Eighth Annual State of the City Address
Mayor Cheryl Cox
February 25, 2014
I’d like to thank and recognize City Attorney Googins, Chaplain Weber and Christine for their contribution to this evening’s event.
I’d also like to thank and congratulate Captain Kennedy on recently becoming the highest ranking female police officer in Chula Vista’s history.
And a special thank you to the Honorable Supervisor Cox.
As mayor, I’ve had the honor in this annual tradition to report candidly on the current status of our city, present our challenges and lay out a road map to take us into the future.
It is an opportunity to reflect on the strong ties between the business of running a city and the people I meet each day:
• People who call, email or visit city hall with concerns and ideas;
• People who have built local businesses;
• People who serve residents each day as members of the military, educators and those in nonprofit service.
• People like you, who care about Chula Vista’s prosperity now and for the future.
I want to thank them and those of you here tonight. Your personal investment in, and dedication to Chula Vista through the good times and the bad proves our city is in good hands.
To my family, your support is critical to keeping me in sync, and when possible, with peace of mind. I say this because even though mayors experience pride in their cities’ gains, more often than not, without friends and family, the challenges could be overwhelming.
And finally, I extend my gratitude to the nearly 1,000 public employees who keep Chula Vista going. Please join me in acknowledging the thousands of hours that they dedicated in 2013 to another year of hard won successes.
As many of you know, education and its connection to good jobs has been a priority over my terms as Mayor. So, I begin tonight by addressing an ongoing issue outside City Hall, one that continues to affect Chula Vista’s reputation and our students’ future.
I believe that electeds and administrators in education are obligated to set the values of good teaching and proven learning as their priorities.
However, these values seem to be no match for the constant controversy stemming from the top levels of the Sweetwater Union High School District.
I’ve repeatedly been asked to intervene; however, a mayor’s jurisdiction in our schools is limited, so until now, I have purposefully abstained.
But, I am done watching poor governance get worse, and I am compelled to confront Sweetwater’s current problems through my ability to convene community members in constructive conversation.
The majority of Sweetwater’s students are Chula Vistans. Most of its schools and its administration offices are here, so it’s clear the district is an asset that reflects on perceptions of our city.
Therefore, my comments this evening affirm that it’s time to put learning first, commit to ending bullying from the Sweetwater dais and to overcome the district’s tarnished reputation.
This doesn’t come easily for me.
A friend on the board is a driven educator and advocate for students and employees. The superintendent has been helpful when I asked for his cooperation with my community education dialogues about the importance of literacy and graduation.
But, it has become increasingly apparent from a string of questionable actions and lack of forthright clarity about the district’s finances that this period of prolonged negativity needs to end.
We must help the high school district re-establish a working relationship with our community.
The idea of unifying K through 12 was floated last month in response to what I perceive to be frustration with the Sweetwater district. Quite frankly, unification has been brought up before without success. First, it doesn’t address the issue of better governance, and second, minus the support of the districts themselves, unification is dead on arrival.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the concept of unification, but the elementary school district’s superintendent struck the right chord when he said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I equate it as a merger of two companies – there are different cultures …”
Culture … I believe that’s the key. Culture at the top needs to change at Sweetwater before a conversation about unification can begin.
My own reluctance to a merger is that I am mindful of the high academic ranking of each of the elementary school district’s 45 schools. All have test scores that exceed 800 on the Academic Performance Index and 25 percent or more are scoring 900.
By federal standards, not one of the elementary schools is non-performing. It’s proof of a district that is dedicated to ethical conduct among electeds and district administrators who emphasize education.
I wouldn’t want anything to disrupt our elementary school district’s enviable performance or put its finances at risk to bail out Sweetwater.
When the Sweetwater board is re-formed in November, I will urge the district to seek a full audit as a new beginning, and make public the district’s true financial condition.
That is the only way that a new administration and new electeds will know what they’re in for.
For my part, I will invite the community to join me in a new conversation about Sweetwater. My office will host a forum independent from the Sweetwater board and its administration to give residents and business people a platform to share constructive insights and re-think what community members can do to improve the largest 7-12 school district in California.
I’ve said it before: teachers, counselors and principals can’t do it alone. Strategies are needed to recruit board members committed to righting the district and delivering real fixes to a growing list of concerns; and, the Board and superintendent need to adopt guiding principles that improve interaction with stakeholders.
With a new Board comes hope for fair and effective governance. With a new superintendent comes the hope of a new beginning. We’ve turned things around at city hall in the face of dire circumstances. The same can be done at Sweetwater.
But turning things around doesn’t come painlessly. Throughout my terms as mayor, Chula Vista has taken some hits – some as a result of the national financial crisis; and some were unfairly delivered by big East Coast publications.
And yet, through the worst recession in decades, we remained resilient. We faced our problems, and even in the most difficult times, had our eyes on a better future.
It’s a new era now. We can build a lasting brand of regional leadership if we continue to tackle challenges head on, be honest, even when it hurts, about financial realities and continue to make the often difficult decisions that ultimately have long term benefits.
The city continues to make financial gains, but we still have considerable work ahead to improve our finances and services. Just weeks ago, the City Council learned that we have more work than we thought to replenish our reserves.
Following end-of-year adjustments resulting from the State’s sales tax triple flip, which began in 2005, the finance department concluded that reserves were even lower than had been reported in 2006. Coupled with a damaging practice of repeatedly approving mid-year budget allocations, depleted reserves were actually less than four percent prior to the recession.
Last year, I said that I hoped to leave office with reserves near or above 11 percent. This recent adjustment is a setback, but using a cautious and conservative estimate, we can achieve nine to 10 percent in reserves by the end of 2014, if we maintain fiscal restraint when preparing next year’s budget.
Our savings is not a new issue for Chula Vista – I rail on it every year. But this year, I’m not the only one. Just last month, Governor Brown called on lawmakers to be conservative with this year’s budget, punctuating the need to build a prudent reserve.
Here at home, the elementary school district has 22 percent reserves – I want this for Chula Vista.
The County of San Diego has a triple “A” bond rating and can afford major projects like upgrades to its administrative campus which improved parking and created new public space – I want this for Chula Vista.
Last year our bond rating increased twice to double “A” minus despite the hit to our savings, telling us we are headed in the right direction.
And earlier this month, the City Council unanimously accepted the Finance Director’s recommendation to re-finance the balance owed on the 2002 cost of building a new police station, generating additional savings.
For these efforts, our award-winning Finance Department deserves our applause.
So make no mistake; we have accomplished much when we could have faced bankruptcy.
Our city’s nest egg is not a political issue. It is a basic financial best practice and standard for responsible municipal management that I hope allows your next mayor to announce that Chula Vista reached the council-mandated goal of 15 percent.
This will help increase investments in infrastructure, maintenance and services, and better protect against the next financial downturn.
But it’s up to you, the voters, to elect a Mayor and council who put the city’s fiscal health first and not make promises that can’t be kept.
Our budget plans this year demand special attention once again. It is time to hold the line.
The City Council and I commend our staff for contributing to solutions during tough budget cycles through their outstanding accomplishments with the city’s Continuous Improvement program. “CI,” as it’s known, is a systematic way to examine organizational procedures in order to eliminate waste, reduce costs and improve service.
Continuous Improvement came to us through a public-private partnership with the top local members of Goodrich Aerostructures, now United Technologies Corporation. Several years ago, Goodrich faced financial challenges that threatened to close its Riverside plant. They credited the practice in helping the plant not only avoid closure, but thrive.
Thanks to this partnership, many of our departments are now navigating a time of reduced budgets and realizing success with measurable results.
Our financial gains are also due in part to spending tax dollars wisely by establishing sustainable agreements during labor negotiations.
Contracts were settled with three of five non-public safety bargaining units last year. They received one and two percent salary increases, the first raises in six years. During that time administration, staff and electeds agreed to pay their full share of their pension contributions.
Negotiations are underway with the firefighters’ union and the police association.
I seldom comment in public about collective bargaining, but tonight is an exception. When the firefighters’ top union representatives criticized the Fire Chief with a vote of no confidence, they made negotiations unnecessarily personal.
This unfortunate tactic serves no purpose and paints a poor public image for hard-working and community-dedicated members of the Fire Department.
There is no place during contract discussions for unwarranted attacks on a Chief who just weeks ago skillfully defended his firefighters during a regrettable incident involving another law enforcement agency.
And, the fact that over 400 qualified applicants typically respond when positions open in the department tells me the work environment for Chula Vista firefighters is a desirable one.
Tonight, I reaffirm my confidence in Fire Chief Hanneman and hope negotiations can move beyond this episode and toward a mutually productive conclusion based on facts, not opinions, and the work that needs to be done better to serve our residents.
Being in a financial position to continue valuing public safety over the long term means that all city departments must work efficiently so we can afford them now and in the future.
For this, I ask the Council to support the City Manager’s efforts to evaluate Fire at all levels, including staffing, operations and equipment.
We should welcome results of evaluating gaps between consistently busy fire stations and those that receive few daily calls for service. We should have a clearer understanding of best practices when calls for medical service outweigh responses to fire by more than eight to one.
After all, staff throughout the city has adopted the ongoing practice of assessing their operations and productivity. Their reports have received overwhelming support from the council, so I anticipate unanimous interest in applying the same principles to public safety.
Revenues are improving, but we’re not where we need to be, particularly when considering ongoing pensions and our desire to maintain streets, parks and libraries – there is no extra money.
Fair but conservative adjustments to compensation contracts need to become the standard.
So, I ask fire and police union representatives to consider what their fellow city employees agreed to in order to sustain their departments, their fellow heroes who keep our water clean, our roads operable, our parks and libraries open, the traffic lights working - the heroes who provide essential support for the community and for those who fight fire and crime.
Let’s put the city in a position to hire employees, improve services and heed contractual obligations that can actually be kept, rather than mortgage the future on promises that jeopardize important services outside public safety and lead to layoffs when times are lean.
It’s a chance to innovate in public safety. We can get this done.
Innovation - It’s at the heart of an ambitious proposal to tackle one of our region’s most pressing challenges - water.
Our state’s drought emergency has increased discussions about water reliability and Chula Vista is helping lead the charge. Over the next year, you will hear more about the term Pure Water, and the effort to capitalize on implementing tested technology to recycle wastewater to a distilled quality far purer than water in our reservoirs.
As the chair of San Diego’s Metro Wastewater Joint Powers Authority, I serve with former assistant city manager Scott Tulloch, Public Works Director Rick Hopkins and our counterparts across San Diego as we garner support for a plan that will:
• Reduce the flow of wastewater into the ocean from the Point Loma treatment plant;
• Protect water users from increased rate hikes; and,
• Create a new regional water supply.
Chula Vista has been a leader throughout the State in water conservation, and I thank the City Council for its commitment to this vital work, because every drop of water counts.
I encourage all Chula Vistans to keep up the good work and look for ways to reduce water use. The city’s award-wining Conservation Team has tips to help you save at Chula Vista CA dot Gov, forward slash Clean.
In fact, at this very moment, Chula Vista is one of only three organizations in the United States receiving top honors at the national Climate Leadership Conference in San Diego.
Our conservation team is receiving well-deserved recognition up north this evening. Please join me in a show of our appreciation.
This award is symbolic of the many examples of progress that further establish Chula Vista as regional leader.
We continue to receive national and international acclaim for our legacy projects, the University Innovation District and Bayfront Master Plan.
Most recently, the Bayfront Master Plan received a nationally recognized achievement award from the American Planning Association for Urban Design.
In addition to this award, the bayfront has seen a series of tangible wins in the course of a single year.
Little can compete with images of the power plant coming down last year until we see new buildings under construction and new bayfront parks. Except for the massive concrete foundation which Dynegy intends to remove by December, the power plant is just a memory.
In preparing for future residential communities and businesses, the city purchased property along Bay Boulevard for a new bayfront fire station.
And, the Port of San Diego says that by the end of the year, you will be able use a new portion of H Street for direct access to the restaurants and marinas on Marina Parkway. For the first time in history, you will be able to drive or ride a bike from the mountains to the bay on one street.
Now, our city awaits results on two fronts: One, the Port’s recruitment of capable master plan developers. And two, the California Coastal Commission’s approval to tear down the old SDG&E substation and rebuild it in an industrial zone to increase public access to the water and usher in a start to Pacifica Companies’ much anticipated hotel and condominium projects.
Please join me in thanking city staff, Port staff and former Chair Ann Moore for this period of visible action.
It is exactly what Chula Vista residents wanted to see after decades of planning and thousands of hours of meetings.
After 15 years of preparation and in anticipation of good market conditions, development kicked off in the east with last year’s groundbreaking on McMillin’s Millenia project. Chula Vista’s newest neighborhood will be a mixed-use, sustainable community recognized as a Smart Growth Urban Center by the San Diego Association of Governments.
Millenia, the first major development in eight years in Chula Vista, holds positive implications for the Otay Ranch Town Center and the University Innovation District. Combined, these two projects will become one of the region’s strongest economic engines, offering higher education, high-paying jobs, transportation and quality housing.
More construction continues as Colrich nears completion of Olympic Point adjacent to the Olympic Training Center. Progress is being made with several developers in master planned communities known as the “Villages” in Otay Ranch: Baldwin & Sons are under construction in Village 2 and are working with a major hotelier for property north of the Otay Ranch Town Center.
The Council recently approved Otay Land Company’s Village 8 West and will consider Village 9 in the coming months. When JPB’s Village projects are entitled, another 100 acres will be added to the university site, completing our 375-acre goal.
Our staff and investors are in a period of meticulous planning and discussions to advance our interest in university development. But, I want to assure Chula Vistans that work is getting done beyond contracts and drawings.
The university concept is being tested at leading development forums and industry conferences to better understand colleges’ changing needs and identify the most promising models for job-connected education.
The requisite processing by staff of planning and environmental documents includes identifying jobs of the future and completion of a robust business cluster study.
For these reasons, I hope that 2014 is the year the city enters into an unprecedented public-private partnership to take a significant step forward in delivering on jobs for Chula Vista and California’s next center for higher learning.
From east to west, major projects are anchored by the city’s fortunate connection to the some of the region’s most ambitious goals in transportation.
State Route 125 continues to exceed expectations, further reducing congestion on major surface streets. Construction is underway by Caltrans to connect SR-125 with SR-905 in Otay Mesa. Next steps include extending 125 to the future third local port of entry to Mexico.
And, a cross-border airport terminal with Rodriguez Field will position Chula Vista to be one of the first cities to benefit from a developing binational region.
A Bus Rapid Transit route will begin linking eastern Chula Vista with downtown San Diego and Otay Mesa in 2015, removing even more vehicles from local roads.
The Palomar Street overpass on I-805 will re-open later this year, with a touch of artistry to its safety improvements.
Major upgrades to Chula Vista’s Trolley stations and lines will improve rider experience. Over the next several years, the Blue Line will extend all the way to UCSD.
Transportation infrastructure upgrades will help drive our economy, and our local water system, roads and recreation centers are vital assets that impact public health, safety, and our overall quality of life - there is no question we need to do more.
Road maintenance, for example, is national, state and local problems. Chula Vista’s street maintenance needs are estimated at 11 point five million dollars annually - We don’t have that.
In the coming years, Chula Vistans will need to decide if they are willing to spend more to rebuild and restore our roads, buildings, water systems and street lights.
The current path is protecting our budget, but continuing to defer maintenance results in higher costs both to rebuild and restore our public assets, so we’re getting proactive.
Over the next two years, our staff will explore options to do more to improve local infrastructure through a strategy called the Asset Management Program in order to involve the community and help staff define potential funding solutions.
We need this, because good infrastructure allows us to preserve and build upon our successes.
Successes like the introduction of Car2Go’s flexible car service, which launched last year with an event on Third Avenue. Now serving western Chula Vista, Car2Go credited our city as a leader for increasing plug-in charging stations for drivers of electric vehicles.
Successes like the latest investments in health care by Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center’s progress on a multi-year expansion, and San Ysidro Health Center’s new Chula Vista Medical Plaza, which now serves the underserved and underinsured.
Senior care options improved with the remodeling of Congregational Towers; construction of St. Paul’s Plaza, an independent and assisted living complex on East Palomar; and, Activcare, a memory care residential facility that opened last fall near Montevalle Park.
And, you know, I’d be remiss if I didn’t boast a little bit about Chula Vista laying claim to two little league all-star teams with Eastlake’s 2013 National Championship, just four short years after Parkview Little League’s World Series Championship.
And, finally, a special thank you to my favorite County Supervisor for securing the funding for newly installed Centennial Trail markers along a 26-mile route that encircles the city from the bayfront to the Olympic Training Center.
As the Winter Olympics came to a close this past weekend, I was reminded how fortunate we are to be home to one of three U.S. Olympic Training Centers.
In fact, 40 athletes of Team USA from the sports, including the women’s silver-medal hockey team, and bobsled medalists Elana Meyers and Steve Holcomb trained here in preparation for Sochi.
We were inspired by these athletes and others, who after lifetimes of hard work and training tested their resolve to be the best on a world stage.
If they fell out of form, they made corrections to keep going.
If teammates faltered, they found a way to pull everyone together.
If an athlete’s equipment failed, a coach from another country was there to help.
And, even if the prospect of winning a medal was in jeopardy, above all, they remained dedicated to the finish.
In the spirit of the Olympian, finish what you start, set new goals and never let challenges get in the way of success.
Chula Vista is on the move, armed with the qualities of fiscal responsibility and sustainable vision.
Let’s be the best for our great city – this is what we’re here for.
Thank you and good night.