Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mayor gives glowing report of city


In delivering her big-picture view of Santa Barbara at the 8th annual State of the City Breakfast this morning, Mayor Marty Blum painted a largely rosy portrait of the community that occasionally dipped into cautious optimism.
“In the face of many challenges, the city is proactive in preparing for our future,” she said. “We’re making great strides in the city, especially in five major areas.”
Those areas, delineated in the bulk of her address, are youth and families, emergency preparedness, community facilities, sustainability, and long-range planning.

Issues surrounding youth, particularly gang involvement and violence, took center stage right off the bat.
“In this past year, the city has made public safety and curbing youth violence a top priority,” Mayor Blum said.
In addition to highlighting the creation of a strategic planning committee consisting of community leaders to address youth issues, she noted an increased police presence in neighborhoods with reinstated bike patrols. In the last nine months, she said officers have made 80 gang-related arrests.
Along with enforcement actions, the city has been working on the prevention front, Mayor Blum said, launching free afterschool sports leagues and snagging an $863,000 grant to support job training and employment assistance for local youth.
“We’re exposing young people to jobs,” she said. “What a concept.”
The city’s Twelve35 teen center, opened a year ago, also made her list of accomplishments. She described the afterschool hangout as a safe alternative to the streets.
Her attention then shifted to emergency preparedness, describing how the city cleared 35 miles of brush along roadways and joined with other county agencies to work on a tsunami emergency plan in the past year.
“The Zaca Fire also gave us an opportunity to be proactive and prepare for the possibility that fire could reach the South Coast,” Mayor Blum added.
Her stint on disaster preparation brought the entire audience, approximately 500 people, to their feet for a quick demonstration. As she ran through a series of questions related to preparedness, audience members sat down if they couldn’t answer in the affirmative.
Among those standing at the end were Councilmember Iya Falcone and Superintendent Dr. Brian Sarvis, who apparently have a working smoke detector they’ve checked in the past month, a fire extinguisher, a flashlight for every member of their family, an emergency car kit, and supplies for five days stored at home.
“These are the people you should run to in an emergency,” Mayor Blum said.
Her year-in-review then transitioned to community facilities, launching immediately into kudos for the completion of the Granada Theatre and its neighboring Casa las Granadas housing project.
The city also wrapped up a lengthy airfield safety project at the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, she said, and finished design plans for construction of an expanded terminal that will begin later this year.
“Passengers will love the new terminal,” Mayor Blum said.
Future projects include pedestrian improvements along the waterfront, replacement of Marina 1, and renovation of Fire Station 1 on Carrillo Street. A flood control project along lower Mission Creek is also looming on the radar, along with sidewalk infill projects and general street maintenance.
After running through many of the city’s positive accomplishments, Mayor Blum turned over the microphone to City Administrator Jim Armstrong for the relatively dour portion of the address, the financial forecast.
“She gets to do the good news and I get to do the bad news,” Armstrong said. “But it’s not quite that bad.”
While characterizing the city as in a “strong financial situation,” he acknowledged an overall slowdown in revenues, such as a transit occupancy tax that grew just 2 percent since last year and static sales tax revenues. Property taxes are also slowing significantly.
“That is due to the declining property values that we’ve been seeing, as well as less sales activity and some downward appraisals,” Armstrong said.
In the budget that will likely be presented to the City Council in coming weeks, Armstrong said he is expecting approximately $3 million in adjustments to revenues and reductions to city departments.
“Although these changes will have some impact on services provided to the public, we expect the overall impact this next year will be minimal,” he said.
He also highlighted general reserves of $22 million and enterprise reserves that total more than $30 million, critical to responding in the event of a natural disaster such as a fire, flood or earthquake.
While praising the city’s handling of a toughening economic climate, Armstrong left little mercy for state officials.
“One of the most frustrating aspects of maintaining a public organization in California is the ongoing fiscal disaster in Sacramento,” he said. “Year in and year out, we as a city balance our budget on time, maintain adequate reserves and continue to do long-term infrastructure planning. However, at the state level, there continues to be no effective budget or financial management.”
With an estimated $10 billion state deficit, he said major cuts in education and social services are likely. That will have a significant impact on the community’s ability to handle homelessness issues, as well as drug and alcohol addiction problems.
Armstrong also ran through the city’s current list of capital projects, noting a total of $441 million in infrastructure work needs to be completed during the next six years. Unfortunately, $145 million of those projects have yet to be funded, he said, including a new police headquarters, parks and recreation facility upgrades, and transportation projects.
He emphasized the importance of renewing Measure D, a half-cent sales tax that will appear on the November ballot as Measure A. It currently contributes nearly $5 million to the city for local transportation projects and Armstrong strongly encouraged the audience to support its renewal.
Taking the podium once again, Mayor Blum addressed the city’s Sustainable Santa Barbara program, highlighting a state award for pest management, zero-waste city functions, a pilot foodscrap composting program, and the passage of stringent building standards.
For her final segment, she turned to long-range planning and, not surprisingly, the General Plan update process dubbed Plan Santa Barbara. With widespread community input gathered in its initial phases, the focus will narrow at a development trends workshop planned for April 7 at the Faulkner Gallery, where community members and city officials will start putting together policy options.
“We’re going to be asking some hard questions,” she said, such as growth, traffic, health, housing, and maintaining a small-town feel, among other topics.
“Together, we can and will develop creative solutions,” she said in closing. “...I look forward to working with all of you to face the challenges ahead and prepare for our future.”

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