San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson held his eighth and final State of the City Address on Wednesday afternoon, during which time he reflected on goals achieved during his tenure in city government as well as the challenges that remain.
Sponsored by the San Ramon Chamber of Commerce, Clarkson addressed approximately 200 community and business leaders at the San Ramon Marriott luncheon event, discussing a variety of pressing issues facing San Ramon such as public safety, growth, housing developments and the city’s financial situation.
Stressing it as the most important priority of governance, public safety was one of the lead items of Clarkson’s roughly 45-minute address. He said public safety is of such a high quality because in San Ramon residents love their cops.
“Public safety is the most important task we do as a city,” Clarkson said. “We are blessed to be in one of the safest cities in California. It’s a chance to shout out (San Ramon Police) Chief Craig Stevens. We appreciate everything that you do.”
While San Ramon is a considerably safe place to live, one public safety area where Clarkson says San Ramon — as well as the rest of the state — is struggling with significantly is the high rate of petty crime such as shoplifting, which he said has reached epidemic proportions and is due in no small part to state legislation.
“The thing we need to focus on is petty crime. In San Ramon it has increased literally 100%. We can argue and give different opinions on why that is occurring but the state laws, especially Proposition 47, allow people to steal up to $950 and all the police can do is give them a ticket and they are on their way,” Clarkson lamented.
Growth and housing development also took center stage during Clarkson’s address, where he stressed the needs to advocate for local control over development decisions and to preserve San Ramon’s scenic rolling hills.
State officials in Sacramento seeking to solve a severe housing shortage in the Bay Area have sought to create legislation that streamlines the approval of housing developments in communities, which in turn can greatly limit the authority of local governments in planning out their city.
Clarkson added that San Ramon’s open space and rolling hills is one of its most precious resources, and that efforts need to be made to prioritize protecting these areas.
“One of the other challenges, (is that) there is a perception in the community that cities build homes to make money, right? You make money off of property tax? But the reality is that when you build homes it actually costs the city more money for maintenance than the tax proceeds you get from new revenues. So housing costs cities money,” he said. “The only reason that cities are viable is because they have good retail business; without a solid retail base you can’t function as a city.”
“As we build housing it has to pay for itself,” he said, adding that during his tenure as mayor, the City Council has not approved one housing project that would be built on San Ramon’s hillsides.
One upcoming housing project that prioritizes building upon an urban core in San Ramon and keeping housing off of San Ramon’s hillsides is Sunset Development Company’s City Walk Master Plan, which would consist of creating approximately 4,500 housing units on the Bishop Ranch property.
While Clarkson said he does not want to express an opinion while the project has not yet reached the City Council or Planning Commission for review, he says it is worth watching and encourages community members to take part in the public comment process.
“This will be an interesting one to watch because when I go out and talk to businesses, the biggest challenge that businesses have in San Ramon is a lot of their employees can’t afford to rent in San Ramon and they are commuting in and, as we know, commuting into San Ramon is becoming a nightmare,” Clarkson said.
Clarkson also advocated for residents to sign up for Leadership San Ramon Valley, a course that teaches residents about the intricacies of civic governance and about what it takes to become a community leader.
One of Clarkson’s proudest moments while serving was seeing the opening of City Center Bishop Ranch, which he says created a true downtown for the city.
“Since I moved here 45 years ago, we’ve always wanted a real downtown and now that’s started and the City Center is just a part of that piece,” he said, adding that he is a big fan of the Kristi Yamaguchi Holiday Ice Rink, which opened at City Center for the first time this winter.
Other accomplishments include partnering with Sunset Development Company to create San Ramon’s City Hall, the inclusion of a local dispatch center to answer 9-1-1 calls and maintaining San Ramon’s AAA financial rating.
First elected to serve as mayor in 2011, Clarkson will term out at the end of the year after being elected to a fourth and final term as the city’s mayor in 2018, making Wednesday’s luncheon a particularly reflective time for the longtime city leader.
A U.S. Air Force veteran from 1970 to 1976, Clarkson was also elected to the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in 1998 and served three terms, served on the San Ramon Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for 11 years, and served as a member of the Housing Advisory Committee, City Charter Commission and Parks and Community Services Commission.
During his tenure as mayor, Clarkson said that his favorite moments came from giving third-grade classes tours of City Hall. He said that on average he gave tours to about 45 third-grade classes every year, showing them around City Hall and talking about the history of the city.
“It’s my favorite thing to do as a mayor, trust me, it is so cool to be with 25 third-graders all asking questions,” he said of the tours. “Just over 10,000 students have done it over the past eight years. I have done it… what a wonderful opportunity to talk about the story of San Ramon in such a positive way.”
“The toughest questions come from kids,” he added to laughter from the crowd.
So what’s next for Mayor Clarkson after 22 years of public service?
Spending some quality time with his grandchildren and helping mentoring the future leaders of San Ramon.
“I’ve spent the last three or four years identifying smart thoughtful people, and how can I get them more involved. If there’s any legacy I might leave it’s the 10 or 20 people who might get involved and be future leaders,” he said. “And maybe doing more history tours.”