Mayor Aquanetta Warren says Fontana was one paycheck from going bankrupt in the ’90s. When Sam Abed was elected mayor, Escondido had a $16 million deficit. And for incoming Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, the challenge was gang violence on city streets.

The three mayors shared their tales of transformation at the Council’s Smart Cities Now forum in San Diego.

From budget deficit to surplus
When Sam Abed was first elected mayor of Escondido, a city of not quite 150,000 located about 30 miles north of San Diego, it faced a $16 million deficit. Today, he says, it boasts an $8 million surplus. At the same time, he describes a historic turnaround into a smarter, vibrant city – much of it a result of cutting government size, pushing efficiencies and moving all functions online.

The former IBM engineer says he’s a big believer in technology, in change and in smart cities as a pathway to financial stability and economic prosperity. He’s also working with five other mayors to promote a stronger regional economy.

Any city to be successful in the future, Abed suggests, has to be innovative and has to embrace technology.

Promoting Fontana as open for business
Aquanetta Warren recalls going to city hall when she first moved to Fontana and workers were packing boxes due to layoffs. “In 1993,” she says, “Fontanta was one paycheck from going bankrupt.”

The city of 200,000 located due east of Los Angeles has been the fastest growing city in California the past 20 years, says Warren, who served six years on the city council before being elected Fontana mayor in 2010 and re-elected to a second term earlier this year.

To deal with budget challenges and the stress of growth, Mayor Warren launched an “Open for Business” campaign to attract new businesses to Fontana along with the jobs and sales taxes they would generate. She also launched a “Fontana is Open for Business” television program that showcases local businesses and the services they offer.

Bottom line: The mayor says Fontana recently ranked fourth among California cities in retail sales growth over a five-year period.

Taking aim at public safety
When Miguel Pulido was campaigning for mayor of Santa Ana, he remembers knocking on a door and being invited in to see the brick wall the family had put up to protect against gang activity in their neighborhood. What are you going to do about that? they asked him.

Pulido was elected to the city council in 1986 and is now serving his 11th consecutive term as mayor of Santa Ana, which has a population of about 335,000, making it the second largest city in Orange County, CA.

And 18 years after a future constituent showed him that brick wall, Santa Ana streets are much safer, the mayor suggested, due to surveillance cameras on telephone poles and other smart technologies that have been deployed. “We built our own jail,” the mayor said, “with the highest and best technology you can imagine.”

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Originally posted at Smart Cities Council.