Lake Elsinore leaders reflect on tumultuous year, plan for future at State of the City

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Lake Elsinore Mayor Brian Tisdale (right) and City Manager Grant Yates have a conversation in the city’s pre-recorded State of the City Address Oct. 8.

Lake Elsinore Mayor Brian Tisdale struck an optimistic tone while reflecting on the difficulties of the past year at the 2020 Lake Elsinore State of the City, Oct. 8.

“2020 has been an unusual year,” Tisdale said, perhaps echoing the thoughts of many watching the virtual address, which was led by the mayor but also included the other four members of the City Council as well as City Manager Grant Yates.

In a conversation between the two at the start of the prerecorded event, both Tisdale and Yates said they are proud of Lake Elsinore, not only for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, but for other rough situations the city has gone through over the last few years.

I’ve been in local government management since 1986,” Yates said, “and the last few years, our community has experienced an amazing amount of natural disasters starting with the fires, the floods, and we had issues on the lake with a fish kill, we had the poppy emergency, and all of that before COVID hit, right, so I just want to say that I’ve been so impressed with our community, with the resiliency of our residents. Most communities go decades without dealing with the kind of things we’ve had to deal with in the last couple of years.”

Yates said it’s been city staff’s intention to adapt to the pandemic and continue progress toward its goals.

“We basically have taken information that changes daily, and sometimes hourly, and really come up with innovative plans to make sure we continue to provide the services to our residents in the community,” Yates said.

He cited online services the city has provided to the development community to allow them to move forward with projects without having to come into City Hall, and efforts by the city’s Community Services Department to “provide outdoor opportunities even during the worst parts of the pandemic” as examples.

“Lake Elsinore has been at the forefront of challenges and we’ve met those challenges together,” Tisdale said.

But Yates had less-than-ideal information to share on the state of the city’s finances, which he said was the reason for the Measure Z one-cent sales tax increase that is going before the city’s voters next month.

“When you look at the city’s finances, it’s very apparent that we do have some structural issues, and we’ve done a lot of creative things to make sure that we balance the budget,” Yates said. “As we go forward, the picture gets a little scarier and fuzzier. When we look at our revenue streams over the next five and ten years we see nothing but red, meaning we don’t have the resources that we locally control to provide those higher level services.”

The city manager said if Lake Elsinore residents vote in favor of the sales tax increase, it will provide the city with “a dedicated revenue sources so that we can make sure that the progress that we made will continue and actually make the city even greater as we go forward.”

He said the tax increase would provide an extra $10 million per year to city revenues.

“So it’s big dollars for the community,” Yates said. “We’re going to be investing all of that back in the community in all of the programs and policies we’re going to put together.”

He said funds from the sales tax increase would be allocated by an oversight committee “to make sure the community spends it as they want it to be spent.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Magee spent a portion of the video sharing what he said was more positive Lake Elsinore news: the city’s lake was a recreation destination over the summer.

“Our lake and our beaches never closed and we have had a significant increase in fishing, boating, camping and day use all around Lake Elsinore, especially on holiday weekends,” Magee said.

He said the city “remains focused on long term improvements that will ensure that we protect our most valuable asset.” 

This year, Magee said, the Lake Elsinore-San Jacinto Watershed Authority finished its first extensive fish survey and fishery management plan in 15 years.

“This plan will help us better manage and protect our fishery in the years ahead,” Magee said.

Other successes this year include newly-finished projects like the Lake Elsinore Honda dealership, the Central Place shopping center, a Chick-fil-a, another Starbucks and a Circle K on Riverside Drive that added a new traffic signal, Tisdale said.

Ground was also broken in January on a new Walmart supercenter on Central Avenue, to replace the existing store on Grape Street, Tisdale said. That project is expected to be completed by spring 2021.

“In addition to jobs and revenue, this site will have three to four new retail sites that will be used to welcome even more retailers and services providers like, hopefully, Raising Cane’s and the Habit,” Tisdale said.

The city has also made major progress on infrastructure improvement, with the extension of Camino Del Norte completed this year and the Railroad Canyon Road interchange improvement project on track to be finished by 2022, Tisdale said.

And the city this year completed its Dream Extreme 2040 plan, calling for improvements to the lake, a focus on the downtown area and for the city to be known as an “action and adventure” destination over the next 20 years.

“It has been a rough year, yet we are still standing and will not give up,” Tisdale said.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.