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Op-Ed submitted by Kevin Woodhouse, Pacifica City Manager
Small coastal cities in California face a vexing set of challenges today. Climate change and sea level rise are at our doorsteps and forcing us to act and adapt with costly mitigation measures. And, meanwhile, the basic cost of doing business as a city just continues to go up.
In 2019, the City of Pacifica started on a multi-year strategic planning initiative, Vision 2025 & Beyond, that sought to take on these challenges as a community through a deliberative, inclusive and reflective process. From its outset, the concept and purpose of Vision 2025 & Beyond was clear: To ensure an equitable and inclusive future to help Pacifica thrive with resiliency. To execute the vision of the Pacifica City Council on behalf of our community, first, the financial and operational realities to fulfill that vision must be understood.
As the City looked at Pacifica’s needs over the next decade, we foresaw a long-term problem we needed to solve: a structural budget deficit. Under the status quo, the City would not generate sufficient revenue to maintain our existing levels of service, much less advance our critical future projects and priorities — such as the Beach Boulevard Infrastructure Resiliency Project, an urgent and costly rebuild of an eroding sea wall that protects our historic West Sharp Park neighborhood.
With Vision 2025 & Beyond, the City and Council strived for a varied approach to assessing our current conditions and future needs. The initiative tied together four main components: Financial forecasting, economic studies, potential revenue enhancements and robust public engagement. As part of the public engagement process, the City held regular public hearings and community workshops to discuss the four components, share results, provide progress updates, receive feedback and brainstorm solutions. We surveyed the community asking all residents to share their priorities and expectations for future City services, recognizing the importance of resident input and buy-in.
To evaluate our local economy, the City adopted a holistic approach to assessing our current and future marketing and economic opportunities. We performed SWOT and GAP analyses to better understand our unique coastal location and types of visitors — which showed that Pacifica tends to attract semi-local day trippers who don’t significantly contribute to the local economy. These studies uncovered opportunities to attract more overnight visitors to the City and incentivize activity at our local businesses and hotels. Based on the findings, the City adopted a multi-year Marketing Plan, which sharpens our marketing and tourism efforts and has inspired the creation of a “Shop Pacifica” campaign.
As part of our deeper understanding of economic assessment aimed to develop broad-based solutions to our fiscal challenges, the City also examined each of our five main business districts individually and developed tailored strategies for economic growth. This economic opportunities study considered Pacifica’s location and regional market trends while recognizing and evaluating diverse needs and outlining specific strategies for each one of Pacifica’s five business districts. We’ve since incorporated those strategies into our long-term strategic planning.
Vision 2025 & Beyond continued with our Council’s consideration of three potential revenue enhancement options. Those robust discussions culminated in a unanimous vote from Council to put a half-cent sales tax measure on the November 2022 ballot. Pacifica voters approved Measure Y with a 58 percent majority, and its passage has stabilized the financial condition of the City, so we can focus on our future.
With a new solid foundation, Pacifica is in a better position today to not only maintain our existing level of service, but pursue our long-term community objectives and address the threats we face from climate change. In 2023, Vision 2025 & Beyond became a catalyst and foundation for the 2023-2030 Strategic Plan, which our Council adopted in May. This guiding policy framework codified our community’s highest priorities and will steer us into the future. It includes goals such as improving and stewarding stormwater, coastal and street infrastructure, financing for new libraries, updating our Climate Action Plan and our Local Coastal Plan Program and developing more affordable housing, among other needs.
If not for the Vision 2025 & Beyond process, though, a Strategic Plan would not exist in the same form and capacity in Pacifica. By exercising foresight, intentional planning, organizational self-reflection and public engagement, the City and community found its footing together. Our success to date can hopefully serve as a model for other cities for a new and innovative approach to their Strategic Planning process as they navigate their own set of challenges.
Kevin Woodhouse has worked in local government for 32 years. Since October 2017, he has served as city manager for the City of Pacifica, a coastal community with a population of approximately 40,000 just south of San Francisco. Prior to his work at Pacifica, Kevin served as assistant general manager for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, a special district that covers 550 square miles and manages more than 62,000 acres of open space along the San Francisco Peninsula. Before that, he was the deputy city manager for the City of Mountain View.
Kevin has published and/or presented about organizational ethics, council-manager relations, tax measures and zoning. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Stanford University, an MPA from San Francisco State University, is a graduate of the Berkeley Haas School of Business Executive Leadership Program and is active in the city management profession through the International City/County Management Association and affiliated groups.
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