Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox presented her sixth annual State of the City address Tuesday night at City Hall. Residents, city staff and business owners packed in for a full house.
Several dignitaries sat in the audience, including former Chula Vista mayor Shirley Horton, former councilman Mitch Thompson and Southwestern board member and former Chula Vista mayor Tim Nader.
Thompson said Cox’s speech was based in reality.
“I couldn’t say that last year,” he said. “I liked the tenor of optimism and the fact that we’ve got a major development on the west side with the Urbana project.”
Cox started with a focus on education and Chula Vista’s future.
“The building blocks for a thriving Chula Vista lie in the minds of our children,” she said.
Last year, Cox hosted two community conferences called Graduation Works which support public education in the city and move more students toward high school graduation, college and career opportunities.
“We have to be serious about creating jobs, serious about our children learning to read at grade level by third grade and absolutely serious about their graduating from high school,” Cox said.
Nader said there’s a big need to save community colleges from further cuts to education.
“I commend Cox for showing leadership at the city level but it will take more than a city to turn things around,” Nader said.
Horton said Cox’s speech pointed out several successes including managing pension issues and moving away from a budget deficit.
“I think she’s doing a good job with fiscal management,” Horton said.
Cox said that when coupled with layoffs, pension reform has been painful and not without sacrifice.
“But each department has continued to deliver to the best of their abilities,” she said.
She said that in the long run, pension reform is the most significant action the city took to secure the city’s financial health.
“In the short term we have one more year in which to wrestle a projected $3 million shortfall for fiscal year 2012-13 before the economic turnaround is more certain,” she said.
The City Council recently took money out of its reserves to pay for a portion of the work on Third Avenue’s streetscape plan to revitalize the downtown area.
“To that end, I ask my colleagues to work to replenish our reserves to more than 10 percent by the time I leave office in 2014 and take action to avoid situations like the one we recently faced.”
In 2009, the council took action to raise reserves to 15 percent of the general fund.
Cox said that although it will take time to see results, healthy reserves encourage investment, which helps employment and generates more revenue for services.
Cox also said that focusing on revenue generation means focusing on local spending and avoiding deficit spending.
“It comes down to keeping it local and the city of Chula Vista will do its part to support that effort,” she said.
Cox also discussed what she called the city’s “ambitious projects.”
“2011 brought good news on three fronts,” she said, “transportation, the university and the bayfront.”
Cox said the more SR-125 is used, the further the tolls will drop, which will also reduce traffic congestion on local roads.
“This is quite possibly the most immediate economic catalyst for Chula Vista and South Bay businesses and residents,” she said.
Cox also said the future University Park has the potential to become an international economic and educational hub, drawing a high demand for institutions of higher education.
“Higher education and its accompanying research and development are cornerstones to this effort,” she said.
And finally, the bayfront, which Cox said is proof that great days are ahead for Chula Vista.
Cox said that bayfront development will generate $1.3 billion for the regional economy in the next 20 years.
“We now have a table set for our bayfront,” she said. “The bayfront master plan is a landmark example in the practice of sustainable coastal development for California.”