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Mayor cautiously optimistic for 2010

Mayor cautiously optimistic for 2010

Mayor John Lazar


POSTED February 12, 2010 10:13 p.m.

Turlock Mayor John Lazar set out a vision of an economically challenging year for the City of Turlock that remained rife with opportunity in his 2010 State of the City Address, delivered on Wednesday at the Turlock Chamber of Commerce Membership Breakfast.

“I am calling on all City employees, elected officials, and community members to play an active role in moving Turlock through this difficult time and into the possibilities of a brighter future,” Lazar said. “Based on the pool of talent, level of passion and unwavering commitment to our community, I am confident we will succeed.”

Lazar cited a decline in revenues, brought about by the economic crisis, which forced the city to reprioritize services and reinvent the city in 2009. He said that the city’s future depends on economic development and job creation, which can be made possible through a focus on customer service and a devotion to efficiency at City Hall.

“We must adopt the adage of our private sector counterparts which proclaims ‘the customer is king!’” Lazar said. “… While it may take some time to get everyone on board, together we can begin to steer this ship in a new direction.”

Lazar lauded creative solutions that “challenged the norm” at City Hall, including the city unions’ 2009 acceptance of a voluntary 5 percent salary reduction through 2011 to assist the city in meeting its budgetary goals.

The Mayor went on to lay out successes achieved across the City’s departments in 2009, ranging from the renovation of Columbia Park to housing assistance programs and the pending Del’s Lane transit transfer center – all made possible in part or whole by state and federal funds. Lazar referenced his visit to Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Session, and emphasized the importance of continuing to fight for a “fair share” of stimulus funds in this down budgetary year.

The City’s efforts in fighting crime were another high point of Lazar’s speech, focusing on a 20 percent reduction of overall crime over the past two years. Lazar linked that success with a new crime analysis program that tracks, analyzes, and forecasts crime to allow for more proactive policing.

Other successes noted by Lazar included the numerous Redevelopment Agency projects – the Public Safety Facility, Carnegie Arts Center, and Joe Debeley Stadium renovation – grants for firefighter training and radios, and the Turlock Regional Water Quality Control Facility’s recognition as “Plant of the Year” by the Northern San Joaquin Section of the California Water Environment Association. Lazar said the city’s wastewater treatment plant offered a “significant competitive advantage” for the City of Turlock in attracting new businesses, and considered the possibilities of selling recycled wastewater to needy farmers in the county’s westside.

The Mayor’s speech consistently returned to the possibilities for economic development in the City of Turlock, noting “wins” in the city’s Westside Industrial Specific Plan industrial park last year, the establishment of three new hotels, and the City’s ability to host large sporting and entertainment events – including the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field championships.

But while economic opportunities are out there, they may be hard to find. Other speakers at the breakfast, including Turlock Police Chief Gary Hampton, County District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa, Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny Da Marto, and Bill Bassitt, CEO of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, all painted grim pictures of continuing cuts and declining revenues.

Turlock’s Economic Development and Redevelopment Manager Heidi McNally-Dial agreed that a rough year awaits the city during her speech, but noted it’s not all doom and gloom for the City of Turlock.

McNally-Dial said Turlock has comparatively low foreclosure rates and that homes have retained their value better than in most Stanislaus County cities. She pointed to new businesses popping up around down – including the new Rite Aid and CVS Pharmacies on Monte Vista Avenue – a low vacancy rate at Monte Vista Crossings, and a year-over-year decline in downtown vacancies from 25 percent to about 17 percent.

And, while McNally-Dial said little industrial construction is going on in the state, the WISP has done surprisingly well in attracting 500,000 square feet of new industrial construction with an additional 700,000 square feet of industrial and commercial projects approved across the city, just waiting for the economy to improve.

The economy appears to be making some tentative steps back, she said, with manufacturing orders inching up for the first time in two years and new housing developments beginning to break ground once again. And when the time for growth comes, McNally-Dial thinks Turlock is ready.

“We are ideally positioned for any users that need to be in the Valley,” McNally-Dial said. “I believe 2010 is still going to be tough, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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