Excerpts from the mayor’s remarks at the annual State of the City Luncheon, March 23.
I’m Tita Smith, the Mayor of the City of Orange, my hometown. All of you know how much I love our sweet City of Orange, and I know that all of us in this room share that love.
Why does Orange hold such a special place in our hearts? We certainly boast some impressive statistics:
We’re one of the 200 top U.S. cities by population.
You can find almost any type of food, from Pho, to Cajun, to elegant fine dining. Over 44 languages are spoken in our OUSD schools. We’re a center for medicine, with four hospitals. We’re a center for shopping, with two major malls. We’re a center for several manufacturing industries. And yet, while all of these things make Orange a diverse cosmopolitan experience, they don’t explain why we love Orange so much.
It is my belief that our love for our city comes from our shared sense of history, our community traditions, and our determination to hold on to our vision of Orange as a small town. You could call us the “largest small town in the west!”
Orange, as a community, always seeks to be authentic, to be of service, and to be inclusive of cultures, of faiths, and of all generations. You can see it in the works of our nonprofits, feel it in the energy of our businesses, and live it every day in the classrooms of our schools and colleges.
We have a strong sense of “belonging” to our city. That connection is passed down from generation to generation, is adopted by our new residents, our businesses, and is even embraced by our city employees. We are connected in many fascinating ways. We don’t just live or work in Orange, we ARE Orange.
Our Resident Orange represents the good people who live here, our educational institutions, and the city services that directly impact the people who live here.
I’ve called our city parks some of our crown jewels, and in a city almost 130 years old, sometimes those gems need to be polished.
Take Yorba Park, at Chapman and Yorba, for example. It’s home to our city’s dog park, and sits on a site that was formerly a landfill. Thanks to a recent agreement with the county, long-awaited improvements are underway.
Shaffer Park will be undergoing some much-needed renovation later this year. While not as old as Hart Park, we want to make sure our parks are properly maintained, to ensure they will be being enjoyed for generations to come.
Many of you may have seen the Orange trees off the 22 Freeway at Glassell. That is the Robert D. Hoyt Municipal Orange Grove, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The oranges are harvested each year by volunteers, and the fruit is offered to charitable organizations for distribution.
We also have another landmark at Hart Park. Last year, the dance floor in front of the historic bandshell was renovated and expanded. New bricks were made available to our community for personal engraving, and then set into the new dance floor. These bricks will create a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy.
Our Orange Public Libraries are an important community resource that allow free access to information and technology for all citizens, regardless of their circumstance. They are a place to borrow books, seeds, CDs and DVDs.
Wait, did I just say “seeds”? Yes, I did. Thanks to a partnership with our Orange Public Library Foundation and Orange Home Grown, the Orange Public Library and History Center now offers an heirloom seed lending library.
And since seeds need water to grow, and the topic of water has been on everyone’s mind these past few years, I’m happy to tell you that our public works department brought a brand new, state-of-the-art water well on line last August.
The City of Orange gets 75 percent of its water from wells that tap underground aquifers. Our new well, which can pump 4.7 million gallons a day, replaces three vintage wells that were originally built in the 1920s. Last year, our public works department delivered around 21 million gallons of clean, safe water a day to our residents and businesses.
Safe and sound
Let’s focus on public safety next.
Our Orange Fire Department had a busy year, deploying throughout the state, answering calls for mutual aid in San Bernardino, Phelan, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur and Santa Clara County.
Last year, paramedics answered over 14,000 calls for aid. Firefighters responded to 775 fires. One of those calls came from Mary’s Kitchen, where a fire had destroyed significant portions of the facility, including the refrigeration and freezer units, and all of the stored food.
Once our firefighters extinguished the blaze, city staff jumped in to assist. Both our public works and community development departments worked hard to make sure that Mary’s Kitchen was able to continue service on schedule.
The increase in the number of homeless people in Orange County has created an urgency for our city, too. HEART, which was formed in 2013, and stands for the Homeless Engagement Assistance and Resource Team, has been out in the community, making contact with nearly 1,700 homeless individuals last year.
We’re home to over 25 charities providing aid to homeless individuals. We -- our community, our city, and our police department -- are working together to make progress. Nobody is ignoring the issue. Remember: incremental victories.
We also have large victories in keeping our citizens safe.
Recently, our Orange Police Department Traffic Bureau received the Orange County Traffic Investigators Association “Case of the Year” award for an investigation of a hit-and-run collision on Jamboree. They uncovered that a street race had preceded the incident, and nine of the drivers were implicated in felony conspiracy.
Our police department also sponsored several community outreach programs, including one of my favorites, Shop with a Cop. This past Christmas, 20 children sat down with uniformed Orange Police Officers, ate dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings at the Village at Orange, and each received a $100 Walmart gift certificate to buy presents for themselves and their family.
You may have heard that one of our police officers, Sharif Muzayen, was on a call when he was struck by an alleged DUI driver. Because of the quick work and skill of his fellow officers, and the immediate arrival of paramedics from Orange fire, he made it to the emergency room alive. Please keep Officer Muzayen, his family, and our Orange Police Department personnel in your thoughts and prayers.
Let’s look at our second Orange, the Business Orange, representing our retail shops, restaurants, commercial centers, manufacturing, developers, and all the ways they interact with both our residents and our city.
I think two of the biggest stories for last year are the expansion of the Outlets at Orange, and the renovations at The Village at Orange.
Just before Black Friday 2016, the Outlets at Orange opened its first major expansion since the Nordstrom Rack wing opened in 2012. The new 60,000-sq.-ft. expansion is anchored by our very own Bloomingdale’s Outlet, which is only the third in California.
In the Old Towne Plaza, the Urth Caffe is taking shape, and moving into the historic Armor building, which was built in 1888. Urth Caffe is working with our historic planner to preserve historic details.
Although we don’t have the supercenter-style auto mall that some cities have, Orange is home to some of the biggest and best dealerships in the country. Our dealers contributed nearly $5.40 million dollars in tax revenue to Orange our last fiscal year.
One of the things our Old Towne shoppers and merchants have been asking for is more parking. We expect groundbreaking to happen this summer on a 611-space Old Towne Metrolink parking structure.
One last shout out to our Business Orange: specifically, to those businesses that have become community partners. Their generosity allows us to offer our yearly community events, such as Treats in the Streets Autumn Festival.
Our final Orange, our City Orange, represents the government functions that are usually sight unseen, but still so important to our city.
I want to remind everyone that our city clerk’s office is one of the friendliest, and most convenient, places to get your passport.
Our city clerk’s office is in our historic city hall complex, which was designed by architect Welton Becket. Our city hall pays a modern homage to the Spanish Missions of California. Over the past six months, its exterior has been lovingly restored. The courtyard planters have been rebuilt and replanted, and have now been fitted with energy efficient lighting.
The City of Orange wouldn’t be 129 years old in April if we did not take such meticulous care of our public infrastructure.
In Old Towne, our public works department is digging out the antiquated sewers, and replacing them with upgraded modern pipes. Over 3,300 linear feet of 90- and 100-year-old sewer pipes have been replaced so far.
We’ve often heard the phrase, “where the rubber meets the road.” Here in Orange, we’re taking it literally. Through a grant from Cal Recycle, we’ve been resurfacing several of our streets with material made from used, ground-up tires. The new rubberized asphalt will wear better, require less maintenance, and will reduce road noise.
Dollars and sense
Our local economy continues to show improvement and solid gains. There are still a few months left in fiscal year 2016-17, but we are projecting our revenues to be $110.9 million, which is $4.9 million dollars above budget.
As in past years, lower sales tax revenue on fuel has been offset by strong sales from our auto dealers, retail, and nearly all other sectors, which have outperformed expectations. Property tax revenue and other city revenues are also up.
For the sixth consecutive year since the start of the “great recession” in 2007, our City of Orange is in the black.
Our initial analysis suggests that in fiscal year 2017-18, our challenges will probably be relatively flat revenues, and higher PERS retirement costs. The city council has consistently worked on finding ways to deal with the PERS challenges. Five years ago, we collaborated with all eight of our employee bargaining groups, which led to all of our groups paying their employee share of the PERS costs.
The Outlets at Orange generated $2.75 million in tax revenue, and The Village at Orange generated $1.6 million. Our Old Towne Plaza District commercial area is also another good indicator of our financial health. It’s only one square mile, but generated $675,000 in tax revenues, an increase of four percent over the previous year.
My message to you today is this: “Our City of Orange is strong. Community strong. Family strong. Financially strong.”