Guest opinion: Menlo Park mayor spotlights 'state of the city'
One of the best things about Menlo Park, even in troubled times, is the very positive attitudes we have about our community and one another. In a recent community survey, we asked residents what they liked best about living here. Here is what we learned: We are a community of families that are friendly and welcoming; we appreciate our neighbors and our neighborhoods; we like the small-town feeling and overall quality of life.
The same survey included feedback on our top challenges and concerns, including the economy, the city's budget, business development, high-speed rail and land-use planning.
In setting goals for this year, we reviewed these results and decided to concentrate extra effort in three areas:
• Creating a vibrant and resilient economy in support of a sustainable budget;
• Engaging in more future-focused planning and visioning in support of maintaining our high quality of life;
•Working with neighboring communities and other government agencies on issues of regional interest.
The first goal pinpoints how our economy impacts the budget and the broad, diverse services we provide. As a community, we expect a great deal from city hall. Continuing to provide high-quality services, however, depends on the maintenance of a strong, sustainable revenue stream and a balanced budget.
In the coming years, Menlo Park will face a deficit of $1 million to $2 million annually. Fortunately, our reserves are now over $26 million, or about 70 percent of our general fund budget. We are thus in position to take a long-term view, rather than make drastic, damaging, short-term across-the-board service and staff cuts.
Drawing on our reserves can help us have a "soft landing," but cannot act as a sustainable long-term strategy. As we plan for the future, we must take everything into consideration, including prudent cost-cutting, fee increases and tax hikes.
We also must consider the revenue side of the equation. The Rosewood Hotel, set to open April 2, will provide a welcome boost to our transient occupancy tax. We also look to increase our sales tax revenues, particularly from the "M2" light industrial zone east of Highway 101. This area is home to a diverse mix of low- and high-tech businesses. Rising stars in this area include green tech, bio sciences, and medical device companies, many of which are poised to expand dramatically. Our council and staff are working hard to keep as many of these companies in Menlo Park as possible, and to make the area more attractive to high-profile, high sales tax-potential companies.
Under the "future-focused planning and visioning" goal we are into the critical second phase of our El Camino Real Downtown revitalization process, where we are shaping the future of our city's core. We have a council subcommittee working with other cities to plan for high-speed rail. And we will soon adopt a climate action plan to focus our efforts in preparing for climate change.
The third goal recognizes that many of the challenges we face extend beyond our borders. We are reaching out to our neighbors to address issues such as crime, traffic, mass transit, water (both supply and conservation), waste management, and more. We are making sure that officials at the county, state, and federal levels are aware of Menlo Park's needs and opportunities.
In reaching our goals, we will need the support of the entire community. I urge you to join me and my fellow council members in developing solid, long-term solutions to the challenges we face. We cannot rely on an outside entity to bail us out. Instead, we must take responsibility for our situation, with a patient view to the long term. If we — staff, commissioners, the public, and council members — work harder and become more productive, Menlo Park will emerge from this downturn sooner and stronger. Let not the fear of our current times resign us to inaction. Instead, let us act together, so that we might maintain all that we love about Menlo Park, so that we might create a future that is all that and more.
This is an abbreviated version of Mayor Heyward Robinson's state of the city speech, delivered March 10 in the City Council Chambers. For a complete transcript, see the Menlo Park Web page at www.menlopark.org