Twenty-twelve came to a close with the swearing in of Councilmembers Bensoussan and Salas.
Your elections mark the first time in city history that all but one council seat are filled by women.
Congratulations for your individual victories and your commitment to our residents. You have already brought civility and good governance to this council – governing that balances the input of our constituency and the overarching responsibility to do what you believe is in the city’s best interests.
Pamela, I admire your professionalism and strength. You consistently preserved your integrity in both your campaigns, in your first term, and now in the well-earned position of Deputy Mayor.
Mary, welcome back to City Hall. Your experience as a former councilmember and your time as a state assemblymember will be valuable as we work together on fiscally responsible decisions that will help strengthen our city.
I’d like to kick off this evening’s State of the City message by making a little noise.
The implosion of the South Bay Power Plant is likely the single most dramatic example of progress on our waterfront.
But, the removal of the power plant would not have been possible without the California Coastal Commission’s record-setting approval of the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan last August.
A decades-long planning process built collaboration and broad consensus, resulting in a plan that withstood last minute attempts to derail it and took only 64 minutes to receive unanimous approval by Coastal Commissioners who applauded the plan’s vision and environmental protections.
This is a tribute to the thousands of hours that your staff, Mr. City Manager, invested with staff from the Port of San Diego and members of our community in this extraordinary success.
In the coming months, a portion of the power plant will be immortalized in a sculpture by local artist Michael Leaf, complete with the original plaque that commemorated the Plant’s opening in 1961. This piece of public art will serve both as a memory of the past and inspiration for a clean, healthy future for our portion of San Diego Bay.
Many people are anxious to see bayfront construction begin and parks be built. I am, too. So the obvious question is: What’s next?
Last month the City Council approved the purchase of a building on Bay Boulevard that will be leased for the next couple of years, returning revenue that will help fund a new fire station close to the residential area planned by Pacifica Companies.
Work continues on plans to demolish the 50-year old substation which currently lies north of the Power Plant, and construct a new substation further south of its current location. This has been a priority since 2004, when the City and SDG&E began negotiating terms for its relocation.
The substation’s relocation will ensure reliable and efficient delivery of energy to residents and businesses throughout South County and allow for full implementation of the Bayfront Master Plan.
Now that its relocation is approved by the California Coastal Commission through the Bayfront Master Plan, the next step in the process is approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.
To see the impact the relocated substation will have for our bayfront, I encourage you to drive to the end of L Street or take your bike along the Bayshore Bikeway. The power plant is disappearing fast, making the substation appear bigger than ever.
As you look out onto that almost bare space and appreciate a view not seen for decades, you will see how the area will benefit without the towers and transmission lines. You will see how we can improve the environment, create jobs and increase recreational access for thousands in our region.
For the next 10 months, Port of San Diego and City staff will work with experts on bayfront market and financial studies, efficient options for public infrastructure, and design and development guidelines to attract developers and investors.
According to Port Commission Chair Ann Moore, the Port is preparing a Request for Qualifications to recruit a pool of capable master plan developers. This time next year, top candidates will participate in Requests for Proposal for the award of committing to paper the vision of our bayfront.
I’ll admit I erred last year when I said that H Street would be opened to Marina Parkway in 2012.
This project may seem small in comparison to future plans, but it is important. H Street’s view corridor stretches from the mountains to what will eventually become the front door to our bayfront.
So, I am pleased to report that Chair Moore assured me that construction will begin this year.
Pacifica Companies, the builder of condominiums and commercial property near J Street and Marina Parkway is moving forward with construction plans. With cooperation from both City and Port staff over the next couple years, Pacifica will likely be the first builder in action with projections to break ground in 2015.
As a mayor who has been tied personally and professionally to the bayfront for decades, I want to thank the residents and business people who supported the bayfront plan though its approval. Your comments, signatures and letters of support helped push the plan through and helped establish a future for a world-class destination our region deserves.
I wanted to begin tonight with the bayfront because of the great promise it holds for our city, and I believe this will be a year of promise for Chula Vista.
RESPONSIBLE PLANNING AND ECONOMIC GROWTH
You know, we can create a prosperous future for Chula Vista, provided we stay focused on financial responsibility.
Last year, the Sacramento Bee reported that Chula Vista was at the top of a list of California cities that had the highest cuts to personnel as a percentage of its former workforce. It is true. Some very tough decisions were made since the financial crisis - decisions that kept our city solvent – and, in many ways led to our reinventing a new future.
City finances are slowly improving. Our Finance Director summed it up accurately when she told me, “We are working to build a strong financial infrastructure which will place Chula Vista in a competitive position as it moves forward.”
Chula Vistans, last year I said we had one more year of painful belt tightening. We got through it. 2012 was the first time I felt the burden of our financial problems begin to lift, ever so slightly.
I say this knowing that the economy has its ups and downs. In the “up” economy, earnings seemed unstoppable, and yet, as I entered office our reserves had dropped by $22 Million the previous four years to less than four percent, I knew that my priority had to be to steward the city onto the path to fiscal health.
I am more optimistic today based on the progress we made and the opportunities ahead of us. I see my job now as leading Chula Vista into a successful period of responsible planning and economic growth.
We are building a savings account so that should the economy dip again, hundreds of valuable employees will not be laid off, and so that staff can continue to maintain public service levels with adequate resources.
In 2013, we can begin looking beyond budgets that were hammered by massive cuts, but only if we keep watchful eyes on spending decisions.
To me, there were examples of unchecked spending decisions last year similar to those that exacerbated troubles at City Hall when the economy tanked.
The split votes to merge Recreation and Library Departments, fund library hours and put district elections and independent legislative counsel on the ballot did not undergo fiscal analysis, which would have pointed out ongoing, unplanned annual expenses of hundreds of thousands of dollars year after year.
The fact is these decisions could have waited until our finances were more stable.
I don’t know how to be any clearer. We can argue whether running a city is like running a business, but one thing is certain - every decision made on this dais is tied to a dollar.
We should want decisions that position us to tackle future challenges and to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, and not spend on ideas that appear good in concept without first defining the financial consequences of our actions.
My agenda concerning our finances is to create an effective financial Standard Operating Procedure that will protect our city against the struggles and setbacks endured in the past.
Every agenda item proposed by staff has a fiscal impact tied to it, so it is time the Council abide by the same rules by committing to fiscal analysis for all council proposals.
To help safeguard future budgets, I asked the City Manager to institutionalize standards and procedures to prioritize and determine the affordability and return on investment from proposals initiated by the Mayor and Council.
Soon, he will submit a City Council fiscal analysis policy for our consideration because we have the chance to make important gains in the coming years.
Last year, I challenged my colleagues to help move the city’s reserves to at least 10 percent by December 2014. Tonight I am upping the ante.
If we embrace fiscal analysis and avoid budgetary missteps, our city could have 11 percent or slightly higher reserves by the end of 2014 - well on our way to the Council-supported 15 percent goal.
Meeting the goal of higher reserves will allow us to seek a higher bond rating, it signals to prospective investors that we are a well-managed and fiscally prudent City and it helps spur job creation.
It is all connected and we should not lose sight of that as we move forward.
Our region’s leading experts agree that our economy is getting better, with exceptions of potential decisions made at the state and federal levels that can have disastrous impacts on a local economy.
Need I say more than we owe it to our residents to be a local government that encourages and maintains a secure environment that is attractive to business owners and investors.
We owe it to our employees, and we owe it to the city’s future on the bayfront and university to demonstrate our dedication to financial sustainability as we work to establish more middle and high paying jobs closer to home.
JOB CREATION, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT and CAPTURING TAX REVENUE
Perhaps you saw the sign outside the police department recently that read “we’re hiring police officers.”
That message alone, “we’re hiring” is energizing. The Police Chief and staff from the Human Resources Department are actively working to fill vacant positions, and add additional officers in positions that are currently funded.
As a resident of one of San Diego County’s safest cities, I am pleased to see hiring at the police department, but the reality remains that Chula Vista continues to lag in two important areas: job creation in the private sector and revenue captured from local spending.
However, there are bright spots in our economy consistent with forecasts for modest regional improvement.
Chula Vista’s distressed housing market is now more stable with a 76 percent decrease in loan defaults and a 49 percent decrease in bank-owned properties.
Housing prices have also stabilized, rising more than 15 percent in the past year to a median price of $345,000.
Home sales and housing options are anticipated to expand in 2013 with the solid experience of the McMillin Companies, JPB Development, Baldwin & Sons and the Otay Land Company.
Additionally, the value of issued building permits has increased approximately 28 percent over the past year to $216 Million in 2012.
In transportation, SR-125 tolls were lowered by up to 40 percent last June, resulting in vehicle trips that increased 22 percent, and achieved a record high of over 40,000 trips on March 1st.
What’s exciting for Chula Vista is that “local trips” are up 46 percent over the same period last year. That means fewer cars using surface streets to reach the 805.
We continue to develop award-winning programs that improve citywide energy efficiency, divert waste, increase urban greening and plan for cleaner, more efficient communities.
With respect to business, last September, Chula Vista expanded its enterprise zones to include 700 more business locations.
Overall, our enterprise zones allowed businesses to save more than $22 Million in state tax credits and hire nearly 1,400 workers who were hit hardest by unemployment, and plans are in place to expand again this year and early 2014 to add another 500 business locations.
Last year, Chula Vista added a variety of new retailers and realized a small but positive gain in employment.
Next year should be a continuing story of improvement, especially with SeaWorld’s investment in transforming the former Knott’s Soak City into Aquatica.
This destination will meet the quality standards of SeaWorld’s national entertainment venues, and they’re hiring.
On March 23rd from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the Aquatica job fair will be held at the Chula Vista Civic Library.
SeaWorld president John Reilly told me that at every level throughout the acquisition, our staff was professional, accommodating and timely in their responses to help the company efficiently complete its transaction. SeaWorld’s presence means that Chula Vista will be marketed across multiple tourism platforms, adding to our city’s opportunities for broad exposure.
SeaWorld, you chose well when you chose Chula Vista.
San Ysidro Health Center chose well in its decision to close escrow on multi-story office space for its new Chula Vista Community Health Center – adding to our mix of outstanding medical providers.
And St. Paul’s Homes chose well when opening its PACE program, helping underserved seniors continue to live in their homes and receive much-needed services.
In a complementary effort for senior care, our Housing Authority approved the issuance of $21 Million in tax exempt bonds to upgrade Congregational Towers to continue to provide quality affordable housing to low income seniors.
These are examples of investments that help make our city stronger, and we must “talk up” Chula Vista if we are to capitalize on the opportunities our city has to offer.
To that end, the city manager invested in third party research to help identify business sectors that would best fit Chula Vista. The results will create a road map as we look to balance a mix of housing with more jobs closer to home.
In addition, the City stepped up efforts to look at strategies that support local businesses with the launch of Shop Chula Vista Now. While still in its early stages, this effort aims to increase exposure for local businesses and link customers with loyalty discounts.
If you know of a business owner who would like to participate, or get more information, visit Shop Chula Vista Now dot com.
Chula Vista is at a positive, but fragile point in its recovery. We are still in a deficit compared to the economy in the early part of the last decade, but we are making gains. Everything I just touched on - more local spending, increased home sales and new business investment will contribute to funding services over the next year
In a recent presentation by the Police Department to Council, Lieutenant Phil Collum quoted a study that said, if just one more percent of the nation’s students graduate from high school, that would have a billion dollar positive impact on the national economy.
With a police chief who is committed to education and one of his lieutenants who quotes its economic statistics, you know that our quality of life, jobs, the economy and safe neighborhoods are inextricably tied to education.
I introduced the theme of education in my State of the City Address a few years back because I believe that education is the most valuable investment any community can make for future employment. And, news from this year was proof positive.
Chula Vista received a well-earned opportunity through the award of the federal Promise Neighborhoods grant to South Bay Community Services. The grant will implement a community-led plan that will support academic excellence and college-bound aspirations for children in the Castle Park neighborhood and help create over 100 new local jobs in 2013.
For likely the first time in our nation’s history, Promise Neighborhoods in Chula Vista and six other U.S. cities will track the educational lives of children in low-income neighborhoods from cradle to career.
Twenty-eight local government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses, including Manpower, United Way of San Diego County, and the Parker Foundation, pledged over $33 Million in matching funds, making a total investment of more than $60 Million.
Over the past several years, my office has developed a close relationship with the Chula Vista Elementary School District and its superintendent, Dr. Francisco Escobedo. Our local elementary schools are better than ever.
For the first time since California launched its Academic Performance Index ranking, all 44 schools in the district surpassed the 800 API score benchmark. One fourth of its elementary schools now exceed 900.
To put this in context, this means that San Diego County’s highest achieving elementary schools are right here in Chula Vista. In fact, our top schools now exceed schools in Coronado, Poway and San Marcos.
Dr. Escobedo’s administrative team, principals, teachers and support staff are truly assets to our community.
We are fortunate to have excellent schools and teachers in our middle and high schools, but we cannot ignore the fact that about one in five students fails to graduate from high school here in Chula Vista.
Now, this is better than the state average for public institutions, but you and I know that more students should make it through high school graduation. Students should be the focus of school district leadership if education is truly the number one priority.
People are attracted to Chula Vista for its safe neighborhoods, quality housing and excellent schools. But, principals and teachers can’t do it alone, so we must never become complacent - more students need to graduate from high school with skill readiness for careers or college.
My Chief Service Officer, through our Graduation Works! campaign, elevated the conversation of education with two community dialogues last year that hosted education, community and business leaders in lively discussions about how community members can give struggling students the tools, support and motivation needed to graduate from high school.
And now we are on pace to train, in both English and Spanish, 500 Graduation Coaches. Coaches are adults who have taken a free class to learn about tools to have critical conversations with young people in their lives to help them plan for successful high school graduation and transition to college and career.
Since high school graduation is fundamentally linked to early grade-level reading, Chula Vista joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a network of cities around the nation that is committed to helping children read at grade level by the end of third grade.
In this campaign:
More than 50 volunteers were recruited and trained this year to tutor struggling readers at elementary schools through a program called Third Grade Reads;
Over 2,000 books went home with children from 40 participating businesses that provided book baskets in their lobbies or waiting rooms;
The Chula Vista Public Library includes school readiness offerings for families; and
The South Bay Family YMCA now offers academic academies during school breaks.
If you are interested in learning more about these initiatives, please call or email my office.
On the higher education front, I believe there is merit in exploring a joint-use public library on Southwestern College’s campus in conjunction with Southwestern’s general obligation bond improvements.
There are many steps to take before we will know what the possibilities are, but I am confident our conversations will be constructive as Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish has been a great supporter of education in Chula Vista at all levels and remains a supporter of Chula Vista’s vision of becoming the home to California’s next university.
UPDATE ON THE UNIVERSITY PARK AND RESEARCH CENTER
With respect to the university, just last month, the City Council unanimously approved Otay Land Company’s amendments to the General Plan and General Development Plan. This adds another 50 acres to the university property that the city owns south of Hunte Parkway.
If the City’s negotiations are successful with HomeFed, the parent company for the Otay Land Company, we will have reached an agreement with HomeFed to be the master developer for the University Park and Research Center.
I hope, at this time next year, to report on the acquisition of the final 160 acres that will complete the 375 acres needed for the university – a project that will eventually host thousands of students and create high paying jobs.
There are many in our community who are excited to introduce design elements for the University Park and Research Center. But, like the plans for the bayfront, I ask that we put aside for a moment the preconceptions of its design so that we can lay the foundation in order to concentrate on what can be built, what will function the best for the South Bay, and how the use of this property will be integrated with the surrounding areas.
We should give ourselves the chance to have the best higher education and employment-promoting project that we can, starting with ideas, testing them against the market, and informing and engaging the public in conversations that bring our residents, investors, planners and educators to mutually appreciated conclusions.
This is the same strategy that earned us victory with one of the toughest regulatory bodies in California with the bayfront master plan. No one gets everything they want, but we all get a quality project that is marketable and benefits our region.
In many ways, this has been a year of measureable success. We saw it this year with land for the university and on the bayfront, and we continue to inch forward here at City Hall as the economy slowly improves.
Moving beyond pension reform, progress continues on streamlining bureaucracy and in building a lean workforce of highly productive, accountable staff who provide excellent services.
Over the past several years, the staff began putting in place several business processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace.
The next phase comes this spring with a well thought out set of strategic goals and objectives, along with management analysis of current service levels. When used in budget deliberations, these approaches will help advise where resources are most needed.
To our employees, you are the backbone of city services. I know that you are no strangers to hard work.
I wanted to find a way to showcase your achievements during these challenging times. That’s why I introduced a summary of department accomplishments last year. In many ways, it is an exemplary report of your productivity.
It is one way I can say thank you and commend your efforts to look at creative ways to fulfill our commitment to Chula Vista’s residents.
My message to you is the same for our residents - Chula Vista’s outlook for this year is good.
The fact that I can say with more certainty that this will be a year of attracting new businesses and adding jobs tells me that we are getting stronger.
The fact that our city’s largest projects earned national and international attention indicates momentum is building.
I believe this year will be one of the best years in a long time for Chula Vista and I look forward to working with my colleagues, our staff and residents in making it so.