WALNUT CREEK -- The state of the city is pretty solid with folks who live here, it appears.
"Walnut Creek residents are overwhelmingly satisfied with our quality of life," Mayor Cindy Silva said as part of a lengthy 2013 "State of the City" presentation at the Lesher Center for the Arts during which she shared city accomplishments and challenges. She cited a city-commissioned report.
"Ninety-six percent say the quality of life is excellent or good."
A strong local economy is a key element of the city's quality of life, Silva said before naming new and improved businesses in the North Main area, the Neiman Marcus store downtown, a planned upgrade of the Encina Grande upgrade approval and work on plans for the 25-acre Safeway Orchards at Oak Grove and Ygnacio Valley Roads.
"Walnut Creek isn't just the retail hub of the region," Silva said. She noted that retail space vacancy has dropped to 4 percent, but that retail accounts for only 14 percent of local jobs.
Nearly 60 percent of the jobs come from education, finance, insurance, management, science and health care, with arts, entertainment, recreation, lodging and food service accounting for 8 percent.
Shadelands Business Park's vacancy rate still hovers around 24 percent, she said. The good news, she said, is that employers invested $30 million there in the past four years, new businesses have opened and the Children's Hospital satellite campus there has recently affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco.
"Smaller and vertical" residential construction is showing signs of life, according to Silva. The Village (49 condos, retail and parking) is set for Newell and South Main corner.
Brio Apartments are planned for the former Longs Drugs headquarters site, construction on the North Main Apartments starts this summer, approval for Arroyo Apartments is eminent and Walnut Creek Transit Village was approved in 2012, according to Silva.
She praised the four-year effort of past councils, city employee concessions and volunteers in balancing the city's $135.5 million 2012-14 budget with no General Fund debt and $9.9 million in reserves.
"Fiscal sustainability is the city council's number one priority," Silva said while warning of unfunded state and federal mandates that cost $11 million last year (includes CalPERS adjustments).
Increasing costs, a funding gap for capital and technology and the loss of redevelopment funds be factors in future budgeting, according to Silva.
She showed crime statistics for 2011 and 2012 and said, "Safety is a top priority ... Most serious crimes continue to be well below what we experienced in 2005 to 2010."
Safety improvements include police reorganization, two additional officers and a nearly $2 million, two-county radio communications system. That will help Alameda and Contra Costa law enforcement communicate more effectively during emergencies such as the Newell/Broadway gas pipeline explosion in 2004, when a San Ramon police officer at the explosion scene had to go through dispatchers to reach local authorities.
Attention to cultural, educational, artistic, social and recreational aspects of life is what elevates Walnut Creek, Silva remarked. She linked local art and culture with economic benefits, "It generates $2.8 million in local and state revenue." Silva named public art, Center REP, Bedford Galley, jazz concerts and Civic Arts Education as examples.
"The city's libraries are the most used in the county system; 78 percent of residents have visited the libraries within the past 12 months," Silva told the audience of about 200.
Popular recreation facilities built in the 1960s and 1970s are showing signs of age. The Larkey Park pool and the Clarke pool at Heather Farm Park will need replacement; a permanent ice rink location is needed in Civic Park, and the 43 year-old Boundary Oaks Golf Clubhouse is due for a seismic and accessibility retrofit.
Ten playgrounds are being improved for safety and a new all-abilities playground will be built without accessing General Fund resources, according to Silva.
The city's environmental efforts include an inventory of 11,703 urban trees, two BioHaven "floating islands" installed at Heather Farm Park pond, streamlined solar permit process, solar atop City Hall and "Green business" ratings for five city operations.
Silva said local restaurant food scraps go to East Bay MUD's Oakland water treatment plant in Oakland to be converted to methane gas, which powers the facility.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 202-9292.
Walnut Creek TV will replay the State of the City with Mayor Cindy Silva on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 8:30 p.m.; on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m.' and Sunday, Feb. 17 at 7 a.m. Walnut Creek TV is on Comcast Channel 28, Astound Channel 29 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 99 The video of the talk will also be available on YouTube starting Monday, Feb. 8.
For information about the monthly 'Spotlight' series events, or to register, visit www.walnut-creek.org/spotlight or call 925-256-3505.