The Star-News


Farewell and thank you

Sat, Jan 28 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Chris Zapata

From rural cities to urban cities and from Arizona to California I have made many stops in my 20-year career as a city manager.

Now from the southern California to northern California I will be making another stop on my public service journey.

Today will mark the end of an eight year relationship I have enjoyed immensely as city manager of National City.  It goes without saying that San Diego is truly a great place and the South Bay is the most vibrant part of a region that is envied throughout the world.

Over these past eight years National City has been faced with some of the most daunting challenges in our recent history and worked hard to transform into a safer and better positioned community—and succeeded.  This is due to a supportive citizenry and caring employees as well as leadership that made some difficult but timely decisions.

Cities are in the service business and without fiscal stability it is increasingly difficult to resource departments and personnel to sustain a community.

Global, national, state and regional economic challenges have required a continuous focus on fiscal matters.  Real economic chaos, some self inflicted, created financial challenges that nearly depleted us but never came close to defeating us.

National City’s financial position is significantly better due to efficiency, innovation and most importantly employee involvement.  The city has minimal debt and has maintained its A- bond rating by Standard and Poor’s.  Our reserves which were about $4 million in 2004 will be doubled by fiscal year end to approximately $8 million.

National City is the leader in pension reform due to the support of our employees and the city council’s example in paying full pension costs first.  This 100 percent absorption of employee costs by 100 percent of the employees will result in ongoing savings of approximately $3.3 million annually.  Labor leadership is to be commended for their work in these challenging times and for the latest agreements which will provide three years of relief from the bargaining table.

Through teamwork and aggressive business recruitment and expansion, National City continues to strengthen its position as the leader of San Diego County in business strength.

The little known fact that our sales revenue per capita significantly exceeds all other cities in the county is a source of pride.  Our unemployment rate is not a source of pride; however, I am highly confident that current projects and work will result in this negative situation improving over the next 18 months as new job creation efforts are on the horizon. 

These efforts will augment the recent replacement of five big boxe stores with six.  Bringing in El Super, John’s Incredible Pizza, MOR’s Furniture, Nordstrom’s Rack, Vallarta and Target has helped the jobs situation immensely. Our partnership with the business community, chamber of commerce and South County Economic Development Corporation is making inroads in expanding existing business and recruiting new development.  One consistent theme

in this push is the business community’s appreciation of our responsiveness at all levels—true customer service. 
Revenues are not the only answer to sustainability and a number of cost containment and efficiency measures have been effective including our CARE Committee which has allowed our employees to help sustainability through hundreds of ideas which are being implemented.

Employee involvement also occurs through the Position Review Committee and Purchase Review Committee.  The net result of these two gatekeeper systems has been lower departmental expenditures and a reduced employee count of approximately 85 employees with a big portion of those being administrative and redevelopment positions.  A leaner and less top heavy organization is proving to be a more sustainable organization.

Safety and emergency response has been the city council’s top priority since my arrival.
From 2004 to present direct investment in public safety has grown the police and fire departments from $15 million to $21  million and the fire department from $5 million to $8 million annually.  These critical services have been resourced with $9 million more a year as well as state of the art facilities and equipment.

Community trust has been restored and the result is a 19 percent decrease in violent crime.  This trust and resident involvement has helped improve safety although there are fewer feet on the street as it relates to police officers.  As it relates to emergency medical response which is over 90 percent of all service calls, our fire department now has an enhanced level of response with paramedics on all shifts.  Technology and grants have played key roles as well in making National City safer.

Community involvement is also stronger through public meetings, a redesigned website and special event partnerships.  We have created a significant return on these investments and are now creating a return on involvement through neighborhood councils and city school partnerships. We have truly involved a diverse community through bilingual publications and translation service at our public meetings.  City council meetings are now video streamed live and archived for our citizens and interested public.

Media interaction has been improved through responsiveness and transparency, which is another form of community engagement beyond meetings and the Internet.

National City’s regional image is improving due to a revitalized bayfront, which has seen private investment and Port involvement at new levels.  New signage and major private investment in businesses such as Westfield’s Plaza Bonita Mall and planned auto dealerships on the Mile of Cars are truly making a difference.

Public infrastructure especially facilities, streets and community corridors have been improved through large public investment.

Parks have been upgraded along with our municipal pool with more on the immediate horizon via the 2011 Bond Program.  Quality and diverse housing has been constructed and major planning has been completed.   National City’s California American Star Library, the finest in the South Bay, continues to be a source of community pride and usage by young and old.  Partnerships with education institutions including the 1st phase of the Education Village provide hope to our residents and bring many into National City.  Work with Supervisor Greg Cox will result in two jewels for National City – the El Toyon Multi-purpose field and soon to be constructed Aquatics Center as well as improved bikeways.

It’s been a great time in a wonderful place that has gone much too fast.


© 2009 The Star-News