Roland Velasco cited budget, roads and economic development as vital issues

Published in the April 4 – 17, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life

Photo by Marty Cheek
Mayor Roland Velasco speaks with a constituent after his State of the City address.

About 40 citizens gathered to hear Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco share his thoughts and information about the direction the local government is taking in his second 2018 State of the City address given March 3.

During the past year as mayor, Velasco was clear and direct about the challenges confronting the city, balancing that with the need to remain optimistic and honest about how the city deals with the circumstances presented, he said.

“The year 2017 was one of self-assessment as an organization,” he said. “It was a year we prepared for our future by making smart and methodical investments in the organization. Rather than stick our head in the sand or kick the can down the road, the city council in the current budget cycle established a solid foundation toward building long-term fiscal sustainability by tackling major fiscal and policy items:

City staff assessed Gilroy’s operational capacity, took a hard look at its unfunded liabilities, and implemented a 10-year financial forecast model and long-term sustainable revenue options.

“Addressing these issues prepares the city to be proactive, by developing policy initiatives to counter the fiscal challenges ahead,” he said. “As an initial policy, the city council approved a one-time investment of $6.2 million to modernize city operations and business practices with the integration of technology to improve the delivery of services.”

“Our current system is difficult to use, not intuitive, and does not include any public interface options,” he said.

An additional $1 million will be spent on updating the city’s infrastructure to improve the technology resources available to the city. This will significantly improve organizational performance, he said.

Last year the council initiated a traffic calming policy because of neighborhood concerns about Upper Welburn speeding and traffic along with other areas of town. These policies establish a fair and uniform process, allow for community outreach, assessment of potential impacts and mitigating measures. This is coming back to city council for adoption.

The city council updated the current Economic Incentive Policy to include a Payment Plan option for impact fees, he said. If a new commercial and/or industrial project can demonstrate that it substantially improves the local economy, then it would be allowed to make its impact fees in three annual installments. This will take a heavy financial burden off a new business.

Velasco included the environment as an issue Gilroy residents are interested in preserving.

“Let me talk briefly about trees. Trees, trees, trees,” he said. “Tree maintenance and removal have always been important to our community and, at times, controversial. We know the benefits of trees and the positive role they play in our overall health.”

The city has a goal to plant 500 trees in five years, he said. At the end of 2017, crews planted a total of 106 trees in street right-of-way’s as well as park sites, completing more than 20 percent of its five-year program.

The city of Gilroy has 26.7 million square feet of streets to manage and maintain. It has invested nearly $2.5 million to protect streets through the Capital Pavement Maintenance project, Velasco said.

“This program is designed to do major rehabilitation work and to minimize future maintenance costs on our streets,” he said. “The asphalt overlay that was done on Miller Avenue is an example of the type of work.”

Economic development is a key component in facing the financial challenges in Gilroy, he said. The Great Wolf Lodge debate, with a water-themed resort discussed for development next to Gilroy Gardens, illustrated the complexity of landing a company in Gilroy when companies have choices about where to go and what kind of incentives, if any, cities can offer, he said.

“Add to the mix the burdensome California Environmental Quality Act process and the low threshold for establishing a ‘fair argument’ for environmental reviews and you have a recipe for delays, uncertainties and rising costs to a development project,” he said. “Great Wolf Lodge reinforced that economic development must be a long-term strategy. As I’ve said before, it’s not a light switch that can be flipped on and off.”