Coronado recently welcomed Tina Friend as the island’s new city manager. I had a chance to sit down with Friend, who has 16 previous years of experience in city government she’s bringing with her and is looking forward to working with and getting to know the Coronado community.
Friend didn’t always know she was going to find her calling in city government, and she told me her path towards it wasn’t necessarily the most conventional. “I started out with an appreciation of the outdoors and doing science, so my undergrad was in geology with an emphasis in chemistry,” she began. “When I went on to grad school I was thinking of doing environmental policy, and I got interested in policy in general.” From there, Friend pursued a master’s program in general policy at Georgetown and engaged in a variety of internships and work around the nation’s capital.
“I started thinking, ‘Where do I want to have an impact?’ And a lot of my classmates went on to federal agencies or think tanks, and it felt so remote to me. I wanted something more tangible,” Friend explained of what led her to California and working in city government in Santa Cruz.
“I just loved it. You take an action, you approve a contract, you make a major policy shift around something and it just happens right away,” she added. “To have that closeness between action and problem solving where things can really get done is just lovely. I really think the impact is there.”
Friend credits her family for planting the seeds of civic interest and engagement early on. “My father was in the military and my mother worked in public service, as well as an accountant who worked for public agencies,” she mentioned. “So I think that was a thread through my life that was just always there.”
Though Friend admits that, of course, there are challenges and difficulties that face each city government, but that in her experience there are always so many more rewards that come from the work. “We have a lot of crossroads in our life where you can pick a direction, and this is where I want to put my life’s work. And look where I get to work now,” she added with a smile.
Talking about Friend’s transition from Santa Cruz to Coronado, she noted there are some similarities to the two cities; both beach communities with a strong tourism presence, but also residents who want to be able to enjoy their city year round. “A lot of those issues are the same,” she told me. “The Coastal Commission, having affordable housing challenges in a high cost of living place, having a conduit that brings a lot of people to community – here, we have the bridge and in Santa Cruz we had Highway 17 that linked it to Silicon Valley.”
What Friend says is newer to her settling in as City Manager here is the large presence and deep roots of the military on the island and the intricate relationship the Navy has with the city. “I think that’s fantastic, and that’s something I’m really enjoying learning more about,” she said, just as an aircraft flew overhead toward North Island – something Friend commented has been one of the novelties in her month on the island so far.
In addition to the Navy, Friend has been eagerly learning more about the complexities in the relationship between Coronado, the Port Commission for San Diego, and other interjurisdictional agencies the city works with as another unique piece to what shapes the island. “Coronado is so exteriorly focused as well. We have to take care of our residents but we also have to be really thinking about our neighboring cities…so that is really different and, I think, really interesting.”
As Friend has been getting to know the community, City Council, and the issues of interest for Coronado, she’s looking forward to stepping in and moving those priorities forward. “Relinquishments, local control of State Route 75 and 282, looking at how we’re watering our golf course and moving to a recycled water plant,” she listed as just some of the items she’s now taking the administrative reins for. “And then just working on public processes, like right now with the Cays and the park masterplan or the Ferry Landing. There is so much dynamic work going on right now that will really make an impact for years to come.”
Aside from carrying on these projects, Friend also mentioned she’s looking forward to helping maintain City Council’s goals for ensuring Coronado continues to be an exceptional place to be. “Our goals will include raising the standard of our common spaces, elevating what we’re doing for the community, and really fine tuning our services,” she added of the city government team. “Coronado does so much, so well, I really think we’re very involved, but I love how people are saying, ‘It’s not enough. Let’s see how we can make things even better and more responsive.’” That, Friend said, is a place few cities are able to be in. “I’m very early in my tenure; I’m meeting a lot of people and excited to hear things I don’t even know about yet.”
On a more personal note, Friend is looking forward to life in Coronado and getting the chance to try some new things and enjoy the environment of the city. “It’s so beautiful,” she began. “I’m looking forward to having a better balance in my life that I can go out and go for a run or a walk, or take a break and go to the beach for a half hour. That’s remarkable that we can do that, and we should do that because…it’s here. It’s just such a gift.” Friend has also always wanted to try sailing and hopes there may be some sailing lessons in her future that she and her six-year-old son can do together.
As Coronado’s groups and programs are starting to get back up and running in person, she’s also looking forward to experiencing community-favorite events. “I can’t wait for next season and all the cultural amenities we offer. I want to experience the Fourth of July parade – which I’ve seen a video of and I think it’s just astounding – and the summer Concerts in the Park, I can’t wait for that. There’s the film festival that’s coming up next month and we just offer so much here; I’ll read about all the lectures and events going on at the library and Spreckels Center…I want to do more of that,” she noted, mentioning how extraordinary it is for a city of Coronado’s size to be able to offer all that it does.
“Our job is to be there for the community, to reflect the community, and to problem solve,” Friend told me. She added that there’s always more to go in terms of improving and making a city the best it can be, and that’s what holds her passion in her position as city manager. “That ability to step in where really only government can step in; to bring people together – private sector, public sector, community members – and work through things. I think that the connection government provides, and when you’ve done it well, is so satisfying.”
Before our conversation came to an end, I asked Friend what it is she’s enjoyed most in her first month as city manager in Coronado. “It’s going to sound corny,” she said, “but it’s the people. I’ve been saying that I want to get out of City Hall [and around the community more], and of course we have amazing staff at City Hall, but I’m not as invigorated sitting in my office reading emails as being out meeting people and groups in the community.”
She noted that everyone in Coronado seems to have an amazing backstory and how incredible it is that so many amazing people have chosen to be here. “That makes for such a rich and varied community, so what I’ve loved the most is getting to meet people.”
Coronadans can be on the lookout out for Friend around the city and at City Hall. The city manager’s office can be contacted via phone, 619-522-7335 or the city’s website at https://www.coronado.ca.us/government/departments_divisions/city_manager/contact_the_city_manager_s_office.