It's the economy, stupid!
Those weren't the exact words but that was the message from all five Tri-Valley mayors Tuesday to a question about what's their biggest concern for their cities in the year ahead.
The mayors, who were participating in a discussion on "Obstacles and Opportunities for a Stronger Economy" at the annual Tri-Valley Mayors Summit, also agreed that while times are tough at a time of falling sales and property tax revenue, the cities here are in much better shape than many others in the Bay Area, or even in all of California.
Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman said that while her city has not filled more than 40 municipal job vacancies that have developed over the past two years, new multi-million-dollar business developments bode well for a brighter economic future.
Danville Mayor Mike Doyle said his town, sandwiched between the mega-retail and business centers in Walnut Creek, San Ramon and Pleasanton, has made $400,000 in special grants to local retailers to use in enhancing their "curb appeal."
"To date, we have awarded over 60 grants and these businesses are still with us," Doyle told the 200 guests at the mayors' forum. "This has been a very popular program and it shows the business community that we are in this together."
Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena said that although a tight municipal budget for the current fiscal year has caused some layoffs and the likely closing of one of the city's three public libraries, the renovated downtown district is thriving. New, innovative programs for research companies also are under way in conjunction with the expansion of private laboratory space outside the gates of the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories that will make the Livermore area more competitive with Silicon Valley.
Dublin also is experiencing tough economic times but Mayor Tim Sbranti said new development is in the works that will change that. This includes a new Target Superstore at the east end of Dublin and more retail near the downtown core, including a new West Dublin-Pleasanton BART station that will open next spring and a new retail stores inside the nearby now-closed Circuit City store.
"Dublin has provided sales tax reimbursements so that retailers can come to our city and make improvements on businesses here already," Sbranti said. "We've expedited our permit process, reduced parking requirements and are allowing more outdoor dining to attract more business."
Mayor Abram Wilson of San Ramon, the Republican candidate for the 15th State Assembly District seat now held by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-15th), who is seeking re-election, was more upbeat about his city's financial situation now and even more optimistic about the year ahead.
"We are always proactive, not reactive in meeting the needs of local businesses that drive our economy," Wilson said. "We've kept our business license fees at $350 because we realize these businesses operate on a very thin profit margin and we want to help."
Besides "Innovation Tri-Valley," the new research program that Livermore has under way near the Livermore lab, Pleasanton appears to be in the best financial shape as the new fiscal year moves forward.
Hosterman said a new, privately-financed independent living and care facility for seniors, called Stoneridge Creek, has been approved and should start construction by mid-2011 on Staples Ranch, a 124-acre undeveloped parcel owned by Alameda County southwest of the I-580-El Charro Road interchange. That property, which is scheduled to be annexed into Pleasanton in January, will also hold a new auto mall and eventually a retail center and possibly an ice arena.
At the west end of Pleasanton, Safeway has the approvals to build a new Lifestyle supermarket with a retail center around it across from the Alameda County Fairgrounds on Bernal and Valley Avenues, along the east edge of I-680. In addition, Clorox Corp. received final approvals Tuesday night from the Pleasanton City Council to add a sixth building to a corporate campus it is acquiring from the old Washington Mutual Bank near Hopyard Road and Stoneridge Drive. It plans to move 900 employees into the new campus next year, including 700 from its corporate headquarters n downtown Oakland.
Besides the economy, the mayors also agreed that traffic congestion, over-regulation by the state and global competition are among other major concerns.
"We have to recognize that companies don't have to be located in the U.S. anymore to do business here," Kamena said. "Other countries are investing in business growth and innovation. We're competing with the rest of the world, not just with each other or nationally. That's why we have to continue investment here and to grow our skilled workforce."
Added Danville's Mayor Doyle: "We need to continue to work together as a region to maintain this wonderful quality of life that we have here. There are good economic opportunities for businesses of all sizes."
"Shop Local" campaigns in both Danville and Pleasanton also are promoting retail and restaurant businesses. Pleasanton's kicks off this month; Danville's has been under way with considerable success, the mayors said.
Most important—and possibly unique—is the union of the five mayors, they said.
"The fact that all five of us with different personalities and from different communities are sitting here as a team is the exception among California cities, not the rule," San Ramon's Wilson said. "This is what government is supposed to do…putting away partisan politics and working on programs and issues that are good for all."
The Mayors Forum is held annually, sponsored alternately by each city's Chamber of Commerce. This year, the Pleasanton Chamber hosted the event, held at the Palm Event Center in Pleasanton.