State of the Town
Danville pushing to make downtown lively and lucrative
Mayor Candace Andersen noted at her State of the Town address last week that Danville is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year.
"A lot has happened in the last 150 years," she said, and the audience at the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon chuckled at the understatement.
A priority this year is the vitality of downtown, she told the crowd at Crow Canyon County Club.
"We understand the need to be business friendly - the need to promote the right mix of businesses to attract outside customers and keep our local residents shopping here in town," said Andersen.
The town is teaming with the Chamber on a campaign to Shop Local First. Plans call for a task force with members from the town, the Chamber and Discover Danville to development and implement this idea. There will be a marketing assessment, and the campaign will be launched in time for the 2008 holiday shopping season.
"The preliminary campaign may include encouraging stores downtown to stay open later," said Andersen. "The Livery has already implemented this in their shopping area with great success."
"Sales tax is actually up 4.6 percent ahead of last year at this time," she added, "and we want to see it continue to grow."
Danville has added 151 parking spaces in the last two years to make downtown more of a draw, she noted, plus new spaces are going in at Danville Square and at Iron Horse Plaza.
Sprucing up the town
The town continues on its mission to keep the town well maintained and looking attractive.
"We've repainted the light poles," Andersen pointed out. "After so many years of people sticking on their signs about lost dogs, they start to look a little shabby."
The town also put the power lines on Camino Tassajara underground, a great visual improvement, she said.
The town is working with property owners along the north end of Hartz Avenue for permission to make improvements to the public area in front of shops, similar to what has been done in front of Chevron's Extra Mile, she reported.
She said she is expecting new plans for the property behind the Danville Hotel any day now from the developers, Castle Companies and Nearon Enterprises.
"Occasionally concern is expressed over the loss of the Old West frontier look," Andersen said, "but hopefully most are aware that this was an Old West fašade put up in the 1950s by Russel Glenn, owner of the site, who wanted to attract tourists."
The plans include retail on the ground floor, offices and condominiums on the second floor, and underground parking. Now the developers are reworking them to achieve the best look for the center of town.
"Our Arts Commission and Parks Commission have recently approved and will soon be looking at designs for a small pocket park on Railroad and Linda Mesa," Andersen said. "With benches and a fountain, it will be a nice place to stop and visit with friends while shopping downtown."
The new Fresh and Easy at the old Albertsons site on Diablo Road is not opening this year as hoped.
"We were disappointed to learn the new Fresh and Easy ... will not be open until 2009 when they get their distribution center for Northern California," Andersen said.
Keeping open space open
Andersen anticipates the Elworthy property project on the hills on the west side of town coming forward this year.
"Of the 459 acres, only 12 will be developed, on the flat land seen in the right hand corner, along San Ramon Valley Boulevard," she said. "The view you see above will remain unchanged."
Plans call for 84 homes and 12 apartments.
Andersen expressed optimism about cooperating with the city of San Ramon as it works on an East Side Specific Plan for the Tassajara Valley, even though its application for a change in the sphere of influence does not mention the impact on Danville should development occur.
"A majority of our voters would like to see this stay outside the voter approved urban limit line," Andersen said.
New updates for old buildings
The Village Theatre will undergo renovations in 2009, said Andersen. The lobby redesign will include modifying the restroom and concession area, and there will be gallery space to display art. The remodeling will include a marquee outside.
A few blocks away, the Veteran's Memorial Building, built under a 1921 federal mandate and held in public trust for veterans, is under study.
"The county currently owns the building, and the town pays for management and maintenance at $50,000 a year," said Andersen.
The Veterans Memorial Building Development Committee of San Ramon Valley recently presented a business plan to the town. It hopes to restore, renovate with an add-on, or possibly replace the building to meet the needs of the veterans, seniors and others in the community.
"As someone who deeply values our history of this Valley, I am hopeful and confident that we can come up with a great plan," Andersen said. "A terrific example of how a building can be renovated, expanded with an annex, and still retain the historic character of the building is the Shuey-Podva House (on the corner of School Street and Hartz)."
Plans for the Vets Hall include an upstairs for the exclusive use of veterans, and the downstairs with community rooms and a new kitchen.
"We're working with the county and hope to have title to the building transferred to Danville," said Andersen. "This could justify expending a significant amount of our money to help this project go forward."
Coping in a down economy
"How are we faring in the current economy?" asked Andersen.
"We are doing well," she answered. "Unlike the state, we are required to pass a balanced budget."
She said the town forecasts conservatively, doesn't spend one-time money on recurring expenses, and keeps close to 40 percent of the operating budget in reserve.
"Home prices in Danville are doing well despite major declines in other areas," she said. "The county, in January, saw a decline of 15.64 percent. Ours actually went up 6.91 percent."
However, she noted, a record low number of houses actually sold and are on the market.
The town has an income of just over $29 million from a variety of sources, she pointed out.
"In our general revenue, 60.5 percent is from property taxes, and 18 percent is from sales taxes," she said. "We are on track, with our property tax revenue being approximately 3.9 percent over last year's budget."
A chart of the town's revenues showed the town's priorities: safety (27.5 percent for police) and the appearance of the community (maintenance, 22.2 percent).
"The $25.6 million (expenses) doesn't quite match our $29 million income," Andersen said, "$3.4 million goes into our capital projects. Each year the town spends $1 million on road repairs."
She said the town remains cautious in its spending.
Safety, safety, safety
"Something that is essential to the economic success of our community is our public safety," she said. "We are fortunate to have a great police chief, Chris Wenzel, and a department of 31 officers."
Danville contracts with the county Sheriff's Office for services, which is more cost effective than having its own police force.
"Lately we have seen an increase in burglaries," Andersen said, and urged everyone not to leave valuables in their cars in plain view.
Traffic safety is being enhanced through electronically posting vehicle speeds in neighborhoods.
"Recently the police chief brought us an interesting statistic showing a correlation between enforcement and a decline in accidents," she said. "So if you get cited, remember, you are helping with the decline in accidents."
The Street Smarts program focuses on traffic safety as well, and Andersen reported that 600 parents and students attended a gathering last week for its poster contest awards. Middle schoolers are making traffic safety videos, and high school students are creating Web-isodes for www.ithappens2u.com.
"Along with promoting safety through our Street Smarts program, we also focus on Safer Routes to School," she said. "One major component, which is also intended to reduce traffic around our schools during morning and afternoon drop off and pick up, is the 2009 Measure J bus program. We're looking forward to having that roll forward."
The buses will transport students at the schools that most impact the traffic in Danville, Alamo and San Ramon, said Andersen.
"We will likely use a model of contracting with a public or private bus company to provide the service," she said.
Serving the community's needs.
Andersen detailed town programs for teenagers, including the teen centers at each of the middle schools, and trips, including college tours. Danville also offers employment to youths, such as at its camps, she noted.
She said last year's Senior Needs Assessment discovered that close to 8,000 homes have seniors, so the town Silver Streak newsletter goes to all of them; before the assessment it was mailed to 400.
"The town increased the funding of our senior programming by 85 percent," she said, "from $188,511 to $346,888."
Also 16 new programs have been added, and the Veterans Hall is now open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday for seniors to drop in.
Back to the beginning
"Going back to our sesquicentennial this year," said Andersen, "we have some fun events scheduled around our traditional fourth of July events, starting on July 3. Through tremendous efforts of Kiwanis and the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, we are going to have an incredible community celebration."
She also noted that the book written for the occasion, "Vintage Danville: 150 Years of Memories," is only having 3,000 copies printed, and executive editions can be ordered now with a company's name embossed on the front or an insert front page talking about the company.
The State of the Town speech can be seen in its entirety on Channel 26 at 6:30 p.m., Sundays, March 23 and 30.