Reports & Surveys, City Council &
STATE OF THE CITY, 2007
Mayor Julia Pirnack
I took office 5-1/2 years ago, two months after the tragic events of September 11th. Multiple years of dramatic (and it turns out, in some ways, fictitious) economic growth suddenly ended. Added to the sluggish economy, you will remember that we were in what was to become an extended period of drought, fighting the resulting wildfires, and to top it off, as 2002 closed, there was great uncertainty about the financial health of our school district.
Horace, the Roman poet & satirist, said that adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant. This has proven to be the case with the City of Longmont the last five years. It is in this time of budget constraints and concerns on many different fronts, that there has been need for the strength that our community has in abundance – to mobilize for action rather than simply trying to maintain the status quo.
Indeed, this is the choice we will continue to make in the future. Our overarching goal cannot be to simply maintain or sustain – there is no such thing in an ever-changing world. Whether we realize it or not, we are making a decision, whether we act or don’t act. We have this choice: fear-based decisions premised on the misguided notion that somehow we could guarantee perfect outcomes, or we can decide, with Horace, that changing circumstances, adversity – the unknown, provide the opportunity for great creativity; to demonstrate trust in each other and in the processes we have designed to make good decisions and move forward.
Longmont is truly fortunate in the foresight that past leaders have shown – particularly in the areas of our basic infrastructure. We have a water portfolio and new treatment plant that are the envy of cities throughout Colorado. During the recent drought, we created the city’s first drought response and water conservation plan that allows us to monitor water supply and to implement appropriate measures to conserve based on projected availability. We have set an aggressive water conservation target for the future. Given good strategic planning, our water assets can play a significant role in providing a revenue stream in the future as growth-related revenue continues to decline.
Our electric power providers continue to offer nearly the lowest rates in the state for reliable power. Recognized for its early development of renewable energy sources and continuing efforts at lowering already low emission levels, our wholesale power provider, Platte River Power Authority, is a non-profit owned by Longmont along with three other Cities. Longmont Power and communications was recently awarded The American Public Power Association’s highest level award, and the first given in Colorado, for providing safe and reliable service – only 7 companies in the country have received this award. LPC also spearheaded the recent rollout of true broadband internet access; Longmont becomes one of only a very few cities in the nation to offer Wi-Fi, citywide, to its residents. Our ability to provide reliable, low-cost energy and community-wide broadband to our employers adds to Longmont’s considerable competitive advantage when recruiting high technology companies.
Utilities infrastructure must work hand in hand with land use planning and transportation systems. Our ability as a city to attract and retain great employers, retailers and residents relies upon this. While there is much debate about how much to grow in terms of population, nearly everyone seems to wish for more and diverse shopping opportunities. Over the past few years, we have seen many additional retailers come to town including Lowes, Best Buy and Bed, Bath and Beyond, along with many restaurants and expansion of other stores including Target, Wal-mart and Penny’s. These additional shopping opportunities come as the result of ensuring the correct land uses have been zoned, quality infrastructure is available along with our increasing population and disposable income of these residents. These things provide more certainty that there will be an adequate return on dollars invested. We recognize that market success and a fair and predictable review process are the best motivators to bring quality business investment into our community.
During a 15-month public process beginning in 2002, the City updated its Comprehensive Plan with the vision that rather than continuing to add to the already large regional center at Twin Peaks, we would be better served by creating several regional shopping areas on the outskirts of town. Not only would cross town traffic be minimized, but these locations, as more accessible, promised to draw in additional revenue from the rapidly growing Weld and Larimer County towns. As these regional centers come out of the ground at SH 287 and 66, 119 and County Line Road and on the Ken Pratt extension, we will see significant increases in sales tax revenue and diverse shopping alternatives along with the accompanying improvement in nearby areas such as north Main. We are also excited about the upcoming redevelopment of Twin Peaks mall.
In the last couple of years we have also worked with land owners, in many public forums, to create design guidelines and vision for an innovative, pedestrian friendly mixed-use development for the area north of highway 66 and we continue to review two master-planned developments east of town. While thorough discussion is always necessary, it is time to move forward with these plans. It serves no one and shows little honor to the public process to second guess the decisions from those processes.
While we spend lots of time discussing new development, in reality, very soon Longmont will be built out in terms of green field development. This is why our work with redevelopment and revitalization projects is so important. Primary among these is FasTracks, and the associated vision for the surrounding areas. Years of work by many people resulted in passage of the RTD tax to fund rail and bus connections throughout the Denver-Metro area. We were able to ensure that a rail component was included from Longmont to Boulder and on in to Union Station in Denver. We have also taken a look at the likely station stops in Longmont and created an urban renewal district to foster transit-oriented development around these locations. I believe that these areas; the old flour mill and sugar factory sites, can become two of the most outstanding examples of vibrant adaptive reuse in the nation and truly unique spots that will draw people to Longmont – the possibilities are endless.
In addition to FasTracks, I am proud that, in another public planning process, we designed our first multi-modal transportation master plan that will tie together rail, roads, bike and pedestrian forms of transportation in a cohesive network throughout the City. Thank you again to our residents for renewing the ¾ cent sales tax to keep our streets in great shape and to fund some of these exciting projects.
And no, I have not forgotten downtown. One look around shows the great work the Downtown Development Authority has done with façade improvements, St Stephens Plaza and recruiting more small businesses to locate in the heart of the City. In addition, events downtown continue to draw thousands of people to enjoy this area. However, we recognize that we must bring a catalyst project to downtown – a project that will create a special gathering place and associated commercial and residential units, to increase the number of people living, working and enjoying downtown. The DDA has developed a vision that embodies these goals for the 3rd and Kimbark area and we hope to move forward with this project soon.
The community also convened to look at our potential to draw people to stay in Longmont as the Center of their Colorado adventure. The Longmont Area Visitor’s Association was formed to accomplish this mission and is working hard to promote Longmont to residents and visitors alike.
I am proud that Longmont is known for its willingness to tackle problems head-on. There are several programs that have gained regional and even national recognition by implementing solutions to some of our nation’s cities most difficult issues. The Longmont Housing Opportunities team is tackling homelessness with the Housing First project and we continue to explore ways to improve our affordable housing program. With so many homes on the market, rather than requiring builders to build affordable units, we will be looking at cash in lieu to roll into down payment assistance and rehabilitation expenses for existing housing. Creative ways to help homeowners invest in their own future is money well spent.
The last few years have also seen a remarkable increase in entertainment and recreation. I was lucky to come into office as the new recreation center, museum and Roosevelt park facilities were coming on line. We are celebrating the library’s centennial this year; we completed the lake MacIntosh Master Plan allowing public access to this lake for the first time and have opened multiple other parks. Art, from gateways to Geese to gazebo’s, continue to be created – always interesting and always controversial. We have also begun to draw national and even international competitions to the City – including everything from Swooping to Skateboarding to cricket.
Another area in which we are gaining a national reputation for strong, innovative programs is in public safety. Our police and fire forces go beyond traditional peacekeeping and crisis management roles to become an integral part of the life and health of our community. Longmont’s ending domestic violence initiative, the citizen Volunteer Patrol program and Citizens Police academy and strong, proactive vandalism and graffiti abatement and prevention initiatives are examples. The Gang Rescue and Intervention Program, started before the fatal stabbing a year ago, continues to make great strides in impacting gang activity in the City. I am also excited to announce “The Power of One,” a mentoring program that will work with kids at risk of gang membership long before they become involved. This collaboration between public, private and the faith communities has the potential to truly impact children’s lives, future crime rates and the entire community in many positive ways. Once again Longmont citizens demonstrated they truly understand the priorities for our City as they supported the passage of the public safety tax last year. Congratulations to our police department, even with tight resources, in the 30% reduction in crime last year.
I believe that education or lifelong learning is likely the single most important issue for every one of us to tackle – not just the school district or other educators. Many people have proposed that we cannot compete effectively in the global economy without excellent education. Beyond this, our lives can become stale without learning new things. Appreciation of diversity and other cultures will not happen without greater understanding. Indeed, I believe our democratic republic will fail without a better educated public. Perhaps you think I overstate the case, but I agree with John F. Kennedy that Liberty, without learning, is always in peril.
Three years ago, individuals and agencies convened to take action in early childhood education – the most formative and important age at which to develop and create a love of learning. Bright EYES was born. After receiving one of only 6 NLC grants for Cities supporting the parents of young children in the nation, we have moved forward to bring the Incredible Years program to preschools in the City, we will cut the ribbon on the remodeled Meeker Center as a neighborhood resource center with it two head start classrooms this month and launch the Mayor’s Book Club in May.
And, we have begun to look at ways in which the community can become a City known for its culture of lifelong learning. The first step in this process was a tremendous success – over 600 people of all ages and backgrounds came together at the recent education summit: Learn today, Change Your World Tomorrow. And, what is even more satisfying to me is the new level of collaboration and excitement that continues to build between the City, the school district, and many others who believe that education is at the very heart of our future success. What a long way for the district to come from the financial challenges of five years ago to our superintendent being awarded Colorado superintendent of the year. Each one of you can make a difference by supporting and participating in any or all of these initiatives.
Virtually every program or project the City undertakes has a public participation component to it. We have worked to refine how public planning can be done at its best. In the largest effort to date, the City convened a citywide strategic planning project to hear what people loved about the community and to develop strategies to provide for our future in “Focus on Longmont” – this project won project of the year from the International Association for Public Participation - and the strategies from this effort will be implemented for many years to come.
While I still strongly believe that every person is capable of participating and even leading the public dialog, as you know, we have also seen less productive and informed debate. It is absolutely essential that we expect people to become educated about the topics they wish to discuss, not mere mouthpieces of dissent. We should demand that they give credence not only to their interests but to the greater good and other points of view. Without this, public opinion becomes nothing more than complaining repeatedly and loudly – just another special interest that manipulates through media attention.
Let us also keep a sense of perspective and a sense of the history of this community. The local government is not the community – it is just a part. We should thoughtfully consider those items in front of us and ensure that we have enacted good policy that assures a fair and predictable process that lasts into the future. We should recognize it is not up to us alone to guarantee quality of life – that is up to every person in the community. Businesses large and small, including those in agriculture, manufacturing, retail, and yes, those in development and real estate opened up shop, put people to work, risked their capital to build this City. The City government should be good stewards and service providers. At our worst we can over-regulate by trying to be and do everything for everyone – at our best we can provide vision, enthusiasm and collaborative leadership for a proactive people. Thomas Jefferson said: That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.
Finally, when we go to the people for money or when we spend the people’s money, we should treat it as if we had to work for it ourselves – and request only that which we really need — not the short term solution for the most recent controversy or for the fad of the day. Our community is extraordinarily generous – we have seen this in their support of the current open space tax, the public safety tax and the extension of the streets tax, not to mention the thousands of hours of volunteer work. We should not presume on our resident’s generosity by asking for more than we truly need today in case we must ask tomorrow for something of greater import.
It has been a terrific nearly 6 years – the council, the city staff and the community can be an unstoppable team. Longmont is truly coming of age and I know that others have begun to realize this. While our City, our non-profits, our businesses and residents receive many awards and recognition for outstanding service, their professional and volunteer work and programs, we also have received a couple of truly memorable recognitions that belong to our whole community. One is being selected last year by Money Magazine, as one of the top 100 places to live in the country of cities over 50,000. The description - small livable cities with the best possible blend of good jobs, low crime, quality schools, plenty of open space, rational home prices, lots to do – this describes us to a tee and relies upon every facet of the community to achieve excellence.
The other is the most prestigious honor that a City can receive, that only ten cities receive each year – large and small – one that many cities have competed for many times and never received. This award is from the National Civic League, the oldest organization in the nation that promotes strong civic leadership, and one honoring community partnerships that come together to collaboratively address needs in community. Longmont received the All America City designation in 2006. What a testament to this City’s strength and creativity in times of adversity. Congratulations to all of us.
So, when you ask me what the state of the City is, I say it’s great and has even greater potential for the future.
Thank you for the honor you have given me to serve as your mayor.