Editor's note: This is the first in a weekly column focusing on Central County communities, written on a rotating basis by the mayors of Pleasant Hill, Concord, Martinez and Clayton.

As we start 2013, we've made major strides to protect the economic future of Pleasant Hill while providing a safe and enjoyable hometown in which to live and raise a family.

The new Teen Center and Senior Center are beautiful and spacious settings to serve the needs of our youth and seniors. I'm looking forward to attending many wonderful community events in these exquisite facilities. Hats off to our Rec & Park District and everyone who worked so hard to make these new centers a reality!

And we've got more great things happening in Pleasant Hill this year. The new Zachary's Chicago-Style Pizza Parlor in our downtown promises to become a local institution in the tradition of their other Berkeley-based restaurants. We also will be welcoming a new bakery cafe. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Corner Bakery Cafe is sure to become a new downtown hangout.

My wife, Dawn, is especially excited about the great bargains to come at the new Nordstrom Rack opening soon on Contra Costa Boulevard. (And I'm sure our recently re-elected City Treasurer Mark Celio is looking forward to the additional tax dollars these businesses will generate for the city!)

This year, we have new faces in city government. We welcome new City Councilmen Ken Carlson and Tim Flaherty, and new City Clerk Kimberly Lehmkuhl. I hope they enjoy serving our fair city as much as I do. Congratulations to them and re-elected Councilman David Durant.

We bid farewell to two devoted public servants who did not seek re-election. Councilman John Hanecak and City Clerk Marty McInturf served the city and our residents well for the past eight years. Please join me in thanking them for their efforts and dedication in making this town the best it can be. John and Marty, thanks also for being such great friends.

Last December, Dawn and I traveled to Chile and Argentina, two very interesting and beautiful countries. But no matter where we travel, we're always grateful to return to our hometown.

While away, we walked for hours taking in the sights and sounds of interesting cities, including Argentina's capital of Buenos Aires. While doing so, I couldn't help but make comparisons between Buenos Aires and Pleasant Hill.

Buenos Aires is beautiful, but I was struck by how challenging it was to walk the streets. The streets and sidewalks are laid with old cobblestones and pavement tiles, which haven't been repaired in ages. Walking without tripping is a chore for the able-bodied and downright impossible for the disabled.

In addition to navigating along broken sidewalks, you have to watch every step to make sure you avoid the dog poop. There are no leash laws and owners don't clean up after their pets.

There is litter, trash, cigarette butts and graffiti everywhere. Crossing streets is a constant hazard as there are often no traffic lights indicating when it's safe for pedestrians to step off the curb. And when you do step off the curb, you need to be especially careful because pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, which we learned the hard way!

It's even tough to enjoy the mouthwatering restaurant food, as "portenos"(aka residents) can and do smoke wherever they want. As many of you know, I love ice cream, especially chocolate. We found some pretty good ice cream in Buenos Aires, but had to endure long lines to get it. And speaking of long lines, getting money from an ATM can be an all-morning event.

Despite the splendor of Buenos Aires, it was delightful to get back to our hometown. What a pleasure to walk on well-maintained, clean, waste-free streets. It's terrific having traffic signals and crosswalks that are accessible for everyone. And then there's the joy of eating at a good restaurant or sitting in a beautiful park without people blowing smoke in your face. (OK, so maybe our tango is not as good as Argentina's ...)

We tend to take the simple joys of living, working and playing in Pleasant Hill for granted. But we shouldn't. We live in a warm, welcoming, comfortable city that didn't happen by accident. Our staff and our residents treasure the pleasures of our city and make sure they are available for all to enjoy.

So, please take a moment and be thankful that we live in the wonderful hometown of Pleasant Hill.

Harris is the mayor of Pleasant Hill. Email him at columns@bayareanewsgroup.com.