Mayor Cook: State of the City better and Santa Paula’s future bright

February 07, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times

There might be some gloom in the past but Santa Paula’s future is looking up Mayor Rick Cook told those at Tuesday’s annual Chamber of Commerce Awards “Success Santa Paula - The Sky’s the Limit!” luncheon

Cook delivered the State of the City Address to the audience. Chamber President John Chamberlain introduced Cook who told out-of-towners “Who drove out here today you just came to the jewel of Ventura County!”  

Cook’s slide presentation noted that Santa Paula, incorporated April 1902, has a population of 29,882, 107 full-time employees, 18 part-time/seasonal and citizens had a median income of $49,138 in 2012.

The FY 13-14 budget was balanced at $35,100,598 and will continue to be reviewed for “revenue enhancements as well as the reduced spending... there is a positive outlook for future growth and stability.”

The General Fund has a bit over $12 million, Enterprise Fund more than $18 million and there is a Special Fund holding more than $4.6 million as well as a $20,000 Development Impact Fund.

Salaries and benefits in 2013-2014 are projected to be almost $12 million. 

Cook noted that Santa Paula has several priorities including transit and upcoming fixed bus routes in the city, the first such service inside city limits separate from the personalized Dial-A-Ride which will be continued. 

The city will receive almost $2 million to purchase 15 buses for local transit and connecting routes to Ventura via Highway 126. 

Another priority remains education: “As a result of Santa Paula school district reorganization,” approved last year by voters, “a new school district was created to provide more efficiency in the local education system,” one that Cook noted he is a product of.

In addition, the city is “Initiating a joint discussion with the new unified school board,” to focus on improving parking, traffic, security and emergency issues at all schools.

America in Bloom is partnering with the city and community in a national competition to bring recognition to local beautification efforts. 

Cook said, “You’ve all seen the flowers downtown,” lining Main and side streets with hanging baskets and sidewalk planters overflowing with color, the result of the movement started by Dianne and Dudley Davis of Do Right’s Plant Nursery who founded AIB. 

The community, Cook added, is enthusiastically embracing city beautification with a “strong” Adopt A Park program, that includes AIB, The Arc doing cleaning and maintenance of Downtown areas and alleys as well as Veterans and the Skate Park, the Weed Wranglers living up to their name around the city and the Kiwanis Club grooming Mill Park.

Youth Basketball is strong with more than 400 players and about 150 seniors are enjoying lunches and special monthly programs as well as those that visit the Senior Center daily.

Cook said kids, “Lots of kids, are playing plenty of soccer,” on the new fields and enjoying other improvements and additions at Las Piedras Park made possible by $1 million in funding from Community Development Block Grants and Development Impact fees.

Harding Park has also undergone improvements with its $900,000 in trust funds (the park is one of the few in the state that benefits from adjacent rental property) used  for the baseball fields’ refurbishment and other improvements.

The Santa Paula Fire Department is still retaining five firefighters from the Safer Grant, which means the SPFD with four firefighters per shift per station now exceeds state standards in staffing. In 2013 the department - which has 35 reserves - responded to more than 2,500 calls and will expand Station 2.

Last year Building & Safety closed 220 code enforcement cases and opened 35 new ones; in 2013 the city issue 893 building permits.

“The city continues to provide affordable housing to those who need it,” said Cook including in process projects by Habitat for Humanity and the Santa Paula Housing Authority.

Forty-two moderate and upper-income homes built on the hillside above Santa Paula Hospital said Cook, “Are almost sold out, I think there’s only one left!” on the market as building concludes.

East Area 1 and East Area 2 “Continue to move forward,” with the formers 1,500 unit residential development on 500 acres awaiting the submittal of the specific plan and tentative tract map in late February. Cook said East Area 2’s retail/commercial development of about 94 acres is also on track.

“Santa Paula was the first city in Ventura County to have its Housing Element certified... thanks to Planning Director Janna Minsk and staff the city accomplished this milestone,” that Cook said in years’ past had often been controversial and subject to delays.

Current businesses are expanding and Starbucks, Calavo Industrial Park, CATS Development Park are on schedule to be completed; Big Five Sporting Goods is open for business and Spears Manufacturing - complete with a heliport on top of the structure - will soon move into the long-vacant Weyerhaeuser/International Paper building.

Seven police officers have been hired and will soon be on the streets, crime is down following last year’s record-matching number of homicides and there was 10 seizures of drugs and weapons by the newly revived Gang/Narcotic Enforcement detail.

In addition a Risk Management/Training position was created, new training was initiated and Cook said “Three members of the clergy” graduated from a special training course, who will now “provide counseling support for families and staff during difficult times... “

Potential relief could be coming for ratepayers, specifically those paying wastewater treatment rates among the highest in the county.

Cook noted that there is “ongoing litigation with PERC and Alinda regarding chloride remediation,” and “The council and the city manager continues to pursue potential refinance of the facility.”

The city is currently reviewing water and sewer rates adopted in 2009 and Cook said there will be the second in a series of public meetings - the last was in 2013 - in “The near future to receive public input... “

Public Works has good news: the city’s 4 million gallon water tank project - the $7 million cost was funded entirely by the Water Fund - is online and the city continues to rehabilitate wells each year one at a time. 

The city also received $45,000 in energy efficiency rebates for well operations.

The Harvard Boulevard sewer line between 10th and 12th streets is an ongoing project as is the new 400-600 zone booster station, street slurry and overlay, storm drain as well as other water and sewer projects continue.

“We have some old infrastructure... some water meters throughout the city are 50 years old,” and continue to be replaced and Cook said there are other repairs including those to sidewalks and medians, as needed and as funding allows.

Cook, a city native and retired SPPD Sgt., noted that in years’ past Santa Paula’s Downtown was filled with retailers including some outlets of national chains.

And, over the years, “Santa Paula has seen some rough times but we got through them and with future development, especially East Area 1 and 2, things are only going to get better... “

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