Get Riehl: City Leaders Envision Carlsbad 2025

by Richard J. Riehl on January 28, 2013

Carlsbad LogoAt its annual retreat last Tuesday Carlsbad’s City Council decided to forego listening to the usual parade of reports from department heads. They engaged, instead, in a creative visioning exercise, imagining the year was 2025 and Time magazine planned to do a cover story on the city. Council members were to suggest headlines and teasers for the story.

One headline declared the city “An oasis of prosperity, quality of life, and innovation.” Among the teasers were, “How a small city is raising its future workforce in its own world class university” and “Recession proof your city a la Carlsbad.”

One council member drew characters on a white board depicting a father working in a high tech company, his wife shopping, their kids reading books from a world class library, and their dog running unleashed in the city’s open space.According to one council member, the take-away message from the retreat was that city officials saw the future of Carlsbad as a model of success for all cities by “investing in people and innovation.” Staff was told to take inventory of what they need in human resources and technology to maintain a sustainable organization and a sustainable city. They were assured the council will be open to investing in technology and in improving their skills to enable them to provide high quality service at a reasonable cost.

In a follow-up email to all city employees, Interim City Manager John Coates gave his take on the retreat, informing them the city council did not plan any new projects of initiatives this year. He assured city workers, “Although there are still some areas of concern, we are definitely turning the corner on the economic front. We are even projecting surpluses in the coming years, mainly thanks to a healthy increase in sales and hotel taxes.”

Coates concluded, “We are perfectly positioned to achieve the Council’s vision of becoming a world class city. By valuing and trusting every human being who is part of our organization and investing in innovation, there is nothing we can’t accomplish, together.”

With all this happy time talk about trusting staff, you’ve got to wonder why city leaders are so eager to outsource their jobs. Parks maintenance workers are already facing the axe and the Transportation Department is currently under review.

Where’s the justification for outsourcing? The city has a comfortable $50 million in general fund reserves and expects budget surpluses driven by increased revenue in sales and hotel taxes over the next several years.

Is it necessary to outsource the work because of the need to improve the quality of service? Not according to the 96 percent of city residents surveyed who rate the maintenance of city parks “excellent” or “good.” Keith Blackburn is the only council member who has spoken publicly of his concern that outsourcing might come at the expense of quality service.

As a university administrator I was once faced with the need to outsource work in a department. But that was driven by an increased workload that exceeded the capacity of current staff. Nobody lost their job.
There are reasons to outsource work, but unless I’m missing something, in Carlsbad’s case it appears to be, “Risking the attractiveness of our city parks is justifiable by the cost-savings produced by replacing workers whose service has been exemplary.”

Finally, does the council see any need to account for our changing demographics in their vision for 2025? Carlsbadians that year will be older and browner. SANDAG projects the population will grow by about 13,000, or 12 percent, to 120,532. But the number of individuals 60 years and older will increase by 64 percent, while there’ll be an actual decline of those under the age of 18. Our Hispanic population is expected to grow by 26 percent over the next 12 years.

If city decision makers see a picture of a male breadwinner, a wifely shopper, a kid reading a book, rather than using an electronic device, and a leash-free dog running through open spaces, I’d say the year of that Time magazine cover would be closer to 1952.

Richard Riehl writes from LaCosta contact him at

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