State of the City and Farewell Address From Placerville Mayor Thomas 2018

by Placerville Newswire / Dec 13, 2018 / comments

[Wendy Thomas]

It is unbelievable to think that eight years has passed since I was elected to the Placerville City Council.  I can unequivocally say that serving our City in this capacity has been the greatest privilege of my life.

As I look back 8 years ago, our City was embroiled in conflict.  We were coming off the cusp of a horrendous utility rate hike forced on our community by state-mandated improvements to our wastewater treatment plant.  The Clay Street project was coming to a head over a roundabout, and we were knee-deep in a controversy surrounding Redevelopment.  Our community was locked in rhetoric that was heated and contentious, and for a little while, we lost our way in a sea of speculation and a climate of rampant allegations.

At that time, I was a green Councilmember, naïve, but optimistic and passionate about our community.  (That I haven’t lost).  Frustrated over the hostile climate in our beloved hometown, I pitched the idea of a Neighborhood Chat, and I was blessed by a Council and Staff that was open to possibility.  I’ll never forget that first chat…People filed in ready to do battle.  As we began the discussion, we established a set of ground rules, welcoming every voice and agreeing to community dialog built on mutual respect.  We then spent the next few hours focusing on what we liked about US.  What we valued as a community.  What made us special.  And who we wanted to be.  Battle lines disintegrated, and we came together that night, recognizing there was more that connected us than divided us.  That work paved the way for the City Values you see on the back wall.

Since that time, our City and community have come together in amazing ways.  In 2013/14, with a grass-roots effort launched in 2 weeks, we won the Paint What Matters contest by Benjamin Moore and were 1 of 20 American hometowns selected from across the U.S. to have a portion of their downtown districts repainted.  In 2016, Placerville welcomed the World Gold Panning Championships where contestants from all over the world were lured back to Hangtown by the promise of gold. 

This last Spring, we got word that the Amgen Tour of California was to pass thru Placerville.  A broad-based committee came together to figure out how to coordinate a welcome on an event we had never been to, and by the time the Amgen athletes raced through Placerville amidst a sea of flags, cowbells, schoolchildren and cheers, Amgen organizers exclaimed ours was the best mid-race welcome they had ever seen, outside of a small bicycle race in France.   From events on Main Street, to Community Clean-Up Days and Parades, our hometown spirit regularly comes alive.  This is also evidenced by our annual National Night Out that continues to place Placerville at the top of communities across the United States for community engagement and participation.

Now these last 8 years haven’t all been community celebrations and victories; we’ve walked through some tremendous challenges and continue to do so.  Unprecedented storms have overwhelmed our resources and tested our capacities.  Costs of supplies, contracts, maintenance and liabilities continue to rise, outpacing growth in revenue.  Our historic pipes and well-traveled roads have deteriorated exponentially, causing sewer back-ups, water loss and difficult, unsightly driving conditions.  Each year, the 8 million visitors who funnel through Placerville on their way to El Dorado County’s playground, create frustrating back-ups as traffic continues to impact public safety access and the daily life of our residents.  The impact of homelessness to our city continues to challenge us, as we work both to collaborate with community partners to figure out appropriate solutions while we concurrently reinforce policies and actions that keep our community clean and safe, preserving our quality of life.  It’s a very difficult balance.  The public facilities in our City are long overdue for improvements, with City resources unequal to the demand.  Finally, the near-by devastation in Paradise is a chilling reminder that we must help our community understand the critical importance of defensible space while we finalize emergency and evacuation plans for our City and its residents.

While many of these challenges will continue to be a work in progress, the State of our City is NOT doom and gloom.  A very successful Main Street Rehabilitation project was completed in 2016.  Significantly, this project was part of a vision that began in the late 1990’s based on community input and participation.  Faulty water pipes under Main Street were replaced, the sewer line was rehabilitated before a full repavement project with additional design amenities was implemented.  The project won the American Public Works Assoc. Award for Project of the Year in the Historical Restoration/Preservation Category in 2016.

That same year, after a ballot measure failed by 11 votes, our City embarked on a subsequent process to secure the funding needed to fix our crumbling roads and pipes.  I am so proud of the fact that for about a year, our Council and Staff engaged the community in a robust and honest dialog about the extent of the needed repairs which topped about $45.5 million.  With that figure in mind, we laid out the financial options and our community decided that a sales tax was the best way to tackle this Herculean task.  With that, Dennis and I began work with a small and passionate grass-roots citizen committee and we launched into another robust campaign to educate our community about this dire need.  Measure L passed with an overwhelming majority, ranking #3 in the State in terms of voter approval.  What this means for Placerville is that, combined with Measure H, our staff now has over $3 million in additional resources each year to improve our failing roads and pipes where previously, our only recourse was to take money from the General Fund for these much needed repairs.

Measure L dollars have been rolling in for over a year now, and our City Staff has been hard at work to put your hard-earned tax dollars to work in our City.  This year alone, we have completed roughly $2.8 million dollars in water, sewer and street project thanks to Measure H/L monies.  We have paved Pacific Street, Woodridge Court, Ray Lawyer Drive, portions of Placerville Drive, and Canal Street.  Next year, Mosquito Road and Spring Street are on the list!  I’d say those are incredibly impressive accomplishments.  And NONE of that would have been possible without Measure’s H and L.

In addition to these projects, the Blairs Lane Bridge was completed along with the Broadway Crosswalk Project, Segments 1 and 2 of the El Dorado Trail, the Pardi/Big Cut Waterline Replacement and we are in Phase 2 of the Western Placerville Interchange, the largest project the City has ever managed.

In addition to improvement projects, we are blessed by an incredible city staff. An engaged Police Department is responsive to our community’s needs, and Placerville continues to be a safe community, where you can feel comfortable walking after dark, and where our police officers are your neighbors and community members.  Our Engineering Staff, Public Works, Wastewater Treatment Plant and Park and Rec crews are on the frontlines of serving YOU, ensuring that your water is clean, your wastewater unseen and that our city has amenities that make our community special.  Our Finance Department and Administration continue to evaluate ways to operate more efficiently, and despite all the successful projects and improvements to our City these past few years, our staffing levels are still well below pre-Recession rates.  Finally, dedicated volunteers keep history alive, year-round, at Gold Bug Park. This year alone, close to 20,000 visitors, many of them schoolchildren, toured the mines and over 5200 people panned for gold.  If you combine this with our vibrant, historic Main Street, and our other 2 business districts, Broadway and Placerville Drive which provide critical services to the daily life of our community, Placerville remains BOTH a compelling draw to visitors from all over the world as well as a safe, convenient and friendly place to call home. 

What does this mean to you?  It means that our staff is AMAZING, and they are diligent and careful with your taxpayer dollars, making sure you get the best possible municipal services in a safe and dynamic hometown.

I am proud of the current State of our City, and I have no doubt we will continue to balance precious resources appropriately while working diligently to preserve, honor and enhance this charming, historic, vibrant, and incredibly special City we call home.

It has been an absolute pleasure to serve with each member of our City Staff, and they have my utmost respect and gratitude.  I’d like to give particular mention to our City Manager, Cleve Morris.  Cleve and I came onboard at the same time, and I have been honored to share these past 8 years with him.  His ethical leadership continues to be the calm in the storm of local politics, and he has led this City through some tremendous challenges with grace, wisdom, strength and courage, ensuring that our city remains sustainable AND special. 

I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow Councilmembers.  We have been so blessed to operate is an atmosphere of mutual respect, where our different gifts have complemented each other, and our individual perspectives have served to add additional depth to community issues, dialog and decisions.  It has been an extreme pleasure to serve with each of them.  And as we welcome two new Councilmembers, one that I happen to know pretty well, I have every confidence that their diverse gifts will serve the City well and that this Council will remain a faithful steward of our community’s trust.

Finally, Placerville, thank YOU for these last 8 years.  Thank you for trusting me with your challenges, your dreams, your vision, your needs and your future.  It was a privilege that consumed me, excited me, and inspired me.  In return, I hope you can feel the depth of my love for you.  And I can promise you, that won’t ever change.