By Rebecca Parr
HAYWARD -- Hayward faces a major financial challenge this year brought on by not only by the loss of redevelopment money, but also by the continued economic downturn and increased employee benefit costs, Mayor Michael Sweeney said in his annual State of the City address on Thursday.
Sweeney praised the city's employees for concessions that helped the city balance its budget, but said the state's dissolution of redevelopment agencies across the state will make it more difficult to work on economic development in Hayward.
"The state should balance their budget using their money, not the city's," the mayor said. Sweeney's speech was hosted by the Hayward Chamber of Commerce at California State University East Bay.
The city needs to address the increasing cost of pensions and medical benefits, the mayor said.
But despite the fiscal challenges, the city can point to accomplishments over the last year, Sweeney said. "We are getting work done despite the tough times," he said,
City officials worked to get AC Transit to buy buses from Gillig, a local company that provides good-paying jobs, he said.
The mayor pointed to improved crime statistics, a new gang-suppression strategy and a decrease in vehicle accidents in the city, thanks to a police program focusing on enforcement at key intersections.
The Route 238 improvement project is progressing, although Sweeney called the resulting pedestrian and traffic snarls downtown tortuous."
"Nobody is looking forward to the end of this project more than me," he said. "Some of us are not fans of the mini-loop, but we shall see."
The mayor highlighted the Mural Arts Program, aimed at combating graffiti while at the same time beautifying the city with artwork. The program received the Helen Putnam Award from the League of California Cities.
Dealing with crime, cleaning and "greening" of the city, and fiscal stability are important to the city, Sweeney said.
He said it is a council priority to reduce residential burglaries and "curtail bad behavior in the downtown."
As part of its community outreach, the city helped set up 25 neighborhood watch programs this past year.
"Illegal dumping continues to be a problem," he said.
One way Hayward is working to have a cleaner city is its Adopt-a-Block project, which expanded this past year. Volunteers take responsibility for keeping an area free of litter and graffiti.
The mayor mentioned energy rebates and a solar system at the city's waste treatment plant among the ways the city is working to become more green.
The state of Hayward schools is a big challenge, Sweeney said. Hayward schools have the worst academic performance in Alameda County.
"To get great schools, we need to be honest. We hear, 'Hayward kids can't learn.' We need to raise the expectations" of the students, parents, teachers, principals, council, school board and Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, of everyone in the city. "It's going to take each and every one of us."
Sweeney said he would like to see Chabot and Cal State East Bay students do more community service in Hayward's schools.
The mayor stressed that it's vital for the city and community to collaborate. "We're all in this together. Together, we can do great things."