With new community projects completed and others underway, the city on solid financial ground, high marks on public safety and a new downtown city center on the horizon, life in San Ramon "really has never been better," Mayor Bill Clarkson said during his State of the City address Tuesday.
"The points I want to make are that San Ramon is a safe place to live, that our finances are in really great shape, our infrastructure is doing well and adding some things to it, that we are really working to protect our open spaces around San Ramon and that it's amazing how the power of partnerships is leveraging all those other areas to become very successful," the fifth-year mayor said.
Clarkson delivered his 37-minute speech to approximately 200 city officials, regional government representatives, business professionals and other community members seated in San Ramon Golf Club's Wedgewood Wedding and Banquet Center for the luncheon event.
The San Ramon Chamber of Commerce, which presents the annual speech, said Tuesday's turnout was a record high.
Clarkson opened by lauding the city's public safety efforts. "We have a great record, and we have a police force that we respect and trust," he said.
The City Council and police officials remain proactive to protect San Ramon, Clarkson said, noting the hiring of new officers and the addition of a new police beat in the Dougherty Valley.
Still, the department does face public-safety challenges, the mayor added.
"Violent crimes are down in San Ramon; we're doing a great job. But we're seeing a definite uptick in petty thefts and petty crimes," he said, pointing to the state criminal justice system realignment and reclassification of certain low-level thefts. He urged audience members to push their state legislators to modify those rules to help cities like San Ramon combat shoplifting and petty theft incidents.
The city's financial situation is "really in pretty good shape," Clarkson said, referring to a $3 million budget surplus at the end of last fiscal year, healthy budget reserves and reduced employee pension liabilities.
But, he acknowledged that the city's five-year financial forecast shows "we've got some pretty lean years in front of us."
Clarkson pointed to San Ramon's need for a stronger sales tax base to solidify the city's budget going forward.
"E-commerce is devastating, to a certain extent, our revenues on the sales tax side," he said. "This is something where the sales tax is still being collected, but it's not being allocated back necessarily to the city where you live in."
The planned retail components of the San Ramon City Center project could go a long way in helping sales tax revenues, he added.
"With the new City Center coming, we're going to get some more tax revenues," Clarkson said. "But there's going to be an ongoing discussion over the next four to five years as we look at our budget -- how are we going to plan for and pay for everything, including all the parks, our police and our infrastructure."
Developers and city officials hope the City Center at Bishop Ranch -- currently proposed to include retail, restaurants and a movie theater at first and then residential, hotel and office space components down the line -- will provide San Ramon with a true downtown area once the initial phase is completed.
He applauded Sunset Development, the owner of Bishop Ranch and developer of the proposed City Center, for trying to create a new community center -- a "pivot away from just being a business park to a place that people go to spend time."
"The quality of life in San Ramon ... really has never been better," the mayor said.
"What gets to me the most is when kids say to me they feel safe here," Clarkson added. "They feel safe in San Ramon. They like it because it's clean, they love all the trees, they love the parks, they love all the sports activities they get to do. We've done a really good job building a family-friendly town."
But one of the city's challenges going forward is "are we really a family-friendly town for all ages, including our seniors and our millennials," he said.
The mayor continued, "The problem we have sometimes is we always want to replicate, or build a city that reflects our values. We've got to work really hard ... on how do we figure out ways to plan a city around the way the next wave of users are going to want to use it."
Public outreach and interaction are keys to finding a solution, according to Clarkson, who said, "Let's ask. Let's ask what they want the city to look like."
Open space is another priority for the City Council and city officials, the mayor said.
"One of the ideas we have as a council is to look at the open space and create bookends of open space in San Ramon, and try to focus our growth -- to the extent we can and be respectful of property rights -- that if we do development and do things, we do it inwardly," he said.
Clarkson also highlighted several projects in town, including PG&E converting about 2,600 city street lights to LED, a proposal to bring a hydrogen vehicle refueling station to Bishop Ranch and Sunset Development's plan to pilot autonomous buses at the business park.
He praised positive outcomes from city partnerships, including with Sunset Development on the new City Hall construction, with the fire district on the new joint emergency dispatch center and with the school district and developers to help make the new Bella Vista Elementary School come to fruition.
The mayor also talked about city construction projects such as Iron Horse Regional Trail improvements and San Ramon Library renovations.
Clarkson discussed the city's recycled water efforts, saying they've been mostly successful at providing much-needed water to city parks during the drought. But he also said there are some spots where redwood trees were unexpectedly threatened by recycled water with high salt content.
"We've learned a lesson," Clarkson said. "Sometimes there's a price to be paid to be on the leading edge. And I guess in some ways we apologize to the residents that we've lost some trees. It was done obviously in good faith, and we're trying to make corrections."
The mayor closed by highlighting some of his goals for the year ahead, including traffic mitigation, preserving open space, creating a vibrant downtown with the City Center, and bicycle, pedestrian and trail improvements.
Clarkson's address is scheduled to air on Contra Costa Television at various times beginning next Wednesday. For broadcast dates, channel listings and other information, visit the CCTV website.