Santa Paula Times

Mayor tells Chamber, in spite of challenging times SP ‘Looking Forward’

February 02, 2011
Santa Paula News

In spite of challenging times Santa Paula is “Looking Forward,” Mayor Fred Robinson said during his State of the City Address presented at the January 27 annual Chamber of Commerce awards luncheon.

Held at the Limoneira Ranch Visitors Center, the event drew elected officials including Supervisor Kathy Long and Councilmen Rick Cook and Jim Tovias. Brian Miller was on hand representing Representative Elton Gallegly, as was Ernie Villegas on behalf of Assemblyman Jeff Gorell. City Clerk Judy Rice and incoming Ventura County CEO Michael Powers were also in attendance.

Robinson noted although 2010 saw new City Manager Jaime Fontes take the helm of City Hall, it has been a year of mostly fiscal challenges reflecting the state and national economic downturns. “We’re really happy to have Mr. Fontes,” but since he joined the city in February, Robinson said, “he has had to work on the budget almost continuously.”

In spite of past cuts, there is a projected fiscal yearend deficit of about $1.8 million that will generate weekly council meetings to address. Robinson urged public participation, and noted the Economic Development Advisory Committee has been revived and more and more public property - including parks - is being adopted by citizens and groups.

Public safety remains “the highest priority... we’re very proud of our fire department,” which responded to more than 2,100 calls last year. The Santa Paula Fire Department has 15 full-time staff with six captains, six engineers and one fireman, supplemented by 35 reserves that rotate in manning the city’s two stations. Building and safety is also under the leadership of Chief Rick Araiza.

“We’re also proud of the work” done by the Santa Paula Police Department and Chief Steve MacKinnon, who developed a new 5-Year Strategic Plan. Robinson noted 30 Reserve Officers volunteered 9,000-plus hours to the SPPD in 2010, the equivalent of more than four full-time officers.

And, he added, 2010 was the second year the city experienced a “significant drop” in the crime rate, which fell 14.9 percent. Since 2000 Robinson said the rate has gone down by a total of 29.9 percent.

Other good news is the city’s “state of the art” water recycling plant was completed ahead of schedule, saving the city “millions” at a total cost of about $58 million.

Although the city has been successful in securing a series of grants for other projects totaling $6.4 million over a two-year period, “We have to dig deeper” to find alternate funding sources, as “We need money desperately.”

Tourism has been enhanced with the completion of the nation’s first Farmworker Monument, due, said Robinson, to the efforts and leadership of founder Albino Pineda and former Councilman Dr. Gabino Aguirre. The Mill conversion to the Ventura County Farm Museum is well underway, Santa Paula Theater Center has an improved facility, and the historic Depot has been renovated.

Although not under council purview, Robinson said, “We took on education” and the issue of potential school unification, which eventually will be decided by voters. Limoneira East Area 1 has an education facility component that Robinson said would benefit the entire community. But all is in the future, and Robinson noted the city must first deal with “hard economic times” that cause “difficult options,” and a focus on hard work ahead.

The state has decimated the city’s budget by borrowing property tax, grabbing gas taxes and demanding redevelopment funding to help balance its own estimated $24 billion deficit. “Much of the state’s problems are being balanced on the backs of local communities,” even while the federal economy starts to stabilize.

But Robinson said at a recent Chamber-sponsored Good Morning Santa Paula breakfast meeting, attendees were “universally optimistic” that business is strengthening. In spite of state money woes devastating communities, Robinson said he is “optimistic” about Santa Paula’s future.

“We have great people, great weather; East Area 1 development (the property annexation is still awaiting LAFCo approval) will bring new housing, residents and opportunities to the city, and “I want to thank Limoneira Company for their” constant community support for more than a century.

There is new “very high quality” affordable housing being built to house 90 families, a Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation project that has been putting locals to work, and the conversion of a convalescent hospital to senior housing.

Other good news is the Santa Paula Branch Line. Robinson noted that Santa Paula resident Ginger Gherardi, former Ventura County Transportation Commission executive director, has “helped greatly” with the $4.1 million project, funded mostly with grants, as has Councilman Ralph Fernandez, the city’s VCTC representative.

Other good news is a new bakery/coffee shop coming to Main Street, 74 new hillside homes on Foothill, and a branch of Chase Bank being constructed. New soccer fields are planned at Las Piedras Park.

The city has $34 million in utility bonds that will improve water and sewer infrastructure and help repair streets. “Our first priority is public safety,” said Robinson, and “our second is streets.”

One thing Santa Paula has never lacked is community support for its numerous activities and celebrations, including Cruise Nite, Hot Summer Jazz & Art, De Colores/Fandango, Moonlight at the Ranch, Ghost Walk, Citrus Festival, Citrus Balloon Classic, Pumpkin Patch, and numerous parades that have given the city the reputation as the place to be. “I want to thank the Chamber and the community,” as, noted Robinson, “they are truly Santa Paula’s cheerleaders!”