There was something undeniably odd about watching Mayor Adam Eisen deliver the “state of the city” address online last week. Maybe that is because the city has never been in such a state.
In other years, outgoing mayors have rattled off a list of accomplishments, bragging about this initiative or that public gathering. These year-end rituals generally seem aimed at some imagined audience — city staffers deserving of a pat on the back, a small cadre that comes to any municipal meeting, other elected officials. They invariably come off as an answer to a question never posed: How did the folks in City Hall spend their time and our money?
While that was true of Eisen’s 2020 address too, this one was well worth seeing because this year has been trying for anyone still trying. He and others working for the city deserve credit for some extraordinary effort and difficult decisions over the last 10 months.
As Eisen noted, the year began in promising fashion. The city held a series of “listening sessions” to hear from constituents prior to setting priorities for the year. On March 5, the city announced five priorities: affordable housing, emergency preparedness, traffic and transportation, sustainability and economic development. A week later the governor announced a draconian shutdown that rendered all that planning all but moot.
City staff largely abandoned their downtown digs and many logged in from home. Many took temporary pay cuts. Initial projections suggested the city’s 2019-20 revenues would miss projections by 18 percent. The future looked even more bleak. The city expects revenues to be off by 25 percent in the next fiscal year. Whatever might have been percolating to support economic development was subsumed in a tidal wave of bad news. Mom-and-pops downtown had to close. Hotels — the main driver of the city’s revenue — were decimated and the business didn’t return for months.
And yet …
Eisen, City Manager Bob Nisbet and others on the Half Moon Bay team did what they could and didn’t shy from the moment. The city went back and forth on whether to close beaches, searching for the right decision as other agencies made other decisions. Eisen acknowledged some of those calls “were more successful than others.” It allowed outdoor dining in parking lots and city sidewalks. It gave relatively token grants to businesses and did its best to keep landlords from evicting suddenly jobless residents.
The mayor says the city’s “capstone achievement” was work on a General Plan update that has been in the works for years. It also continued with regular business such as the now-underway realignment of the South Main Street-Highway 1-Higgins Canyon Road intersection and bike lane work downtown.
The success of some other efforts in what the mayor called “a year of adaptation” remains to be seen. The city impaneled a Public Safety Subcommittee in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Nearly six months ago we were told it would consider the city’s relationship with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office before the contract comes up again next year. If allowing “Black Lives Matter” to be painted on a wall facing the City Hall parking lot is performative, reapportioning funding to better serve the social needs of the city would be real change. Planning has been done to improve a prominent downtown intersection, and planners are working on better bike lanes, but we won’t know how that shakes out for some time. There has been little progress on addressing affordable housing concerns this year.
There is no question city staff and elected officials have been navigating choppy waters this year. If it wasn’t a novel coronavirus, it was wildfire and choking smoke. It’s hard to imagine local government delivering more in 2020.
— Clay Lambert