EL CERRITO -- The City Council wants a future of ethics and integrity, balanced budgets, lower crime rates and greater appreciation of diversity and is preparing a plan to achieve those goals and others that will be complete in draft form next month.
City leaders held a public meeting Jan. 26 to help put the finishing touches on the so-called specific plan that will help them prioritize how to most effectively allocate what they anticipate will be continuing tight city budgets.
"The purpose of (the specific plan) will be to establish a framework for budget-setting for the next five to 10 years," said Mayor Greg Lyman.
Lyman said the council wants to accomplish as many goals laid out in the plan as it can afford each year.
Improving public safety is one of the council's major goals and Police Chief Sylvia Moir described the current state of affairs and the challenges ahead.
Although El Cerrito had a decrease in overall crime in 2010 and 2011, property crimes are up 30 percent, Moir said.
Most of that increase, stated in terms of arrests, is coming from people who are not El Cerrito residents, she said.
"We have had a 100 percent increase in calls for suspicious persons," Moir said. "We have a challenge of balancing our limited resources between traffic safety and crime solving and crime prevention."
On the positive side, Moir said the department is maintaining a 100 percent success rate in answering calls for
Councilman Mark Friedman called attention to the increasing number of residents who are retired or are working from home. These residents could be used as resources for an expanded and better organized neighborhood watch program to bolster police efforts, he said.
The police are also limited by having to operate in an aging public safety building, symptomatic of a more general problem citywide.
Several city buildings that date from the 1950s and '60s, including the library and senior center, also need to be replaced or renovated because they are too small, cannot accommodate new technology and/or are seismically unsafe.
"We will replace aging civic structures with new civic buildings from which we will provide exemplary city services," said Friedman, in helping to articulate the council's vision.
The draft plan identifies opportunities, including the potential for new technology to deliver city services more efficiently, a high level of resident involvement, and an advantageous location.
Major challenges include the impression that El Cerrito is hostile to business, a lack of shopping, a lack of a clearly identifiable downtown, limited cultural offerings, a shortage of developable land and a shortage of employment opportunities within the city limits.
Although declining assessed property valuation in recent years has lowered property tax revenues, sales tax income that can be directed to needed street repairs are rising, according to city statistics.
El Cerrito has a modest goal of developing 400 new housing units over the next 10 years. About 83 new units would come from a planned senior housing complex at the Tradeway site directly south of City Hall to be built by Hayward-based nonprofit Eden Housing.
The council also plans to bolster its continuing effort to reduce carbon emissions by encouraging use of public transportation and recycling, making its public buildings more energy efficient and encouraging residents to switch to renewable energy.
"We talk about stopping and smelling the roses, but you can't smell the roses in a car," said Councilman Janet Abelson.
Lead consultant Nancy Hetrick said she was impressed with interest shown at the community meeting and at two previous meetings about the specific plan.
"There's much more engagement in here than with other communities we've worked with," she said. "There's less of a deliberate effort in other communities we've worked with."