In the City of San Marcos, where residents and guests alike can “Discover Life’s Possibilities” in a diverse environment, Mayor Rebecca Jones champions a message that transcends party lines. Mayor Jones believes local government would operate much more effectively if it remained firmly non-partisan.
“When you stick with the main nuts and bolts of what a community does and how you can provide a good service to them, you don’t have to be political,” Mayor Jones said. “We don’t get into the issues that are outside of our wheelhouse of control.”
Through in-depth research into the role of local government, she understands its primary responsibilities to be the safety of the community, land use development, quality-of-life issues, and fiscal responsibility. As the city with the lowest crime rate out of 18 cities in San Diego County, Mayor Jones is proud of San Marcos’ safety work.
Balancing Density and Community Character
Land use developments present a challenge where Mayor Jones can use creative cooperation to find solutions. She said that she doesn’t mind building higher or denser only in certain areas, where it makes sense, but she likes that San Marcos remains diverse – some residents can choose more urban settings like North City while others can live more rurally and even own livestock on Twin Oaks Valley Road – something for everyone.
“My job is to figure out how to get the best possible development on a piece of property, all while respecting the community, trying to figure out the best use of that land, and not taking away someone’s property rights,” Mayor Jones said. “With a well-rounded community, you have folks of all income levels, of all housing types. I think that’s what good planning can do for a community.”
San Marcos’ community planning has come a long way under Mayor Jones’ leadership, building or approving 1,100 affordable units out of about 2438 total units.
“I’d rather us be ahead of the curve and figure out where [dense housing] suits our needs, rather than the state coming in and saying, ‘This is where you’re going to do it,’” she said, referencing state mandates to build more housing.
Transportation Solutions, Not Dictation
One of the quality-of-life issues the San Marcos faces (along with the rest of North County) revolves around transportation and traffic congestion. Since many of the cities and unincorporated areas of North County include rural living, public transit can be difficult and impractical to access.
Sitting on the SANDAG Board of Directors, Mayor Jones’ approach to creating solutions for these issues centers on the government providing adequate opportunities of varying types of transportation rather than dictating lifestyle choices. She advocates for a simpler, unified transportation fee (rather than multiple fees), with transparent fund allocation and a balanced approach to capital transit projects.
“We need to be realistic about the needs of our communities. How do we help them travel the way that they want to travel?” Mayor Jones said. Some solutions she has considered include a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) down the 15 freeway from Riverside County, the creation of transit-oriented developments (TOD), and micro-transit options. She hopes to preserve North County’s vibrant communities where residents can live their lives according to their preferences while also contributing to a cleaner and greener future.
The Pitfall of Government and Self-Reflection
Though Mayor Jones thrives while navigating the issues in local government, she has no aspirations at state or federal level. Rather, she plans to run for county supervisor when the seat is up for election in 3 years. Whatever direction her career takes, she plans to approach the job with a dose of earnest self-reflection.
“I think government, even local government, has a very tough time saying, ‘This isn’t working. We need to reevaluate the situation.’ That’s a real shame because that’s what we should be doing,” Mayor Jones said. “It’s what regular, everyday private companies do, because if they don’t change when things are unsustainable, they fail.”
Life Before Politics: A Journey Through San Diego County
A San Diego County native, Mayor Jones grew up in East County’s Ramona and El Cajon and lived in San Diego County all but two years of her life. As a 19-year-old, Jones began her career as a real estate agent, setting her up for the future with a great understanding of property rights and land use. In 1997, while she had a 4-year-old and an infant, she and her husband at the time started their own business, “Furniture Sales and Marketing.”
While her husband covered sales, Jones was responsible for the other aspects of running the business, without much prior experience. She read, researched, and taught herself. Jones’ work paid off and the company grew to an annual sales volume of $100 million. Throughout this journey, Mayor Jones honed her skills in marketing, business operations, and adapting to market dynamics—a skill set that would later prove invaluable in her role as mayor, a job which she described as partly “marketing the city.”
Becoming Mayor: A Journey Born from Community Concerns
Her journey into local governance began unexpectedly, driven by her desire to protect her community when a proposed land use raised concerns near her local park.
“I thought, ‘I’m a mom now. I need to look into these things. I need to get more involved in the community,” Mayor Jones said. Her meetings with council members about the issue eventually kindled a desire to serve the city she had called home since 1987.
“Those two council members kept telling me, ‘You should really run for office at some point in time. You are smart. You do a lot of reading, you do your research, you really find out about the issues and the complexity of it, and you would be great,” Mayor Jones recalled.
She was hesitant about the idea at first but ended up running for city council for the first time in 2008, where she served three terms. She was then elected to mayor in 2018, and at the end of this second term as mayor, she will have served on San Marcos’ City Council for 20 years. Now she encourages those with the same tenacity for reading and research to consider running for loca
A City on the Rise: San Marcos’ Present and Future
While San Marcos has long been known for its educational institutions, including California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) and Palomar College, Mayor Jones is excited about the integration of healthcare into the city’s identity. These institutions collectively serve nearly 40,000 students. Many of those students (about 80% from CSUSM) remain local after graduation, creating a talent pool that now finds opportunities within the growing healthcare sector.
With the recent addition of Kaiser Permanente’s new hospital, the establishment of Scripps Health and Palomar Health medical offices, healthcare education opportunities in the University of St Augustine and Pima Medical Institute, San Marcos is well on its way to becoming a prominent healthcare provider and employer in North County.
“We love our businesses,” Mayor Jones said. “We do a lot to support them, and we are further working on how we can best create an atmosphere for our businesses to thrive.”
As such, the city created a Customer Experience Team dedicated to elevating the overall experience for “customers.” The goal is to better serve constituents, addressing their unique needs and fostering an atmosphere conducive to their growth and success.
Having adequate housing to match the growing job opportunities and the quality of life to support those employees is also a priority for the city, one that they address in part through their parks department. San Marcos (fondly dubbed “San Parkos”) boasts an impressive network of parks and trails, with 16 major parks and approximately 72 miles of trails that cater to people with varying preferences and physical abilities. San Marcos’ trails also connect with neighboring cities. The Inland Rail Trail, for instance, allows cyclists and pedestrians to travel for miles and reach the coast.
Navigating the Ups and Downs of Governance
Throughout her career in public service, one of the most significant lessons Mayor Jones has learned is the importance of acknowledging that not everyone will be pleased with every decision.
“I was a middle child, so I was a peacemaker. I feel like this has uniquely helped me to figure out solutions that benefit as many people as possible without having anyone walk away saying, ‘I didn’t get anything,’” Mayor Jones said.
With 64% of the electorate supporting her during reelection, she believes her dedication, effort, and service have resonated with the community, even if she can’t make everyone happy. Her focus will remain on serving the city to the best of her ability.
“We’ve got this really diverse community. A lot of people have visited here, and they love it so much they want to move here,” Mayor Jones said. “When people say to me, ‘I love our city so much.’ That honestly is the part that is really exciting to me.”
Read the story covering Dane White, Mayor of Escondido here for more content.
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About the Author
Caitlyn Canby loves to discover and share people’s stories. She has her bachelor’s degree in Communications, Print Journalism with over 8 years of journalism experience. An Escondido native, she just moved back from Catalina Island to North County with her husband and two children to the town of Fallbrook. Caitlyn enjoys collaborating on projects as Marketing and Events Coordinator at SDNEDC, traveling, and exploring new restaurants, venues, experiences, and cultures.