Rand Rotary

Mayor of Salinas Dennis Donohue addressed the Salinas Alisal Rotary September 9, 2010

In 2006, when I ran for mayor of Salinas for the first time, I called on Salinians to Imagine A Great City. Back then we faced a declining economy, and rising crime. Back then there were many times when I heard some version of, "'Imagine A Great City'? How about we just fix the city we have?"

But I trusted that in their hearts, even the most skeptical of us believed, as I did, that yes, we could fix things - but we could also do more. While working on our immediate challenges, we could raise our heads and aim for the city we wanted to live in, thrive in, and hand on with pride to the next generation.

We believed in that vision, because we had seen it before in real life. Salinas has seen great days - days of the Green Gold Rush, days when Salinas was, per capita, the wealthiest city in America, built by hard-working people from across the country and from around the world. And we believed in that vision because even at the toughest of times, this is a city that has never lost its heart. We have seen great days, and we know we will see great days again.

I'm proud that many people responded to the call to Imagine A Great City, and they got down to work building it - people from every part of the city and from every way of life. And they have stuck with that work, even when we were met with even greater challenges: the worst recession since the Great Depression, and a rise in both the level and the nature of gang violence, as organized crime increasingly made Salinas a center of its activity.

Thanks to the hard work of these many people, the building has gone forward, and we are seeing the benefits. This evening, I want to talk about the progress we've made. You may not realize just how significant that progress is.

I want to focus this evening on two of our highest priorities, Peace and Prosperity.

Here is some of what we have done to build Peace in our city:

Most importantly, we have shown that we can reduce deaths and injuries from violence. It is too early to declare victory, and we can expect more spikes to come. But we have had a dramatic reduction in violence so far this year, and a state analysis has found that it is attributable to Operation Ceasefire.

Ceasefire is a highly successful program developed at Harvard University by David Kennedy. Salinas' implementation of Ceasefire is being studied at the state and national level, and has won praise from the Attorneys General of the United States and California, among others. It is being used as a model by the city of Oakland.

We have also seen Operations Knockout, Tapout, and Street Sweeper. More than 40 gang leaders were arrested in April's Operation Knockout, which resulted from eight months of undercover work by local, state and federal law enforcement. This originated with the local-state-federal Gang Violence Summit, convened by US Attorney Joseph Russinello after I requested he come to the city in the fall of 2009. Following on Knockout have come Tapout and Street Sweeper, and we will see more.

These operations are led locally by our very capable new police chief, Louis Fetherolf, whose hiring I backed enthusiastically. Chief Fetherolf has been conducting a strategic reorganization of the Salinas Police department, and we are made safer by that work every day, especially when we leverage it with state and federal support.

We will soon have an FBI Joint Operations Center. FBI agents will work there as partners with the Salinas Police Department, the county Gang Task Force, and other law enforcement agencies.

We have won three grants from CalGRIP, the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention initiative, started by Governor Schwarzenegger to confront the dramatic increase in gangs across the state.

Thanks to our progress on peace, and to the advocacy of Congressman Sam Farr, Salinas has been selected by the White House as one of just six communities nationwide to receive a high level of administration-wide support for its violence-reduction program. This was based in large part on trust in the quality of the programs being followed by Salinas and by the county-wide Community Alliance for Safety and Peace, or CASP, which I co-founded with retired Judge Jonathan Price.

CASP brings together all organizations from across the county that have a role in reducing violence. These include law enforcement agencies, social services, non-profits, churches, street outreach, and grassroots groups. Such a level of coordination has seldom been seen. We will be taking CASP's strategic plan to Washington in October.

We have formed other innovative partnerships, including the one between Salinas and the Naval Postgraduate School. NPS is applying its counter-terrorism research expertise to the study of gang violence.

We have contracted with the Rancho Cielo City Corps to hire young probationers to repair city sidewalks and other infrastructure. The youth earn money and get valuable work experience, while the city saves money.

We have established a Culture of Literacy, which includes giving a library card to every public school student in Salinas. You may know how important I think literacy is to our future, Before I was elected, I led the successful Measure V campaign to save our libraries and other crucial services.

So that's some of what we've done for Peace. We've been just as hard at work on Prosperity, and in some ways that has been a bigger challenge.

Thanks to my predecessors, we had a good foundation to build on for pursuing Peace, and it has enabled us to move to the next level. But with Economic Development, we were starting with next to nothing. We were not equipped for success. I saw it as an urgent priority to lay the groundwork so that we would be.

We now have the city's first-ever Economic Development Director, Jeff Weir. Thanks to Jeff's good work, Salinas and four nearby cities are now part of a state Enterprise Zone, meaning that employers get big tax credits for hiring the workers who most need jobs. It builds businesses, and it builds employment.

Jeff and his staff have also developed a comprehensive Salinas Valley Economic Development Plan. The plan focuses on attracting new businesses and desirable retailers, entrepreneurship and incubation, regional collaboration, environmental and economic sustainability, development incentives and targeted marketing.

The city has expanded its three Redevelopment Areas, while continuing to make progress on the Future Growth Area. These will provide opportunities to attract new investment, take part of the tax base that's created, put it back in the community, and create a cycle of growth.

Our planning for redevelopment places the Alisal at center stage - and in many ways I believe the economic future of Salinas is in the Alisal.

I'm proud that I successfully fought to bring back the Alisal Marketplace project when we were in danger of losing it. This is a smart growth, mixed used development that promises to produce $400 million of economic activity and lots of good jobs.

Alisal Marketplace will be joined by other nearby developments to form a corridor of business expansion, innovation and research to the east and south. Among these will be the Uni-Kool Expansion, which will locate an agricultural-industrial park at the Uni-Kool site south of Salinas. This will allow for the growth of existing businesses and the attraction of new ones, while preserving open space and ag land.

We hope and expect that we will also see a USDA Agricultural Research station nearby, thanks to the efforts of Congressman Farr.

And in the old Firestone Business Park we now have an innovative electric car company, Green Vehicles. Jeff Weir and I pursued them ardently, and we are thrilled they chose Salinas as their new home. It means that an old-economy facility finds new us. It means new jobs, local purchasing and city revenues, and it's an example of the potential we can realize in the green economy.

Economic development also requires looking for ways to improve governance, to find new efficiencies and become more effective.

I'm proud that on my watch we have greatly Improved relations between City and County. This includes coming to agreement over how to provide housing while preserving agricultural land and open space in the city's Future Growth Area.

I welcomed and supported the work of the citizens' Budget Review Committee. The City Council and I have adopted their recommendations, which promise to save money and improve the delivery of city services.

And I support the work of the Blue Ribbon Committee on planning and permitting. This citizens' committee was formed to improve the planning and permitting process, so as to make Salinas more business-friendly while retaining essential protections for desirable, orderly development.

As I said, a lot of hard, good work has been done, on Prosperity and on Peace. And despite challenges - challenges bigger than any of us foresaw - we have made a lot of progress.

Earlier, I mentioned my slogan from 2006: Imagine A Great City. Well, I've updated that slogan. Because we're not just Imagining any more. We're Building - and that's my new call to my fellow Salinians. I invite you to join me, and join the many other partners in this effort. We are Building Together.

Thank you very much. - Dennis Donohue

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