2012 State of City Address

2012 State of the City Address
April 19, 2012
Newark Hilton Hotel

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View Video of Speech - from Newark Patch

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us for our annual State of the City Address.  I know all of you have busy schedules so I really want to thank you for being here. I’d especially like to thank the very talented Newark Memorial High School Advanced Choir for this afternoon’s performance.  The group has been participating in our annual State of the City Address for quite some time now and we truly look forward to their performance each year.  These are some very talented students and we couldn’t be more proud to share them with you today.  Choir Director Joanne Hong and choir members, we want to thank you for taking part in our Address this afternoon and making it extra special.

Let’s give them a big round of applause!

I would also like to introduce my colleagues on the Newark City Council who join me in welcoming you; they are:

  • Vice Mayor Ana Apodaca
  • Council Member Luis Freitas
  • Council Member Sucy Collazo
  • Council Member Bob Marshall

And from our Planning Commission:

  • Chairperson Janet Drews
  • Vice Chair Bill Fitts

And Commissioners:

  • Glen Kramer
  • Marla Blowers
  • Karen Bridges
  • Bernie Nillo

And our newest Planning Commissioner – Theresa Ballard Dias

And taking a bow for our entire City staff:

  • City Manager John Becker

And I want to give many thanks to the Newark Chamber of Commerce for hosting today’s luncheon.  I’d like to thank Linda Ashley, President/CEO of the Chamber as well as the members of the Newark Chamber of Commerce for the support that they provide to the betterment of our City and business community.

And to all our distinguished guests this afternoon, thank you for taking the time to join us.

I’ve been Newark’s Mayor now for almost 4 months.  Actually, 132 days and 17-1/2 hours… but who’s keeping track.  People are asking me how I like being Mayor and, depending on the day or the latest news, my answer is either, Dave Smith lied to me, or… I have a new appreciation for Dave Smith I really don’t know how anyone in their right mind could do this for 33 years.  It’s a lot different being a Councilmember versus being a Mayor.  The biggest difference is – now I have to pay attention to what’s happening!  In all seriousness, I really do have a greater appreciation for Dave Smith and the job he did as Mayor.

For this year’s State of the City Address, I’m going to focus on a few major topics.  These will include the City’s financial status, economic development, and an important project that is currently underway; the update of the City’s General Plan. 

Before I get into that subject, I would like to briefly review the status of the City’s budget situation.  Since 2006, we have had to pare down operations to match a loss of revenues of over $28 million dollars.  This wasn’t easy.  It was accomplished by making some very painful reductions in our operating budget. 

These have included:

  • Reducing staff by 1/3rd
  • Furloughing employees
  • Reducing pay for employees and generally asking the remaining staff to do more with less.
  • Making severe service cuts
  • Eliminating Programs
  • And closing facilities

As a way of making up part of the revenue loss, we proposed a Utility Users Tax.  A first measure, Measure L was narrowly defeated. 

A second measure, Measure U was subsequently placed before the voters and through the careful guidance of Vice Mayor Apodaca and members of the Measure U committee, this measure passed by a wide margin. The tax was estimated to restore about $2.3 million dollars to our budget.

Last May, the City Council appropriated Measure U funding for a Budget Restoration Plan that restored some of the services and programs that had been cut over the previous years.

  • We reopened the Senior Center in July 2011.
  • We added 2 Police Officers, including a Detective and a School Resource Officer.
  • We reinstated the Neighborhood Watch program and implemented a Volunteers in Policing Program.
  • We added additional Parks and Landscape staffing.  This has allowed us to improve park maintenance including; more watering, planting, and turf repair.
  • We were able to increase our street sweeping from once every 2 months to every month.
  • We reinstated the Ash Street Summer Program which provides a free summer program for over 200 at-risk youth in our community.
  • We reinstated funding for the School Crossing Guard Program.
  • We added Community Preservation staffing to improve our code enforcement efforts.
  • We began rebuilding our fiscal reserves which were completely depleted in balancing previous year’s budgets.

The Budget Restoration Plan took a conservative approach to expending the Utility Users Tax revenue.  It included a significant amount of the Measure U revenue to rebuild our fiscal reserves and invest in major equipment replacement. We’re definitely not out of the woods yet, but we are in better condition than we were a year ago.  As a result of our continued “belt tightening” efforts and with the revenue from Measure U, we will be able to balance our budget for the next two-year budget cycle and anticipate a modest surplus in each of the next two years.  This of course assumes no surprises.

We continue to monitor issues and events that can and will impact our budget situation in the future.  The two primary issues are State actions that continue to “siphon” revenue from the City and rising employee pension costs.  Both of these have the potential for significantly impacting our budget in future years.

Now, I would like to switch to Economic Development and tell you about my first two telephone calls that I received as a new Mayor.

The first one was from representatives of Staples from somewhere back east.  They called to inform me that they would be closing their fulfillment center here in Newark and would be operating only out of their facility in Stockton.
First of all, I don’t think the person who made that call had any idea of the financial impact on Newark – a loss in revenue of about 1 million dollars annually.  Secondly, when I asked if there was anything we could do to help them change their mind, they said the decision had already been made and was not reversible. The human side of the Staples decision is that 72 people will be losing their jobs.  The financial side means we must tighten our belts even more.  It is not easy to make up for a million dollar annual loss in revenue.

The second call I received was from an owner of a business in Palo Alto who told me that they were considering Newark as a location for their business and how could we help.  Talk about going from the lows to the highs with your first two phone calls.  “Wow!!!”

The fact is, unless a business is selling a lot of product from their location in Newark, the revenue implication for the City is pretty limited.  The wonderful part is that it brings badly needed jobs to the City and those folks who now work here will be shopping here, eating lunch here, buying gas here, buying their homes here.  If they also sell their product from here, then we’ve hit pay dirt! During the last year, we have seen a number of new retail and commercial businesses open in the City or announce plans to relocate here.  Each of these brings important new jobs to the City and operating budget revenue either directly or indirectly.

On the retail front:

  • Fiat of Fremont opened in early 2011.
  • Ross Dress for Less at the Four Corners opened last Spring.
  • Buick/GMC/Cadillac opened last year on the previous Saturn dealership property.
  • Cruise America relocated their Western Regional Headquarters last month and they are open for business.
  • AutoZone and Starbuck’s are under construction and are expected to open soon.

We’ve also had a number of high tech and biotech companies relocate to the City:

  • Membrane Technology and Research - a world leader in development and production of membrane based separation systems in the energy industry is relocating to Newark from Menlo Park.  They have leased a 59,500 square foot facility in the Stevenson Technology Park and will open the facility this year.
  • BioChain Inc. - a leading technology and product provider for the life science research community purchased 35,000 square feet and will be opening their facility in the Stevenson Technology Park soon.
  • Belectric USA - an industry leading solar power provider delivering turn-key, utility-grade solar power, opened its US office in Newark this January, occupying 27,500 square feet.
  • United Logistic Solutions has expanded their operations purchasing a 155,000 square foot space.  They offer services in logistics, domestic distribution, order fulfillment, light production, repair and refurbishment, returns management, and other value added services.  They relocated from Milpitas in 2010 and now have nearly 300,000 square feet of space in Newark.
  • Logitech – a company that designs and produces peripherals for computers and other digital devices will be opening their 264,000 square foot North American headquarters in Newark’s Pacific Research Center soon.
  • Theranos signed a lease for 200,000 square feet of space at the Pacific Research Center.  They will utilize the space for office, laboratories, and manufacturing.  They will be consolidating and relocating their operations from the Palo Alto area.  Theranos is a healthcare systems company that is revolutionizing the way health information is collected, analyzed, and communicated to doctors and hospitals. 

These moves highlight a trend of companies realizing the advantages of locating in Newark.  More than three quarters of a million square feet of office, research, and development and industrial space have opened or been leased in the past year. 

City staff routinely works with brokers and property owners to make them aware of the opportunities in Newark, and as you can see, their work is bearing fruit. Unfortunately, we’ve had some businesses that have left the City which will impact employment and operating revenue for the City.

As I mentioned earlier, Staples Fulfillment Center began closing down their operations.  The closure will result in a significant loss of our business-to-business sales tax revenue which will impact our operating budget. The Target store at the NewPark Mall closed in March and relocated to Fremont’s Pacific Commons Center.  Although this has been anticipated since last year, this will temporarily leave the Mall with one less anchor store. Toys R Us closed their store in the NewPark Plaza and relocated to the Pacific Common’s Center.

Despite our efforts, there is little that can be done about corporate relocation decisions.  They are typically driven by factors outside our control.  There are however, things we can do.

During the next year, we will be taking additional steps to attract and retain businesses here in Newark.

We plan to expand our economic development marketing activity to include:

  • Expanded business outreach efforts.
  • Enhancing our City promotional efforts.
  • Working with our local hotels on a marketing plan.
  • Making more effective use of the City’s website and social media.

In addition, we will be undertaking a “Master Planning” effort for the Greater NewPark Mall area. 

The retail trend toward “power centers” has drained away businesses over the last few years and we would like to develop a new “Vision” for the area to capture rising retail trends and return the area to a position as the central commercial area in the region. 

The Master Plan will not only establish a Vision for the area but will also:

  • Allow for innovative and streamlined land use regulations.
  • Identify supporting public investments.
  • Explore financing methods to assist in implementing the Vision.

Our goal for all of these efforts will be to attract new retail and expand job creation in the City of Newark.

We’ve also implemented new programs or brought back programs to engage the community and to provide safety information and volunteer opportunities for our citizens and businesses.  Programs such as:

  • Nixle, which provides citizens with important Police Department alerts via the phone, email, and the web.  This includes crime alerts, missing person notifications, and traffic advisories delivered to subscribers almost instantly.
  • We brought back our Neighborhood Watch program. Through Neighborhood Watch, the police department partners with residents to educate them on how and why crime happens, how to improve both home and personal safety, and to determine how and when to contact law enforcement.
  • We have a new volunteer program in the Police Department we call “Raven” (R.A.V.E.N.), which stands for Ready Active Volunteers Engaged in Newark.  Trained and committed volunteers are ready to respond and serve the community by actively working to support additional operational services within the Police Department.
  • And if our citizens are looking for more to do, they can try existing programs like CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team program where citizens are trained to assist their neighbors in the event of a disaster. 
  • Citizens can also sign up to attend the Citizens Police Academy.  The Academy exposes students to every aspect of the Newark Police Department by learning the laws, procedures, and policies that govern law enforcement. 

Let’s move now to our General Plan Update Project.  The City is currently in the middle of an important project to update its General Plan.  You might have asked yourself at some point why is it that some cities manage to weather the long-term ups and downs of the economic cycles while others have not fared so well?

Of course strong financial planning is important - but a key element, and one that sets one city apart from another is the quality of its General Plan.  Why is that the case you might ask?  A General Plan is a formal document that guides the development of our city.  It is the basis for analyzing where a city has been, where it is now, and a guide for where it’s heading.  We look at it as our “constitution for development”.  It guides development, new construction, and the recycling of land. 

The General Plan is not a policy document that directs how many police officers should be on the streets.  It does not direct what sort of services a city provides.  What it does do is provide a guide for how the city will develop.  The budget and other policy documents govern the day-to-day activities of the City government.

A General Plan ensures that the city develops in a way that meets the growing needs of the community while ensuring successful growth.  When Newark was incorporated, one of the first things our founding fathers did was to develop a General Plan.  The plan has been our guide in providing development direction in the City.  State law requires every city to adopt a General Plan.  The plan must include seven elements or sections.  These include:

  • Land Use
  • Circulation (transportation)
  • Housing
  • Conservation
  • Open Space
  • Noise
  • and Safety

The key issue with a General Plan is that it is primarily about regulating private development.  It’s about how private property owners should be allowed to use their land.  Even though we say there should be high rise office buildings in a certain place, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  It’s the private market/private development that actually drives ultimately how it is developed. 

Our General Plan is a living document and needs to be amended periodically.  This doesn’t mean that you tear up the whole plan and start from scratch.  We are simply fine tuning it to keep it in line with current law and other regulations.

In Newark, we have a community that’s over 90% built out.  We pretty much know which direction we’re going, so to start over would not be prudent or practical. 

Through a unique collaboration between graduate students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and the City, we’ve had the opportunity to begin work on tuning up our General Plan.  It was an opportunity for Cal Poly, which has a Master’s Program to train student planners and for Newark to obtain an inexpensive, yet a high quality update process.  The students helped provide an extensive amount of community outreach and the accomplishment was amazing. We would have never been able to afford, let alone staff this kind of outreach effort.  We had 17 students gathering data, analyzing trends, and facilitating community meetings.  With that high number of students, they were able to do a very thorough job. 

As part of our outreach efforts, the students contacted those who attended community meetings in the past, local service organizations, the School Board, and Home Owner Associations to get as many people involved in the process as possible. 
That amount of legwork itself is typically expensive and that’s where we’ve really benefitted from this methodology.

The students surveyed, researched, and worked with the residents of Newark to understand the community’s vision for the City’s future.  They brought a fresh perspective.  Not being Newark residents, they were not entrenched in the community. They took a fresh and positive look at our community and are helping our community members to do the same.

The General Plan is meant to function as a long-term plan for the physical development of our City, and we are visioning it out to the year 2050.  We are also working to make the General Plan user-friendly. 

To this end, we’ll create an electronic version so that people can locate information quickly and efficiently.

To date, three community meetings have been held.  The first meeting focused on the strengths, weaknesses, improvements, and opportunities of Newark.  The second community meeting focused on the community’s priorities.  Meeting participants ranked particular issues using a “dot” voting exercise to decide what’s most important to them.  For instance, is a library or an art museum more important than play fields?  Open space versus housing.

At the third community meeting, we unveiled alternative land use plans.  We utilized what we learned from the earlier meetings and came up with alternative visions for Newark’s future.  The alternatives were intended to spur discussion about potential futures for Newark.  The community had a very spirited discussion regarding the alternatives.

A fourth meeting will be held to unveil a “preferred” potential Land Use Plan and General Plan.   The plan will include components from each of the alternative strategies.  It will be focused on maintaining what is good in the Newark community and looking towards the future.

The selection of the preferred potential Land Use Plan and production of the Draft General Plan is an important milestone, but the process is not done.  From here, we will take the plan and do further analyses with Planning, Transportation, and Environmental experts then move the discussion to the Planning Commission and the City Council. 

Work sessions with the Planning Commission and the City Council will be scheduled.  The process will be open to the public, so they can weigh in and provide their input.  The City Council will take the public’s input and will adopt the final plan based on what they feel is best for the Community.  We hope to have City Council approval and the plan finalized by early 2013.

Let’s step back for a moment and see how a vision can become a reality.  Our last General Plan had a vision that Newark would increase recreational opportunities and could be the home of retail, commercial, and high-tech companies. Today, thanks to that vision and our General Plan guiding us, Newark is home to the George M. Silliman Activity and Family Aquatic Center and many retail, commercial, high-tech, and bio-tech companies. One of the most notable developments that came out of the vision is the Pacific Research Center.  What started as a salt marsh has developed into a thriving high-tech and bio-tech center. The NewPark Mall is another example of a General Plan vision.  What started as a mis-matched group of “pots n pans” parcels, is now a regional shopping mall.  And if you don’t know what we mean by “pots n pans” parcels… envision if you will, purchasing pots and pans… You were literally given, as part of a promotion, a piece of land anywhere from thirty by fifty feet for purchasing the cooking ware. With a modernized General Plan, we can guide future development to meet the needs, goals, and interests of the public.  So you can see, the General Plan is vital to the state of our city.  What we plan today has a great effect on where we’ll be tomorrow. Today, thanks to the vision of a well-balanced community with recreation, housing, retail, high-tech, and bio-tech, Newark is, as I like to say, “on a roll!”  We will continue to work to make Newark the community people are proud to call home.

Thank you for joining us this afternoon.  For those of you who have worked with us to tune-up our General Plan, we thank you and look forward to a prosperous future for Newark.