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Any time we gather a group of residents – doesn’t matter where – and ask them to talk about what matters to them, the results are remarkably consistent: They want better streets and sidewalks. They want more park space. And they don’t want to pay too much more to get those things.
And without fail, those were some of the most popular subjects that came up Tuesday night at our Let’s Talk Chula Vista event, where outgoing Mayor Cheryl Cox and new City Manager Gary Halbert fielded questions from members of our News Literacy program.
The conversation covered everything from pensions to who residents should call for their bee-relocating needs. Ultimately, though, the conversation tended to circle back to resources and money – and why there isn’t enough to fix everything on residents’ wish list.
Residents want better streets.
Streets came up a lot Tuesday night – how fast people are driving on them, where people park and the condition of streets themselves.
Indeed, the majority of complaints the city receives, Halbert said, are about streets.
Halbert said streets that don’t have high pedestrian traffic tend to have streetlights oriented more for drivers. But Cox said if residents have concerns about a lack of lighting, they should voice them.
“If you believe your neighborhood doesn’t have adequate lighting and you see other neighborhoods that do, bring it to our attention,” Cox said.
Halbert said residents should let the city know where problems exist, but also said the city doesn’t have the money to improve each street the way it has for streets downtown.
Residents want more parks.
At a civic engagement event a couple months ago, one Chula Vista resident said parks in the southwest part of the city are used as power line paths, not green spaces. Cox agreed.
“She’s right the parks that are in the Castle Park area aren’t as well-maintained as we’d like to have them maintained,” Cox said.
During the recession, Cox said the city cut its budget by 25 percent and laid off 300 employees. Many of those employees were in the city’s recreational departments.
The mayor said the city has taken stock of all the repairs that need to be made to recreational facilities they’re responsible for. The amount to repair everything, Cox said, rings in at $600 million. While city funds will go to improvements, Cox said community input can help them prioritize where to spend.
“A portion of what we need to do is recognize that government’s not gonna be able to do everything that our residents want to have done given the resources that we have today,” Cox said.
Residents don’t often want to foot the bill for improvements.
Cox said that getting enough funds to make all the improvements residents are calling for could require they dig deeper into their pockets. Cox thinks sales tax increases could offset the costs of repairs – but Chula Vistans have resisted such increases in the past.
“There’s a tolerance among the community that’s recovering economically who says ‘this is about as much as we can handle,’” Cox said.
National City residents, Cox said, voted to increase their sales tax to 9.5 percent to pay for the infrastructure improvements they wanted for their city.
But Chula Vistans aren’t always pinching pennies.
Cox acknowledged that voters have consistently approved special bonds to go toward school improvements for the Chula Vista Elementary School District, twice for Sweetwater Union High School District and Southwestern College.
“That says to me education is important for people who live in Chula Vista,” Cox said.