Guest view: Mayor’s State of the City address

by Rich Constantine

Good evening everyone. Thank you for being here. I would like to begin by recognizing my colleagues, the other members of our City Council, please stand when I call your name:

·       Councilmember Larry Carr

·       Councilmember Yvonne Martinez Beltran

·       And Councilmember John McKay

·       Unfortunately, Mayor Pro Tem Rene Spring is traveling and could not join us tonight, but we wish him safe travels.

Thank you for being here tonight and for all you do for Morgan Hill. Please give my colleagues a round of applause.

I would also like to recognize our City Commissioners that are here. Thank you for being here and for serving our Community in this important way.

Supervisor Wasserman was not able to be here this evening, but he sent his well wishes. Thank you, Mike for your good work at the County of Santa Clara and for being an advocate for Morgan Hill and all of South County.

I want to recognize and ask you to join me in a special thank you to our past mayor, Steve Tate. Mayor Tate dedicated 27 years of his life to serve our community, first as a Planning Commissioner, then as a City Council member and finally as the Mayor of Morgan Hill over the last 12 years. We cannot thank him enough for his many years of service and hard work for this community. Steve left big shoes to fill and I’ll do my best to honor his legacy.

I want to also welcome and thank the City teammates that are with us tonight and those that were not able to make it. Morgan Hill is a clean, beautiful, and safe community because of your hard work. Thank you.

Finally, and most importantly, I would like to acknowledge and thank my wife, Andrea, and my daughter, Emma, for their support and patience. As you know, being an elected official requires many hours away from home, so they, like the spouses and children of my colleagues on the City Council, also contribute to the community by supporting us in our journey to serve Morgan Hill—for that we thank you.

Great communities like Morgan Hill do not happen by chance. It takes good planning, vision, and fortitude to achieve greatness. Morgan Hill would not be the same if we did not have the Centennial Recreation Center, the Library, the Community and Cultural Center, the Dennis Kennedy Aquatics Center, or our beautiful Downtown. I want to thank the many elected officials, the community leaders, our City partners and the many, many volunteers that have made Morgan Hill what it is today.

Before running for mayor, I was a firefighter for over 24 years, and I served on the City Council since 2010. I ran for Mayor because I am proud of this community and I care deeply about public service. I care about helping us move forward…for my daughter and for our next generations. I know that we need to continue to ensure sustainable growth, while at the same time continuing to advocate and provide for affordable housing. I believe we need to find ways to improve traffic, grow jobs and improve our internet and telecommunication services. We need to preserve our city parks, fix our roads and continue to provide good service despite the rising costs.

The challenge is great but so is this community. This community has shown time and time again how smart… progressive…. and solution-oriented it can be. Morgan Hill is the result of good planning and smart growth. We have so much to celebrate and be proud of, including:

  • One out of every eight homes is income restricted
  • Morgan Hill has the largest per capita affordable housing ownership program in the state
  • Morgan Hill has preserved over 500 acres of open space
  • We are the leader in Santa Clara County in farmland preservation
  • We are a statewide leader in water conservation

Morgan Hill is known for our beautiful, safe and friendly community and great city facilities. But…Did you know, that Morgan Hill collects the least amount of taxes per person in the entire County? Yes! It is remarkable that we can provide a highly desirable community at a lower cost than any other city in Santa Clara County!

The City has been very thoughtful in the way we deliver services so that we have been able to provide our residents more with less.

We do this through innovative partnerships with organizations like the YMCA to provide recreation services, or Cal Fire to provide fire safety and Silicon Valley Clean Energy to provide energy resources alternatives.

We do this through the generous support of community organizations and volunteers

We do this through attracting the best and the brightest to work for Morgan Hill not because we pay the most, but because we have a reputation of being innovative and team oriented.

Our Morgan Hill Police Department is running their service model on providing great quality of service—with a goal of being the “Department of Choice.” Our Economic Development team’s slogan for investors is “Choose Morgan Hill.” As you can see, we have a theme of pride and choice. Our thoughtful planning has made us the community of choice in South County.

I am proud of the great strides we have made in our Downtown. When Redevelopment went away, we had a short window to make some smart investments. And this community rose to the challenge. With our $25 million of public investment in a parking garage and other street and infrastructure improvements, we were able to attract over $130 million in private investment. The new Downtown parks have created a family-friendly environment, the construction of Depot Commons on Third and Depot Street is near complete and will offer great tenants like Yoga Source; the Sunsweet project is taking form, and new retailers like Luxe Bride Boutique, Kelly Brewing, Realm Flower Company, Willard Hicks, Tac-Oh!, and Snowee Rolls have joined our Downtown. The boutique hotel will begin construction in April and more retail space is coming to the successful Granary building.

Our Downtown success is the result of thoughtful planning, and the proactive leadership of our Planning Commission and City Council in their willingness to seize the opportunity. We have applied this same approach to growing and attracting businesses in Morgan Hill. Our industrial vacancy rate is between 1 and 3 percent, when only six years ago it was 19 percent. We have a clear vision for Economic Development through our Economic Blueprint and it has helped us capture our fair share of the market.

We have been able to support expansion of local companies such as Golden State Assembly, Kettle Cuisine, and Shoe Palace. New companies like Omega GTI, an electronic components distributor, Super Tech, a high-performance auto parts retailer, Digital Storm, a high-end gaming equipment manufacturer, are moving their businesses to Morgan Hill.

And that is not all. Toeniskoetter Development, a local developer that is helping to bring two new hotels into town, is also developing a new industrial building in the Madrone Business Park. Trammel Crow, the developer that most recently worked on the Google campus in San Jose is developing the property next to the DePaul Center.

This thoughtful planning is the result of endless hours of work by many of our residents that came together to help us develop our General Plan, our Zoning Code, and other guiding documents such as the Parks, Trails and Bikeways Master Plan, the Public Safety Master Plan, and the Economic Blueprint. To continue to maintain our community’s character and grow in a smart and sustainable way, we must honor and implement these guiding documents that took hundreds of community hours and represent the goals of our community.

We are also working closely with the County to make sure the De Paul Center is used for healthcare services. Healthcare is important because it brings needed services to the community. We need to have access to basic services and resources such as urgent care and imaging services. This is part of our sustainable growth plan. A sustainable community is a community that is planning for a mix of land uses that support the community like healthcare, jobs, housing and parks.

The other aspect of a sustainable community is being fiscally sustainable—that is a community that has good financial planning and plans for the future cost of providing service. Morgan Hill is and has been a good financial steward. We provide great service at the lowest cost of any other city in the County. We have invested wisely and have a high financial rating to prove it. We have worked hard to streamline permitting processes, to be more accessible and business friendly. With services like TrackIt and Open Counter, our residents and businesses can access City Hall from the comfort of their homes.

We have much to be proud of. But we also need to acknowledge we have some difficult decisions to make and a tough reality ahead. There is a significant housing crisis facing California—every community is dealing with the impacts of the housing crisis, either by dealing with an increased homeless population or the lack of workforce to support local businesses. We are seeing both.

The State is overruling local control. The State wants communities to build their fair share of housing and those that are not meeting their quotas are getting penalized. Developers have increasing ways to build housing. Morgan Hill has been building its fair share of housing. We have been growing at a 2 percent pace, and we are building more affordable housing per capita than other communities.

We are doing our part to support housing. But the bar is getting higher and higher and we need to meet it. We need to continue to implement smart and sustainable development that protects the character of the community. This means being strategically urban and developing the housing densities required in the appropriate places. This will require tough choices.

We need to continue to create jobs—all sorts of jobs and businesses. Businesses help our community, either by generating revenue, bringing good paying jobs, or simply adding amenities to our community. We need to welcome our businesses that contribute to the fiscal health of our community. Bringing jobs to Morgan Hill will allow our residents to have choices to work right here. This will help to alleviate traffic and improve congestion and air quality.

We have aging infrastructure that needs repair. We are asking the community to support a rate increase for our wastewater system. This is not because we are growing too fast or adding development, this is simply due to the regular wear and tear of our system overtime. Just like the roof or the pipes in our own homes, these systems need to be replaced at some point. This is true for our roads as well as our underground facilities. Our roads need upkeep and in some cases replacement. The cost to replace the 129 miles of roadways in our community is more than we collect in gas taxes or other revenues.

We also need funds to invest in our public safety resources. We need more police officers and firefighters to support our community. We also need to find ways to support a new fire station and the staffing for it in order to continue to provide the high level of service our community deserves and expects.

The rising costs of retirement are requiring greater contributions to our City’s retirement system. We are sharing this burden with our employees. But these costs will continue to put pressure on our long-term financial sustainability.

As you can see, we have significant work ahead of us. Our City Council recently had a two-day goal setting workshop and fiscal sustainability was a theme for the entire two days. We are concerned with protecting our quality of life and local land use control. We continue to be worried about the potential impacts of the High-Speed Rail through our community and ensuring the redevelopment of the DePaul Medical Center as a healthcare facility. To see in greater detail the City Council’s 2019 and 2020 goals and priorities, I invite you to visit the City’s website (morganhill.ca.gov) or we also have copies available tonight.

We continue to look for ways to reduce expenses and increase revenues. We carefully manage and evaluate our staffing levels and today have lower staffing levels per capita than we had 10 years ago. We recently approved two hotels that will contribute local transient occupancy tax. We worked with the hotels to establish a Tourism Business Improvement District that will generate over $400,000 to promote the area for tourism, and we are implementing a campaign to attract jobs and companies to our community. Additionally, you the voters in Morgan Hill, approved an increase to the transient occupancy tax in this past election. A tax that is paid by visitors who stay in our hotels.

Finally, we are embarking on a community outreach and education process we are calling “Engage Morgan Hill” to discuss with you your priorities for funding and services. In order to meet the challenges ahead we need to come together as a community, share ideas, educate ourselves and make informed decisions about how to move forward for a sustainable future. I invite you to be engaged, learn the facts, share accurate information and be part of the solution. We need you to join the conversation on our long-term financial sustainability. In this age of social media, we can easily be distracted by statements that are not accurate. It’s important to know the facts and not get lost in uninformed conversations. Each of us has a responsibility to stay informed and balance the conversation. Please talk to Maureen Tobin, our Communications and Engagement Manager, to learn more about how you can get involved. We invite you to be part of the decision-making process. Join the Planning Commission or one of our other commissions. Let your voice be heard. Help us lead this community.

I conclude this State of the City by sharing with you that I am very hopeful and energized about Morgan Hill’s future. We have challenges ahead. But this community has shown resiliency and thoughtfulness in the past and I trust we will unite to continue to maintain our clean, beautiful, and thriving community.  I look forward to working with you and my colleagues as one team with the same purpose and goal—to choose Morgan Hill.

Mayor Rich Constantine delivered the 2019 State of the City speech March 13 at city council meeting chambers.

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