2017 was filled with achievements throughout Pleasanton, and city leaders are positioning themselves for another year of highlights in 2018, Mayor Jerry Thorne said during his State of the City address Tuesday afternoon.
The third-term mayor covered a range of topics during his 35-minute speech, from housing and the Pleasanton economy to regional transportation and city infrastructure to interacting with state and federal officials to advance Tri-Valley priorities and engaging local stakeholders to improve the city's downtown.
"Here in Pleasanton, as a 'City of Planned Progress,' we do tackle these big issues, but we do it our way -- we do it carefully, thoughtfully and with great deliberation," Thorne said to nearly 275 city officials, regional government representatives, business professionals and other community members at the luncheon event.
"I'm very pleased and honored to be able to report to you today that the state of our city is very, very strong, and our accomplishments in 2017 were substantial and remarkable," he added.
The Pleasanton economy experienced another robust year in 2017, Thorne told the audience in a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel ballroom during the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce-sponsored presentation Tuesday.
"Partially in response to the overall national economic recovery and partly through our own fiscal prudence and initiatives, Pleasanton saw progress on a number of fronts through vision, planning, and fiscal discipline," the mayor said.
The city finished the 2016-17 fiscal year last summer with a $6.5 million surplus, money the city set aside toward operating reserves, capital improvements and its unfunded pension liabilities.
Of pension debt, Thorne said though Pleasanton is better positioned than most cities in the state, the problem will still be tough for the city to handle. "We're getting close to a light at the end of the tunnel, but folks, it's a long tunnel," he said. "But I think we have the ability to get there with our staff."
Around Pleasanton, unemployment stands at 2% (half the state level) and commercial and industrial vacancy rates remain low, at 6% and under 1%, respectively, the mayor said.
Thorne highlighted private sector achievements such as Gritstone 12 Oncology opening a new bio-manufacturing facility in Hacienda with a focus on finding new therapies to cure cancer.
Supporting the biotechnology industry in Pleasanton will be among his leading priorities for the year ahead, Thorne said. "I think cities should be partners with business. Too often, they're at odds with each other. And hopefully our government here in Pleasanton is working very, very hard to be partners with the business community."
The housing shortfall will continue to impact Bay Area cities in 2018, and Pleasanton is no exception.
"We're all concerned about what we see going on and having its impact on the small-town character of this city," Thorne said. "But it's short-sighted to think that Pleasanton doesn't have a role in creating more affordable housing opportunities."
"Because, let's face it," the mayor added, "in order to have a vibrant economy, you need jobs. And if you're going to create jobs, you have to have a place for them to live."
California ranks 49th out of the 50 states for housing units per capita, and home ownership is at its lowest point since the 1940s, Thorne said.
The goal for Pleasanton will be to create a variety of housing stock while maximizing the city's local control as much as possible about land-use decisions, according to the mayor.
"Each community is different, and there is no 'one size fits all' solution when it comes to housing. I want to make that very, very clear to our folks in the State Legislature," Thorne said. "Rest assured that we're doing everything in our power to retain as much local control as we possibly can," he said.
Thorne also said he was proud the city worked to support affordable housing for some of the most in-need populations during the past year, including completing Phase I and starting Phase II of the Kottinger Gardens senior complex and endorsing the Sunflower Hill residential community for adults with special needs.
"Considerable progress" was made in the past year toward key city and regional transportation improvements, according to Thorne.
At the forefront was the state approving legislation co-sponsored by local Assemblywoman Catharine Baker to create the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority, an agency whose sole task is to deliver a BART to ACE Train connection.
That project could provide vital traffic relief throughout the region, on top of other long-standing efforts already built or under construction, the mayor said.
"We all know that interstates 580 and 680 and State Route 84 continue to be some of the busiest routes in the Bay Area, but with the new express lanes, we made progress," Thorne added. "And while the widening of State Route 84 began many, many years ago, I'm happy to report that as of yesterday the project is fully funded."
At the local level, the city implemented a variety of transportation infrastructure and safety projects in 2017.
"We updated the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan last year and made it a priority to create more and safer connections to the city's bicycle network system. Because you know what? Riding a bike shouldn't be just for the fearless and the strong," Thorne said. "It should be for all of us."
The $34 million in capital improvement projects included completing renovations on Stanley Boulevard between First and Main streets, repairing the Old Bernal Bridge and starting work to fix Valley Avenue soundwalls, according to Thorne.
"We got a lot done last year, and as you can see, we'll keep it up," he said.
Thorne also highlighted ongoing efforts to enhance and encourage the evolution of downtown Pleasanton -- "the heart of our city," as he put it.
"But why do a few blocks, and some historical buildings, create such deep feelings in a community like this? How is it that an entire community is defined by a handful of streets?" Thorne asked, rhetorically.
"Because that's what public spaces do. They create a sense of place. They invite people to gather ... to sit, talk and connect," Thorne said. "Most importantly, public spaces influence the look and feel of the entire community. And, they set the standards by which the entire community defines itself."
To that end, a City Council-appointed task force remains hard at work to draft a proposed update to the city's Downtown Specific Plan, Thorne said.
"Things do change over time. That's inevitable," the mayor added. "How we evolve our public buildings, streets, landscapes and other spaces to keep pace -- while keeping true to Pleasanton -- is the real challenge before this task force."
Central to the downtown discussion will be whether to support a new library and civic center, relocating those city functions to the Bernal property and allowing the current city buildings downtown to be redeveloped in the future.
"Now, there a lot of facts and figures to support the need for a new library," Thorne said. "And I'm looking for someone in the community -- that's not elected or not part of a commission -- to champion that activity."
That debate, along with discussions on the draft Downtown Specific Plan update, will follow in the months and years ahead, according to the mayor.
"Today, though, I want us to agree that if public spaces define a city and our job is to make books and learning and hiking and biking and playing available, we want Pleasanton to be defined by something other than 30-year-old portable buildings and an over-crowded library, which, by the way, is the most-visited building in the city of Pleasanton," Thorne said, adding:
"The example we set by the public spaces -- indoors and out -- have the opportunity to create that."
State and federal relations
Speaking of fine examples, Thorne lauded the efforts of the Tri-Valley's two state representatives -- Republican Baker and Democrat State Senator Steve Glazer.
"These legislators demonstrate just how bipartisanship should work, and I think they can provide a very good example for the rest of Sacramento and the city of Washington, D.C.," Thorne said to applause. "I can't imagine either of them being more supportive or a better friend to Pleasanton."
Thorne also talked about his recent trip to Washington, D.C., with the four other Tri-Valley mayors to advocate for regional priorities with federal officials.
He said the lobbying trip was productive, and he was encouraged by conversations with federal officials about funding for BART to ACE and proposed support programs for military veterans in need.
Thorne also said that visiting the nation's capital reminded him of what it will take to advance true progress on widespread goals.
"Whether you're a fan or foe of the new administration or of Congress, I think we can all admit that there's really something different going on in Washington, D.C. in how people communicate with each other -- it's very disruptive. And I think we in this city, we're really trying to unify," Thorne explained. "There's a direct link I think between civic interest and being civil, because without civility, we just can't make progress. All we're going to do is alienate each other."
'Community of Character'
"Pleasanton truly is a 'community of character,' made up of people who take great pride in the services that we are able to provide to our community," Thorne said during his closing remarks.
The mayor commended the efforts of all city employees during the past year, while also singling out several standout achievements.
Thorne highlighted Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department firefighters Glen Doty, Scott Otvos and Jim Schulz for serving on a strike team that battled devastating wildfires in Napa County.
He told the story of Pleasanton police officers Keith Batt and Ken McNeill surprising two young brothers from Donlon Elementary School by picking them up at home, taking them out for donuts and dropping them off at school with lights and sirens blaring.
The mayor applauded City Manager Nelson Fialho for receiving recognition from his peers for 25 years of public service.
And Thorne thanked school district leaders and employees for maintaining Pleasanton's high-quality schools, including Amador Valley High School being named the state's only National Blue Ribbon School among comprehensive high schools.
"To be 'Pleasanton Proud' is to recognize we are a community of people who are civil, generous, productive and caring," Thorne said. "That's the community that I'm 'Pleasanton Proud' to serve. Thank you for the opportunity to do so."