Photographs by Terry Miller
Monrovia Mayor Lutz Accentuates the Positive in State of City Address
By Susan Motander
Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz quoted songwriter Johnny Mercer in summing up the plan for the city: “accentuate the positive.” Her State of the City address Tuesday did not, however, gloss over the negative factors to which she referred as “challenges” facing the city.
Not surprisingly, a large part of the speech dealt with the impact of the end of redevelopment. Lutz noted that in late December, the California Supreme Court ruled “the Governor and the State Legislature had the right to kill redevelopment if they wanted to,” and they had done so.
Lutz pointed out that for the last 39 years Monrovia had used its Redevelopment Agency to “create private-sector jobs and stimulate business growth. It was the process by which we created affordable housing and it’s has funded vital community programs for decades.”
She vowed that the city and especially the City Council would work throughout the upcoming year to ensure that economic development would continue in the city. She also said that programs such as the Monrovia Area Partnership (MAP) would continue despite the fact that they had been funded by Redevelopment.
Lutz said “The Supreme Court decision was actually the second blow to hit Monrovia as last year ended. The first punch – the windstorm that hit us the night of November 30 – is a good metaphor for the jolts we took in 2011. It was unexpected and unprecedented, and it left a costly mess in its wake.”
She explained that the city was prepared and immediately worked to correct the problems and that in the same way the city would cope with the loss of the redevelopment agency: “We got things working again, shook it off, cleaned things up and got back to business.”
She said the city needed to find new ways to get things done. “This has always been one of Monrovia’s strong points.”
In addition to vowing to fund the MAP program the mayor also said the city was working to maintain a balanced budget. She said sales and property taxes were rising, but that with the loss of “Redevelopment dollars, we have a potential deficit of more than $1 million . She said “we’ll all be working through the spring to solve that problem.”
“The path to the future is still being determined, but when the road is finally cleared, we all know that Monrovia will lead the way forward, “ Lutz said.
She said that Monrovia had for years been known for its Redevelopment Program: “We’re the city that did it right, and the whole country knew it. Okay – now we’ll be the poster child for Economic Development. We have led the way in community reinvestment for nearly four decades. That won’t change.”
She listed all the accomplishments of the city including the Economic Development Program which was developed last year along with the new Business Resource Center and the creation of Project Coordinator position. She noted that the city has long been known as being supportive of business in the city and that this had culminated in Monrovia being named the most business friendly City in Los Angeles County.
“Redevelopment may be gone,” she said, “but Economic Development isn’t, and, I can tell you, the County’s ‘Most Business Friendly City’ isn’t going to miss any opportunity to stimulate jobs, attract business or reinvest in ourselves this year.”
To that end, she said the city staff would be presenting an Economic Development Action plan to the City Council in February. “We’re confident that the State will eventually solve it’s problems. In the meantime, we have a job to do and we’re getting on with it.”
Lutz summed up the State of the City by turning to the words of Mercer: “In 1944 – during the height of World War II, a far worse time than this – Johnny Mercer wrote a song in which he said, “You gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch onto the affirmative.” It was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now.
“We have a lot of positive to accentuate and a lot of affirmative to latch onto. Roadblocks and hurdles are just roadblocks and hurdles. We’ll eliminate them.”
For a full text of the mayor’s speech go to the city’s web site, www.ci.monrovia.ca.us, and click on the appropriate box under public notices.
For a full transcript of Mayor Lutz’ speech, read on:
State of the City, 2012
By Mayor Mary Ann Lutz, City of Monrovia
This year, more than most, we face challenges that demand the understanding and active concern of every Monrovian. In the week between Christmas and the New Year, the State Supreme Court handed down a ruling that effectively shut down the Monrovia Redevelopment Agency, along with every other redevelopment agency in California.
What the Court said was that the Governor and State Legislature had the right to kill redevelopment if they wanted to. They didn’t say it was the right thing to do. Or the smart thing. Just that they had the right to do it, if they wanted to.
In the past three weeks the ramifications and unintended consequences of the State’s actions have become evident, and if there is hope tonight, it’s that intelligent people – who all want the best for this state and it’s communities – will find a way to restore economic development – and job creation, and affordable housing, and blight and crime eradication – because, those are just some of the things that are now in jeopardy here and throughout California.
The Monrovia Redevelopment Agency was our greatest economic tool for 39 years. It was the means by which the City cultivated private-sector jobs and stimulated business growth. It was the process by which we created affordable housing, and it has funded vital community programs for decades. For 39 years, Redevelopment shaped the face of Monrovia. It’s gone now, for us and for 400 other communities in this state.
We’ll miss the economic tools it gave us. But we’ll survive. There is reason for optimism tonight, because reasonable people are hard at work on possible fixes. There are solutions at hand, both at the state and local levels, new directions and new paths are being developed and explored and new, enabling legislation is being offered.
As I speak tonight we still don’t know what economic development in this state will look like in the future, but we have a pretty good idea where it needs to go and how we can help get it there.
The end of Redevelopment in California doesn’t have to mean the end of affordable housing. It doesn’t have to mean the end of economic development, or blight eradication or neighborhood improvement. Not here, anyway. Not in Monrovia.
In the meantime, though – where does this situation leave us as we start the new year? I can report to you tonight that the state of the City is secure, but I must also report that serious economic challenges lie ahead as a result of the State’s action and the Supreme Court’s decision.
Our budget is balanced, our goals and objectives are clear and in sight, and we have the resources, the organizational strength and the community backing to make wonderful things happen. But, tonight, none of that guarantees us the progress we’re looking for in 2012.
We begin this new year optimistically, but with continued concerns.
The Supreme Court decision was actually the second blow to hit Monrovia as last year ended. The first punch – the windstorm that hit us the night of November 30 – is a good metaphor for the jolts we took in 2011. It was unexpected and unprecedented, and it left a costly mess in its wake.
Hundreds of trees were uprooted and torn apart; dozens of cars and fences were smashed, and most of our residents and businesses were without power for days. But, we got things working again, shook it off, cleaned things up and got back to business.
That was not an aberration. The reason we were able to respond so quickly and so well – and to recover relatively easily – is that we were prepared.
You can never know what emergency is going to come up, or when, but you can be ready to respond. We were ready because of good planning and training by a team of top professionals, because of involved and caring residents and businesses and because of thoughtful, responsible and foresighted community leadership – everything that we’re going to need again in 2012.
Each year, you hear me talk about Team Monrovia, led by the elected and appointed officials, commissioners and board members who represent and help guide our community alongside our partners at the School District, the Chamber of Commerce and the dozens of churches and organizations that serve our city.
Team Monrovia is the conduit through which the community sets its goals and priorities and makes its important decisions. Team Monrovia, too, was hit with windstorms this past year.
Councilmember Shaw was called up to active military duty last summer. He’s been gone now for six months and is going to be gone for another six. Mr. Shaw is 20% of the City Council. That’s a big hole to plug – too big a hole to remain unfilled for an entire year.
Especially this year. We have unusually important decisions to make in the next few months, some of which will certainly determine the economic future of Monrovia. With just four votes, an honest disagreement on the Council could create a roadblock of its own. So we asked Larry Spicer to move up from the Planning Commission and sit with the Council until Mr. Shaw returns. As a Commissioner, he was already helping us make many of those important decisions, anyway. That’s how Team Monrovia works.
And then, of course, there was the loss of our City Manager to Glendale. Scott Ochoa took the community through often exciting, sometimes painful and always interesting times. We made great strides under Scott’s stewardship and we’re going to miss him and his many talents. Replacing Scott is also a challenge. While we search for his successor, we’ve asked Mark Alvarado, the City’s Administrative Services Director, to also act as Interim City Manager.
So, this new year is starting out a lot like the morning of Dec. 1, 2011, when we faced some unexpected challenges, but confidently rolled up our sleeves and went to work setting things right and making things better.
Well, here we are again. It’s not an act of nature that has caused our current crisis. It’s an act of the Governor and Legislature. We’ve been battered now by nature, the economy, and a shortsighted – and sometimes obstructive – State leadership. We still have considerable roadblocks and high hurdles to clear, but we’ve had those before. And we’ve cleared them.
Let me remind you of where Monrovia was 40 years ago and of the long, difficult road we walked to get this community where it is today. Monrovia has been held up as a model to the nation for both our struggle and our success. That’s what the ‘All-America City Award’ of 1995 was all about. That’s what the Presidential Visit here in 1996 was all about.
Roadblocks and hurdles are just roadblocks and hurdles. We face them all the time. We always have.
Despite the winds of fate, Monrovia, today, is still strong and still working hard.
For 35 years, Monrovia has been the poster child for Redevelopment. We’re the city that did it right, and the whole country new it. Okay – now we’ll be the poster child for Economic Development. We have led the way in community reinvestment for nearly four decades. That won’t change.
So let’s not talk about what was anymore. Let’s talk about the opportunities of 2012 and the roadblocks and hurdles we still must overcome to achieve them.
Here’s what I mean:
Remember ‘In N Out’? I’ll bet you do. I’ll bet you remember very well that I’ve stood up here for the past two years and first announced and then promised that ‘In N Out’ was going to open a restaurant in Monrovia. Well, deals made in this economy tend to be elusive – to say the least – and I’m sorry to tell you that this particular deal fell through last year and efforts to get it going again have been futile.
I have to report tonight that ‘In N Out’ isn’t coming to Monrovia this year. We’re all sorry about that, but I must emphasize, they’re not coming this year. They still want to come and maybe… someday… who knows?
And there – in a nutshell – is where we find so many of our elusive opportunities today. There is a backlog of possibilities just like that, nearly all of them far greater opportunities in terms of jobs, business stimulation and revenue generation; opportunities that have been waiting for the economic and legal logjams to clear.
We had hoped that the Supreme Court would clear some of them. It didn’t. So now we’ll have to find another way to make them happen – to keep reinvesting in our community.
Here’s another example of both opportunities and hurdles – we have a negotiated agreement to sell land to the Gold Line Construction Authority for a maintenance and operations facility. That sale is designed to give us the money to fund public improvements in a part of town that needs them desperately… and it would allow the Gold Line to continue on its construction schedule, bringing light-rail service to Monrovia by 2015…and it could clear the way for the first phase of Station Square – the largest community investment in Monrovia’s history.
That could all be under construction by the spring of 2013. The sale of that land will be the catalyst for hundreds of jobs, for new affordable housing and for a vastly improved public transportation system, for public parks, for widened streets and for new, revenue-generating businesses.
But new rules are being written even as I speak, and new hurdles are going to have to be cleared before any of it can happen.
Finding new ways to get things done has always been one of Monrovia’s strong points. That may be why I was one of just eight mayors from through the southwestern United States to be invited to participate in a special seminar on city design next month. Very much like the studies we did several years ago with the Urban Land Institute, I’ll be sitting down with leading architects, urban planners and other civic leaders to explore new ways of resolving complex issues and clearing developmental hurdles – new and creative ways to reinvest in our hometowns.
This community has never been one that sat back and waited for things to happen. I’ve said it before… nothing happens in Monrovia by accident. We will find the way forward.
One lesson we learned last year was – “don’t make promises in this economy.”
We also were reminded of what we’ve know for many years – things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, so, either way, we need to be prepared and be flexible and always ready to try something new.
Well, we’re ready. We’ve been ready.
We created a new Economic Development program last year. Good thing we did. We also introduced a new Business Resource Center and created a Project Coordinator position. Add those to our other fast-track business services and to the success that we’ve had recently in bringing new businesses to town – and in helping existing businesses to expand, even in the current economy – add all those together and you get some of the reasons that Monrovia was named LA County’s ‘Most Business Friendly City’ last year.
Redevelopment may be gone, but Economic Development isn’t, and, I can tell you, the County’s ‘Most Business Friendly City’ isn’t going to miss any opportunity to stimulate jobs, attract business or reinvest in ourselves this year.
In February, our staff will be presenting to the Council an Economic Development Action Plan that will set our new course.
We’re confident that the State will eventually solve it’s problems. In the meantime, we have a job to do and we’re getting on with it. We have been slashing budgets and cutting staff for four years now in order to live within our means. We’re much leaner for it.
In addition to the City Manager, we have also lost some of our most seasoned professionals – department and division heads who retired in the past two or three years. But they left us well prepared. We’ve been getting ready for those changes for years with ongoing staff development programs. Our new management team is already well-trained and well-experienced. They’ve been moving up from within our ranks and preparing for these jobs. We will have a new City Manager in place this spring.
Last year we also developed new ‘Principles of Employee Compensation Management’ and new performance-based incentives. And we’ve re-structured and spread retirement costs with great future savings.
Six months into the fiscal year, our budget is structurally balanced, but now we’re assessing whether the budget can stay balanced for long. We may need some new thinking and new tools to keep it on track.
I have to bring up Redevelopment one more time, because its loss is going to have ripple effects we need to plan for. Redevelopment funds the Monrovia Area Partnership, for instance. If MAP is now going to have to compete for limited General Fund dollars with other City programs, then something may have to give. More cutbacks may be needed, somewhere.
Let me say now, we do not intend for MAP to go away. We’re going to find a solution.
Our sales and property taxes are trending up. Without the loss of Redevelopment, our budget would have be secure for at least another year. Now, without Redevelopment dollars, we have a potential deficit of more than $1 million. That’s a lot of money to make up, and we’ll be working all through the spring to solve that problem.
We ended 2011 with our costs controlled and our revenues stabilized and with the Gold Line deal – and all of the community improvements that go with it – well within sight. Yet, we begin 2012 with those goals unresolved.
The legal and economic stalemates of 2011 are still the roadblocks and hurdles of 2012. But, as I said earlier, we always face roadblocks and hurdles. And we always overcome them. That’s our job.
We weren’t idle or unsuccessful in 2011. Far from it. Despite those same roadblocks, we accomplished a lot. We spent last year planning, implementing and making great progress in a number of areas and we are ready this year to make all sorts of things happen.
Take parks, for instance. Last year, we concluded an agreement with the School District and opened Monrovia’s school yards as neighborhood parks on weekends, holidays and after school. We also put a spotlight on Olive Avenue Park when it was renamed Lucinda Garcia Park in honor of one of Monrovia’s outstanding citizens of the past.
Throughout 2011, our commissions studied drafts of both an Environmental Impact Report and a Resource Management Plan for our Wilderness Preserve. Our residents studied the documents, too, and commented on them and participated in the discussions and deliberations. The City Council will be receiving the commissions’ recommendations in February.
So, all last year we talked about the possibilities, and we held public meetings to discuss pocket parks and walking trails and large, recreational spaces. And we heard the community’s hopes and concerns. We’ve been examining the entire Master Plan for Parks and assessing our needs all over the city. Julian Fisher Park has aged and we’re raising funds now to refurbish and renew it. Grand Avenue Park needs attention.
We have several park projects in the pipeline now and we’ll be dealing with them throughout this year. We just don’t know, right now, which tools or resources we’ll have available to act on our decisions.
The City Council relies on its Boards and Commissions for advice when we face issues such as these. We rely just as heavily on the active involvement of our residents – and our residents are becoming more and more involved in the process every year.
Let’s talk about MAP again. The Monrovia Area Partnership is a City-sponsored program that is designed to encourage and enable active community involvement, and it’s been working wonderfully. MAP has won national and regional awards every year of its existence, and did so again last year.
Our MAP Leadership Academy has now graduated 75 residents, and they are all working in their neighborhoods – organizing events, establishing Neighborhood Watch groups, hosting public forums and getting deeply involved in their community. MAP Leadership graduates are serving on the Planning Commission, the Community Services Commission, the Historic Preservation Commission and the Library Board. Larry Spicer is a MAP Leadership graduate.
We expanded the MAP program into still more neighborhoods last year, and expanded the Monrovia Reads and Plays program right along with it. It was through MAP that Monrovia held its Second Annual Neighborhood Conference last year. And MAP was the stimulus for the ‘Thriving Neighborhood Survey,’ an ongoing poll of residents to solicit feedback and ask them to rate their neighborhoods and tell us where they’d like to see changes.
All of that MAP activity was paid for by Redevelopment. We’re going to have to find a new funding source. Be assured, we will.
MAP’s activities positively affected every part of the community last year. The ‘Thriving Neighborhood Survey,’ for instance, made it very clear that a lot of our residents were concerned about speeding on residential streets. Learning that, our Police Department was able to respond quickly with increased enforcement and the ‘Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25’ program.
Many of our neighborhood issues are more difficult to address and are taking more time. We struggle every year to deal successfully and fairly with issues of public safety, blight, poverty and crime.
The gang violence that troubled some of our neighborhoods a few years ago was stopped and will hopefully never return thanks to a combination of efforts by everyone in this community. Enforcement is, of course, at the core, and the anti-gang injunction that has been in place since 2010 is doing its job just as we hoped. So are all of the other programs and projects that we have in place to keep our neighborhoods healthy, crime-free, blight-free and thriving.
“Fiscal Responsibility’ and ‘Public Safety’ are right the top of the Council’s priority list.
Last year, Monrovians told the ‘Thriving Neighborhood Survey’ that they felt safe in their neighborhoods. They rated Public Safety in Monrovia at just under 9 on a scale of 1-to-10. And their perception was right. Serious crime was down 17% last year, with significant reductions in several categories. Traffic accidents, too, have dropped by 2.6%.
Congratulations, by the way, to Jim Hunt, who succeeded Roger Johnson as Chief of Police after Roger retired last year. Jim is working with a smaller budget and a smaller staff this year, just like every department head in the City. And he’s finding new ways of getting things done.
Our Police Department has been increasing its direct communication with our residents using new technologies, with Crime Mapping now available online, alerts and messages are going out through Twitter and the twice-weekly ‘Neighborhood Watch Report’ now available both online and through email subscriptions.
With our limited means, we are relying more and more on technology. This year, staff from every City department will be meeting in a special Task Force to study and plan for our growing technology needs.
The City’s website now contains thousands of pages of information on every aspect of Monrovia’s city government, and the site is expanding every day. From July 2010 to July 2011, we had more than one million page visits on the City site – Monrovians and others looked for information about this community, on that site, more than 1 million times in those 12 months.
We are giving our residents the information they need and we’re responding as they tell us where to concentrate our efforts. It’s a conversation that is working well.
Last year, the Fire Department partnered with the Quota Club to create a databank of residents with disabilities who might need special attention in emergencies. That databank gave our responders a head start when the windstorms knocked out power eight weeks ago. We were ready with a crew of community volunteers, and they went out immediately to check on Monrovians who had registered with the program.
We’re seeing that kind of community involvement all over town these days. I said earlier that the speed with which we recovered from the wind storm was not an aberration. Well, the help and encouragement that our neighbors gave to each other over those few days was not an aberration either.
Monrovia has strong neighborhoods filled with families who care about each other. Our community works hard to encourage and maintain those neighborhood bonds so that they’re there all the time, not only in disasters. In Monrovia, we want those bonds to be second nature – to be normal. That’s why we spend effort and money on programs like MAP.
The morning after the windstorm, the first volunteers showed up at our Emergency Operations Center nearly as soon as it opened. The people of Monrovia made sure their families and neighbors were cared for, and then many of them turned their attention to the community. We had volunteers from our Community Emergency Response Teams, and also folks who just walked in and wanted to help.
Our businesses did whatever they could to get power and food to our residents, and some – like Steve Pokrajac and his crew from Pokrajac Construction – made major contributions to the cleanup effort and they deserve our thanks.
And tonight I want to be sure, again, to publicly thank the more-than-200 City employees who worked around-the-clock to clear and clean our streets, ensure our safety and keep the community going during that emergency. Our Public Works crews did an exemplary job, as did employees from every department in the City – employees who manned the EOC 24 hours a day for four full days, who kept our water wells pumping, who responded to medical emergencies, who secured needed resources, who cleared our streets, and who did everything we asked and expected of them.
Public employees had a rough year last year. I just want to be sure we tell them how much we appreciate their work.
The response and cleanup effort cost this community about $400,000. We’re still cleaning up and it’s still costing us. That’s what you have to expect from a small emergency like a windstorm. Imagine what an earthquake or major brushfire could cost. That’s why we have a $4 million reserve fund – to cover emergencies just like this one.
We use those reserves to handle the costs up front, and usually we can get them repaid from State or Federal emergency funds. But the State fund is already overdrawn. It’s broke. And, it turns out, the Feds won’t be able to help either – so we’re not getting reimbursed.
It’s a good thing that we had that $400,000 in the bank on December 1. It’s a good thing that we were ready, and had the unencumbered reserves we needed, when we needed them. That’s another lesson of 2011.
In reality, Team Monrovia is the entire community. It’s the Mayor and City Council, the City Treasurer and the City Clerk, and 27 Commissioners and Board Members. But, it’s also the School District and the Chamber of Commerce and a long, long list of service clubs and churches and youth organizations and interest groups of every kind. Team Monrovia is our residents, our businesses and our public employees, too.
When the City couldn’t afford to staff Old Town’s ‘Food, Wine and Jazz Festival’ anymore, the Kiwanis Club stepped up and brought it back last year as the ‘Taste of Old Town.’ And they raised thousands of dollars for the YMCA. The YMCA, meanwhile, is partnering with the City to bring back last year’s successful ‘Friday Night Live,’ a new program that gave our teenagers something safe and fun to do while hanging out at the weekly street fair in Old Town – and it’s a program that has proven to be a winner for everyone involved.
It was a partnership of residents, businesses, organizations and the City that brought a new Cinco de Mayo celebration to Old Town last year. And it was a community team that put together the wonderful New Year’s celebration in Old Town three weeks ago.
We work closely with our neighbors, too. Last year, Monrovia partnered with Duarte on a Youth Conference, and we’ll be doing it again this year.
Team Monrovia gets things done.
We’re going to continue to rely on everyone’s involvement in 2012 as we tackle the issues, roadblocks and hurdles ahead of us – and get things done.
Before I close, I’d like to discuss one more area where Monrovia is doing very well but still faces some challenges.
We’re making great progress on Monrovia’s 21 Accords, the environmental goals that we’ve set for ourselves. We’re doing so well, that our efforts earned Monrovia a ‘Silver Certificate’ last year from the ‘Green California Community Challenge.’ We were one of just five cities to make that level and we were just a few points short of the top ‘Gold Certificate.’
But, we’re still struggling with the need to improve our recycling efforts – especially commercial recycling. And waste-water runoff is an expensive issue that gets closer every year to needing a solution.
We’ll be dealing with those issues again in 2012, along with economic development and parks and the Gold Line and Station Square and a changing City staff with new leadership and roads that need resurfacing and trees that need trimming and the Wilderness Preserve and neighborhood improvement…
All the while keeping the budget balanced and our streets safe.
Eight months ago we celebrated our community’s 125th Anniversary, and all of Team Monrovia turned out for the event. We’re going to need that same team – all of Monrovia – and that same level of community-wide caring and community-wide involvement – to meet the challenges I just listed and whatever others might come along this year.
The challenges we face in 2012 aren’t that much different from what we faced in 2011. That can be a depressing thought. But, remember, things change, and sometimes for the better. We need to be prepared and be flexible. Well, we are. We’re ready.
The path to the future is still being determined, but when the road is finally cleared, we all know that Monrovia will lead the way forward.
We remain optimistic, despite the winds of fate, and with good reason.
In 1944 – during the height of World War II, a far worse time than this – Johnny Mercer wrote a song in which he said, “You gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch onto the affirmative.” It was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now.
We have a lot of positive to accentuate and a lot of affirmative to latch onto. Roadblocks and hurdles are just roadblocks and hurdles. We’ll eliminate them.
We have the team, we have the experience and we have to will to make great things happen. Monrovia today is secure, energized and looking forward to many more years of progress. With your continued participation, our future will be bright.
And that is the state of our City, Tuesday, January 24, 2012.