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Romero touts post-pandemic economic, climate efforts toward 'beautiful, thriving, resilient' Tucson

State of the city

Romero touts post-pandemic economic, climate efforts toward 'beautiful, thriving, resilient' Tucson

2 years as mayor 'filled with incredibly difficult decisions but we’ve also made amazing strides forward'

  • Mayor Romero delivering her 'State of the City' speech on Thursday evening.
    Julian D. Ybarra for TucsonSentinel.comMayor Romero delivering her 'State of the City' speech on Thursday evening.
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The text of Tucson Mayor Regina Romero's "state of the city" speech, as prepared for delivery and released by her office (planned emphasis and pause notations edited out by the Sentinel, with some ad-libbed remarks indicated in italics):

Good evening! Thank you all so much for being here.

I’d like to thank the Tucson Metro Chamber, the City of Gastronomy chefs who have created this delectable food, our sponsors, Cox Communications, Tucson Airport Authority, and Tucson Electric Power, for providing these (beautiful) trees which will be going to their new homes after our event today. (I might just take one myself.)

And, a special thanks to the workers who are serving us tonight. Muchísimas gracias!

I am so proud to be your mayor. I am so proud of the work we are doing every single day in the city of Tucson.

I want to thank my colleagues on the Council: Vice Mayor Lane Santa Cruz, Council Members Paul Cunningham, Kevin Dahl, Nikki Lee, Richard Fimbres and Steve Kozachik, our city manager, (yes, let's clap for colleagues) Michael Ortega, department directors and staff, as well as my own staff at the mayor’s office. (Yes, they make me look good. And thank you to my family, my husband Ruben Reyes - the first dude of Tucson.)

My vision for Tucson is of an equitable, sustainable, thriving desert city.

Tucson is the 33rd largest city in our country. With thousands of years of history and heritage, arts and culture, our unique desert environment, and wonderful people, it creates the incredibly special place we all love and enjoy.

My first three years as your mayor, which felt more like 10, only because we’ve accomplished so much, have been filled with incredibly difficult decisions but we’ve also made amazing strides forward.

Within my first 100 days in office, I had to take measures to protect Tucsonans from the spread of COVID-19. I had to make difficult decisions about how to navigate the unknown.

We cannot underestimate the destruction and continued consequences of the global pandemic; including the extraordinary loss of life.

In Pima County alone, we have lost over 4,000 of our neighbors, family and friends.

The cost of this pandemic on Tucson and our world is nearly impossible to quantify. We continue to see the effects on our children whose education and social development were interrupted.

We continue to face shortages and delays caused by global supply chain issues that cause the inflation we feel today.

There were so many people and families who were living on the brink, paycheck to paycheck, who lost jobs or had to stay home with their school-age children or care for family members with COVID.

There were so many small business owners and entrepreneurs who figured out ways to shift their business models to try and keep afloat.

Some did not survive.

It is true our understanding of COVID-19 and ways to keep ourselves and each other safe has grown since the early days of 2020.

Even so, we need to remain vigilant.

My most sincere appreciation goes to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, for making sure vaccines, boosters, and tests are readily available, in an easily accessible way, at low to no cost. (Yes.)

Thanks, also, to President Biden and our congressional delegation for their tireless work making sure that they took every necessary step in helping us all mitigate this disease.

The federal funding made available through the American Rescue Plan has been transformative; especially the funds that were sent directly to cities like Tucson that received $136 million dollars to invest in a brighter future.

We continue to work to make sure every single Tucsonan experiences a resilient recovery.

As your mayor, I have been tasked with answering the question: How do we care for our neighbors and provide opportunities for our future?

Decades' worth of unmet needs, societal inequities and lopsided investments have resulted in complex, multi-faceted problems such as lack of affordable housing stock, significant infrastructure needs, houselessness, and lack of action on mitigating climate change.

These seemingly insurmountable problems have landed on the shoulders of current elected officials across our nation.

I accept that challenge. My colleagues and I are taking bold action now to find long term solutions.

My decades worth of public service in Tucson, from administering neighborhood reinvestment programs with Pima County, to my 12 years on the Council working on Economic Development initiatives, to my last three years as your Mayor changing structures and systems to improve our future, have built deep relationships across all levels of government. I have deep roots in our community.

My ethic, as your mayor, is to work collaboratively and creatively, with our public and private partners, with regional, state and federal governments, with our local non-profits and individuals to create innovative, layered and multi-faceted solutions that meet our unique needs in Tucson.

A top initiative of mine since I took office in 2019, is supporting our public safety team while helping to redefine what community safety, health and wellness means for all of us.

In the face of so many challenges, we have much to be proud of in the last year.

Hiring Chad Kasmar as Tucson’s chief of police in early 2022 with broad community support and a unanimous vote from our City Council was a pivotal moment.

I believed then, as I believe now, he is the right choice for Tucson. His many years of service in our community along with our mutual goal of providing a 360-degree approach to community safety will transform the way we serve our residents.

Chief Kasmar and I have worked closely to bring attention to the problems caused by easy access to guns, the lack of common-sense gun safety legislation, the necessity of building communication with all members of our community and working collaboratively on problems that affect us all.

He is committed to helping us put the right work in the right hands and to seek every single source of revenue to help us do so.

We have advocated for and received 5 and I hope, soon to be 6, federal grants amounting to over $6 million dollars.

TPD was selected in a highly competitive process through the Department of Justice to participate in the National Public Safety Partnership Program.

Through this partnership, we will use a collaborative approach and evidence-based decision-making, to ensure that local resources are maximized, and federal assets are leveraged where they are needed most.

Hiring Sharon McDonough as Tucson’s new Public Safety Communications director is another highlight. Sharon, like Chad, has deep roots in Tucson.

She is bringing her vast experience to help stabilize our 911 Communications Department and is working collaboratively with the entire public safety leadership team, especially Sarah Launius, Tucson’s first Community Safety, Health and Wellness Program manager, to operationalize Tucson’s 311 system.

This effort to Transform 911 is the result of several years of work and collaboration across our own departments and across the country.

I am proud that Tucson is a leader in this arena. Joining Chief Kasmar, Chief Ryan, Director McDonough and Sarah Launius to share this work at a conference in New Orleans was another highlight of 2022.

The Council and I are proud to have dedicated over $8 million dollars to bring the newly remodeled Emergency Communication Center, serving nine public safety agencies in the Tucson region. This is another strategic execution of my vision.

We have much to celebrate AND much to do.

Our innovative programming through our Community Safety, Health & Wellness program is building bridges from Tucson Fire’s TC-3 program and TPD’s Mental Health Support Team to ensure that our city improves the outcomes for individuals struggling with mental health, substance use, homelessness or extreme poverty.

We have added care coordinators and navigators who are broadening access to resources that address the underlying issues that lead to reliance on 911 while working directly with marginalized communities and individuals; lifting these responsibilities off of the shoulders of our police officers.

We are building the bridge to connect people to resources.

We are offering services in English and Spanish. We are working with private landlords and non-profits. We are working with county and city-run apartments and shelters.

In just two months, 29 individuals and families who were homeless or at risk of eviction became or stayed housed. 300 individuals were connected to services including detox. (That's just two months.)

Last year, I was able to share our plans. This year, I am sharing the concrete actions and results.

This year, we provided the Tucson Police Department and Chief Kasmar the funding capacity the department needs to be successful: 100 open positions for commissioned police officers and 50 additional positions for community safety officers.

In the last year, mayor and Council delivered a historic wage increase to all city workers across the board, including an average 13% increase worth $14.9 million dollars to Tucson police officers and an additional average of 7% equating to $10.4 million dollars this coming year.

After voting to establish the Office of Equity in 2020, to help address race and socioeconomic based inequities throughout our city, we hired Laurice Walker as our first chief equity officer.

Since then, Laurice has introduced the equity budget analysis tool to help departments and decision-makers critically assess the impacts of budget decisions on marginalized populations.

She is leading the effort to draft an equity action plan that will help guide us over the next several years, including fostering our legislative priorities and implementing organizational best practices to advance equity.

This type of data-driven decision-making helps us attack the root causes that underlie the challenges we see today.

Being strategic and intentional in our investments provides another layer to addressing how we deliver services and community safety to our residents.

This fall, I was happy to host the Governor’s Housing Supply Study Commission in Tucson.

In addition to presenting on the panel, Liz Morales, our Housing and Community Development Director presented the housing affordability strategy for Tucson.

The city of Tucson was a successful partner in distributing $53 million in federal rental assistance funds to support more than 9,800 households in Tucson and South Tucson.

Another $10 million dollars was used to convert vacant hotels into transitional and low barrier shelter housing and to provide support services for those experiencing homelessness.

We continue to provide affordable and stable housing through our Public Housing Authority, which assists over 5,300 households with rental assistance through our Housing Choice Voucher Program and over 1,500 public housing units that the city of Tucson owns and operates.

In response to the needs of the 31,000 older adult households in Tucson who are housing-cost burdened, meaning they pay 30% or more of their income on housing, the city of Tucson is taking concrete action.

The city of Tucson successfully applied for and received its first ever Low Income Housing Tax Credit project.

This historic partnership with the Arizona Department of Housing will use $2.1 million dollars in tax credits to build The Milagro on Oracle.

This project, an excellent example of adaptive reuse, will bring 63 units of affordable housing for older adults to the Grant and Oracle area. It highlights the possibilities that result from re-imaging what is possible with public/private partnerships.

Our approach to providing resources for our unsheltered neighbors is multi-faceted. At my direction, the city manager established a task force to help guide our efforts.

This task force brought together city departments and county leadership, to identify and implement a variety of approaches to help individuals experiencing homelessness and provide support for neighborhoods and businesses.

An intergovernmental agreement with the Pima County Board of Supervisors, will result in Amaris Vasquez being hired to be the first multi-agency regional coordinator.

We have created a homeless encampment reporting tool. This puts the power in all of our hands to provide precise information to help direct service outreach and cleanup.

These may include Environmental Services clean up, Housing First services, or enforcement.

This reporting tool will allow, for the first time, a centralized location for data to help streamline the efforts of public, private and nonprofit entities who are working collaboratively on these efforts.

In another exciting step, the city of Tucson’s Housing First team and Community Safety, Health and Wellness Teams have co-located to the El Pueblo Neighborhood Center. This will improve efficiency. (I assure you that.)

In 2022, Housing First staff have provided outreach to 1,512 individuals and connected 225 people to permanent housing. (That's wonderful.)

On infrastructure investment, I want to take a moment to thank everyone here today, and the voters of Tucson, for their help and support in passing Proposition 411 with 73% of the vote.

This historic investment will bring $740 million over 10 years to fix every residential road, and build needed pedestrian and bicycle safety infrastructure for Tucson.

Mayor and Council have dedicated $15 million dollars annually over the next 5 years to fix “collector” streets that connect neighborhoods.

And, don’t worry, public safety was not left out. They will receive $90 million dollars over the next five years to continue to work on fleet replacement, capital improvements, safety equipment and more.

An independent oversight and accountability commission was also established to oversee the expenditure of revenues.

Every single Tucsonan deserves safe and complete streets.

We welcomed Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as he announced the award of a $25 million RAISE grant for the City of Tucson’s 22nd Street Bridge Revitalization Project.

This project addresses the challenges of historic disinvestment and separating communities and neighborhoods with infrastructure.

This highly competitive grant required significant financial cooperation and collaboration with Pima County, the Regional Transportation Authority board, Union Pacific Railroad and the Arizona Department of Transportation. (And we got it done.)

My vision for Tucson’s economic future is robust and comprehensive.

As you know, often economic development programs only have their eyes on bringing in big business, which, by the way, the city of Tucson is doing very well.

Even so, I knew Tucson needed more. Tucson’s local small business owners needed the support services our small business program offers them to thrive in our city.

Today, I would like to officially announce the Transform Tucson Fund. This collaboration with the city of Tucson Industrial Development Authority under the capable leadership of Dre Thompson, is a strategy to invest in a more equitable, dynamic, and sustainable economy.

The investments I will be asking my Council colleagues to make, will power the future of Tucson with green jobs and infrastructure, greater diversity and upward mobility in our small business ecosystem, investments in a 21st century workforce, and a resilient, climate-adapted city.

The Transform Tucson Fund includes:

Our AVANZA Revolving Loan Fund for under-represented entrepreneurs. I’ve asked my colleagues on the Council to join me in adding $1.5 million to the $3 million in funding secured by the city of Tucson IDA from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The city of Tucson Small Business Program and the city of Tucson IDA are co-locating to our one-of-a-kind small business incubation center. This facility will help small businesses get access to capital and wrap around support under one roof. (And three:) Our public private partnership with the Tucson Association of Realtors and the IDA will bring $1.5 million dollars to fund the Essential Worker’s Mortgage Assistance fund.

With this innovative fund, we will be setting a national standard for excellence in driving public-private investment into innovation, business and job creation; as well as investments in equity and sustainability.

And this is just the beginning! (Right, Dre?)

We are in a historic moment of federal support for communities. Through our partnership, we can seize this one-time source of funds to drive lasting change and transformative investments that will yield a renewing, evergreen source of capital and continuing growth in our community.

I would also like to thank the many partners in our community and in this room today who provided feedback and insight as we updated our Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.

The strategies outlined are helping us find the companies and partners to help us drive our robust economic development.

This year, we were able to welcome, a top 10 tech disruptor with a global footprint, to Tucson. Their small team of engineers are already doing early road testing in partnership with Pima Community College.

Under the leadership of Barbra Coffee, we grew our Economic Initiatives Department by hiring our first international trade specialist who has already welcomed 17 dignitaries and companies from Mexico to the city of Tucson and a small business program manager who has already launched programs we have needed in the city of Tucson for a long time.

These include: our Small Business Navigator program operating in all six wards, a number of initiatives, including Sazon Empresarial, in partnership with Eller College, to provide for legacy and small business owners and the underserved sections of Tucson’s economy.

In fact, I’d like to recognize the legacy businesses who were selected by the city of Tucson. A list of these businesses are on the tables in this room. (Please take a look at them.)

Graduates of our programs are able to apply for grant funding to help them bring their ideas to life.

I was able to meet Herminia Serino who came from the state of Sinaloa, 25 years ago; her first job was cleaning offices at the University of Arizona. She started selling tamales in farmers’ markets and outside the university on weekends because she needed a second source of income. Due to her success, she bought a food truck to expand her sales. Two years ago, she took a chance and purchased a restaurant, "Del Cielo Tamal," located on Campbell and Fort Lowell.

After graduating from Sazon Empresarial, Herminia says that for the first time, she knows the cost of each tamal and the proportions that go into making each unit. She says the program changed her life. After developing the nutritional panel, Herminia is ready to scale up production and offer her tamales at national grocery stores.

Stories like these inspire me every day to keep doing this work!

Every single Tucsonan deserves a city that holds its resources dear and takes actions today to build our climate resilient future.

To that end, I have worked with my colleagues on the Council, Tucson Water and city staff, our federal delegation and statewide partners to take clear action to address Tucson’s water security.

Without safe, reliable, sustainable water resources, cities, including Tucson, will not exist into the future.

During 2022, I have been busy representing the city of Tucson at a national level at the White House and in Congress, (and at my home - hosting First Lady Jill Biden and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra) advocating for needed investments, explaining our unique needs and building the relationships that will help us bring home funding to Tucson.

When I was invited to testify in Washington D.C., before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, I was able to share the actions we have taken, along with those of mayors and Councils in the past, that have secured our water future for several decades to come.

Under my leadership, we have continued to take strong action to protect our water future focusing on increasing conservation, making the decision to wisely leave nearly 26,000 acre feet of water in Lake Mead this year, with a commitment to do so again in the next three years.

In the face of rising temperatures and extreme heat, I have worked in conjunction with our consultants, Buro Happold, all Council members, nearly 1,000 Tucsonans in person, and over 4,000 in online surveys, to craft specific strategies in a Climate Action Plan that will guide us in mitigating the effects of climate change and builds Tucson’s climate resiliency.

Acting on climate in bold ways is one of the demands I hear from Tucsonans most frequently. I am happy to report that Tucson’s draft plan, Tucson Resilient Together, will be available for public review early in 2023 and a final version will come before mayor and Council for a vote. (Yes, it's a good thing.)

Our plan, the first of its kind in Arizona, and one of the first of this scope in the nation, brings together the best of the knowledge we hold here in Tucson, including input from often marginalized communities with cutting edge science and research from the University of Arizona.

A climate action plan, such as ours, positions Tucson strategically to compete for federal dollars.

And, we have already been successful. Our EV roadmap has paved the way for Tucson to become the city with the largest low and no emissions electric bus fleet in the entire Southwest.

As you have heard, 2022 has been busy. I love being your mayor and am proud of all of the work we are doing to benefit every single Tucsonan.

Working together, we will achieve the just, equitable future we envision, where every single Tucsonan can live their best lives in our beautiful, thriving, resilient city.

We are one — somos uno Tucson. (Muchísimas gracias, thank you all for coming.)

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