Pleasanton experienced another year filled with accomplishments in 2018, and city leaders are poised for another year of highlights in 2019, Mayor Jerry Thorne said during his annual State of the City address Tuesday afternoon.
Thorne, who just started his final two-year term as mayor, touched on a range of topics during his 27-minute speech, from the local economy to housing and homelessness to downtown improvements and new public and private projects throughout Pleasanton to regional transportation and city infrastructure to ensuring Tri-Valley priorities remain intact amid state and federal political agendas.
"All in all, our vision and vigilance is paying off, and I am very, very proud to report to you today that the state of our city is strong and sound," Thorne said to nearly 275 city officials, regional government representatives, business professionals and other community members at the sold-out luncheon event.
"And I will pledge to you today that I intend to do everything I can to make sure it stays strong and sound," the mayor said, later adding: "And as we enter 2019, we do so with optimism and our custom of commitment -- to one another and our community."
The Pleasanton economy experienced another exceptional year in 2018, which contributed mightily to the city's record of achievements during the year, Thorne told the audience in a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel ballroom during the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce-sponsored presentation Tuesday.
"Without a healthy economy, we wouldn't be having conversations about a new park here or expanded services there," Thorne said.
The strong economy positioned the city to prioritize new public amenities, such as acquiring First Street property next to Lions Wayside Park, opening Harding Park, adding tennis courts to Tennis and Community Park and renovating locker rooms at Dolores Bengtson Aquatic Center, Thorne said.
It also laid the foundation for continued public milestones in 2018, like ongoing work for the Kottinger Gardens senior affordable housing project, the 25th anniversary of the Pleasanton Senior Center, a recycled water network that saved more than 400 million gallons of potable water and a new program that increased library card holders by 99%, according to the mayor.
"We wouldn't have been able to do any of these things without a strong economy," he said. "Well, I'm pleased to report that our economy remains strong, and so we are able to celebrate all of these things as we look forward to even more."
Driven by strong real estate values in Pleasanton, the city saw over $65 million in revenues from property taxes in the 2017-18 fiscal year -- more than double the amount brought in during the lowest points of the Great Recession in 2011 and 2012.
City operating revenues rose to just under $121 million during last fiscal year, while operating expenditures also increased but were kept to $107 million.
"Just as you all work to balance your family's finances, we have to balance our finances as well," Thorne said. "And I certainly wish other levels of government would learn that lesson. We all have to balance our budgets; so should they."
The city's prudent financial planning puts Pleasanton in better shape than most with regard to pension liabilities, Thorne said. The council allocated more than $25 million directly to CalPERS over the past few years and last year invested $28 million in a special Section 115 pension trust fund.
Another significant fiscal move last year involved the city updating its development impact fees comprehensively for the first time since 1998.
"Because development impact revenues make up a significant portion of the funding that supports projects that improve our quality of life ... it was important to bring these fees into alignment with other cities in our region," Thorne said.
Maintaining adequate and appropriate revenue sources is vital for the city, especially with sales tax funds still very much in flux in light of regional retail competition and online shopping, according to Thorne, who said the city continues to advocate for changing online sales tax allocation from point of shipping to point of consumer purchase.
Thorne highlighted recent retail developments in Pleasanton, including the new Pacific Pearl opening and Simon Property Group submitting plans for revitalizing Stoneridge Shopping Center.
The mayor also announced that as the Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone -- and associated Costco store, two hotels and other retail -- returns for reconsideration in 2019, he will re-enter the public discussion after recusing himself from the debate for over two years for perception reasons after owning (and then selling) Costco stock in an outside-managed retirement fund.
Thorne noted that retail vacancy in the city is hovering around 10%, saying "we have some room and flexibility to create new and exciting retail opportunities to help us flourish."
Pleasanton continues to rate well for jobs as well, with over 62,000 people employed within Pleasanton while city unemployment is at just under 3% and office vacancy under 10%, according to Thorne.
He also highlighted ongoing gains for the life sciences industry in Pleasanton, putting it forward as an example of the city partnering to help private industry thrive, rather than being an obstacle to innovative growth.
Inordinate regulation is certainly on the city's radar for 2019 -- when it comes to state legislators' proposals to address the housing shortfall in the Bay Area and statewide, according to Thorne.
"Everyone here is well aware of the housing crisis that we are facing throughout the state of California, and it's happening here in Pleasanton (as well)," the mayor said, later adding:
"We know the world is constantly changing, and it's changing quickly. In fact, sometimes, I wish it would kind of slow down a little bit to give us an opportunity to engage with our folks at the state level with a little collaboration, rather than having things shoved down our throats."
Thorne reported on a recent League of California Cities meeting he attended at which new Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed that the state would no longer "play small ball" on housing, which further brings the future of local control into doubt. "We aren't going to play small ball either," Thorne said.
"But the governor is making housing his No. 1 priority, and we can take this as an opportunity or an obstacle -- but whatever we think, we need to be more vigilant than ever in our planning processes going forward, and we have to be willing to get creative and get ahead of the game. And it makes sense for us to plan our city rather than allowing somebody else to do it," Thorne added.
He also interjected commentary about his recent trip to Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "Every time I come back, I am very, very glad to be home. You think things are a mess in California? Visit Washington," he said.
Tied closely to the housing debate is the scourge of homelessness, which is still being felt in Pleasanton despite its affluence, according to Thorne.
"I know we have been pretty well isolated from it ... (but) believe me, it's here," he said.
To help address the problem, the mayor pointed to a recent homeless count by city staff, expanded collaboration with CityServe of the Tri-Valley and neighboring municipalities and specialized training for several Pleasanton police officers to interact with homeless people.
"As a part of this collaboration, the Tri-Valley received more than a million dollars to bolster our efforts because we need to work together and form a place of compassion to address this vexing challenge," Thorne said.
Regional cooperation continues to be a focus for Pleasanton when it comes to transportation and traffic solutions as well.
The mayor spoke positively about his participation on the Regional Rail Authority with other elected leaders in the Tri-Valley and the San Joaquin Valley to construct a new commuter light rail over the Altamont Pass to better connect BART to ACE Train and San Joaquin communities.
They are aiming to complete the first phase from the Dublin-Pleasanton BART Station to north Lathrop for $1.8 billion, cheaper than BART estimated overall for extending conventional BART to Livermore before shooting that option down, Thorne said.
Completing Highway 84 improvements between Livermore and Sunol is another regional priority, and with full funding in place, Thorne said Alameda County Transportation Commission executive director promised him the agency will break ground on the final phase before his final term ends at the end of 2020.
In terms of city transportation infrastructure, the mayor spotlighted continued work to implement priorities in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, including West Las Positas Boulevard improvements, and plans to install updated traffic signal technology throughout the city.
Another significant city endeavor continuing this year is updating the Downtown Specific Plan, which was originally adopted in 1989 and hasn't been overhauled since 2002.
"Because we all need policies and plans that reflect our current community, we knew we needed to refresh our Downtown Specific Plan once again, and initiated that process in 2016," Thorne said.
In addition to key zoning changes, 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.
City staff, consultants and the Downtown Specific Plan Update Task Force have released their draft plan update for public review, and Thorne encouraged residents to check it out online (at www.ptowndtown.org).
"Some key highlights include two new land-use designations to help create a more dynamic downtown, a greater emphasis on retail-oriented ground-floor uses, development of a concept plan for a new civic center area and a range of streetscape enhancements in the heart of the downtown," he said.
'Commitment to community'
"Our custom in Pleasanton is to be committed to the health, careful planning and retention of our traditions as a community," Thorne said of another theme of his speech, "commitment to community."
The mayor commended the efforts of all city employees during the past year, while also singling out several standout achievements.
Thorne recalled the story of Pleasanton police Sgt. Marty Billdt using the Heimlich maneuver to help save a choking senior at a local restaurant in the fall. He also lauded Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department personnel for supporting wildfire responses throughout the state.
And Thorne thanked school district leaders and employees for maintaining Pleasanton's high-quality schools, including Fairlands, Hearst and Lydiksen elementary schools being designated as California Distinguished Schools last year.
"As many of you know, this is my last term as mayor, and there's still a whole lot I want to see get done before I pass the torch and the gavel to my successor," Thorne said to the audience. "So, as some things change, we also maintain our custom -- to serve our community and remain committed to keeping Pleasanton uniquely Pleasanton."