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The Grand Finale Allison K. Sampité | Sat, Dec 31 2011 12:00 PM

There were many things that occurred in 2011. Most notably, perhaps, was the centennial celebration for the city of Chula Vista. Elected officials, community members and businesses weighed in on the good, the bad and the ugly of 2011.
National City Mayor Ron Morrison said that overall, the economy in National City was sustained.
He cited making progress with the San Diego Unified Port District in breaking ground on its aquatic center for the community; however, Morrison said the issue of redevelopment was the worst part of 2011, stalling or halting projects.
California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies across the state would redirect the tax increment back to the state and school districts, county offices of education, charter schools and community colleges as a way to balance the state’s budget, stalling or stopping current projects.
“The projects include the drive- in and swap meet, Eighth Street improvements and the Interstate 805 expansion,” Morrison said.
Cindy Gomper-Graves is the executive director for the South County Economic Development Council which promotes education and encourages economic development. She said that economic certainty is important to business owners.
“When we talk about redevelopment going away, it makes companies not want to invest or reinvest in our companies,” she said.
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said the number one highlight of the year was celebrating the centennial at the Olympic Training Center with some 25,000 people.
“Everything came together,” she said.
However, Chula Vista resident David Danciu said the centennial year was a little disappointing.
“Starting with the book, a lot of it was rewritten,” he said. “And the events didn’t seem to gel quite as good as they should have. I had high expectations for this year, but thank goodness it’s behind us now.”
Instead, Danciu, 61, said that Councilwoman Pat Aguilar getting elected to the City Council was the best thing that happened to the community for 2011.
“She’s really done a great job in answering to the residents,” he said.
Ed Herrera is the chief executive officer for the San Diego South Chamber of Commerce and said the centennial celebration could have capitalized on other opportunities.
“The centennial was an opportunity to reflect on what we are and where we need to go,” he said. “It gave us the opportunity to market not just what we used to be but what we can be as well as promoting what we have to offer.”
Cox also said the acquisition by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), of SR- 125 was the single most significant economic catalyst for the near future.
SANDAG purchased the lease to operate the SR-125 toll road or South Bay Expressway, earlier this month and in the spring it expects to begin lowering tolls, which is expected to attract more motorists, relieve congestion on I-805 and reduce the need for improvements. It will also result in a $268 million savings to taxpayers.
“Being able to get the tolls down and getting people home to their families quicker is important,” Cox said.
With regard to any regrets, Cox said she’s sure there are missed opportunities.
In October, an agreement was made between Houston-based energy company Dynegy and the Port of San Diego for a two-step demolition process to be completed by the end of 2014.
Although Cox said that the city of Chula Vista will be ready for the turn of the economy next year, some good businesses closed this year, including The Brigantine, El Torito and Anthony’s Fish Grotto.
Danciu said he’s concerned about what’s happening at Southwestern College and in the Sweetwater Union High School District.
Earlier this month, the homes of three sitting Sweetwater Union High School District board members were raided by investigators from the District Attorney’s Office, included in the raid were employees of Southwestern College.
“These are issues we’ve also been investigating as a college,” Southwestern College governing board president Tim Nader said. “What’s being investigated are things that occurred in a prior administration...”
On the other side, Southwestern College announced the reaffirmation of its accreditation status in June by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges with the help of former interim superintendent Denise Whittaker.
Newly hired superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish will replace Whittaker beginning in January.
The district was taken off a February 2010 probation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and elevated to full accreditation status, bypassing a level of sanction.
Nader said one negative includes the college’s corner lot delay, a project that was supposed to begin the spring of 2012 for the college’s Proposition R construction.
“There was no delay in the sense that there was no approved plan,” he said. “We expect to break ground for real this year and get construction going.”
Gomper-Graves said that in the last two months business owners are beginning to do some slow hiring.
“For the most part, last year businesses were trying to hold on through the recession…” she said. “I think the survivors are businesses that are being very judicious in how they are looking at their investments, great return on investments and great value for their dollar.”
Gomper-Graves said that most job creation comes from small businesses. The South County has more than 7,000 companies, of which at least 90 percent are small businesses, according to her.
She also said that, moving forward, there needs to be more competitiveness to encourage companies to invest in the community.
“Looking back, we need to, as a business community, be more vocal on the return on investment for the state,” she said. “We needed to send that message earlier and stronger.”
Herrera agreed.
“We’re missing out on some things by not being aggressive,” Herrera said. “We can’t have this notion that we’ve got to just get through the economy; we’ve got to break through it.”
Herrera said that the two things South County businesses are more focused on is marketing and adding employees.
“If every business in town were capable of hiring one person that would take care of unemployment in Chula Vista,” Cox said.
Chula Vista and National City suffered severe unemployment rates at 11.7 percent and 19 percent respectively in December 2010, according to the San Diego Workforce Partnership, but those numbers have decreased this year.
“Chula Vista has survived the worst of the economic downturn, we just can’t be complacent now,” Cox said.

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