 3 issues you would focus on for San Elijo Hills?
First, working with the school district to address the school capacity issues. This issue is likely to worsen in the next few years, so time is of the essence.
Second, always making sure our fire department has what it needs to prevent and fight brush fires, update and improve evacuation plans, and educate the residents of best fire safety practices.
Third, with the growth of CSUSM, the approval of housing along Twin Oaks Valley Rd., and the unlikelihood that there will ever be an alternative north-south roadway, we need to study the current impacts on San Elijo Rd. and use that study in our evaluation of future projects that might impact San Elijo Hills.
Editors Note: We have invited all 2018 District 2 – City of San Marcos City Council and Mayor Candidates to answer the same questions.