Formerly known as the State of the City address, the annual look at how things are going in Brentwood had a new format this time around. Charts, graphs and sketches occupied one side of the room, and rather than deliver the usual monologue, Taylor frequently tapped city department heads for information.
Finance Director Pan Ehler said the good financial news is the result of the fact that the city began planning for the economic downturn three years ago. By utilizing a 10-year fiscal model, updated annually, the city has been able to keep its $262 million budget balanced while receiving an “AA” bond rating, the highest possible for a city Brentwood’s size.
Taylor said the downtown Civic Center project is continuing on budget and on time toward a hoped-for completion in October of 2011. It will include a community center with a commercial kitchen, be large enough to accommodate a banquet seating 350, and will be one of the amenities with which the city hopes to lure job-providing companies to town.
The Civic Center includes City Park, which Taylor said will include a barbecue and picnic area, more than 100 new trees and an interactive water feature.
“And I guarantee that the park will be bigger,” Taylor said. During the civic center approval process, the critics insisted that the new layout meant the park would shrink. “I’ll go out there with a tape measure and measure it.”
Other good news from the downtown area included the facts that the Saturday Farmers’ Market was attracting as many a 4,000 people per week, and the new library – still a third of its eventual size – was setting records for patron visits (400 to 500 per day) and items circulated (215,000 in 2009).
Continuing to focus downtown, Taylor said the new streetscape project that will include new streets, utilities, sidewalks designed to encourage outdoor dining, plus amenities such as lights, benches and public art, will begin in November. It should be finished about the time the Civic Center is complete.
Police Chief Mark Evenson added his good news as well. The department is fully staffed and has not been forced to lay off staff or freeze hiring. Response times for priority calls are the best in the region, violent crime is down 16 percent and property crime is down 2 percent over last year.
The department now offers an interactive crime mapping system on the city’s Web site, as well as an online method of reporting non-emergency crimes. A pair of new programs – a Citizens Academy and Triad senior citizen resource program – were launched this year.
Some challenges still lie ahead, Taylor said, including completion of the Highway 4 Bypass, the widening of which stalled when development dollars dried up. State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan – who, along with County Supervisor Mary Piepho, was in attendance at the event – vowed that “somehow, we’re going to find a way to finish the Bypass.”
Taylor also pointed to the battle over the land-use initiative Measure F, which was soundly rejected by voters in June, as evidence that, even though people have differences of opinions, “the system worked. The people had their say. Your opinion does count.”
In general, however, Taylor is happy with the way things are going, and a lack of negative comments from the crowd of about 100 seemed to lend credence to that position.
“We’re not the perfect city,” Taylor said, wrapping up the 90-minute presentation co-sponsored by the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce, PG&E and Travis Credit Union. “Sometimes we probably screw up, but we haven’t done too poorly.”