Thursday, May 29, 2008

Goleta holds first State of the City


In delivering the first-ever State of the City address for Goleta yesterday, city leaders outlined tremendous progress in the young community while noting significant challenges and high expectations for the future.

Mayor Michael Bennett focused on a theme of “creating a community that works” as he described a future vision for the city. And despite listing a series of obstacles standing in the way of that vision, he remained optimistic.
“We do good work in this community and we do it all the time,” he said, later adding, “I believe we are up to the challenge.”
Since its incorporation just six years ago, on Feb. 1, 2002, Goleta has made considerable progress in creating a working community, City Manager Dan Singer said.
Running down a list of the city’s top priorities — from maintaining streets, sidewalks and infrastructure to supporting public safety to creating workforce housing and open space — Singer said the city is focused on one goal.
“Everything we do in Goleta is really motivated by our community needs,” he said.
Among the major accomplishments in recent years, he said, is the creation of a strategic plan outlining overarching objectives, such as economic revitalization and public safety.
“It really provides us with a roadmap as we move forward as a young community,” Singer said.
The city’s General Plan, approximately 600 pages containing hundreds of policies, is also a significant achievement, although Singer noted the work is not complete. City leaders are in the midst of considering numerous amendments to that document.
As Finance Director Tina Rivera took over the podium, she noted the city’s ability to continue meeting those needs even during a slowing economic climate.
Goleta’s ability to bring in balanced budgets every year while creating reserves has allowed the city to fare the economic slowdown “a lot better than other cities in California,” she said.
“This type of commitment is remarkable when you consider the City of Goleta has been sharing 50 percent of its property tax revenues with the County of Santa Barbara,” Rivera said.
Rivera wasn’t the only one to hit on the city’s revenue neutrality agreement with the county, which directs approximately $8.5 million of the city’s tax revenues to county coffers as a condition of the city’s incorporation.
Mayor Bennett called the agreement one of the worst in the state due to its lack of a sunset clause. He said it is expected to impact the city’s budget by the 2009-10 fiscal cycle and cause a deficit that will increase for the following three years.
“We also have healthy reserves,” Mayor Bennett emphasized, suggesting the city may have to tap into its “rainy day” funds.
He said city leaders are talking with county officials in an effort to renegotiate the agreement without resorting to litigation, describing those discussions as a step in the right direction.
Steve Wagner, the city’s community services director, took special note of infrastructure improvements, particularly those related to streets maintenance. In the past six years, the city has invested $16 million in streets and sidewalk repairs.
“It was one of the real key issues for the incorporation of the city,” he said.
Wagner also alluded to the importance of Measure A, an attempt to renew a half-cent sales tax used to support local and regional transportation projects. Mayor Bennett took a more direct approach.
“Measure A on the upcoming November ballot is absolutely critical to make it work, to make the whole community work,” he said.
Wagner, in noting the lack of long-term planning prior to Goleta’s incorporation, said the city faces congestion and other circulation issues that will require huge capital projects to correct. The city has $250 million in projects already identified.
In the next three to five years, construction will begin on approximately $60 million worth of improvements, he added.
“You’re going to see a lot of construction in the next few years,” Wagner said. “…There isn’t a corner of Goleta that won’t be touched.”
Vyto Adomaitis, the city’s director of redevelopment, neighborhood services and public safety, spent his portion of the address detailing a slate of programs designed to clean up and protect the city.
Among those is a system that tracks citizen requests, logging more than 5,000 requests since its inception. Adomaitis also highlighted the city’s junk car removal program, which has towed more than 500 vehicles from city streets.
“I’m proud to say Goleta tows more vehicles than any other city in the county,” he said.
A storefront improvement program in Old Town has aided 30 owners in fixing up their businesses, he said. On the public safety front, Andomaitis focused on two emergency preparedness trailers recently purchased by the city, along with contracted services with the county’s fire and sheriff’s departments.
“I’m extremely pleased with the high level of service we receive from both of those agencies,” he said.
Lt. Chris Pappas, the city’s police chief for the past three years, echoed those sentiments as he described how deputies handle everything from traffic violations to serious crimes.
“Fortunately, they don’t happen with a great deal of frequency,” he said of the latter.
Lt. Pappas said the city’s dedication to supporting public safety — by spending 40 percent of its budget in that arena — has paid measurable dividends.
For example, he cited double-digit drops in traffic collisions every year since the city incorporated.
“That’s almost unheard of,” he said.
In closing, Mayor Bennett cited a series of projects and goals he hopes will be realized in the coming years. Chief among them is creating a recreation program for families and children. City leaders also plan to consider reinstating bike and foot patrols in Old Town Goleta, he said.
And despite facing water supply issues, potential development of the Gaviota Coast and impacts of UC Santa Barbara’s long-range development plan, Mayor Bennett said he has faith in his colleagues, staff and the community. He gave special accolades to Singer, who “keeps it all together, even in the toughest of times.”
Goleta’s First Annual State of the City address, put on by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, will be rebroadcast on Channel 19, with airtimes available at

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