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April 26, 2011 > Newark is on course

Newark is on course

By William Marshak

Newark Mayor Dave Smith used a nautical theme to give encouraging news to a large group of dignitaries at the Newark Hilton Hotel on Thursday afternoon, April 21, 2011. At a gathering sponsored by the Newark Chamber of Commerce, the mayor spoke of an encouraging scenario that finds the "good ship Newark" on course to success.

Following a medley of music courtesy of the Newark Memorial Advanced Choir led by Choir Director Andy Ehling, a humorous introduction of councilmembers in "Jib Jab" fashion and a plethora of other officials, the mayor got down to business.

Using the metaphor of a sailing ship on an unpredictable ocean, challenges of the past several years were noted. Budget cuts over the past six years have been necessary to "weather the storm" including layoffs, salary and personnel reductions, community service reductions (crossing guards, school resource officers, street and park maintenance, library hours, capital projects, etc.), closure of the Senior Center and curtailment of most activities at the Newark Community Center. This year's optimistic forecast is based on promising economic indicators and passage of Measure U, a temporary Utility Users Tax although Mayor Smith warned that "the economy still faces headwinds."

Comparison of the 2007-08 City budget and that of 2010-11 illustrated the effects of the recent stormy situation as Newark's Operating Budget fell from $41million to $33.3 million and full-time staff was whittled by approximately 30 percent (308 to 175.80 Full Time Equivalents). On a bright note, enhanced and more efficient fire services were achieved through a contract and merger with the Alameda County Fire Department.

Although Measure U funds estimated at $2.3 million per year from the three and one-half percent (3-1/2 %) tax on utility services will not begin to flow until May, plans to use the new revenues have been carefully considered. Restoration of services will be limited since only about 25 percent of City budget cuts can be replaced with these funds and Measure U will "sunset" in 2015. Mayor Smith outlined use of the new funds to restore services previously reduced or eliminated including: $365,000 for public safety; $237,000 for landscape/parks and street maintenance; $334,000 for Senior Center/recreation services; $417,000 for critical projects and support services$300,000 for equipment replacement; $100,000 for fire apparatus replacement; $100,000 for Capital funds and $250,000 to restore a fiscal uncertainty reserve.

Restoration of a School Resource Officer in September, a detective position and two part-time aide positions are anticipated as well as increased maintenance of parks, street sweeping, trash pick-up and weeding. The much anticipated re-opening of the Newark Senior Center is set for July and restoration of the Ash Street Summer Program is included in the new budget. Safety concerns are also being addressed through resumed funding of a school crossing guard program for the 2011-12 school year and the addition of a part-time Community Resource Officer. While funds have been available to construct the Lakeshore Park seawall, staff was unable to facilitate the project. Use of Measure U funds will allow Newark to retain the services of a design consultant to complete this project.

Mayor Smith spoke of the impact of current decisions on future generations, addressing the theme of "sustainability" and steps the City has taken toward ensuring the future of Newark. He noted the presence of "green businesses" in Newark including a diverse mix of industrial entrepreneurs including PetersenDean, Serious Materials, CalStar Products and Waste Management. On the environmental scene, LEED Platinum rated Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology is the "greenest college in the world."

New business is "pulling into our port," said Mayor Smith. He pointed to the addition of Burlington at the old Mervyn's store, new businesses at the Palms center, MiPueblo grocery store, Ross Dress for Less opening in July and several restaurants that have opened their doors. Pacific Research Center, located at the former Sun Microsystems campus, has attracted new businesses in nine lab, office and research and development buildings. Seven major companies have leased space at this facility and the mayor promised a major announcement of final tenant in approximately two weeks.

Talk of commercial success continued as retail space on Balentine Drive has been leased to auto-oriented operations including Fiat and Cruise America. As a major industry in Newark, Cargill was highlighted for their interest in the community - "a devoted sponsor and supporter throughout the years" - and investment of $10 million in Newark operations over the last two years.

Planning for residential and associated community amenities has been active. The mayor spoke of Transit Oriented Development on 230 acres near Willow Street and Enterprise Drive (Area 2), and long range plans for land (Area 3 & 4) in the southwest quadrant of the City. Plans include possible residential developments, a park, school, trails, open space and "a major regional amenity" such as a golf course.

In summation, Mayor Smith acknowledged the efforts of Newark staff during what he termed "sea changes" during its 56 year voyage. "They right-sized, they downsized, they reorganized, they rearranged, and they reinvented." The message concluded on an upbeat note as Mayor Smith quoted from John Denver's song "Calypso"... "To sail on a dream of a crystal clear ocean---to ride on the crest of a wild raging storm."

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