2023 State of the City speech

Mayor Lynne Ashbeck

June 14, 2023 – I recently came across my first Mayor’s Breakfast speech from 2003 as the Mayor of this beloved community.

In 2003, we were a city of 72,000.

We had just completed the Southeast Specific Plan that included the first of our urban villages.

The Research and Technology Park was still in its early stages, and aside from the ceremonial shovels that turned dirt at the groundbreaking, I don’t think much other dirt had been moved out there.

Today our population is approaching 125,000 – and we remain the community of choice for many people, those working here and those working remotely.

The Southeast urban village—Loma Vista—is 75% built out.

The research and technology park is well underway—with more than a quarter constructed and maps for much of the remaining land.

Looking back – we see progress.

In Clovis, we have learned to appreciate the importance of both vision and patience.

That holds true for the history of our community way back before 2003.

The completion of the historic flume.

The birth of the festival that would eventually become the Clovis Rodeo in 1916.

The connection between the city and the school district, starting with Doc Buchanan and his founding leadership of Clovis Unified—and continuing with every Superintendent since.

The preservation and renewal of Old Town as the heart of our community.

We could spend all morning on the history of Clovis—but, for today’s purposes, we will simply acknowledge and honor our community’s founders, traditions and heritage as we work today—and plan for the future.

We stand here on THEIR shoulders.

And we will never forget them.

It occurs to me that this breakfast is about much more than statistics, new buildings or challenges ahead.

It is really a moment to express gratitude for the community we have—

And the hope we have for the Clovis of future generations.

As many of you have heard me say before, its about trees we plant today that we will never sit under—and for the community we leave for individuals we will never know.

They ultimately will decide how well we have honored the legacy we have been given.

This morning…I am going to share three accomplishments, three worries, and three opportunities.

Let’s start with the mission of the City of Clovis: Which is to define and deliver local government and government services better than anyone else.

That is the foundation of our community that drives decision making—and helps set the expectations that Clovis residents have.

Three accomplishments to report to you today:

We remain the safest city in the Valley.

We have a high value of, and expectations for, our public safety services in Clovis.

We hire the best, even if it takes longer.

Our police and fire departments are innovative and efficient while maintaining the highest standards for service, outcomes, and citizen satisfaction. Hands down, we have the best public safety team in this Valley, probably in the State.

Please know that this Council, and this community, will always support you, and are grateful for your work every day. The recent passage of an increased hotel occupancy tax to go towards police funding is testament to our community’s support.

Our police and fire departments are the foundation in keeping Clovis…Clovis. As I often say, if you are not safe, very little else matters.

We have the best local economy of any community in the region.

Our economy recovered better than anywhere else in the County coming out of COVID.

The strength of the City’s budget is excellent—we are reviewing and getting ready to approve a budget exceeding $350 million dollars; one that is balanced, adds to our budget reserves and tries to ‘catch up’ on expenses we did not incur dating back to the 2008 recession, and from the impact of COVID.

Online sales during COVID grew our sales tax by almost 36% in the last two fiscal years, up from just an average of  5% in each of the two prior years.

Clovis unemployment peaked at 13% in 2020, and is now the lowest number in Fresno County and in the Central Valley at 3.8%.

And we issued almost 800 new businesses licenses last year.

People spend money here. Work here. And trust our community to open businesses here.

Finally, there are several milestone civic construction projects and a new housing development—three very different projects but significant in their own way—to report to you this morning.

In 2022, we were proud to welcome Butterfly Gardens to our community, a 75-unit supportive housing development for those finding their way from unsheltered or unstable housing situations to an environment that allows them to have a reliable roof over their heads. This development is the first of its kind in Clovis and reflects this council’s commitment to expanded housing options.

Landmark Square is moving toward completion at the corner of Third and Clovis Avenue.  It will be home to the William H. Harry Armstrong Transit Center, a wonderful tribute to Harry and his love of all things transportation.

And the long-awaited Clovis Senior Activity Center, a Smittcamp Family Legacy Project, in honor of the Smittcamp family’s generational mark on this community, and of Earl’s weekly bridge games, is also making great progress.

We are planning for the opening of both those wonderful buildings later this year.

On the subject of Landmark Square, it will also be the future home of the new Clovis Branch of the Fresno County Library and we look forward to that work beginning soon.

And, finally, under investments in civic infrastructure, is the new Fire Station 6 now open in Loma Vista and the disappearance of our oldest fire station near Shaw and Minnewawa, in case you have driven by and wondered what was missing from the street.

That station will be replaced with a new one using the same floorplan as the Loma Vista design but with a different exterior to match its Helm Ranch neighborhood.

I also want to thank Fresno County, and the Cook Land Company, for the continued work and development on the County’s Clovis campus, now home to several departments and hundreds of employees, in the vacant Costco building and in some of the buildings that used to be home to Pelco.

Here are three things we worry about:

Housing—a seemingly simple word with dynamics that are like the most complicated Rubik’s cube.

To meet our demands and the State’s expectations, it will take the right combination of:

Available land that is zoned for our needs today and into the future.

The right mix of housing for families from all income categories and in all life stages.

Funding to pay for it and private and public sector builders to build it.

We also worry, a little bit, about revenue against increasing expenses.

Just like most of you in your own businesses.

Growing into areas that currently don’t have existing infrastructure is expensive.

Looming infrastructure requirements, and costs, for the City’s planned, methodical growth are staggering.

I think the estimates for water and sewer infrastructure in the future are the same amount as the entire City budget when I got on the Council in 2001.

Over the next decade or so, we will need to expand our current wastewater plant, then we will likely need another one in the north part of the city.

We continuously work on a balanced water budget as we grow, and costs to acquire water in areas currently without it are large and volatile.

Big questions for this Council to begin wrestling with are the different models we might consider to pay for these investments, and for police, fire, and city staff to support our community.

Also, in the words of my friend, Mayor Pro Tem Vong Mouanoutoua, what exactly are the people of Clovis willing to pay for the standards they have come to expect?

We will be exploring these and related long-term growth questions in the year ahead.

And, finally, a big worry is around state legislation and regulations overshadowing local interests—mixed with the political climate we find ourselves in.

I want to acknowledge this in a productive way, not whine about it. I think for most of us, it is not the regulations that we push back on, it is more about our ability to protect local interests and maintain distinctions that are important to Clovis.

California tends to treat all communities the same, and admittedly, the voice of the Central Valley is a bit hard to break through in Sacramento-, but we will continue to advocate, continue to find creative solutions and ensure that we continue to thrive as a leading community in our larger metro area, the valley and the state.

Legislation around land use is particularly challenging because while it may solve a problem in a densely populated urban area, it simply does not solve a problem here.

Our move to Council districts in future elections is also something we are monitoring that has come from recent changes in State law.

And maybe more broadly, partisan pressures when nonpartisan local government has proven to work best in Clovis is a worry as we try to keep them at bay in our community. That will take all of us.

We also have interesting opportunities.

We are in the process of updating our strategic plan to lay a course as we look 10-20-30 years down the road – and set the course to be a successful 150,000 and 200,000 resident community when that time comes.

Our Northwest village, Heritage Grove, is also an opportunity. The City Council recently approved a plan to move forward with annexing 500 acres north of Shepherd along Willow Avenue up to International. It represents an opportunity plan out what we want our Northwest Clovis area to look like with mixed use commercial and all types of housing, for all income levels, and new and innovative retail models.

Shaw Avenue is an opportunity.

Shaw Avenue is aging better in some spots than others, and there are bright opportunities.

People’s changing shopping and entertainment options offers an opportunity to reimagine that corridor for the years ahead. 

The ‘medical neighborhood’ development occurring out at all four corners of Temperance and 168 is today, and will most certainly continue to be a jobs hub, attracting professionals and providing living wage employment with excellent benefits, and establishing Clovis as the ‘medical center’ of the Central Valley region.

More will come there with our intentional and focused work. And if you haven’t been out there in a while, take a look. The medical neighborhood idea is already in plain sight.

Lastly, I want to offer one thing that is somewhere between an opportunity and a worry, a challenge really, and something we are going need each of you to help with.

Our community, and this work, is actually not about the five of us here on the council.

It’s not about this five or any five, really.

And that is, beyond the plans and infrastructure needs and the trails and the fire stations, there is spoken and unspoken worry about our ability to maintain our unique community culture, our distinct Clovis identity, as we keep growing.

And I don’t mean ‘worry’ in that we can’t do it. But I mean ‘worry’ in that it is something that can slip away in small increments we do not even notice, an awareness we must become as intentional about as plans for roads, schools, transit and neighborhoods.

The very real fear of losing what we are as a community requires a clear vision far into the future , a clear, shared strategic vision of what kind of city, and city government, will be required to maintain our culture in a changed world, in a larger city of Clovis.

The Clovis difference is in little things, that are actually big things, like someone most always answers the phone when you call City Hall.

What will that look like when we have 150,000 residents? 175,000 residents?

As we grow, it will take a commitment to hold on to those things that make Clovis…Clovis. Something we cannot ever take for granted.

We are grateful for this community, and grateful to each of you!