Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prosperity and Sustainability

Last night, our new City Council was seated. Congratulations to Mike Tracy, who was seated as a new councilmember and selected as Deputy Mayor. Thanks to Christy Weir, who stepped down as mayor, and Ed Summers, who stepped off the council after four years of excellent service!

The council selected me as mayor for the next two years. I am very grateful for their support. Here's what I said at the meeting:

It’s long-standing custom to make this moment about the new mayor, who spends a lot of time thanking people and talk all about themselves. Don’t worry. I’ll get to that in a minute.

But I just want to take a second to step back to acknowledge what this moment is really about. What we have just witnessed is something that, in most parts of the world, would be considered nothing less than a miracle. The people seated up here will be responsible for governing this city for the next two years, and they were selected by you, the voters. And the Deputy Mayor and I are sitting in these chairs because, as our city charter calls for, the seven members of the city council have selected us.

In most parts of the world, you don’t elect the people who govern your community -- and even if there is an election, there’s no guarantee that the people elected will survive to serve.

I know it may be kind of silly to point all this out. After all, we're at zero risk for a coup d'etat. But it really is kind of a miracle. So the first thing we should be thankful for is that … in our nation and in our community … the democratic process and the rule of law prevail.

As voters, you may not always agree with what we do. But at least you know how we got here. You know where to find us. And you know that we are ultimately accountable to you.

The first thing I’d like to do is thank my six fellow councilmembers for selecting me as mayor for the next two years.

Being the mayor in Ventura is a tricky job. You have to be simultaneously a leader and a servant of the council; and, of course, a leader and a servant of the community as well. This is a job that has to be approached with a lot of humility. We’re a bunch of independent thinkers. But in these tough times, we will all have to pull together. I will do my best to herd the cats and still be responsive to the cats as well.

I’d especially like to thank Mayor Weir for her leadership over the lastwo years. Christy, I don’t think you knew what you were getting into when you took this gavel in December of 2007. You have had to deal with far more difficulty and financial hardship than anyone would have expected. And you’ve managed to face with two remarkable traits that don’t usually go together: You’ve stayed upbeat and positive about the future of our community; and at the same time you’ve been steadfast and held your ground when you needed to. Anybody sitting in this chair would do well to emulate your approach to this job.

There are so many people I would like to thank, including those who are here tonight and those who are elsewhere, but I will single out only a few.

I miss my mother, Fran, every day. Many of you remember her. Although she lived to see me first elected in 2003, I still wish she were here today to both inspire me and pester me. I miss my father too. Dad’s been gone for many years, but he was my mentor on political and civic affairs almost from the time we could hold a conversation. I know he’d be proud. He was a stubborn guy – back in our hometown, he ran as a renegade school board candidate in 1947 and almost won, but redeemed himself in 1948 by running again and getting creamed.

I’d especially like to thank my daughter Sara, who came down from college in Northern California to be here today. Sara kind of grew up here at city Hall during her middle and high school years and everybody around this building misses her. Sara inspires me every day. Just by the way she lives her life, she reminds me that the most important thing you can do every single day is wake up determined to make a difference in the world. Sara, I hope my service as mayor helps make your world a better place decades from now.

There are so many other people who have inspired and helped me here, but in the interest of getting on with it I think I will have to thank them individually.

Over the next few weeks the council will work out our agenda for the next two years. This won’t be an easy task. As a community, Ventura has taken a lot of blows in the last year or two. And I hate saying it, but I expect we’ll take a few more before the hard times are done. It is not a time to nurture resentment and assign blame. It is a time to pull together for the good of our community.

I can’t predict what direction the council will likely take, or how we will decide to get there. But I do know two things. First, we’re going to have to reinvent the way we do a lot of things – both here at City Hall and in the community at large. And second, we’re going to have to work together as a community more aggressively than we ever have before.

Ventura is a terrific place to live – so much so that sometimes we become a little complacent and often take it for granted that somehow or other things will work out fine in the end. But in this time of financial crisis, we can’t take anything for granted. We must devote ourselves to reshaping the way we do things in order to lay the foundation for a future that is both prosperous and sustainable.

We must be prosperous as a community , because without prosperity we cannot achieve anything else we want. But our prosperity must be enduring, based on achieving long-term economic goals, not short-term profits. Ventura has reinvented its economy many times on the past, and we are well-positioned to reinvent our economy again in order to ensure generations of prosperity.

We must be financially sustainable as a city government, because unless we are financial sustainable we will not be able to provide our constituents with the things they want and need. This will require not just increasing revenues, but reinventing how we do things, sharing community resources and helping each other, so that we will never again be faced with the difficult choices we are confronting right now.

And finally we must also be an ecologically sustainable community as well. As the Copenhagen conference begins today, climate change to most people in the world is an abstraction. To us it is not. The sea level will rise. It will rise in this city. It will rise in this neighborhood. And it will rise in our lifetimes. You can’t prosper when you are drowning.

If we make progress on all these things – enduring prosperity, a financially sustainable city government, and an ecologically sustainable community – then we will go a long way toward achieving our most important goal, which is to maintain and improve the quality of life of the people who live in Ventura, both today and in the future.

These are big challenges. But I look forward to working with the council and the community to lay the foundation for a better future. For the next two years I will do my best to be a leader and a servant to my colleagues on the council and the community at large.