Describing the global economic crisis of 2008 as a "wake-up call," Mayor Jennifer Hosterman said the city government "saddled up" and adapted to the uncertain and troubled economy, realigning its goals and municipal payroll, postponing major projects, imposing a hiring freeze on all but the most essential positions and holding off where it could on replacing vehicles and equipment purchases.
"Instead of the wake-up call we had in 2008, 2009 has been a call to action to respond to these dramatic changes," Hosterman said in her "State of the City" report last Tuesday.
Speaking at a meeting hosted by the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce at the Pleasanton Hilton Hotel, Hosterman said that by staying focused, the city has been able to navigate its way through the economic hardships without layoffs at City Hall or any major curtailment of city services and programs.
"Although the recession has had a major impact on the city's General Fund revenues, which have declined by $7 million dollars over the past three years, we have found ways to adapt," she explained. "For example, like most Americans, we are living within our means. This has been achieved by reducing General Fund costs and operating transfers. The General Fund finances most of our day-to-day services such as public safety, parks, library and street maintenance. Our budgeted revenues this year are just over $87 million dollars, short of the $94-million peak we experienced in 2007-08."
She said the city government has reduced its employee roster through reorganizations and attrition. Along with other California cities, Pleasanton is also evaluating its compensation structure in an effort to reduce labor costs.
"We are all doing more with less, becoming more efficient and reducing funding on capital projects until the economy improves," she said.
"We are fortunate to be a city that still has options that many others do not," she added. "This past year, the League of California Cities reported that more than 40 cities passed a resolution declaring a state of severe hardship. These include some of our Northern California neighbors such as Palo Alto, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Millbrae, San Anselmo and South San Francisco, to name just a few."
"These drastic cuts are across-the-board and in some cases, such as in Tracy and Stockton, may affect public safety with reductions in the police force," Hosterman said. "Throughout the area, employee layoffs, hiring freezes, project delays, program reductions and many other severe changes have been necessary."
Still, Pleasanton is not without concerns this year and in coming years as the state seeks to close its $21-billion-plus budget deficit, partly by grabbing revenue from local governments.
"State and county services have been impacted in ways most of us hadn't even considered," Hosterman explained. "For example, the gas tax, which the state distributes to counties to fund road maintenance, is on the governor's list to be retracted and the effect could be devastating. If that proposal passes through the legislature, California drivers can expect more potholes, unruly vegetation on medians and roadsides, dirtier byways because of no street sweeping, and a slower response to emergencies such as mudslides."
"Thinking of heading to the snow to take a break from all this bad news?" she asked her audience. "Watch the weather and plan your trip carefully because state budget cuts have limited snow removal on I-80 this winter during non-holiday periods. Caltrans has just under $2 million to do $4 million worth of work."
Pleasanton residents and businesses are also feeling the pain. According to Hosterman, commercial vacancies are at a 20-percent peak. The real estate market has its hands tied because some buyers can't secure financing. Nor is the city immune to the global economic impacts and some in the city are among the growing legion of Americans whose primary job, Hosterman said, "is now to look for a job."
"The job situation will erode further in the spring when the NUMMI plant closes, impacting Pleasanton and regional residents who work at NUMMI, and those working for ancillary businesses that support the plant."
So, how is Pleasanton going to survive the storm?
"By being resilient and continuing to tweak and adapt our plans as we progress toward our goals," Hosterman answered. "Someone once said to write your goals in cement and your plans in the sand. The concept applies here."
Our goals remain firm and we will adapt our plans as needed to meet them," she explained. "My fellow city council members and I are totally committed to maintaining the high quality of life that our residents and businesses expect. We are equally bound to a conservative fiscal policy that helps to insulate Pleasanton from the perils of the global economy."
She said these primary goals include maintaining excellent schools, a state-of-the art infrastructure, multiple transportation options, clean streets, green parks and street medians, low crime statistics and environmental solutions for waste.
Citing the budget shortfall facing the Pleasanton school district, Hosterman said the community must come together to resolve the crisis. Reform for education spending at the state level is paramount to this effort and she urged everyone to join in supporting better state funding of schools.
Despite the challenging economic climate, Hosterman said the city had many accomplishments in 2009, including some continuing forward at this time. This includes the $10-million Firehouse Performing Arts Center in downtown Pleasanton that is scheduled to open later this year.
"It will serve as a beautiful venue for entertainment and the arts that are compatible with and complementary to our historic downtown," Hosterman said.
"We've also made great strides on the approval process for the Staples Ranch development," she added. "This signature project will result in a premier senior housing complex, an ice rink that will serve as a regional destination and retail opportunities that will help to bolster our fiscal sustainability."
The city also opened its 13-acre baseball sports complex in Bernal Community Park, "launching a 17-year effort that will result in an impressive recreational resource that is one-half the size of New York City's Central Park," Hosterman said. "Planning is now under way for Phase Two of what will ultimately be a fabulous amenity for ours and future generations to enjoy."
Alviso Adobe Community Park, now in its second year of operation, saw more than 60 class groups tour the facility last year to learn about the roots of the valley and its role in the region's history. More than 100 school groups are expected to visit the park this year.
Last summer, the city launched a free "Movies in the Park" program at DeLucchi Park, with hundreds turning out to enjoy movies under the stars.
And, given the state of the economy, Hosterman said it was no surprise that the Pleasanton Public Library broke all-time patronage records in 2009. The library parking lot also shared its space with a new activity, Hosterman said, when the city brought to the downtown area an outdoor Sharks holiday ice rink, which attracted several hundred skaters each day per day with daily skating lessons regularly sold out.
"Our significant efforts to improve regional transportation are also starting to pay off," Hosterman said. "Eastbound Interstate 580 High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and sections of State Route 84 improvements are under construction, and we have made a strong case to our partner agencies that completion of the widening of the southern section of SR 84 is critical to congestion management and relief in the entire corridor.
BART to Livermore also remains on the city's radar, Hosterman said as she reiterated Pleasanton's commitment to that project.
" We also look forward to having a voice in this vital project, and are pleased to have been invited to participate in that process," Hosterman said "We were equally pleased to read that (Alameda County) Supervisor Scott Haggerty does not support a Chain of Lakes alignment for the proposed BART extension route."
Through the formation of the new Hacienda Task Force and the upcoming planning process, Hosterman said the city will explore the possibilities of transit-oriented development in ways that complement the environment of the Hacienda Business Park. The project has the potential to solve multiple issues facing Pleasanton and meet Pleasanton's goals of becoming a more sustainable city.
In her "State of the City" address, the mayor also emphasized the "dedicated substantial effort and resources" her administration has placed on supporting Pleasanton-based businesses over the past year.
"Our small and medium-sized businesses are a critical segment of both the local and national economies," she said. "Working with our neighboring cities of Dublin, Livermore and San Ramon and the Alameda County Small Business Development Center, we hosted a series of Small Business Workshops that drew a broad audience. Participants learned about business plans, how to access capital, legal and business issues, marketing, and much more. We also implemented a number of business assistance programs, including Fee Deferral Programs that can facilitate construction during this period of severe credit constraint."
Among the city's other accomplishments in 2009, Hosterman reported, were:
A new supermarket -- 99 Ranch Market -- is moving into the former Levitz Furniture site in the Rose Pavilion, along with a new Carpetland store, Ross Stores, headquartered in the Carr America Center, posted impressive gains in 2009 and Safeway, one of the country's largest grocers with headquarters in Pleasanton, reported a 12-percent increase in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Crime in Pleasanton was down 13 percent last year compared to 2008. Injury accidents were down by 8 percent. The rate of serious crimes that were solved last year was up by 30 percent.
Pleasanton joined with Dublin in sponsoring a mass H1N1 flu clinic at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, with more than 850 residents inoculated.
In partnership with the National League of Cities, the city launched a new discount prescription drug program that can be used to purchase prescriptions that are not covered by an insurance or Medicare prescription plan. The discount cards, available at the library, the Senior Center and the Parks and Community Services Department, offer an average savings of 20 percent off the retail price of prescription drugs.
Last fall, the library offered a free series on Diabetes Management, presented by the Alameda County Public Health's Diabetes Program. In light of the program's large turn-out, another class will be offered next summer.
"As you can see," Hosterman said, "the work of your city continues, even in these tough times. We are committed to weathering this storm and, in the process, continuing to provide the best services possible to our residents. If there is an up-side to the current economic challenge, it has been to re-focus everyone's attention and foster a new way of thinking for both business and government."