The Council's Job
It's not really an issue, like traffic, but it's more important than people realize. After a career as a government manager, a community activist and a Council member, I believe the Council has four main duties.
Setting the Vision: This is the most important, because if we get it wrong, we won't know it until it's too late. Deciding how we want the community to grow over the next 5, 10 or 20 years, and being able to take advantage of (and sometime, even create) opportunities and avoid the pitfalls.
Setting Priorities: This is the hardest one. There's always more demands on City resources than we will ever be able to accommodate. So we have to decide which projects or services move forward now and which ones have to wait. Even more challenging is sticking to those priorities.
Reasonable Oversight of Staff: We rely on staff to carry out our vision and priorities, but we need to make sure they are doing their job effectively, and in the most efficient manner. We need to set performance benchmarks for the services we provide, and budgets and schedules for any projects we undertake. This is how we make sure the job is done right.
Ceremonial: This is the fun one--cutting ribbons, attending special events. But it's also leading by example, and putting your money where your mouth is!
Not a big surprise, but having a comprehensive solution can be. I have consistently supported the completion of Newell Extension to Green Island Road; the completion of Devlin on the industrial west side, all the way to Eucalyptus; and ultimately, widening Highway 29 to six lanes.
We need to leverage new development and seek outside grants and appropriations to provide the funding we need. Relying on Caltrans to widen Highway 29 will take years; for now, we need to focus on improvements at the key intersections and synchronize traffic signals.
For more, see my recent mailer.
The second step is securing new sources of water, most notably the Sites Reservoir near Maxwell, CA. This will give us up to 4000 acre feet of fresh water per year, more than we currently use. We can also use Vallejo treated water, which we have purchased over the years and will give us back up capacity.
The third step is ensuring the water fund is financially healthy. We increased our water rates to do this, but those increases are in line with other cities throughout the Napa Valley. More to the point, I fought hard to establish a discount rate for Seniors and low-income customers. I will also scrutinize the water fund budget to make sure we keep our operating costs as low as we can.
We have come a long way in addressing our water issues, both in terms of finding alternative water supplies and in the financial health of our water and wastewater funds.
We have permanently reduced our potable water demand by over 300 acre feet a year, by replacing leaking pipelines and installing recycled waterlines. Combined with our water conservation programs, and tighter development standards, we will require less water going forward. That's the first step.
We need to grow our retail base and expand our industrial park, to make sure we have the jobs, the goods & services, and the tax revenues we need to thrive as a community.
I serve on the Council's Economic Development Subcommittee, the Tourism Improvement District and the Chamber's Government Affairs Committee. I supported making economic development a top priority for the Council, which led to the creation of a new Economic Development Strategy.
That new strategy involves developing better paying jobs, encouraging the right kind of retail sales, promoting tourism, and making American Canyon more "business friendly." Working to make Watson Ranch a reality; a strong partnership with the Chamber of Commerce; and promoting the development of the Highway 29 Corridor are all essential elements of this economic strategy, and I play an important role in all three.
Parks & Open Space
I'm proud of the role I played in securing the wetlands on our west side and the Newell Open Space Preserve on our eastern edge. As City Manager, I helped acquire both sites at no cost to our local taxpayers!
These large open space parcels help define who we are and the value we offer to the Napa Valley, particularly as we develop a tourist strategy. They are an asset to both our residents and the many visitors that will come and stay at our hotels and spend money in our town.
The Wetlands and Newell Open Space Preserve--American Canyon's greatest open space assets! Mark played a key role in securing both sites, at no cost to the American Canyon taxpayers.
Clarke Ranch is the next exciting recreational development for the City. It will be a focal point, highlighting our wetlands, and encouraging residents and tourists alike to enjoy the great outdoors.
But we also need to make sure we set dollars aside to maintain our existing parks and facilities. I fought for budgeting money for major park renovations, and will continue to do so.
Ok, I admit--this one is a little wonky, but after all--I'm an ex-Finance Director! More seriously, the Council needs to have a comprehensive, policy-level set of financial guidelines that--
spell out what is a truly balanced budget (and not one that uses one-time revenues to appear balanced, or ignores future costs);
sets forth a "revenue plan" to ensure our tax base does not become lopsided or vulnerable to changing economic conditions;
long-term financial forecasting tools that let us see what the "bottom line" is for new developments (or new programs and staff, or just to know what will be our future condition);
policies to set aside money for major capital renovations to maintain our parks, streets and facilities; and
performance bench marks that objectively tell us if our services, like streets, parks and planning, are working at a peak level.