PITTSBURG -- City officials presented a rosy picture at last week's "State of the City" luncheon, highlighting the continued decline in unemployment numbers, completion of development projects and falling crime rates.

"Today, the city moves into a bright future with a rebounding economy, a fiscal sustainability plan, continued low crime and a dramatic decrease in our unemployment rate," Mayor Sal Evola said as he opened the talk.

All of these accomplishments, he added, were done without the redevelopment agency that the city had relied on in years past for revitalization projects.

While many other cities in Contra Costa had to cut staff positions and projects during the recent economic downturn, Pittsburg has maintained its staffing levels and invested nearly $10 million per year in infrastructure and facility maintenance, according to City Manager Joe Sbranti, who also spoke at the luncheon.

Sbranti said that beyond the staff and council, Pittsburg residents are responsible for the city's continued growth thanks to their support of initiatives such as a $450 million bond for the Contra Costa Community College District passed earlier this month, which will benefit Los Medanos College. In addition, commercial property owners in the vicinity of Railroad Avenue and Highway 4 recently voted to tax themselves to fund an eBART station.


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Projects completed

Assistant city manager Garret Evans provided a highlight reel of projects completed over the past year. Among these, he said, was the addition of new stores and restaurants to shuttered downtown spots, providing public wireless Internet access in downtown and around city buildings, and the speedy revitalization of a field to bring a minor league baseball team -- the Pittsburg Mettle -- to the city.

Evans credited revenues from the city's public power company for the baseball field and other projects around town. "It has allowed us to build, with private partners, over $2 billion worth of infrastructure since 2000," he said.

Next, Evans said, he'd like to have an Olympic kite-boarding team train on Pittsburg's shores, and to that end, a kite-boarding shop and ramp are going in soon.

"This is the version of golf for Silicon Valley techies," he said to chuckles from the crowd.

Finances in order

Thanks to a half-cent sales tax increase passed by Pittsburg voters in 2012, and put into effect last year, $3.1 million was added to the city's annual revenue.

Those additional funds, combined with money from the city's public utility partnership and rising home prices, have allowed Pittsburg to maintain a high level of service, said Human Resources Manager Neville Vania.

Aside from bringing in money, Vania said the city has also taken steps to pay down debt and reduce potential liabilities.

A major reform, begun in January 2014, changed how retirement and health insurance were paid out by the city.

"Retirement and health insurance for city employees has historically been handled on a 'pay as you go' basis," Vania said, leaving the city with an unfunded liability of $12.4 million for future retiree benefits.

The city has made an initial deposit toward erasing the liability and is committed to putting away at least $666,755 annually so that the "unfunded liability" is funded within 10 years.

Crime slightly down

Overall, reported crime dropped 2.3 percent in 2013, police Chief Brian Addington said. The decrease was mostly in property crimes, but there was a large leap -- 20 percent -- in violent crime.

Violent crimes include murder, rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault.

Addington said that after looking deeper into the categories, he found that the jump in violent crimes resulted from the forceful theft of smartphones -- something being combatted nationally and at the state level through legislation that would require a "kill switch" to render a phone useless after it's stolen.

"Overall, we are still maintaining record low crime levels," Addington said.

"In the past 53 years, 2013 was our second best year that we've had, and we're very proud of that."

After the presentations, Evola headed back to the podium for parting words and a rallying cry to the hundred or so community members and business partners gathered at the Pittsburg Elks Lodge for the event sponsored by members of the Chamber of Commerce.

"We still have a lot of work to do," he said.

"Pittsburg has had a long-standing stigma of high crimes, but as you see, that is not the case."

To break the stigma and change the city's reputation, he said the people of Pittsburg have to "spread the word" that the city is a great place to live, work and even visit.

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