Economic growth, transportation, and homelessness highlighted the 30-minute speech
VANCOUVER — It was a standing-room only crowd inside the main atrium at Vancouver City Hall as new mayor Anne Mcenerny-Ogle gave her first State of the City speech on Thursday, three months into her first term. The speech began with an optimistic tone.
“With our continued focus on stable and well-managed finances,” Mcenerny-Ogle said, “and striving for outcomes that emphasize long-term prosperity for Vancouver, I can say without hesitation that the state of your city is strong.”
The first-term mayor was quick to give credit where it’s due, pointing to previous councilors, and mayors, including Tim Leavitt, who stepped away from the job after his second term ended. Leavitt was in attendance, and received a healthy round of applause from the audience.
Mcenerny-Ogle became Vancouver’s first woman mayor this year, after defeating a write-in candidate last November.
“In my many conversations with local people,” she said in her State of the City address, “I consistently hear that they want local government that works, that is effective, that is a good steward of taxpayer money, that takes care of the public assets and delivers basic services well.”
Those “local people” now number over 183,000, and growing quickly.
“In 2017, the city issued more than 9,400 building permits, valued at over $300 million dollars,” the mayor said, “and that is truly remarkable.”
The city also grew in square miles last year with the annexation of Van Mall North, which added more than 5,500 residents to Vancouver.
All of this comes as the city works to create an identity for itself. Vancouver has long been considered by many to be just a suburb of Portland, and many former mayors have sought to find a singular identity to bring America’s Vancouver out of the shadows. Right now, that’s the new 42-acre waterfront development on the west side of the I-5 bridge. Many of the businesses are expected to open this Summer, and a new 7.3-acre waterfront park should be open by next Fall.
“It’s kind of exciting, when you think about it, that in September you’ll be able to walk and bike along all the waterfront trails,” Mcenerny-Ogle said, “or just sit and enjoy looking out over the river. That is an opportunity that we haven’t had.”
The waterfront isn’t the only major project happening in Vancouver.
“Throughout the rest of downtown more than half a dozen major projects are adding more residential units, and interest in our city’s growing and changing skyline,” the mayor told the audience. “Just in the downtown area, more than 48 new restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops have opened in the last five years.”
Last year, you might remember, Vancouver was named America’s top city for Hipsters by the website MoveHub. It was a distinction not everyone was happy about, but it was publicity.
“We have a wealth of social offerings, a strong philanthropic community, an influx of new businesses, access to recreational opportunities, a healthy economy, and a unique location on the shores of the beautiful Columbia River,” says Mcenerny-Ogle, “And all of this combined makes Vancouver a great place to call home.”
Two other major projects include the west-end extension of The Heights neighborhood, which the city envisions as a “vibrant urban village.’’ The Columbia Palisades development on the east side, at the site of the old rock quarry near SR-14 and 192nd, is also expected to bring in more housing, businesses, and a hotel.
“These are examples of successful revitalization projects,” Mcenerny-Ogle said, “spurred by the city’s investment in planning, in land, and in infrastructure.”
Another major project the mayor name-dropped brought a knowing buzz from the crowd: the Interstate Bridge replacement. She has made it clear her preference is to deal with that issue sooner rather than later.
“Replacing the I-5 Bridge is as important a project as ever before,” she commented. “Our residents are wondering what’s going on with this ever worsening I-5 congestion. Ten thousand people have arrived in Vancouver since we lost the (Columbia River Crossing) project, and those 10,000 people are wondering ‘what’s going on over here?'”
Mcenerny-Ogle has made it known she would be in favor of including Light Rail on any replacement bridge. She also sits on the advisory committee considering possible tolls on I-5 and I-205 in Vancouver.
Of course it can’t all be sunshine and roses for the city of Vancouver.
“Within this economic growth … Vancouver continues to experience a rise in the number of people experiencing homelessness,” Mcenerny-Ogle said, her voice softening. “Everyone realizes that we need to do more, and your council and I are committed to continuing our work on developing new and collaborative solutions with our partners in Clark County.”
But with the city growing, and resources limited, the mayor says she’s fully aware that Vancouver’s economic prosperity is potentially in peril.
“With continued growth in population, and costs, and inflation,” she said, “the city services we currently know, expect, and demand, will decline in the next five years.”
To help with setting goals and to prioritize services, the Vancouver Strong Citizens Committee has been formed. This Summer the city will begin soliciting feedback from the public about where they feel Vancouver should be focusing its limited budgetary dollars, and potential new sources of revenue.
“Looking at how we can create a long term, sustainable funding source for city services is an important issue for our community this year,” the mayor told the crowd, and those watching on television. “I can’t stress how important it is that we hear your voice. That helps us build a better future for Vancouver.”
The mayor ended on a positive note:
“I’m ready, your council is ready, and the city organization is ready to continue our city’s forward progress through energy and optimism,” she told the crowd. “In my conversations with community leaders, how much our residents care and want to be a part of success energizes me. Vancouver’s greatest asset is our citizens, and our city is full of creative, generous, and compassionate people.”