Tina Friend ...

Coronado City Manager Tina Friend.

A year ago the City welcomed Tina Friend as Coronado’s new City Manager. I had a chance to catch up with Friend and talk to her about her experience in the position so far, as well as what’s ahead for the City in 2023.

“It has gone very well,” Friend began of settling into the position in Coronado. “I have found the community so embracing of a new manager coming in and so willing and eager to meet and talk. I find here that it’s very individually relational; people want to sit down and they want to know you, and I love that.”

Something Friend has found unique to Coronado is the level of engagement from the community. “I’ve been able to touch a lot of organizations and individuals and I’m so grateful that Coronado is so engaged, and in a really constructive way,” she stated. “You don’t always get that. In a lot of communities people are quick to tear down and to criticize, and here it’s very different. [Community members] engage, and offer feedback, and everyone’s respectful. It’s been wonderful.”

I asked Friend if anything has surprised her as she’s had a chance to familiarize herself as the city manager of Coronado. “We’ve had a complexity of issues in Coronado, and Coronado is very dynamic,” she started. “I knew this on the surface coming in – the deep connections with the Navy, and our operations have to talk to one another and the Port district, the other cities, and SANDAG. We’re outsized in complexity for our actual, physical size, so that’s been a bit of a surprise for me, but also a really engaging, interesting part of the job, too. It’s a much more complex eco system, and I enjoy that.

“Another thing, too, here in Coronado the city manager gets invited to a lot of things,” Friend laughed. “It’s just so wonderful. City managers are not the sixth council member, and I’m very clear about that, but it’s very wonderful to be invited to attend a lot of things and that’s beautiful. So in terms of just public speaking and going out, it’s been more than my other cities. Again, that’s that connection; people want to be connecting with this city.”

Among these are the many public events the City is known for. “I’ve been blown away by the Fourth of July, the Flower Show, any number of things. Our events are all top notch,” Friend described of experiencing many of the island’s festivities and traditions for the first time. “One that’s very close to my heart is the Avenue of Heroes and our dedication ceremonies.

“I grew up in a military household; my dad was Army and my grandfather was a Marine and it resonates with me, personally,” she noted. “I love the celebration of the City of these amazing military careers and the heroes in our community. So for me, I always get special joy from that and I get to MC it and I’m always very excited that I get to do that.”

When it came to discussing the challenges of the past year, Friend mentioned changes in staffing as one of the biggest the City has tackled. “We had a huge turnover in staffing the last few years in our departments. People who had been here for ten plus years, they retired and moved on, and so we have a lot of new people coming in and trying to figure out how our systems work,” she explained. “Then also at the department director level, I’ve made five hires in the short time I’ve been here… I hired a fire chief and a public services and engineering director when I got here, two recreational services directors because I hired an interim and then I just hired the permanent, Tim [Farmer], who started two weeks ago, and then the assistant city manager.

“That sort of turnover at the executive level is incredible,” she mentioned. “On one hand, it’s great because I get to pick our team, but it’s also been really disruptive. You’re losing the head of a department so I was stepping into all these departments and doing a lot of work; being hands on with projects, which I don’t mind doing, but it’s just not where my focus should be. So that’s been the biggest challenge, frankly. We have really competent, really committed staff, but we’re staffed very lean so when we lose one person, we feel it,” she explained.

“We’ve had a lot of project hurdles, but stabilizing our staff, having these excellent directors joining an excellent director team, I’m very excited for the year ahead,” she continued. “We finally have our team, all the positions are filled and now we get to go forward.”

As to looking back at the work the City has accomplished over 2022, “There’s a number of things I’m really proud of… I think we pushed some important things forward,” Friend mentioned. “I’m delighted that we’re realigning the Cays Park Master Plan process… that took a lot of work and we were careful with it, but I think we’re poised to have a really great process and it matters so much, it’s such a critical park.”

Friend also mentioned the City’s work with the tennis and pickleball communities, on the Parker Pump Station, the continuing work and advocacy on resolving the water quality and pollution issues, as well as on the water recycling plant, among other projects, as highlights for the City this past year. “We finished the Ocean Boulevard sidewalk street enhancement project; we finished our Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan; we had our Climate Action Plan approved and we’re working on the implementation piece of it, so we’ve been active,” she noted.

“We pushed very hard on the RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) process and unfortunately we did not have the judicial outcome that we wanted,” Friend added. “We do feel there was an unfair process, but we’re here and so we’re going to be working on that and we feel that we really represented the right side of the argument and fought for Coronado, and I’m proud of that work.”

Aside from projects, Friend is proud of how everyone working for the City continues to step up. “I’m very focused on having a highly responsive workforce and supporting our employees,” she told me. “We have great people that work here and we want to keep them, so that’s an area of work, too, that the community doesn’t always see.”

Looking ahead, the City plans to continue to devote energy and focus to moving many of those same projects forward with care and thoughtfulness. With RHNA, Friend said, “We took it [judicially] as far as we could. We did not have the relief we wanted so we have to work within these lines, and we’re working closely with the staff at the State to try and figure out how we can do this while being very mindful of minimizing impacts for the community.”

Friend also noted that staff are working on relinquishments so the City can have more self-determination with Orange Avenue and the downtown area, as well as on the downtown beautification project. “We feel that we are positioned to start to kick off that work next year, and it’s going to be a large undertaking with a lot of community engagement,” she commented. “Everything I do, I like to have a very deliberate, intentional process, so that’s very exciting.”

Discussion on more permanent outdoor dining solutions will factor into that focus, too. High community interest projects such as the Winn Room and the Cays Park are expected to see next steps early in the new year, and alongside the many projects in progress, the City also plans to begin discussing updating the island’s fire stations.

“The team of executives and the [city] council have a really strong eye for continuous improvement,” Friend said, noting the internal work the City will continue to do to ensure policies and procedures are where they should be. “We’re going to be doing a number of things with how we schedule our street maintenance, our paving schedule, our CIP (capital improvement project) planning, use of technology… there’s so many ways that we think we can be more efficient or offer even better services across the city.

“We want the best here in Coronado,” Friend continued. “So I, personally, will have a strong internal focus next year as well, to really build and strengthen the organization and support our staff. Ultimately, that leads to better successes out in the community. We have a strong city, and I just want to make it stronger.”

VOL. 112, NO. 46 - Nov. 16, 2022

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