Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Way Forward ... To 2016

Mayor's State of the City Address, February 7, 2011

On behalf of the City Council, I would like to welcome you to the City Council Chambers and thank you for attending tonight.

After what all of us have been through in 2010, as your mayor, the message that comes to my mind is, “Whew!”

We made it through a year when money was in short supply for everybody, when the political rhetoric everywhere became much more unforgiving, and, whether we liked it or not, when the choices before us were choices would have never before considered.

But what’s remarkable is that despite all these travails, our spirit as a community has not been dampened. Ventura remains a place where people love to live their lives, run their businesses, and enjoy everyday life.

We have made it through some very difficult times by working together, by making sacrifices by finding new ways to do things and by undertaking efforts that inspire us and lift our spirits.

So I think it is worthwhile to acknowledge people and organizations who have helped us – both our City Government and our community – make it to where we are today.

First, from our perspective here at City Hall, I want to reassure everybody that our city is in good financial shape. Our budget is balanced and has been all through this dark time.

Now, let me hasten to add we don’t like the way we’ve balanced it. We’ve had to cut many important things and we know that our reduced level of services is not sustainable. We must find ways to bring our services back so we can maintain our city’s quality of life.

But it’s important to note that we have not shirked from the tough choices. Other cities have papered over their problems and now they will face severe cuts. We have attacked the issue of declining revenue head-on – meaning that future cuts will not be nearly as painful as other cities will see. I want to thank our City Manager, Rick Cole, for his willingness to tackle the hard issues head-on; and our CFO, Jay Panzica, for leading us through these difficult financial times with clarity, simplicity, and goodwill. I also want to thank our line department heads – Elena Brokaw of Parks & Rec, Rick Raives of Public Works, Jeff Lambert of Community Development, and especially Police Chief Ken Corney and Fire Chief Kevin Rennie – for doing more with less under difficult circumstances.

We also have our employees to thank. They have agreed to changes and reforms that will help make our future city budgets sustainable. One of my greatest concerns is that even when the economy recovers we will not be able to restore necessary services because of increased pension costs. But just this month our employees agreed to contribute to their own pensions, thus covering increased cost of pensions and they agreed to pension reform for future employees, which will save us a great deal in the long run.

These changes require sacrifice on the part of our employees but will help our city to focus – revenues increase – on restoring those services that we desperately need to bring back. I would like to thank the Ventura Police Officers Association and the Service Employees International Union for their help. I also would like to thank the Ventura City Fire Fighters Association for their support and look forward to working with them on a contract Finally, I’d like to thank our Human Resources Director, Jenny Roney, for guiding us through these tough negotiations.
Making these changes has required change in the way we do business. It’s always easy here at City Hall to think that we can solve all problems – and pay for them too. And because we meet in public and on television every week, it’s also easy for others to appear before us and demand the same – solve all problems and pay for them too.

But we up here can’t solve and pay for all problems – not all by ourselves. And one of the most important accomplishments of the last year has been to partner with other organizations in the community to get things done.

Perhaps the most important partnership we have forged in the last year is with the Greater Ventura Chamber of Commerce. We cannot succeed as a city without a strong and involved business community and the Chamber has reinvented itself during tough times with great gusto and energy.

So I want to thank that dynamic duo of Marni Brooke, chair of the Chamber board, and Sandra Burkhart, the chamber’s new CEO, for everything they have done and also thanks to Steve Perlman, vice chair in charge of business development and a representative of, let us say, an older generation of Chamber leaders.

The City has also worked with many, many other community organizations and institutions to help get through these tough times and still provide important services to our community.

For example, in tough times volunteers play an especially important role in making sure essential services and activities move forward. As a member of the national “Cities of Service” organization, we have come to realize the value of volunteers more than ever before

Just the week before last we hosted the first-ever “Volunteer Summit” for all the organizations and agencies here in town that use volunteers.. More than 30 organizations participated, and we have now set a target of recruiting 200 brand-new new volunteers in our community in 2011. I want to thank everyone who participated in the Volunteer Summit and especially the City’s volunteer staff, including Cary Glenn and Rosie Ornelas, for putting it together with great enthusiasm.

Similarly, we are increasingly working with nonprofit organizations to pool resources so that all of us can move forward doing the things we all need to do to maintain a high quality of life in our community. And this cooperation goes both ways – sometimes they help us, sometimes we help them.

Last year we thought we would have to close our Downtown Senior Recreation Center. But thanks to a collaboration with the nonprofit organization Urban Encore, we are able to keep the building open. Urban Encore is leasing the building and providing space to other nonprofits, while maintaining the senior center’s activities. I want to thank Dave Armstrong of Urban Encore – and one of Ventura’s most dedicated volunteers – for his efforts.

We’re also entering into an innovative arrangement with the Ventura Botanical Gardens organization. Everyone loves Grant Park – but we’ve had to postpone our plans to improve it for many years. Now, we have entered into an agreement to possibly lease parts of Grant Park to this new nonprofit group as an alternative way to make Grant Park better! Thanks to Doug Halter, who is representing the Botanical Gardens here tonight.
At the same time, we at City Hall are partnering with other nonprofit organizations to help them through these difficult times as well. By creating the Nonprofit Sustainability Center on the 4th Floor of 505 Poli, the City has helped 10 nonprofit to make it through the recession. By providing these organizations office space at low cost, we at City Hall can help them to maintain the vital services they provide to the community – services that our community otherwise might lose.

Just to give you an example of the diversity of these groups they include Focus on the Masters, Turning Point Foundation and Ventura Film Society. I’d like to thank Donna Granata, Clyde Reynolds, and Lorenzo DeStefano for their leadership and cooperation.

Amazingly enough, we have also seen remarkable progress in constructing and remodeling a wide variety of buildings and facilities downtown – helping to strengthen Downtown Ventura as the very epicenter of our region. Last year the WAV was completed. During this past year, the Kingdom Center has opened. So did Phase 1 of the Museum of Ventura County’s expansion, including the fabulous Smith Event Center. We’ve seen refurbishment and new vitality at the E.P. Foster Library. And we’ve seen the Housing Authority begin construction at Encanto del Mar at Oak and Thompson; and People’s Self-Help Housing begin renovation of the historic and beautiful El Patio Hotel just a block away.

These would be remarkable achievements at any time. But to accomplish them all in 2010 – the worst year in recorded history for construction in the United States – is truly remarkable. I’d like to thank some of the community leaders that have made this possible – including Pastor Sam Gallucci of the Kingdom Center, Tim Schiffer of the Museum of Ventura County, Mary Stewart of Foster Library, and John Polansky, chair of the Housing Authority board for all of your leadership.

We also an excellent holiday shopping season downtown and everywhere else – much to our surprise. I want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to shopping locally. I also want to thank everyone who took me up on my challenge at the Mayor’s Arts Awards – to buy one piece of local art during this holiday season and another piece during 2011. Personally, I’d like to thank Jennifer Livia of Red Brick Gallery for the wonderful art she created that now belongs to my family. And don’t worry – I’m still on the lookout for that beautiful piece of local art to purchase in 2011. The Mayor’s Local Art Challenge is still going on!

Finally, whenever a community endures tough times, there is nothing like a group of inspiring athletes to lift our spirits and keep us going. This year, all of us in Ventura were inspired by the Ventura Deep Six Relay Team and their dramatic four-day swim through cold and choppy ocean waters. These guys didn’t just beat the world record – they killed it. In case you haven’t heard, the previous world record for an open water relay team was 78 miles – by the way, on a lake in New Zealand. Our guys swam over 202 miles in the Pacific Ocean in one of the coldest years on record. Oh, and by the way, these remarkable athletes are all in their 40s and 50s.

Thanks so much to Jim McConica and the other swimmers for keeping our spirits up in a tough year.

I’ve gone on at some length about all these people and organizations and accomplishments because I think it’s important to remember all the positive things that occurred during a difficult year. Thanks to all of you, we have made it through what I called last year “Our Defining Moment”.

Now, we must all work together to channel all of our energies toward charting “The Way Forward” here in Ventura.

And I do mean all of us – everyone in the community, working together – not just the City Council.

The decisions we on the City Council make up here every Monday night about what to fund and what to approve -- yes, these are important. But we can’t do it alone – and, anyway, these days nobody trusts us in the government to do it all by ourselves anyway. But with all of us working together – government agencies, nonprofit organizations, private businesses, individuals – we can do a much better job of figuring out what’s right for our community and a much more effective job of getting it done.

I think I can speak for all seven of us up here when I say that we must focus on two important and inter-related goals.

First, working with all of you to create a sustainable and enduring prosperity for our community.

And second, using that prosperity to maintain and enhance our quality of life.

Let me begin with prosperity, because without prosperity we cannot succeed as a community.

I have spent most of my life trying to understand how cities work, and I can say one thing: whether they grow or increase in population or not they never stay the same. To prosper – and to maintain a high quality of life – cities have to reinvent themselves economically again and again. This is true no matter how big or small they are; and no matter how fast or slowly they are growing.

Ventura has already reinvented itself many times from mission town to fishing town to agricultural center to oil boomtown to surf town to government town – and we remain all these things to some extent today. But we cannot stand still. We must continue to forge ahead, reinvent ourselves – find enduring prosperity in the 21st Century global economy while retaining the small-town feel we all cherish.

Everything we are moving forward with right now is focused on exactly this goal – and these efforts are tightly intertwined.

We talk a lot about creativity and artists galleries and projects like the WAV. Sometimes it seems like we have staked our whole future on art galleries, artist housing, and arts events. Some people love this; others are understandably skeptical that we can base a city’s entire economy on this proposition.

To be sure, arts and culture are important for their own sake. But they’re also important as a way to connect to the fast-growing creative and innovation economies regionally and worldwide which we in Ventura must be a part of in order to prosper in the future.

The creative arts – performance, visual arts, graphic and architectural design, publishing, fashion -- represent one of the fastest-growing sectors of the American economy. No American city, large or small, will be able to prosper in the future without nurturing these creative arts. The future of the creative arts in Ventura is virtually unlimited – and essential to our future in so many different ways

Over the last year, we have increased our visibility in Hollywood with the Film Ventura! Initiative – kicked off last fall at our downtown movie complex with a screening of the independent film, “Not Fade Away,” by local filmmaker Meredith Markworth Pollack. This effort has reminded us that we have an enormous supply of local film talent here in Ventura – actors, craftspeople, and even many writers and producers.

We’ve also strengthened our connection with our most important local educational institution dealing with the creative arts, Brooks Institute. Hundreds of Brooks film and video students already live and work in Ventura, and I recently met with Brooks’s new president, Susan Kirkland, to reaffirm our mutual commitment to each other. Brooks is a critical component of Ventura’s creative economy – attracting talented young people to Ventura and helping us to attract regional and national attention. Thank you, Susan, for your leadership.

And even in these difficult times, we have seen many other business leaders in the creative arts strengthen their commitment to Ventura – and, in particular, to downtown. Rasmussen Associates moved downtown and transformed the top floor of the Earle Stanley Gardner. Thank you, Larry Rasmussen for this commitment. Ann Deal of Fashion Forms has continued to help build Ventura’s reputation in the apparel industry and recently located her designers in our creative downtown, where she has long lived herself. Thank you, Ann.

The creative economy is important to our future prosperity, but it will not sustain us all by itself. The creative economy is important to Ventura for a much bigger reason as well – it provides us with an important connection to the worldwide innovation economy. The creating of new products and new services – especially using the the Internet – today serves as the engine of the global economy.

No city can prosper in the 21st Century without strong, local innovators. Innovators are themselves creative and they thrive on a lively and creative local community.

That’s why our Ventura Ventures Technology Center on the 3d Floor of 505 Poli Street has been so successful. V2TC is now home to 19 startup companies. The entrepreneurs located there are changing the way the world uses information – through online advertising, geographic location systems, online marketing, and many other innovative ideas. They’re drawn to Ventura not just by this incubator but also by the high quality of life, the recreational opportunities, and the creative buzz in our downtown.

I’d like to acknowledge one of those entrepreneurs right now – Jeff Green, founder of The Trade Desk, an online advertising startup that has been so successful that it’s actually busting out of the incubator and moving to the 5th floor of 505 Poli. Jeff, on behalf of everyone in Ventura, I want to say thanks for your commitment in creating jobs here in town. I’d like to thank all the other entrepreneurs in the incubator as well for their commitment to Ventura. And I’d like to invite everyone here to visit the incubator during the reception at the incubator, on the 3d floor of 505 Poli in a few minutes.

Creative artists, designers, entrepreneurs – all are essential components in creating enduring prosperity. But businesses cannot succeed without startup capital. And local capital is especially important. If we can finance our innovative companies through local sources, then the resulting wealth will stay in our community, to be recycled into yet more business ventures and also providing the basis for local philanthropy.

That’s why I am grateful to people like John and Dan Peate of Peate Ventures, who have decide to locate their venture firm right here downtown. Thanks so much, John and Dan, for being financial pioneers here in Ventura, and thanks to our financiers and entrepreneurs -- we are getting more attention from investors every day.

There is yet another dimension to our future prosperity, one that is also linked to creativity and the global innovation economy – the medical and biotech fields.

Here in Ventura, we have long been blessed with extremely high-quality medical care, thanks largely to our two fine hospitals and all the medical talent they attract to our community. This year, we’ve seen both our hospitals make major, forward-looking investments in Ventura.

Community Memorial Hospital is building a new cancer center and is about to embark on a $300 million expansion that will improve medical care, create new business spinoff opportunities in the medical and biotech fields, and help to revitalize business in the Five Points area. It is inspiring to see such an enormous investment in our community during these tough times. And the new CMH will also be a place where biotech entrepreneurs will be able to create and innovate, bringing even more jobs and wealth to Ventura.

And Ventura County Medical Center is also about to embark on a major hospital expansion, adding even more good-paying jobs – construction jobs and medical jobs – to our community. Together, these institutions make Ventura a center of medical care – and medical innovation.

I would like to express my thanks to Gary Wilde, the CEO of Community Memorial Health Systems, and Mike Powers, the outgoing director of the Ventura County Health Care Agency, for spearheading these large and significant investments in our community. They have truly taught us here in Ventura that working together produces far more wealth, health, and happiness than the alternative!

The purpose of building prosperity, of course, is to provide the funds – public, private, and philanthropic – necessary maintain and improve our quality of life.

Part of The Way Forward here in Ventura must be to refocus on our quality of life – for all citizens. My colleagues and I on the council look forward to renewing our long partnership with the Ventura Unified School District and Superintendent Trudy Arriaga – not only to ensure safe and high-performing schools, but to work together toward major community goals that will benefit everyone in our community. Yes, Trudy, we will build the Westside Pool.

We also have to focus on our neighborhoods. Ventura’s neighborhoods are great places to live. But they’ve taken a beating in the last couple of years, as we at City Hall have been forced to cut back on many basic services that neighborhoods depend on – police and fire service, park and median maintenance, tree-trimming, street paving, libraries.

Again, we on this dais are committed to working in collaboration with our neighborhoods to create stability and improve the quality of life. I’d like to thank the chairs of Ventura’s Community Councils for meeting with me regularly to discuss these issues. And I’m proud to announce that we are all working together to bring about Ventura’s first-ever Neighborhood Summit later this spring.

Lastly, I would like to note that, in approaching the future, we must be inclusive. Ventura is a diverse community, and we must ensure that both our prosperity and our quality of life is shared by all residents. Frankly, we have fallen behind in our efforts to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensuring that every place in our community is welcoming to everyone. I look forward to the City’s rollout in 2011 of new efforts to make our community more accessible to those with disabilities.

As a person who is rapidly developing a severe disability, I have learned that while there may be physical disabilities, there is no such thing as a disability of the heart or spirit. We are blessed in Ventura with fabulous people active in promoting the cause of those with disabilities. I’d like to thank Chera Minkler for being a personal inspiration to me – as an advocate for the disabled and as a person with great compassion for all.

Here in Ventura, The Way Forward inevitably involves a look backward toward the past. We are a city of history. Ventura was incorporated as a municipality in 1866; and, indeed, of the 481 cities in California, only 22 are older than we are.

On April 2, 2016, our city will celebrate its 150th anniversary. In case you’re counting, that’s 1,880 days from today.

So here’s a challenge:

Let’s dedicate ourselves to making Ventura’s new prosperity – and much better quality of life – a reality by that date. Let’s make sure that, by then, we are

A city that has successfully combined our creativity our innovation and our opportunities to create a new and lasting prosperity

A city that has fulfilled its commitment great education, high-quality public safety great medical care, great parks and recreation, by the way great and by the way, a great place for all kinds of people to live.

In short, let’s make ourselves the best small city in California.

We have a long list of things we know we must accomplish to achieve renewed prosperity and a better quality of life. So here’s my challenge: I ask you to join me in a concerted effort to get those things done.

Within 90 days, let’s form a group of community leaders to lead this effort.

Within 3 to 6 months, let’s agree on a to-do list – the high priority things we must do to establish long-term prosperity and a better quality of life by 2016. And then let’s spend every day between now and then getting things done, crossing items off the list, until we have made sure Ventura will be a great place to live and work for the next generation.

Remember, when you wake up tomorrow morning, there will be only 1,879 days left.

And on Wednesday, only 1,878.

So let’s get going. Let’s make every day count. Let’s make each one of these days count.