On April 21st, Foster City and its Environmental Sustainability Task Force hosted its third Earth Day celebration. The Earth Day Fair was well-attended and well-received. It brought into sharp focus one of the key tenets of modern-day Sustainability principles and one in which I personally am passionate to bring into greater focus in the coming years.
All of us on the Council have been contemplating the concepts of Sustainability and Quality of Life. I offer my thoughts on the topic to add to this important discussion.
The City is embarking on its most significant planning initiative since its creation: the process of creating the vision and plans needed for a “Sustainable Foster City.” The City has reached a point of saturation from revenues associated with new development and land sales. It must now look to the future of redevelopment of privately-held parcels with commercial partners and a revitalization of its commercial and retail centers to the mutual benefit of the City coffers, residents, and land-owners. This new era in Land-use is a catalyst for change to our General Plan, and an adjustment in the expectations of our citizens’ definition of “Quality of Life”.
We must identify a new set of criteria which should consider a broad-spectrum of drivers and motivations. To do any less is to diminish the process, the outcomes, and the economic health and future of our City. The original General Plan and framework of the City is outdated and needs to be redefined to meet the challenges of future. We need to look forward through a new and updated lens. Much to the credit of the City Manager, Jim Hardy, we are well prepared to embark on this effort as he has prepared our City for just this opportunity at this time. He has created the necessary foundation on which we can build our future model of success.
A “Sustainable Foster City” is our City’s next generation planning. The word “sustainable” often causes concern for those who associate it with environmental initiatives. It is true, as good citizens, we must create and maintain a physical model of consumption that does not diminish our resources to the point of no return, or adversely affect ecosystems so that they fail or cannot survive. Most of these conversations focus on energy usage, recycling, green practices, responsible construction, and other direct impact environmental considerations. Such topics are popular and more importantly, easy to endorse because they are morally and ethically responsible. But, sustainable communities do not exist in a vacuum and cannot focus solely on the environmental prong of the modern-day model. Economic vitality and social equity are just as critical - each in their own way.
In order for a community to be able to deliver its core services, it must have a financial model that endures the rigors of the cyclical nature of an economy. Many couch this tenet in the term Economic Development. The core idea is that the community must develop an economic blueprint that will fuel the fires of development, redevelopment, business-recruitment, and urban-planning with regard to commercial development and retention of business and profit-centers. I believe all would easily agree this is a focus of whatever growth plan or evolution our City embraces.
However, probably the least considered is the tenet of Social Equity. I consider this tenet to be most challenging to be embraced or considered. Yet, it is the fabric by which the others are held aloft. Social Equity encompasses an evaluation of what the community as a whole needs in order to prosper both in a commercial and residential sense. What types of businesses should our City invite and encourage to locate in Foster City? Is the city creating an environment that allows social equity and availability of services, programs, and goods to all sectors of the community? It is also about the relationship between our residents and community programs. We must continue to recognize the value of our parks and recreation programs on the economic vitality and health of our community on the whole.
It is time to reconsider the needs of our community as a whole. The most recent census shows a dramatic shift in the composition of our residents. Our retail centers struggle and many commercial spaces remain vacant. We need to embrace the changes; for one thing is certain, change is inevitable.
Our City has an exemplary quality of life that is the envy of the Peninsula. We enjoy a healthy capital reserve and through prudent management by past and present City Council(s) along with City Staff, we maintain several vigorous Capital Improvement Funds. These funds allow the City to maintain and replace its infrastructure in a timely fashion to insure a consistent delivery of services and appearance of the Parks and roads.
While the City has been able to create this quality of life through development, property taxes and other revenues streams, we are about to embark on new path that will test both our Council, our Staff, our Chamber of Commerce and City Manager. Foster City must address the current and future structural budgetary deficit that faces our City. The challenge will be managing our residents’ expectations and the hard economic realities that all cities are facing including the loss of state-funded redevelopment. We cannot blue-sky budget on the hope of salvation from an outside source. Past councils prudently used strong financial windfalls that are not available to the current council. We must now rethink, revamp and build a new strategy that will fortify our financial future. This will not be built on prior actions but rather on the foundation of the residual benefits their legacy left: strong financial reserves, prudent and conservative budgeting, and a history of setting aside adequate monies to fund infrastructure maintenance and repair.
This and future councils must build the new Sustainability model for Foster City. Please feel free to call me at 650-468-3143 or email me at email@example.com. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on our future.