The city of Ventura has long been a cornerstone of innovative and progressive planning. With so much of the focus of the public in the past year on the negative actions of small cities in Southern California, TPR presents excerpts from Ventura Mayor Bill Fulton's State of the City address earlier this year to highlight a small city emerging from the Great Recession with a sober but optimistic outlook on the present and the future.
After what all of us have been through in 2010, as your mayor, the message that comes to my mind is, "Whew!"
We made it through a year when money was in short supply for everybody, the political rhetoric everywhere became much more unforgiving, and, whether we liked it or not, the choices before us were choices would have never before considered.
But what's remarkable is that despite all these travails, our spirit as a community has not been dampened. Ventura remains a place where people love to live their lives, run their businesses, and enjoy everyday life.
We have made it through some very difficult times by working together, by making sacrifices, by finding new ways to do things, and by undertaking efforts that inspire us and lift our spirits...
...First, from our perspective here at City Hall, I want to reassure everybody that our city is in good financial shape. Our budget is balanced and has been all through this dark time.
Now, let me hasten to add we don't like the way we've balanced it. We've had to cut many important things and we know that our reduced level of services is not sustainable. We must find ways to bring our services back so we can maintain our city's quality of life.
But it's important to note that we have not shirked from the tough choices. Other cities have papered over their problems and now they will face severe cuts. We have attacked the issue of declining revenue head-on-meaning that future cuts will not be nearly as painful as other cities will see...
...We also have our employees to thank. They have agreed to changes and reforms that will help make our future city budgets sustainable. One of my greatest concerns is that even when the economy recovers, we will not be able to restore necessary services because of increased pension costs. But just this month, our employees agreed to contribute to their own pensions, thus covering increased cost of pensions and they agreed to pension reform for future employees, which will save us a great deal in the long run.
These changes require sacrifice on the part of our employees but will help our city to focus, as revenues increase, on restoring those services that we desperately need to bring back...
...One of the most important accomplishments of the last year has been to partner with other organizations in the community to get things done.
Perhaps the most important partnership we have forged in the last year is with the Greater Ventura Chamber of Commerce. We cannot succeed as a city without a strong and involved business community and the Chamber has reinvented itself during tough times with great gusto and energy...
...Amazingly enough, we have also seen remarkable progress in constructing and remodeling a wide variety of buildings and facilities downtown-helping to strengthen Downtown Ventura as the very epicenter of our region. Last year, the WAV was completed. During this past year, the Kingdom Center has opened. So did Phase 1 of the Museum of Ventura County's expansion, including the fabulous Smith Event Center. We've seen refurbishment and new vitality at the E.P. Foster Library. And we've seen the Housing Authority begin construction at Encanto del Mar at Oak and Thompson; and People's Self-Help Housing begin renovation of the historic and beautiful El Patio Hotel just a block away.
These would be remarkable achievements at any time. But to accomplish them all in 2010-the worst year in recorded history for construction in the United States-is truly remarkable...
...Now, we must all work together to channel all of our energies toward charting "The Way Forward" here in Ventura.
And I do mean all of us-everyone in the community, working together.
The decisions we make up here every Monday night about what to fund and what to approve-yes, these are important. But we can't do it alone-and, these days, nobody trusts us to do it all by ourselves anyway. But with all of us working together-government agencies, nonprofit organizations, private businesses, individuals-we can do a much better job of figuring out what's right for our community and a much more effective job of getting it done.
I think I can speak for all seven of us up here when I say that we must focus on two important and inter-related goals.
First, working with all of you to create a sustainable and enduring prosperity for our community.
And second, using that prosperity to maintain and enhance our quality of life.
Let me begin with prosperity, because without prosperity, we cannot succeed as a community.
I have spent most of my life trying to understand how cities work, and I can say one thing: whether they grow or increase in population, they never stay the same. To prosper-and to maintain a high quality of life-cities have to reinvent themselves economically again and again.
Ventura has already reinvented itself many times, from mission town to fishing town to agricultural center to oil boomtown to government town-and we remain all these things to some extent today. But we cannot stand still. We must continue to forge ahead, reinvent ourselves-find enduring prosperity in the 21st century global economy while retaining the small-town feel we all cherish.
Everything we are moving forward with right now is focused on exactly this goal-and these efforts are tightly intertwined.
We talk a lot about creativity and artists galleries and projects like the WAV. Sometimes it seems like we have staked our whole future on art galleries, artist housing, and arts events. Some people love this; others are understandably skeptical.
Arts and culture are important for their own sake. But they're also important as a way to connect to the fast-growing creative and innovation economies regionally and worldwide, which we in Ventura must be a part of to prosper in the future.
The creative arts-performance, visual arts, graphic and architectural design, publishing, fashion-represent one of the fastest-growing sectors of the American economy. No American city will be able to prosper in the future without nurturing these creative arts. The future of the creative arts in Ventura is virtually unlimited-and essential to our future in so many different ways.
Over the last year, we have increased our visibility in Hollywood with the Film Ventura! initiative, which kicked off last fall at our downtown movie complex with a screening of the independent film, "Not Fade Away," by local filmmaker Meredith Markworth Pollack. This effort has reminded us that we have an enormous supply of local film talent here in Ventura-actors, craftspeople, and even many writers and producers...
...The creative economy is important to our future prosperity, but it will not sustain us all by itself. The creative economy is important to Ventura for a much bigger reason as well-it provides us with an important connection to the worldwide innovation economy. Creating new products and new services-especially using the Internet-today serves as the engine of the global economy.
No city can prosper in the 21st century without strong, local innovators. Innovators are themselves creative and they thrive on a lively and creative local community.
That's why our Ventura Ventures Technology Center on the 3d Floor of 505 Poli Street has been so successful. V2TC is now home to 19 startup companies. The entrepreneurs located there are changing the way the world uses information-through online advertising, geographic location systems, online marketing, and many other innovative ideas. They're drawn to Ventura not just by this incubator but also by the high quality of life, the recreational opportunities, and the creative buzz in our downtown...
...Creative artists, designers, and entrepreneurs are essential components in creating enduring prosperity. But businesses cannot succeed without startup capital. And local capital is especially important. If we can finance our innovative companies through local sources, then the resulting wealth will stay in our community, to be recycled into yet more business ventures and also providing the basis for local philanthropy...
...There is yet another dimension to our future prosperity, one that is also linked to creativity and the global innovation economy-the medical and biotech fields.
Here in Ventura, we have long been blessed with extremely high-quality medical care, thanks largely to our two fine hospitals and all the medical talent they attract to our community. This year, we've seen both our hospitals make major, forward-looking investments in Ventura.
Community Memorial Hospital is building a new cancer center and is about to embark on a $300 million expansion that will improve medical care, create new business spinoff opportunities in the medical and biotech fields, and help to revitalize business in the Five Points area. It is inspiring to see such an enormous investment in our community during these tough times. And the new CMH will also be a place where biotech entrepreneurs will be able to create and innovate, bringing even more jobs and wealth to Ventura.
The Ventura County Medical Center is also about to embark on a major hospital expansion, adding even more good-paying jobs-construction jobs and medical jobs-to our community. Together, these institutions make Ventura a center of medical care and medical innovation...
...The purpose of building prosperity, of course, is to provide the funds-public, private, and philanthropic-necessary maintain and improve our quality of life.
Part of "The Way Forward" here in Ventura must be to refocus on our quality of life for all citizens. My colleagues and I on the council look forward to renewing our long partnership with the Ventura Unified School District and Superintendent Trudy Arriaga-not only to ensure safe and high-performing schools but also to work together toward major community goals that will benefit everyone in our community. Yes, Trudy, we will build the Westside Pool.
We also have to focus on our neighborhoods. Ventura's neighborhoods are great places to live. But they've taken a beating in the last couple of years, as we at City Hall have been forced to cut back on many basic services that neighborhoods depend on-police and fire service, park and median maintenance, tree-trimming, street paving, and libraries.
Again, we on this dais are committed to working in collaboration with our neighborhoods to create stability and improve the quality of life. I'd like to thank the chairs of Ventura's Community Councils for meeting with me regularly to discuss these issues. And I'm proud to announce that we are all working together to bring about Ventura's first-ever Neighborhood Summit later this spring.
Lastly, I would like to note that, in approaching the future, we must be inclusive. Ventura is a diverse community, and we must ensure that all residents share both our prosperity and our quality of life. Frankly, we have fallen behind in our efforts to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensuring that every place in our community is welcoming to everyone. I look forward to the city's rollout in 2011 of new efforts to make our community more accessible to those with disabilities.
As a person who is rapidly developing a severe disability, I have learned that there is no such thing as a disability of the heart or spirit. We are blessed in Ventura with fabulous people active in promoting the cause of those with disabilities. I'd like to thank Chera Minkler for being a personal inspiration to me-as an advocate for the disabled and as a person with great compassion for all.
Here in Ventura, "The Way Forward" inevitably involves a look backward toward the past. We are a city of history. Ventura was incorporated as a municipality in 1866; and, indeed, of the 481 cities in California, only 22 are older than we are.
On April 2, 2016, our city will celebrate its 150th anniversary. In case you're counting, that's 1,880 days from today.
So here's a challenge: Let's dedicate ourselves to making Ventura's new prosperity-and much better quality of life-a reality by that date. Let's make sure that, by then, we are:
• A city that has successfully combined our creativity, our innovation, and our opportunities to create a new and lasting prosperity
• A city that has fulfilled its commitment: great education, high-quality public safety, great medical care, great parks and recreation, and by the way, a great place for all kinds of people to live.
In short, let's make ourselves the best small city in California.
We have a long list of things we know we must accomplish to achieve renewed prosperity and a better quality of life. So here's my challenge: I ask you to join me in a concerted effort to get those things done.
Within 90 days, let's form a group of community leaders to lead this effort. Within 3 to 6 months, let's agree on a to-do list-the high priority things we must do to establish long-term prosperity and a better quality of life by 2016. And then let's spend every day between now and then getting things done, crossing items off the list, until we have made sure Ventura will be a great place to live and work for the next generation...
...So let's get going. Let's make every day count. Let's make each one of these days count.