This message can also be found in the Recreation Department's Fall 2014 Activity Guide.
With autumn upon us, we are pleased to report that the City has been, and remains, busy with numerous projects and improvements to better serve the Mill Valley community. In the spring and summer of this year, under the direction of the City Council, we adopted a new two-year budget, further developed and implemented our Communications Plan, and made important changes in our Planning and Building Department to improve customer service and strengthen procedural policies.
Our town is buzzing with construction projects, including a considerable rise in residential and commercial projects, the completion of the Downtown PG&E Pipeline Replacement Project and several infrastructure improvements that will provide safer access for cyclists and pedestrians to get around town. We are busy planning the next steps of the Miller Avenue Streetscape Project and looking forward to more citywide improvements as we dig deeper into the work of implementing the MV2040 General Plan adopted last year, which, we are proud to report, was the recipient of an award of merit from the American Planning Association.
Here’s a review of 2014 to date, and a preview of the months and years ahead. We’ve got plenty of work to do!
Our town has been a hub of even more activity than usual in 2014, with construction projects downtown and throughout neighborhoods across Mill Valley. While many of those projects are residential and commercial remodels, others have highlighted public safety, particularly PG&E’s Downtown Pipeline Replacement Project, which will finish in August, and the construction of bicycle and pedestrian pathways along Camino Alto and Sycamore Avenue.
The rise in construction projects around town is a welcome indication that local and regional economic conditions are better than they were a few years ago, allowing the City Council to approve funding to help us address some pressing issues related to infrastructure repair, facility improvements, and equipment replacement.
2014-2016 Budget Approved
The City Council and City staff approached the latest two-year General Fund budget cycle with a focused mindset to address pressing needs and important items which were put on hold during the economic downturn. Guided by the City Council Core Value of maintaining prudent municipal fiscal policies and practices, we recognize that we are in a different economic situation than we were a few years ago.
We project revenues of $39 million in the current fiscal year, up slightly from nearly $37.5 million in 2013-14. This is largely driven by an expected increase in revenues from property taxes, which account for 36% of the City budget, sales tax, which represents 8% of the City’s budget, and user fees, which make up 28% of the budget (user fees are projected to rise by 21%, largely due to the popularity of programs offered by the Recreation Department).
On the basis of those revenue projections, the City took steps to address a number of critical issues:
Road Repairs: The Council dedicated more than $2.2 million to improve road conditions from a variety of sources, including Federal Gas Tax, Road Impact Fees, and the City’s Municipal Services Tax (MST), which was first approved by voters in 1987 and is up for renewal in 2016. The MST currently generates $1.2 million a year, $900,000 of which goes to the repair of local roads. To bolster road repairs, the City Council assigned additional funding from the General Fund for road work and approved the purchase of a new pavement grinder and striping equipment which will enable City Road Maintenance crews to accomplish small to mid-sized repairs in-house, quickly and cost effectively.
OPEB: The City Council increased by approximately $600,000 the annual funding toward long-term costs associated with the medical benefits of retired employees (referred to as Other Post Employment Benefits, or OPEB). The new strategy will pay 100% of the City’s current charges, stop the long-term benefit liability from growing, and, over time, will eliminate previously accumulated liabilities.
CIPs: The City is also setting aside more than $2.4 million over the next two years for 57 Capital Improvement Programs (CIPs) related to City roads, buildings and facilities, such as the renovation of the Boyle Park tennis courts, the construction of the Bayfront Park boat dock, bicycle improvements along Sycamore Avenue and the evaluation of a bathroom at Sycamore Park and the construction of a downtown public bathroom.
In addition to the projects funded by the City’s General Fund, Council has earmarked nearly $19.3 million from other funding sources over the next two years for predominantly street and sewer improvements, including approximately $5 million in sewer line replacement. Click here to learn more about the 2014-2016 City Budget.
Miller Avenue Streetscape Project
Far and away the biggest road improvement project the City has undertaken in decades, the planned $18 million overhaul of approximately two miles of one of Mill Valley’s two main arteries was authorized to move forward by the City Council. The Miller Avenue Streetscape Project, which is expected to begin construction in summer 2015, addresses safety for pedestrians, will improve traffic flow efficiency and will replace aged and deteriorating road and sewer infrastructure. It will include both inbound and outbound vehicle and bicycle travel lanes, sidewalks, and medians. It does not widen the road, but it better utilizes the roadway to provide continuous bike lanes, improved sidewalks, enhanced crosswalks and also repairs pavement, storm drains, and sanitary sewers along Miller Avenue.
As we prepare for this project, we’ll make some interim improvements along Miller Avenue, adding striping of bicycle lanes, repairing select areas of pavement, and doing a pilot test of back-in, angled parking in the section of Miller Avenue between Willow and Reed streets. Stay tuned for plenty of outreach about this project!
Speaking of outreach, we are in the midst of expanding and improving the many ways we communicate with residents and businesses. We started that process in May with a logical step: we asked residents and business owners, via an online survey, questions about what information is most important to you, how you currently receive your news and information about Mill Valley and how you’d like the City to communicate with you in the future.
We were thrilled with the high number of responses, and the key message we heard was that you want to hear from us, and that you want us to keep you informed about all sorts of important City news, such as traffic, neighborhood development, crime and upcoming events. Learn more about the City's efforts to improve communication and outreach at www.cityofmillvalley.org/engage.
Planning Department Changes
The City’s Planning and Building Department has just wrapped up its busiest fiscal year in recent memory, issuing 1,201 building permits in 2013-14 with a construction valuation of $65.5 million, up from 792 permits issued at a valuation of $44.3 million just two years ago.
In early 2014, City officials received feedback from the community about concerns regarding the level of review and oversight of development projects. We have made numerous changes to the planning, building, inspection, development review and construction oversight processes to address the concerns and identify areas of weaknesses.
Interim Planning Director Vin Smith conducted an evaluation of the construction plans of more than 100 building permits issued by the City over the past year to confirm that the plans and construction work are in substantial conformance with the project approvals. The evaluation found that while there are definite areas for improvement in our review and oversight procedures, there are no consistent patterns of misapplying guidelines or procedures, and that the application of City codes and procedures has been proper and correct. The analysis spurred a number of changes at the Planning Division, including: greater scrutiny and oversight of building proposals and construction activity, heightened coordination with the Planning Commission, more robust Construction Management Plans to reduce the burden of construction projects on neighbors, measurable and enforceable conditions of approval, and expanded, more effective public noticing of hearings on permit applications.
We are committed to providing the community with a fair and reliable process that continues to build confidence that the City is ensuring projects are held to a consistent set of rules and are in compliance with granted approvals.
Connect With Us
As always, I encourage you to stay informed and involved in your community. For more information on City programs and policies, sign up for the City’s eNotification program. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.