Community Enhancement Program Meeting
By Hatfield McCoy
with editorial comments in italics
There have been innumerable meetings about how to improve Vallejo over the years, but never before have we seen so many Vallejo city department heads attend. But that is just what the new city manager, Dan Keen, has arranged. This was the case at the initial downtown community enhancement meeting held at the Empress Theatre last month; and at the second meeting held Wednesday, July 18th. About forty Vallejo citizens showed up at the Joseph Room in the John F. Kennedy Library to hear what city staff had discovered at the first community forum. The city staff wants to obtain public input as to what people would like to see in Historic Downtown Vallejo. And for the first time in many years, they truly seemed to care about public concerns and opinions. Each department head gave a brief introduction and presentation as to what their duties entail, and how the public may contact them.
It is a long established fact that most Vallejo city department heads do not genreally live in Vallejo. And it is further understood that they would never care to do so. But, at least for now, they truly seem to have a ‘buy-in’ as to citizen’s concerns. Thank you, Mr. Keen
Ursula Luna-Reynosa introduced herself as the head of Economic Development. She told the audience that her department oversees the Building Department and Planning Department. “This is very unusual for a city to have this structure. I guess Vallejo puts a big emphasis on Economic Development,” said Luna-Reynosa. This does seem as though it would put too much stress on Economic Development whose job it is to find and attract new business, not be the big boss of the people in the building and planning divisions. Perhaps our new Manager Dan Keen will help Luna-Reynosa out and change this structure too. Luna-Reynosa stated that she is doing a “Cluster Analysis” to determine the driving economic forces in Vallejo, and to discover what would be the best ‘niche’ market for the town.
The Public Works Department came up with some interesting facts. We now know that there are 8,000 street lights in Vallejo, and 916 of those lights were recently changed to LED which saves money. They are working on eventually changing the remaining 7100 lights too. There are also 121 traffic signal, 22 alleys, and 53,000 trees to maintain. All of this is done by the Public Works department which covers the maintenance for landscaping, infrastructure, the Marina, street signs, lights, etc. Routine dumping in alleys is an ongoing problem.
Sadly, our new interim police chief was a no-show. But the police department sent a representative who settled some debates. The audience learned that loitering (per se) is not a crime. The cops receive many reports of ‘suspicious characters’ but unless that person is doing a criminal act, they cannot approach him/her for loitering. He also noted that last year they received 175,000 calls, but only responded to 66,000. In the last three months they had fourteen prostitute arrests, and they now have 25 new cameras in town, mostly placed downtown. (Some would argue this is due to the HUD and Section 8 housing downtown). The police also mentioned that each camera costs $24,000. They had initially tried cameras which cost $6,000 but “they proved to be crap,” Guy Rico, of the Vallejo Housing Department, told the audience, adding that there are currently 2,000 Section 8 vouchers in use in Vallejo and there are 12 multi-family Section 8 housing projects,
Aside from city department heads, the room was full of some ‘heavy hitters’ who have tremendous invested interest in Vallejo, either financially or on a personal and emotional level. Former Councilwoman Joanne Schivley was there, along with former Councilman Tom Bartee. Some of you may remember that Tom Bartee was practically given the Charles Hotel which was owned by city taxpayers. Documents show that he paid less than $200,000 for it, and later sold it for well over a million). Also in the crowd was Buck Kamphausen, current president of CCRC (Central Core Restoration Corp.), who proudly announced that he owns fifteen buildings downtown. He further lamented the potential cost of earthquake retrofit. (The law mandates that a building with four or more residential units must be reinforced.) The only current City Councilmember to attend was Councilman Robert McConnell who had some ideas as to how to make positive changes not only in Historic Downtown, but throughout the city. Other stakeholders in attendance included downtown business owners Fred Menard, Natasha Clark and Greg Leopold. Attorney David Fisher was also seen in the crowd. Fisher not only owns a building downtown, but actually has it rented. Mike Browne of the Visitors & Convention Bureau was there as well, along with Tony Adams, Vallejo’s newest member of the Planning Commission. Recent candidate for Solano County Supervisor, Katy Meissner, was also in the audience.
Approximately half of the audience had attended the first fact finding meeting, others were anxious to weigh in with ideas and suggestions about how to make downtown more attractive to citizens as well as tourists. After department head presentations, the audience was divided into three groups. Each group was asked to review six categories: Economic Development, Safety & Cleanliness, Infrastructure, Youth & Education, Organizations/Communications/Partnerships, Housing & Homelessness, and Image & Perception; the lists for each category had been taken from the first ‘Enhancement’ meeting last month at the Empress. After considerable time given to each focused area, each person was asked to place a blue sticker dot next to their most important concerns.
One group vehemently noted that the whole town needs better Code Enforcement. They also want to see more activities downtown for youth and seniors, a better downtown vision, and definitive ‘Branding.’ Another group wanted better parking conditions. They suggested placing diagonal lines in the 500 block of Georgia, narrowing Georgia Street to two lanes in that area to create more parking for businesses. Katy Meissner noted the other advantage to diagonal parking: “It would slow people down as they drive into the downtown,” she said. That group also wanted more market rate housing, and less Section 8 housing downtown. This point is almost moot as the council just approved the Temple Arts Project which will bring even more Section 8 into downtown. Katy also said that her group would like to have a central ‘Public Information Officer’ to send out messages to promote Vallejo by the Bay.” Isn’t that what Mike Browne is supposed to be doing?
Another group wants more multi-cultural events downtown, greater use and exposure of the existing artists, more large anchor stores, and service oriented stores such as a dry cleaner, laundry mat, or grocery store. There has not been a major grocery store downtown since Safeway left many years ago; Luna- Reynosa said she is diligently working on this. Others suggested perhaps a recreation center, a skate park, or a music or art school and more night life such as restaurants, and clubs. Acting Planning Director Michelle Hightower told the group earlier that six Brew-Pubs & Wine Bars had just been approved by City Council. Buck Kamphausen suggested a major summer youth job program, and others said that perhaps the people who have misdemeanors could do volunteer community service such as cleaning up or other needed tasks downtown.
Almost everyone wants to see a ‘marriage’ between the waterfront and downtown. They want a clear vision as to how we want to present the entire downtown/waterfront area. They want a theme for the city and they demanded consistency. Former California Maritime Academy (aka Vallejo State University) employee, Kristina Naughton said that it would be nice if the style of lighting in downtown and at the waterfront was more consistent. As she had said at the first meeting, Kristina advocated that the city encourage the local colleges to establish satellite classrooms or administrative offices downtown.
Overall, it became quite clear that people want Code Enforcement to improve, they want to celebrate the downtown and Mare Island artists, and they want to have more activities for youth and seniors. But the most overwhelming demand from the entire crowd is one of a better vision, and greater overall focus as to how we want to promote Vallejo: Branding, Branding, Branding.
The next ‘Community Enhancement meeting (Area of Focus: Downtown) will be held on August 29th at the downtown Empress Theatre on Virginia St. Note: This date has been changed from what was originally advertised. The meeting will begin at 6:00p.m. If you are interested in the present and future conditions of downtown, and have not attended so far, this will be the third and final meeting. So try to attend and weigh in with your own personal opinion as to how you would improve historic downtown. It will also give you an opportunity to meet each and every department head. That in and of itself is a reason to attend.
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