Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thank You, Ventura

Saturday was a fabulous day here in Ventura. First of all, it was a gorgeous day, and I had a wonderful run along the beach in the afternoon. Then there was the Holiday Street Fair – a longtime tradition we at the city have successfully turned over to the Downtown Ventura Partnership and other private sponsors. Just after sundown, I joined Santa Claus, Father Tom from the Mission – and a huge throng of people – in lighting up the Mission’s two Christmas trees, which by the way are the tallest Christmas trees in the United States. Then we all adjourned to the intersection of Main and California, where fake snow fell while we all danced and City Hall flashed with revolving, dramatic colors.

In other words, it was a great day to be the Mayor of this town. And all through it I kept thinking to myself something I have thought so many times over the years: This town can do things that other towns just can’t do!

It’s been easy to forget this during our recent hard times, when a lot of people have been focused on what we can’t do or aren’t doing or can’t afford to do. But as I stepped down as Mayor and a member of the City Council on Monday night, I wasn’t thinking about what we can’t do. I was thinking about all the things we can do – and all the things we do successfully on a regular basis.

I guess I could say a lot of the usual things that politicians say when they leave office – thanks for the privilege of serving, I am proud of what we accomplished, I’m humbled by all of this. (Actually, I did say all these things Monday night.) But what I really want to say is this: I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I got to be on the Ventura City Council for eight years and I got to be Mayor of Ventura for two years.

Things have been really tough in the last couple of years, so I think it’s important to understand what the situation was back in 2003, when I first ran for the City Council. We were in the middle of a divisive public debate over what to do about the Serra Cross, located on what was then city property in Grant Park. We had just lived through a divisive election over a very large proposed development project in the hillsides. Indeed, we had just been through three bruising decades of divisive growth battles, which had led to numerous ballot initiatives, wild swings back and forth in our political leadership, and the premature retirement or defeat of any number of councilmembers over the previous decade. Oh, yes, and by the way the City budget had been running in the red for the previous three years.

In those days, City Hall had a reputation for being opaque, not transparent, and not very responsive. In fact, one of the reasons I ran was because at that time it seemed to me that the only way to have true influence over the City’s direction was to be one of the seven members of the City Council. Paradoxically, I wanted to become one of those seven people in order to change that situation.We’ve tackled all those problems pretty successfully. And we’ve done it by staying focused on the fact that, at City Hall, everything we do is related to one of three overarching goals:

-- Enduring prosperity

-- A high quality of life

-- A strong sense of community

It’s been very hard to keep focused on those three things with the economic downturn and the resulting budget difficulties in the last two or three years. But I think that we have accomplished two important things in the last two to four years.

First, we’ve laid the foundation for future prosperity. As I have said many times, to be successful in the long run, all cities must constantly evolve economically. Ventura is no exception. Our traditional reliance on oil, agriculture, government, and a few other sectors will continue to provide a base of employment but will not carry us through to another generation of true prosperity. So we must constantly work at helping our businesses grow and encourage new high-growth businesses to locate in Ventura. We’ve laid a very good foundation for that – not just with out tech effort and our incubator, but by becoming more business-friendly without compromising our quality of life. We have restored positive relations with our Chamber of Commerce. We helped push through the $350 million expansion of Community Memorial Hospital. We’ve cleaned up our permitting processes. And, perhaps most important, we’ve just about eradicated the decades-old idea that Ventura is anti-business. This foundation will help us tremendously in the years ahead.

And second, we’ve learned how to work together as a community to get things done. In the old days, if you wanted to get something done in Ventura, the path to success was simple: You lobbied the City Council until you got four votes committing the City to take the lead on the project and pay for the whole thing. But that’s not a sustainable model for the future – not financially, certainly, but also not in community-building terms. Communities succeed not because the city government takes everything on and pays for it, but because a broad coalition of people, organizations, and institutions work together to get things done in a timely, high-quality, and cost-efficient manner. That’s what’s happening in the partnership between the City and the Ventura Botanical Gardens to improve Grant Park. It’s also what’s happening in the partnership between the City and Ventura Unified to open up school land on the Westside for parks and recreational use. This will have to be the model for getting things done in the future – and we’ve laid the foundation for it in the last two years.

Shortly after he was seated on Monday night, Mayor Tracy said that the city’s highest priority right now is to make sure that the public has confidence in the city’s ability to deliver basic services – police, fire, parks, street maintenance, and so forth. He’s right. We’ve balanced the budget and laid the foundation for the future, but the quality of our services has taken a hit in the process and now it’s time to show the people that we can still deliver the basics in a high-quality way. It’ll be a challenge, but I think Mike’s exactly the right Mayor for this moment, because he knows how to focus on the basics and make sure these things get done well. He’ll do a great job.

I’m comfortable with my decision to step down, because a successful community is not the result of one person’s actions, or even seven people’s actions. It’s the result of thousands of people waking up every day and committing themselves to make a town great – not just politicians and government employees, but volunteers and people who work for nonprofit organizations and PTO presidents and even all the people who go to work in private businesses every, generating the revenue and the profits that give us the prosperity we need to continue to be successful. Indeed, a successful community is a multi-generational effort, as stewardship of the community is handed down over time. As the word "stewardship" implies, no one truly owns a community’s success; we are all merely stewards of that success. We must learn how to create success every day and then hand it down to the next generation of leaders. It is important know how to pass the baton knowledgeably, gracefully – and before you wear out you welcome.

From my new vantage point in our nation’s capital, I will do the best I can – in any way I can -- to help Ventura move forward with enduring prosperity, a high quality of life, and a stronger sense of community. I always loved doing this in my travels around the country before I was elected, and proudly do so in the future. In other words, wherever I am, I will continue to be one of those thousand of people who wakes up every day and works to make Ventura a better place.

And no matter who is Mayor, I still think I’m the luckiest guy in the world because this town and my colleagues on the City Council had enough confidence in me to allow me to serve as Mayor for the last two years. I love this town. Thank you, Ventura.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you Bill. Good luck in D.C. and always keep Ventura and California for that matter in your mind when you are directing or leading groups that may have such influence over our home.

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  2. Thanks for closing our library!

    -Andre

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