Following are excerpts from Mayor Tita Smith’s final State of the City address, March 22, as she concludes eight years on the council, three terms as mayor.
“Many know I helped establish the Old Towne Preservation Association in 1984, originally known as “Voters for Old Towne Preservation,” and the first Design Guidelines for the Old Towne Historic District. Our Community Development Department is about to release an update to the Old Towne Design Standards. It is gratifying to see how the preservation of Orange’s history and architecture by a large and dedicated group of residents has taken firm root.
So much of our community identity is about legacy. Structures from the 70s are approaching 50 years old. City Hall, designed by world-renowned architect Welton Becket in 1964, is now historically significant. It is this commitment to Orange’s history, culture, and traditions that makes Orange so cherished.
The California Chapter of the American Planning Association recognized the Plaza as one of California’s five “Great Places,” for its role as a community gathering place. The Orange Homegrown Artisan and Farmer’s Market was an Award of Excellence honoree in the “Grassroots Initiative” category.
The Association of California Cities-Orange County Chapter honored us with a Golden Hub Award for the Community Services summer program, “Teens-4-Team Orange, ” which teaches leadership skills, and provides community service hours.
In 1986, Joanne Coontz became the first woman elected to the Orange City Council and then the first female mayor. After serving 18 years, Joanne remained active as a resident’s advocate to city hall. Joanne passed away last year, and I offer the highest praise: She left our Orange community better than when she found it.
Fiscally, Orange is in the black, and our business community is thriving. We remain a great place to live, work, and shop.
Orange has always been a place for businesses to introduce new concepts. The first Marie Callender’s was in Orange. Bruxie is an Orange success story. One of the nation’s first “baby Targets” opened here. Urth Café is approaching completion, including the restoration of a building constructed in 1888.
The Outlets at Orange generated $2.73 million in sales tax revenue, and the Village at Orange, $1.63 million. Old Towne District brought tax revenues of $678,000.
Auto dealers generated $5.71 million in sales tax revenue from new car sales. SC Fuels and MS International are top tax revenue-producing businesses. Overall, while property tax growth has been healthy due to increasing housing prices, sales tax revenue has continued to show slow gains. Our local economic picture shows us continuing to grow at a slow, steady pace, but there are challenges ahead.
Although city employees have been paying their full share of retirement costs for some time, the city contribution to CalPERS will be increasing. Those payments will eventually level off, but this will be an issue for the council in the future.
Currently, projected revenues are $108.9 million, with sales tax revenues at $41.6 million and property tax revenues at $40.1 million, $1 million above our original budget estimates.
Our 130-year-old city ages gracefully through the relentless care and renewal of our public infrastructure. Good infrastructure truly does work across the generations. For example: our city gets 75 percent of its water from underground aquifers. In 2016, water well 27 opened, replacing three nearly 100-year-old wells, and will provide many generations with 4.3 million gallons of clean, safe water per day. The plastic-to-copper pipe replacement project in Olive Heights is underway, and nearly all of the 90-year old underground pipes in Old Towne have been replaced.
Last year, over 1.26 million sq. ft. of roadway were resurfaced, including major projects on Tustin, Chapman, Katella and The City Drive. Ground-up tires are used, increasing the lifespan and durability of the surface, and reducing noise pollution. We try to schedule street rehabs when we plan underground service replacements, to save time, labor and money.
Both collaboration and communication are important to almost everything we’ve accomplished over the past 30 years. Nowhere was this more evident than Oct. 9, when the east side of Orange found itself in the path of the largest fire in our area in 10 years.
The Canyon 2 Fire began on a blustery morning, and in just a few short hours, it was headed for Anaheim and Orange. It had been 10 years since our Emergency Operations Center had been needed. Inside the EOC, Fire and Police Departments coordinated firefighting efforts, while other departments handled communications, public information, equipment logistics, IT, and traffic flow. Orange Police and Fire, along with city staff, were helping set up Red Cross shelters, directing traffic, closing streets. Serrano Heights, Orange Park Acres, and Santiago Hills were in the fire’s path, and mandatory evacuations were issued. The mission statement for our organization that day became: “Protect our residents, protect our city, protect our community.”
Last year, the OFD also battled blazes in Los Angeles, Tulare, Mono, and Siskiyou Counties. In addition, water rescue crews went to Texas to make hundreds of rescues in the floodwaters left by Hurricane Harvey.
They also lend a hand in less obvious ways. After responding multiple times to calls for aid by a resident, a pattern began to emerge of a man suffering with multiple sclerosis. He was living on his own, taking a bus to work, and would not call for aid until it was absolutely necessary, sometimes lying on the floor for hours. Out of their own pockets, firefighters made sure he had food, an air conditioner, and helped him get out for some needed recreation. While this story is not unique, it is “uniquely Orange.”
Helping the homeless
During my five years on the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness, we worked to find housing solutions, and have spent many years addressing homelessness, in cooperation with local nonprofits.
Orange is the first city in the county with a successful Senate Bill 2 project. SB2, the “Building Homes and Jobs” Act, allows cities to designate zones where shelters can be built. The Orange County Home Aid Family Care Center now houses homeless families, up to 45 nights.
Mary’s Kitchen, an all-volunteer nonprofit which provides three meals a day, six days a week to over 200 people, has served homeless guests for 34 years on city property; 25 churches provide assistance as part of their weekly outreach.
Three additional nonprofits house 150 women and children. During the past 40 years, Orange has built nearly 2,000 units of work force housing for low-income families and seniors.
Five years ago, the Orange Police Department created the Homeless Engagement Assistance and Resource Team (HEART). They recently added two new positions to specifically address the homeless calls, and private security patrols at city parks and the Main Library increased by 40 percent.
Ordinances to prohibit aggressive solicitation by members of the public were adopted. City Attorney Wayne Winthers and his staff also spent countless hours working with the county and Judge David Carter to humanely address the encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail.
Keeping Orange safe
In 2015, we graduated our first Community Emergency Response Team class (CERT). CERT volunteers are trained to serve in the Emergency Operations Center and in the field, freeing-up Public Safety and city staff to perform other critical functions. We are now over 300 strong, with 50 more to be added in June. Our goal is to reach 2,500 CERT volunteers. If you are interested, please call (714) 744-7477.
Our Crime Prevention Bureau shows citizens how they can help 'Take a bite out of crime,' coordinates more than 290 neighborhood watch groups, and organized the first OPD community open house in 13 years. The OPD became the eighth agency to join the Orange County Regional Mounted Unit. The horses are personally owned and boarded by the officers.
Accolades and openings
El Modena and Orange High School football teams won their divisions, and represented Orange at the CIF Division Championships. This was the first time in 33 years that El Modena made it to the Championships, with the Vanguards defeating Don Lugo of Chino 35-7. Orange High defeated the Silver Valley Trojans 12-2 for their first Championship title since 1929.
Orange has 22 beautiful parks, some of our most visible legacies. Yorba Park and Shaffer Park are undergoing major renovations. Shaffer Park is closed until late 2018 to have the landscape, irrigation, infrastructure, and buildings completely replaced. Yorba Park, and the Dog Park at Yorba, closed in 2016 for an extensive overhaul that included remediation of the site. On April 7, Orange will host the Grand-reopening of Yorba Park and Dog Park, along with a 130th birthday celebration.
The Community Development Department listened when residents led an effort to establish three Eichler neighborhoods as historic preservation districts, the first Eichler districts anywhere in the U.S.
A Neighborhood Advisory Committee was formed to collaborate on issues creating friction between Chapman University and the locals. Student housing was the major concern. Chapman is building a dorm complex at the Villa Park Orchards Packinghouse site, and has a 900-bed project in Anaheim. When complete, Chapman will have invested $220 million, and approximately 1,300 students will be living on campus.
The City Clerk’s office maintains all records, and still has a copy of the original, hand written minutes from the very first city council meeting on April 6, 1888. It maintains the records of city committees and commissions, comprised of 28 volunteers on nine different city entities.
The traditional closing
Before I end my final State of the City as the 43rd Mayor of Orange, I want to make one last plea to you to always 'shop Orange.' Remember: every dollar you spend in Orange returns tax revenue back to our schools, libraries, infrastructure, and job creation."
Smith delivers her final State of the City report