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State of the city

Romero: Tucson is 'resilient, prepared to return stronger than ever'

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero's "State of the City" speech, as prepared for delivery and released by her office:

Good evening everyone and thank you for joining us for this year's State of the City. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the magnitude and severity of the public health crisis we are living in, and remember those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. I would like to thank our healthcare and frontline workers who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us. I want to especially thank my colleagues on the City Council for their leadership and support during these difficult times.

Thank you to everyone who has made this event possible; to the staff at the Tucson Metro Chamber for all their hard work, to Visit Tucson for supporting our vision and collaborating to make this event a success, and to tonight's sponsors. Thanks to the work of all involved. The State of the City is available for free to the public and is being broadcast in Spanish for the first time through TV Azteca.

A year ago to the day, I was sworn into office as the mayor of our beautiful and diverse city. Since then, I have been hard at work to deliver on my promise to build a safe and sustainable city with economic opportunity for all. I ran on a bold platform to take our city to the next level of progress and prosperity.

Tucson is at the heart of our region's ecosystem, and with the assistance of amazing partners, we will continue moving our dynamic city forward. Tucson – We Are One. Somos Uno.

My colleagues on the Council and I, with the support of the city manager's office and the entire city staff, hit the ground running to launch new initiatives and enhance high-quality core services that Tucsonans deserve. We kicked off 2020 with an innovative approach to the budgeting process. This started with a mayor & Council retreat to establish the priorities of our constituents and align them with actionable strategies in our budget.

With priorities set and goals in hand, we began to take action. Shortly after, our city, our state, and our nation was confronted with the worst health crisis our world has seen in recent history. Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has presented, we banded together as one city, one community, and made immeasurable sacrifices to protect the health of our loved ones and fellow Tucsonans.

It is undeniable that COVID-19 has tested our limits, and we are still actively fighting this deadly virus. In Pima County, we have lost close to 700 lives to COVID-19. Each and every one of those lives is much more than just a statistic. They were parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors. They were our fellow Tucsonans. The best way we can honor their memory is through maintaining our resolve by continuing to follow public health guidelines.

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Early on in the pandemic, and in the absence of clear direction from higher levels of government, we had to make some difficult decisions to protect public health. We were proactive with our mitigation efforts – often several steps ahead of our state and federal government. Mayor & Council set aside millions of dollars to support testing efforts. Vice Mayor Cunningham helped to ensure testing is widely available, particularly in high-need areas. I also continue to stay in close contact with officials from surrounding towns and jurisdictions to ensure a coordinated regional response.

All of us have sacrificed so much to protect the health of our most vulnerable Tucsonans. From our health care workers and first responders that are on the frontlines; to our essential workers at grocery stores, post offices, and other places that have remained open; restaurants, small business owners and their workers; and each and every Tucsonan who is doing their part by wearing a mask, socially distancing, and following public health guidelines. Although it is difficult to see, the collective sacrifices of all of us have saved lives.

I understand how exhausted and fatigued you are with this pandemic. I am too. But we need to stay the course. Brighter days are ahead. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

In addition to the devastating health effects of COVID-19, the pandemic has taken a huge toll on our economy. Every industry has been affected by this virus. Large and small businesses, nonprofits and entertainment venues, our arts and culture organizations – there is not a single sector of our economy that has not been negatively impacted.

Businesses had to quickly shift their models to facilitate a work-from-home environment and make hard choices on how to provide virtual services.

While the economic impact of the pandemic was felt by many, no other group of people felt it more than our essential workers. The pandemic also magnified the challenges that communities of color have faced for years, including lack of access to health care and quality education.

Thanks to the quick action of our Congressional delegation, Tucson received $96 million dollars of relief funds through the CARES Act. Mayor & Council allocated $55 million dollars directly into the hands of our community, ensuring that those with the greatest need received timely help.

Through the We Are One, Somos Uno Resiliency Fund, millions of dollars have been put in the hands of those in need. Grant programs administered by community partners have helped keep our economy going.

Since the start of the pandemic, $7 million dollars have been administered by the YWCA of Southern Arizona to provide a lifeline to small businesses for rent, utilities, and other needs, with a focus on minority, women, disabled, and veteran-owned businesses.

These grants are helping small business owners keep their doors open, such as Carlos Figueroa, who owns Maiz Tucson. Figueroa was one of more than 560 small business owners who applied for this grant, with 66% of the grants going to women-owned businesses.

The economic impact of the pandemic also reached the very organizations that help those most in need: our nonprofits. More than 20,000 nonprofits call Tucson home and provide vital resources to our community. Acknowledging the huge need in the nonprofit space, mayor and Council partnered with the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona to offer more than $1 million dollars in grants.

Thanks to these grants, homeless youth can continue to receive meals and rent assistance through Youth On Their Own, seniors can stay healthy by ordering groceries through Pima Council on Aging, and parents can have access to safe, reliable child care through scholarships offered by Catholic Community Services.

We also partnered with The Women's Foundation to offer $5 million in cash assistance that went directly into the pockets of approximately 5,000 families and individuals. Thanks to these grants, Tucsonans were able to pay for groceries and basic needs.

The City also allocated more than $1 million dollars to the Southern Arizona Arts Foundation to help local artists, entertainment venues, and arts organizations. In addition to contributing to our economy, Tucson's arts and culture are what make us unique. I will continue to advocate for federal relief through the Save Our Stages Act.

With no access to federal aid or unemployment benefits, our immigrant community continues to face additional challenges. No one should have to live in the shadows and in fear, especially during a pandemic. I am thankful to Open Society Foundations and a generous anonymous donor for donating $1.25 million dollars to the Somos Uno Immigrant Relief Fund. In partnership with Councilmember Santa Cruz and the Sunnyside Foundation, immigrant families received much needed financial help to cover expenses.

Through proclamation, I acted immediately to establish moratoriums on water shut-offs and evictions at city-owned housing. To further support the community, mayor & Council authorized public transportation to remain free through the end of the year.

Our recovery is complex and multifaceted, and we need to continue to work collaboratively with federal, state and local governments to provide relief to Tucsonans. This will require Congress to pass an additional relief package as soon as possible.

While we work hard to make this happen, we will continue to address the needs of our community, making every single dollar count and taking advantage of strong community partnerships to maximize our resources. Tucson is resilient and we will come out of this stronger.

Despite the pandemic, we have been able to continue providing core services our residents depend on, while implementing new processes, launching initiatives and building partnerships to position ourselves as a nimble and flexible city that adjusts and responds to the needs of the community.

Mayor and Council, and the entire city team are resolute in our dedication to provide exceptional customer services to our community and fulfill our promises to the voters.

Proposition 101 continues to deliver. To date, we have paved 670 miles of road in our main city corridors, and more than 225 miles in our neighborhoods and local streets.

In the last year alone, we also kicked off exciting projects, such as breaking ground on the long-awaited Broadway corridor project and the Sunshine Mile overlay with Councilmember Kozachik.

Our re-envisioned Department of Transportation and Mobility has been diligently working on Move Tucson – our city's masterplan and blueprint for increasing mobility across our city whether you walk, bike, drive, or take public transit.

Mayor & Council have had continued discussions surrounding the Regional Transportation Authority to ensure that Tucsonans have a fair say on regional transportation planning that incorporates community feedback from Move Tucson.

During my first trip to Washington D.C. as mayor, I met with officials from the Federal Transportation Administration and successfully lobbied for a transit grant that will explore bus-rapid transit options. This has the potential to connect the Tucson International Airport, through Oracle Road, to the Tohono Tadai Transit Center.

And speaking of mobility, we have already made progress under Proposition 407 on new greenways and shared-use paths for pedestrian safety, walkability, and bicycle safety. Thanks to the ongoing support of Tucson voters, we continue to uphold our reputation as one of the most "bike friendly" cities in the U.S.

In addition, we have made notable progress in our parks under Proposition 407. To date, five pool renovations have been completed with six more in progress. Nine sports field lighting projects are underway, with one recently completed at Chuck Ford Lakeside Park. Twenty five new playground shade structures and six new playgrounds are complete or currently in progress, including the first sensory park west of the

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Mississippi for children with autism and special needs. My thanks to Intermountain Centers for their collaboration on this project.

In addition, as apart of our CARES funds, we are investing in six new mobile recreation centers as an innovative solution to creating opportunities for children to safely enjoy the outdoors during the pandemic.

Mayor & Council continue to work to ensure that our parks provide a safe, clean environment for our children and their families to recreate.

Planning for the future requires us to adapt to the unique challenges climate change poses to our city. This summer, we saw this front and center, with wildfires in our mountains, and 100 days of 100 degree-plus heat. This not only presents an existential threat to our globe, but locally, climate change has serious, real-world consequences right here in Tucson.

For our economy, rising temperatures exacerbate drought, jeopardizing our region's water security. Climate change has the potential to prolong our summers, threatening to extend into our city's high-season for tourism. Rising temperatures also have serious health consequences, disproportionately affecting our most vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly. A challenge this great will require collaboration across all sectors of our society – government, business, labor, Tribal Nations, and the communities who are impacted most .

That is why this year, mayor & Council have taken bold steps to combat and adapt to the threat that climate change poses to our city. In September, Councilmember Durham and I brought forth Tucson's Climate Emergency Declaration, which sets a goal for city operations to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. Unanimously passed by Council, this key document outlines policy priorities for city departments as we work to reach these ambitious goals. To further support our climate resiliency efforts, mayor & Council allocated funds for the creation of a Climate Action and Adaptation plan.

During my campaign for mayor, I outlined a vision to plant one million trees by 2030. Earlier this spring, we formally launched the Tucson Million Trees initiative in collaboration with Trees for Tucson, and just recently hired an Urban Forestry Program manager to support the implementation of this effort. This initiative will play a critical role in cooling our city by providing shade to heat-stressed areas, which are disproportionately in low-income neighborhoods. We are also moving to the electrification of our city's transit fleet, with the addition of 5 new electric SunTran buses. My thanks to Tucson Electric Power for their collaboration in this partnership.

In the arid Southwest, water is life. Our economy cannot continue to grow without a sustained supply of water. Thanks to the efforts of Tucson Water, the leadership of mayor & Council, and an ethic of conservation, we have strong water security that will allow us to continue to grow sustainably into the future. Not only does Tucson hold a 100-year water supply designation from the State of Arizona, we have stored almost 50

years of water in our local aquifers that we can rely on in times of need. We are also making investments to expand and renew our water infrastructure to assure continued, reliable water service to the community.

Additionally, we have continued innovative habitat restoration and conservation projects, such as the Santa Cruz River Heritage Project, where most recently, I had the opportunity to re-introduce the endangered Gila topminnow to the Santa Cruz River, which has not swam here since the river dried up more than 70 years ago.

My office also worked on a first-of-its-kind partnership with the University of Arizona and Arizona State University to hire a Climate and Sustainability Advisor in the Mayor's Office that will help bridge research to create policy.

In sum, we are making great strides to take action on climate and ensure livability of our city for future generations.

One of city government's most important obligations to Tucsonans is providing public safety. Our Police Department continues to successfully implement strategies to reduce crime and keep our community safe. Through Proposition 101, we have also been able to support both police and fire with equipment and facility needs. Critical renovations are scheduled to begin on six fire stations in early 2021. We have also purchased new specialty gear for firefighters and paramedics, and made critical improvements to the Tucson Fire fleet. In addition, we have replaced almost 200 police vehicles, and acquired more than 1,000 laptops, 300 body cams, and over 700 ballistic vests. All of these investments both improve the safety of our firefighters and police officers, as well as enhance service to our residents.

This year, our city and our nation have been confronted with difficult but necessary conversations about policing, equity, and justice. However, I believe what sets Tucson apart is that we have approached these conversations honestly, with a willingness to talk openly about issues of systemic racism and cultural bias. While we still have much work to do, we have made positive strides to improve trust and reimagine the role of our police department in providing public safety.

Our men and women in law enforcement have one of the most difficult jobs, and we often ask them to perform functions that are outside of the scope of their regular duties. That's why I have proposed, and Council has agreed to create a new Community Safety Pilot Program to look holistically at how we provide safety to our community. By working inter-departmentally and with outside agencies that specialize in mental health, substance abuse, and other specialty areas, we can better address the issues that are frequently the underlying causes of 911 calls. To support this vision, mayor & Council allocated funding for six additional social workers. By coming together and thinking differently about how we provide safety to our community – public safety, elected officials, community activists, and anyone who wants to be part of the solution – we can identify new ways to better meet the needs of Tucsonans.

Mayor & Council have also taken concrete steps to keep Tucson affordable and help those experiencing homelessness find permanent housing.

Earlier this year, mayor & Council approved a proposal brought forward by Councilmember Fimbres and I, to hire a Housing First director. This position will coordinate a citywide effort to move Tucsonans experiencing homelessness into low-barrier shelters and comprehensively solve homelessness in our community.

In the last year alone, our Department of Housing and Community Development has housed a total of 925 residents, 385 of which were experiencing homelessness. Using CARES funds, we moved over 200 individuals into permanent supportive housing. Outreach staff at Housing & Community Development as well as our Homeless Outreach and Substance Use Resource teams at the Police Department continue to be proactive in reaching out to those experiencing homelessness and directing them to medical, housing, and other wraparound services.

One of my goals as mayor is to have a focused approach to reducing poverty. That is why the "Thrive in the '05" project is so important. It is a collaboration of innovations in community-based crime reduction - working to reduce poverty in the 85705 ZIP code and create workforce and economic development goals. We must cultivate these unique initiatives to advance federal funding opportunities.

Tucson is not immune to the rising cost of living that cities throughout the country are facing. But I believe that with the right policies in place and continued community discussion, we can responsibly grow as a city, while keeping Tucson affordable. That is why mayor & Council created the Commission on Equitable Housing & Development. Over the coming months, I look forward to speaking with stakeholders from across the spectrum – developers, neighbors, small businesses, and affordable housing advocates – to identify solutions to preserve and expand affordable housing options.

We've accomplished a lot in the last year despite the challenges thrown our way, and we have much to look forward to.

There is much to do as we continue to triage around the virus and work to rebuild a robust and strong economy, but first, we must acknowledge our resiliency.

Tucson is able to withstand and recover quickly from difficult conditions because we have a community of problems solvers, innovators, and dedicated partners...those that stand beside the community.

We must continue to tackle the immediate health crisis brought on by the virus, but we must also plan for short, mid, and long-term goals and initiatives. We have momentum to make this happen.

In May, Moody's Analytics Ranked Tucson among the Top 10 U.S. Cities Best Positioned to Recover From the Coronavirus. In July, the Site Selectors Guild identified Tucson among top mid-sized cities for new projects.

We will further promote the region and recruit amazing state-of-the-art companies to Tucson. TuSimple, the world's largest and most advanced self-driving truck company, is already expanding here in Tucson. It is with great excitement that I announce today that TuSimple will be adding 40,000 square feet to its campus along with creating more than a hundred new jobs. We look forward to your continued growth.

I am also proud of the recent city project that will expand wireless Internet service to areas currently not served by providers.

Mayor and Council allocated more than $5 million dollars of CARES funds to address distance learning and the digital divide for children and their families. Councilwoman Lee led on garnering support to see this critical initiative come to fruition.

This investment will transform the quality of life for Tucsonans and move us closer to becoming a smart city by laying the ground work to further invest in infrastructure that will improve public safety, support our economy, and move Tucson to a more sustainable city.

My vision is to be a city that, at all levels, supports and leverages small businesses, start-ups, accelerators, and incubators to make Tucson a leader in creating green jobs, tech jobs, and the jobs of the future.

The University of Arizona and their Research Innovation and Impact team are moving Southern Arizona toward this vision by positioning our region to attract technology based companies.

The Refinery building at the UA Tech Park at The Bridges will be the commercialization hub for the University of Arizona.

Also, in September, Sandvik Materials Technology, a developer and manufacturer of advanced stainless steels and special alloys, announced plans to expand operations of precision medical wire and wire-based components to Tucson. Sandvik, based in Stockholm, has only one other U.S. location in Palm Coast, Florida. The company praised Tucson for its "superior technical workforce."

These are just a couple of examples of amazing projects that are happening throughout Tucson. Having tools available, such as the renewal of the Central Business District will further support our economic recovery.

Since taking office, I have renewed our partnership with strategic regional partners such as Pima Community College, Sun Corridor, the Tucson Airport Authority, and Rio Nuevo. In addition, I am hoping to partner with Pima County on regional solutions to early childcare education. Building relationships is key to our success.

Last month, Tucson International Airport broke ground on the largest construction project in the airport's history. The $300 million dollar airfield safety enhancement project will include a new runway and aircraft taxiways.

In May, to support the local economy, we quickly pivoted to launch a pilot program for businesses to temporarily extend outdoor dining areas and receive approval within 72 hours. This was in addition to waiving easement and parking fees. To go one step further, I will be asking my colleagues on the Council to support an initiative to amend the parklet policy and permanently extend outdoor dining for businesses.

Earlier this year, our Economic Initiatives Department launched a new website, ConnectTucson. At the direction of mayor and Council, small business navigators were added to the team and have fielded almost 700 requests for assistance through October.

In the first quarter of 2021, we will be updating the City of Tucson's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. This critical plan and vision qualifies Tucson for federal grants. I will work with my colleagues on the Council to outline and establish Tucson's Recovery and Economic Opportunity Plan to stabilize and push our economy forward.

Thanks to wise financial planning over the years by the city manager and his financial team, at the direction of mayor and Council, the city is positioned to not just weather the storm, but return even stronger. For the first time, we are in a position to set 10% of our General Fund in our Rainy Day Fund.

Our city's credit ratings improved this year once again, and we are in great standing to borrow for future needs at low interest rates, benefitting taxpayers. Finally, mayor & Council made a once-in-a-generation decision to take advantage of historically-low interest rates and sell pension obligations bonds to secure our public safety pension system. This move has the potential to save Tucsonans more than $600 million taxpayer dollars for decades to come, and ensure the retirement security of our police officers and firefighters.

Exciting new projects, strong community partnerships, and a strong financial position, have set Tucson for a great future.

Tucson, we have so much to look forward to in the coming years. Yes, 2020 has tested our limits, but we have proven our resilience, and positioned ourselves to come back stronger than ever.

In me, you have a fighter, and I will continue to be Tucson's chief advocate to attract new investment and opportunities.

With the new presidential administration, I will use the relationships I've built with our congressional delegation to ensure that the needs of Tucson are front and center to the Biden administration.

Through federal partnerships, we will continue to lay the groundwork for further infrastructure investments that will increase mobility across our city and fix our roads.

The vision I have outlined for our city will take work – and it will take all of us to accomplish.

The reason why I am so optimistic for what the future holds, is Tucson's spirit of coming together to solve problems.

At the end of the day, no matter what difference of opinion we may have, we all have one common goal: to create a safe and sustainable city with economic opportunity for all.

I am proud to report that the state of the city is resilient, and prepared to return stronger than ever.

Thank you Tucson. I'm humbled to serve as your mayor. Wishing you and your family a happy holiday season. Stay safe, get tested, and please wear a mask.

We Are One – Somos Uno. Good night.

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