There are a lot of changes happening in my city, Artesia, California.
We are a city of nearly 17,000 residents living within 1.5 square miles located about 20 miles South East of Downtown Los Angeles.
Shortly after I was elected in March 2007, the Great Recession hit us at the end of that year, and we, the city council, found ourselves in the midst of a fiscal crisis. Our city’s main source of revenue is sales tax, and, during the recession, our revenues from sales tax decreased heavily.
Out of crisis, comes opportunity.
Things had to change. We had to make some very difficult decisions over that next year, which included cutting back on non-essential programs and services, looking at ways to save money, and laying-off staff.
At the same time, we needed to look for ways to increase our revenue beyond sales tax. We raised some of our fees for non-residents’ use of park and recreation services and facilities, and our voters approved an increase in our business license fees and hotel taxes.
After the city council hired a new city manager and transitioned with a couple of new councilmembers, we decided to focus on an economic development plan to make our city financially healthy and sustainable. For example, nearly 2/3 of our budget is for public safety, and public safety costs are increasing every year. So, in order to keep pace with the rising costs of providing public safety and other municipal services to our community, we needed to look to increasing our sales tax revenue.
Dialogue, Collaboration, and Change
Here’s a brief interview in which I discuss some of the changes occurring in my city:
These types of changes that I described can only occur through a long process of dialogue and collaboration. In fact, I had first heard about the downtown revitalization plan over ten years ago in 2005, two years before I was elected to the city council! City councilmembers, city staff, residents, business owners, nonprofit organizations, and economic development experts all were engaged in developing and contributing to this plan.
Today, our economic development plan to incentivize and encourage investment in our downtown to increase our sales tax revenue is finally coming to fruition. We narrowed our traffic lanes from four lanes to two lanes, and we widened the sidewalks. We are preparing to build a pedestrian promenade, and we have investors interested in doing business in our city.
We still have some ways to go before new buildings are built and new businesses establish in our city.
But now, we have the capacity to expand and grow and to continue to provide high-quality municipal services to our residents and create change–step by step.