But at last week’s State of the City address, the focus wasn’t on the past. It was squarely on the future.
Looking deep into his crystal ball, Mayor Brent Ives peered past the city’s 11.7 percent unemployment rate to projections of economic strength and growth. And he laid out the basics of how the city’s going to get there.
The objective, as the mayor has said in other speeches, is to “make lemonade” out of the lemon that is the recession and set Tracy up as San Joaquin County’s hotspot once the recession lifts.
The strategy involves preparing land for business and industry, establishing a city-backed small-business loan program, streamlining the once-onerous permit process and making an overall “commitment to continual improvement” when it comes to working with, rather than against, entrepreneurs.
Though Ives’ points were mostly vague, at least the plan can be called a plan. Because for quite a while, it wasn’t apparent that there was one, as the single-family houses growing from every sold plot of land became the city’s prime produce.
Ives himself referenced the city’s sometimes-haphazard, often one-sided approach to expansion in the past, saying it’s “always a little painful” looking back to see if city leaders had done the right thing.
Ives even went so far as to say, “We need to humble ourselves,” when it comes to development.
In other words: We might’ve screwed up, so we’re making changes and plotting a way forward.
And that way is west.
This is no real surprise for those paying attention. The city limits and sphere of influence reach toward Interstate 580 both due west and southwest.
Ives’ slideshow at the State of the City was also a telling compass.
According to the presentation, construction at the long-awaited Gateway business development, located south of 11th Street west of Lammers Road, could begin this summer. Thanks to respective $2.3 million and $820,000 private and public investments, another swath of land west of the city is undergoing massive infrastructure work to turn it into the largest ready-for-building business area in the county. The West Valley Mall corridor will soon host a beefier Walmart and a WinCo Foods. And, of course, the Ellis subdivision will eventually put hundreds more residential rooftops in southwestern Tracy — someday to be joined by Tracy Hills, which would extend to the other side of our Interstate Triangle.
In fact, it seems that Tracy’s Manifest Destiny is to expand as far as it can toward the Altamont Hills, blocked only by the industry and canals that already exist between City Hall and I-580. Westward ho, indeed.
Downtown improvements notwithstanding, this is the general gist of the city’s planned growth.
The downside to it is that Tracy will sprawl farther and farther from downtown’s historic footprint. The upside is that serious thought has been put in to not just residential expansion, but the businesses and industries needed for a more sustainable city.
As part of that commitment, Ives’ speech contained a not-so-subliminal message to developers and business owners: Tracy is ready to play ball.
Ives said several times that the city would focus on flexibility and changing its culture, on making it easier for businesses to build here and turn Tracy into an economic engine.
This is only a problem if that means what it has in the past, when it’s seemed like housing developers held the best cards and called the biggest shots. If City Hall’s stated willingness to be “flexible” is code for “we’ll give you the shirt off our back,” no thanks. I’ll pass.
But if this signals a true change in how the city builds its economic base — what Ives called “cracking the eggshell” of business-stifling inertia — give me a double helping.
• Share your thoughts with columnist and associate editor Jon Mendelson at email@example.com.