Job one, as they used to say at Ford Motor Co., is to recruit and hire a stellar city manager who can fill the very large shoes of Kevin Duggan, who luckily is not saying goodbye until April 2. But after that, without a knowledgeable leader at the helm, the council's life could be very stressful in the year ahead. Then there are the obvious, but extremely important tasks, of balancing the city's budget and finishing up work on the General Plan, which will guide the city's growth for 20 or more years.
• After scouring last year's budget for $4 million in cuts, the council will be hard-pressed to find more soft spots this year, especially when the economy is expected to show only anemic improvement. One thing is certain: the days of overly generous contracts with managers and union employees are over. The city needs to make sure that rising pension costs are paid for out of employee salaries — not by cutting services. If employee costs are kept under control, perhaps voters will be willing to approve bond projects for needed city projects, like a large park for the Whisman neighborhood and upgrades at Rengstorff Park, including a new teen center and community center.
• Certainly the most controversial task for the council in 2011 will be to adopt a policy — or not — to regulate dispensaries of medical marijuana. Although there appears to be five votes in favor, the views are far from uniform, with some members threatening to block passage if their ideas are not reflected in a final decision. Given that most nearby cities are not leaping on the marijuana bandwagon, the council needs to make an honest assessment if it really wants to bring this business here.
• It is time for local school districts to receive an equitable share of revenue from the special Shoreline tax district. Legislation passed more than 40 years ago shut schools out of this lucrative income stream, which over the years has grown to $26 million a year. Without a sunset clause that would terminate the district, it will be up to the city to share this revenue, although $19 million is committed to ongoing expenses. Nevertheless, it is time for city officials to at least sit down with the school district to discuss how and when Shoreline revenue can be shared.
• While plans to turn McKelvey Park and Cuesta Annex into flood basins are irrevocably moving forward, the changes continue to rile a significant number of opponents who say it will ruin the park experience. At Cuesta Annex, neighbors and others are upset about the loss of heritage trees and oppose building the new history museum on park grounds. McKelvey Park neighbors see the redesign as an opportunity to move one of two baseball fields to Shoreline and open up more space for other uses. It will be up to the council and the water district to resolve these disputes before work begins in 2012 or 2013.
• Last year, the council quietly passed up creating a park space for BMX bike riders, even though the funds ($60,000) were budgeted and a location, next to the dog park at Shoreline, was selected. This designation is a no-brainer. The council should take action this year.
• We hope this is the year that a city representative sits down with the Francia family, which owns the last working orchard on Whisman Road, to discuss what it would take to turn the property into a park for the Whisman neighborhood. This 12-acre space has the potential to become a badly needed regional greenspace to serve this and other neighborhoods north of El Camino Real.
We are sure city administrators and the council have many more goals that will keep them extremely busy in the months ahead. Before they get started, we wish them all a Happy New Year.