CITY MANAGER'S REPORT
State of the City on January 24
As Mark Twain famously quipped, "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." 2010 was indeed devastating on many fronts for cities all across the country - and especially California. The economic recovery that is underway still has not quite reached Main Street USA, and we have the financial and organizational bumps and bruises to prove it.
Yet we have persevered.
Our economic forecasts projected 2010 as a "recovery year," meaning that the negative economic growth would end - falling sales tax revenues, falling property tax revenues, non-existent building and development activity - all of the financial hemorrhaging would cease or diminish significantly. This has occurred: retail sales (and, thus, sales tax revenue) have actually increased; property tax revenues are stable and mildly growing; and even development activity is beginning to remerge.
Now, however, is not the time to throw caution to the wind. Monrovia is stable and secure, but threats abound. The economic recovery is fragile; the structural balance of our budgets is fragile; and the 30-foot great white shark that is the State of California is still lurking beneath the waves...well almost (more on that later).
The Monrovia City Council has made the tough choices on cost controls, cutting personnel and benefits, shifting costs for benefits to employees, and still remaining true to Monrovia's business plan of growing revenues through economic development versus asking residents to raise taxes (more on that later, too.)
2011 will not be easy, even if the State of California does leave us alone. If 2009 was the emergency medical trauma, and 2010 represented the touch-and-go stabilization of the patient, then this year will resemble the painful recuperation period that follows. It is indeed darkest before the dawn; but make no mistake, the dawn is coming and it will shine brightly on Monrovia.
I would encourage everyone to come to the annual State of the City address by Mayor Mary Ann Lutz at the Krikorian Premiere Theater on Monday, January 24; however, we are already booked up. Thanks to local print and online media announcements, we have received scores of RSVPs from all corners of Monrovia. That said, KGEM will be carrying the speech and, following the event, the Mayor's address will be posted on the City's website.
If you have any questions about the event, please feel free to contact Management Analyst Dan Bell.
Public Works Projects to Commence
Along with public safety, the hallmark of municipal government is investment in public infrastructure. To this end, and with the assistance of federal Stimulus Funds as well as (gulp!) federal earmark funds, we will embark on some key public works projects.
You may have already noticed the work beginning on the 800 block of South Myrtle Avenue. This work will consist of the installation of a traffic signal and related improvements to the intersections of Myrtle and Chestnut Avenues and Myrtle and Huntington Drive.
In February, two major projects will come to the Council for consideration - the improvement of the southeast corner of Huntington Drive and Fifth Avenue; and the resurfacing of much of West Huntington Drive between Magnolia Avenue and Fifth Avenue.
The Huntington and Fifth project will be comprised of the design and partial construction of a covering for the wash that bisects that critical site. As you know, that prime location is precluded from reaching a highest and best use because of the barrier that the channel creates. That's where the City, the Redevelopment Agency, and a $425,000 earmark from Congressman David Dreier (secured several years ago) come in. This work will facilitate the redevelopment of this site as a mixed-use location that will generate new sales and property tax revenue for the City, Agency, MUSD and Citrus Community College.
The resurfacing of West Huntington Drive is a momentous project as well. The work will consist of removing and/or replacing concrete panels in some sections of the street, while grinding down and resurfacing other areas. Following Council's consideration of the award of bid next month, this project will commence in March and is expected to take several months to complete. To that end, our Public Works and Public Information staffs are developing an outreach/community update system that will keep business owners and motorists aware of where work will be taking place, when, and for how long.
If you have any questions about any of these projects, please feel free to contact Public Works Director Ron Bow.
City Council Preview
The January 18 City Council meeting promises to be a very informative session.
We have two public hearings on the agenda. PH-1 is consideration of the proposed 37th year of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. This federal program funds much of the City's code enforcement efforts, home rehabilitation grants for low-income residents and recreation programs in CDBG census tracts. As in previous years, the federal government is cutting the program funding - this year by 9%. As a "participating" city (as opposed to a larger "entitlement" city), there really is not much that can be done to avoid this cut. Thus, anticipating the budget cut, we have already included the reduction in the coming fiscal year's budget. Following the public hearing, staff recommends approval of Resolution No. 2011-01.
PH-2 is the consideration the Amendment of Chapter 17.28 of Title 17 (Zoning) of the Monrovia Municipal Code (relating to signs). As you may recall, last fall, the City Council received and filed the Vision 2015 strategic planning document for Old Town Monrovia. Vision 2015 was comprised of several initiatives concerning efforts to enhance the ambience and attractiveness of Old Town as a place to come and shop, dine, work and be entertained. One of these initiatives regarded signage and finding appropriate ways for Old Town merchants and property owners to be more creative with their signs (projecting wall signs, sidewalk signs, awning signs, window signs, etc.). This proposed amendment features the stakeholders' ideas and suggestions. Following the public hearing, staff recommends approval of Ordinance No. 2011-01.
Under Reports of Councilmembers, there are quite a few items to be covered.
Mayor Lutz will provide an overview of the upcoming State of the City event on January 24; recap the January 6 Monrovia Wildcat Day Victory Celebration; announce the Boys & Girls Club of the Foothill's February 5 "For the Love of Youth" Dinner featuring Angel's Manager Mike Scioscia; and help present an update on the State of California's proposed plans to eliminate redevelopment agencies to help balance the State's budget.
Mayor Pro Tem Adams has three discussion topics - providing an overview of the City of Monrovia's presentation on "Operation Safe Neighborhoods" at the Independent Cities' Association's winter conference; requesting that the City make it easier to pay parking tickets online, and offering a challenge to Monrovians to contribute to the Big M Boosters to help ensure that all of the MHS varsity football players are able to receive a CIF Championship ring.
Councilman Shaw will make an announcement regarding the "Youth at Work" Job and Resource Fair scheduled for January 25 at the Mary Wilcox Youth Center; and Councilwoman Shevlin will provide an overview of the Old Town Walking Route sponsored by the Monrovia Kiwanis Club.
Under Administrative Reports, we have only one item - the consideration of an Amendment to the Monrovia Municipal Code pursuant to Title 8 of the Los Angeles County Code relating to the operation of mobile food vendors/facilities. Essentially, this item would make the City's Code mirror the County's Code with respect to requiring mobile food vendors to display the same types of letter grades (A, B, etc.) on their service vehicles. Considering that restaurants must display this letter grade, this amendment seems rather straightforward. Staff recommends approval of Ordinance No. 2011-02.
As always, if you have any question about any item on the City Council agenda, please feel free to contact me directly.
State Seeks to Eliminate Redevelopment
Bait-and-switch or Niagara Falls in a barrel? Those seem to be the choices behind the Governor's proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies and give their funding to schools and counties. Because of Prop 1A and Prop 22, the State can no longer simply raid local government to pay its obligations, as it did in the 1990s. Now, with these constitutional protections, the State can only borrow the funds and have to repay them later. Given this hemmed-in position, I suppose I have to give the Governor credit for having the gumption for coming to the conclusion that, if he can't shake the money from the piggybank, he may as well take the piggybank and break it.
And while this move may provide a reported $5 billion to the State (one-fifth of their budget deficit), it is pennywise and pound foolish. After all, Sacramento has had one helluva time managing a budget, the State's infrastructure, the education system, the State's regulatory apparatus, etc.; should we trust them with the complexities of economic development too? Without redevelopment agencies, most cities - perhaps every city - will be unable to sustain any semblance of economic development activity. Where will new development, investment and economic growth come from?
Don't misunderstand - I get that the hole Sacramento finds itself in is unprecedented (seems like each year has been more unprecedented than the last). But in gobbling up revenues for the sake of sustaining a sinking ship, one drowning man is not going to save the people around him; he will take them down too.
Perhaps the situation is too far gone to be more strategic. On the one hand, the Governor should get credit for endeavoring to frankly explain the magnitude of the State's financial problems and for trying to address them. On the other hand - given that the Governor did not give a real alternative to the elimination of redevelopment agencies - perhaps his proposal is simply the first step in replaying the "Sacramento Shuffle." That is, if you eliminate redevelopment agencies, something else needs to fill the hole in the provision of blight-removing economic development services. In exchange for taking cities' redevelopment dollars, the Governor's proposal is to allow cities to exercise lower voter thresholds in order to tax property owners to raise revenues to provide such economic development services to their communities. That one makes my head hurt, and cannot be regarded as a real alternative.
The flipside is that the State may simply not care about redevelopment as a tool for blight elimination, urban planning and economic development. Of course, if that is the case and there is no realistic mechanism to replicate the role of local redevelopment agencies, then the states of Arizona, Nevada and Texas will be salivating in a Pavlovian response to this opportunity to lure still more businesses out of California.
That redevelopment is seen as an unnecessary luxury is not new. Because there are well-publicized incidences of scandal, ineffectual use of resources and an inability of most successful agencies to tell their story, many people - the non-partisan Legislative Analyst included, apparently - don't see redevelopment agencies for the value they create. But for every Bell, there is an Alhambra, Pasadena and/or Glendale. For every failed project there is a litany of successful, well-planned, revenue-generating projects.
Monrovia is the best example of the good redevelopment can do. Forty years ago, Monrovia was a far different community than the city it is today - then, it was losing population, losing assessed valuation and the joke literally was "will the last one out of Monrovia please turn out the lights." East Huntington Drive was pock-marked with liquor stores and dive bars; West Huntington Drive was lined with struggling and failing auto dealers; downtown Myrtle Avenue's vacancy rate exceeded 30%. Yet a succession of visionary City Councils, aided by expert professional staff and a trusting electorate, remade this town.
A comprehensive redevelopment program was the difference. Nobody was going to make a major investment in Monrovia without the Redevelopment Agency's assistance in those years - that much is certain. And even as we have succeeded into the 1990s and later, the private market is only capable of taking so much risk. That is the essence of a redevelopment agency - we do the projects that need to get done and which the private market cannot undertake. As a business community, we have fought and clawed for everything we have. Not blessed with an historic racetrack, or a regional indoor shopping mall, or amazingly affluent demographics, Monrovia's redevelopment efforts transformed this community into a place - 40 years later - where major corporations do indeed seek out our zip code, where the quality of life that has been facilitated by the renaissance of the community has attracted new residents from all over LA County.
So now that Monrovia is no longer a city in decline or a city on the rebound, are we through investing in Monrovia? Of course not. The Gold Line provides a whole new set of opportunities to build on past successes; a handful of redevelopment sites still remain (5th and Huntington, the southwest corner of Myrtle and Huntington, a few spots in Old Town); and, we know that economic cycles are indeed cyclical. There will come a day when the Huntington Oaks Shopping Center will need to be redeveloped. This is nothing new - after all, when our redevelopment project area was first created in the early 1970s, the old Rosedale Center and the McDonnell Douglas properties were not blighted and thus, not included in the project area. Over time, however, both deteriorated badly, were vacated, added into the project area, and redeveloped. The old Rosedale Center is now home to Henry's Farmers Market, and the old site of the McDonnell Douglas plant is home to City of Hope, MWH Laboratories and Trader Joe's corporate headquarters.
The State needs money...badly. Yet if it eliminates redevelopment, we may well lose an entire generation of new investment and thus, new property and sales tax revenue. Monrovia's business model has not been to focus on increasing taxes or fighting with our partners over the last nickel; but rather to invest that nickel and grow a dollar. This model has worked well for many years. Alternatively, if the State is simply threatening to eliminate redevelopment agencies as a negotiating ploy in order to shake one or two billion dollars out of local government, then we know that it's business-as-usual in Sacramento (albeit at higher, even crippling, stakes).
California is no longer in a position where it can succeed in spite of itself, I believe. And, like it or not, we all will have to play some role in finally addressing the financial morass the State is in. But removing the best avenue for creating new investment and income is no way to secure the future. Drastic times may call for drastic measures, but be careful of which measures you employ. At the end of the day, my only wish for Sacramento is: "Don't help us so much."
Articles Attached Below
- Community Celebrates Monrovia Wildcats Football Team's CIF Championship. A great night for Monrovia!
- Local Support a Pleasant Surprise for Wildcats. A surprise? Then they don't know Monrovia.
Steve Scauzillo: Breaking the Chain in West Covina. Nice shout out to the sustainability of Monrovia's economic development efforts.
- Redevelopment could be Threatened by Gov. Brown's Budget. They say, when you're in a hole, stop digging. Getting rid of redevelopment without some other tool that is equal in scope and funding is a short-term solution that will have serious and negative long-term repercussions.
- Wanted: A State Budget we can Afford. As usual, redevelopment is seen as a luxury - something California can do without. In a built-out environment, however, how will new investment be facilitated? It won't.
- Dan Walters: California's State-Local Relationship in Flux. As usual, Capitol-veteran Walters has a keen eye on the historic dynamic of the situation.