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WATCH: Las Cruces mayor gives State of City Address

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima delivered his annual State of the City Address on Wednesday afternoon.

The speech highlighted Las Cruces’ accomplishments during the past year and will touch on the goals of city government for the coming year.

Below's a transcript of the mayor's remarks...

"Good afternoon everyone. Bienvenidos todos.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

As always, I want to express deep appreciation to my fellow councilors, to our city staff, and to all our residents who are watching this on our CLC-TV cable channel, YouTube, or who are viewing this event online.

I want to welcome and thank my wife and first lady, Rosie Miyagishima, likewise listening at home, for her steadfast love and support. 

I would also like to pause for a moment to bring to mind all those we have lost in the COVID pandemic this year, those who continue to suffer with health problems from the virus, and all those who grieve for their family members, friends and neighbors.

(Please a moment of silence)

Thank you.

I’m speaking to you at a distance due to the COVID-19 pandemic we have been experiencing for the past 12 months, a year that has been as challenging as any I can remember.

No community could have been fully prepared for what we have lived through or the challenges we have faced.  The people we have lost, the disruption of almost every kind of public activity, the re-formulation of our schooling and commerce, and the devastating effect on our local businesses would have been impossible to imagine a year ago.

Everything has been a challenge, for the city, no less than for other institutions and for all of us in our daily lives.  Thankfully, due to the council’s careful financial stewardship over many years; to the focus, teamwork and dedication of our city staff; and most of all to the courage and character of the people who live here, I can announce that the state of our city is strong.

The COVID pandemic was sudden and fast-moving. Our local goals focused at first on the immediate: keeping our hospitals and medical workers from being overwhelmed and adopting measures to keep the virus in check, like social distancing and the wearing of masks. Over time, strategies for detecting and defeating the coronavirus have been worked out by our nation's scientists and medical experts, and implemented with growing confidence and commitment by the people of our community.

From the beginning, the city council and staff did everything we could think of to help our residents; support our medical workers; and make sure everyone had something to eat and someplace to live. I tried my best to harmonize emergency guidelines with medical consensus, the best thinking of my fellow council members, and mandates from the state.  

Working with area nonprofits, the council authorized approximately three million dollars in city funds for COVID-related needs, working directly and through area nonprofits to provide food, rent, mortgage, utility, and medical assistance for area residents.

The food was distributed to children and seniors, and through food vouchers to low-income individuals and families.  Grants extended to nonprofits allowed them to continue their services to children, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and other vulnerable members of the community. Face masks made locally were distributed to area medical centers, and 75,000 masks were mailed along with utility bills to nearly 40,000 households.

Thanks to these efforts and so many other contributions from community members, local businesses and nonprofits, our community has been able to find its way through this difficult period.  Now, through the development and distribution of effective vaccines, we can imagine moving, over the next few months, into a more normal life.

Obviously there has been a tremendous cost in terms of lives lost, plans disrupted and businesses and jobs that may not return.  There is sorrow in the hearts of so many, that only slowly will be lifted.  Hopefully it is of some comfort to know that we stayed together as a community, and have continued to reach out and help one another to this very day.

Many of us were able to do our part by simply following public health directives: staying home, avoiding unnecessary public activity, and keeping others safe by wearing our masks.  Many others helped by working from home. This cooperation saved hundreds of lives in our city.

Ironically, it was at this time of personal isolation that we became most acutely aware of our many neighbors who could not stay home, like the health care workers who moved each day through the heart of the pandemic: our doctors and nurses, certainly, but also the many medical technicians, custodians, kitchen workers and support staff that courageously showed up every day to kept vital facilities open and safe.

We quickly realized our daily reliance on our grocery and retail workers, our truck drivers and delivery people, our child and elder care workers – all those who left the safety of their own homes to provide essential services for the rest of us. I know many parents, peering over their children’s shoulders at a computer or tablet, marveled anew at the energy, adaptability, and deep caring of those who teach our children, wondering what we would ever do without them. Our public safety officers faithfully answered calls, adding uncertainty and risk to an already risky job. 

For a society that cherishes its independence as much as we do, and prizes the freedom to do what we please, it can be a jolt to realize how much that very independence is itself dependent on the kindness, strength and service of those around us.  It’s an important realization to have, and one that we have now gained.

I’ll have to say that I think we have, as Las Crucens, a head start in that realization and understanding.  We have long understood the intrinsic worth of every individual in our community, and the important roles we play in one another’s lives. 

We’ve long known, as President Biden said in his inaugural address, “there are some days we need a hand” and “other days when we’re called on to give one.”   Seldom, though, have we confronted this truth so directly as we have over the last twelve months, or with as clear a recognition that  many of our essential workers have been giving back far more than they have been accustomed to receive.

That understanding informs many of my remarks today.

We want everyone in our city to be safe in our homes and neighborhoods, to experience prosperity and the opportunity to fulfill ourselves, to enjoy a secure and stable platform to encounter the world.  At the same time, we have become more fully aware, acknowledged or not, of a growing divide between those with the means to have these things in abundance and those who do not.  Many who do not are the same people who have given so much of themselves in the course of this pandemic. 

To increase our residents’ financial resources, we engage in economic development, including attracting new businesses. We have also increasingly dedicated ourselves to improved educational opportunities and workforce development, so that we have the skills needed to prosper in a fast-changing economy. These are both important endeavors.

What I’d like to talk about today is a third element that I think is important, a point that our current councilors have emphasized again and again: the opportunity for us to look beyond a role as workers, toward building our own base of personal and family wealth.

For that reason, I recently asked that our new Strategic Plan, call on the Economic Development Department to develop a component dedicated to Local Wealth Creation. 

One task of this initiative would be to help local entrepreneurs start or expand their own enterprises, especially those that produce goods and services that we are currently buying somewhere else.  We want to provide our businesses better access to local capital.  These businesses can in turn become vehicles for job creation and economic growth, as money circulates within our own community, and both wages and profits stay here.

Importantly, all of us who are workers can be owners ourselves, if not in the workplace, then in our personal lives.  We need to share financial literacy and wealth-building principles widely with our residents, and to actively expand opportunities for home ownership, which builds not just family wealth but neighborhood stability, itself a long-term investment in our future.

We can assist in this process by creating, whether in targeted areas or throughout the city, zoning that allows a wider variety of housing options, including duplexes, triplexes and accessory buildings – units that permit homeowners to build personal capital through rental and other neighborhood-level entrepreneurial activities.

Creating local wealth leads, to the intergenerational transfer of wealth within our community, helping our children gain a financial foothold in their own lives. We need to open the doors of prosperity to all of our residents, so that building wealth is an activity of the many, not just a few.

Nowhere are the barriers to personal and family security more visible than in the lack of quality housing options our residents can afford.

The median price of a new single-family house sold in Las Cruces in January of this year, according to the Sun-News, was over a quarter of a million dollars, a price out of reach for the majority of our residents.  A lack of affordable housing options is reflected in the rental market as well, where it’s not unusual for residents to pay over half their income for a place to live.  That the situation is worse in other places is small consolation; our health, success, and harmony as friends and neighbors are absolutely dependent on our creating better housing choices for the full range of residents in our community.

This shared necessity has led to a number of steps the City has taken, and some additional perspectives I would like to share.

Last year, I talked with you about the development of city-owned property along East Lohman, across from the Mountain View medical complex. It would have been easy to sell that land off to a developer for higher-end single family homes, but that sector of the housing economy is doing fine.  Instead, we engaged a master planning consultant and worked with the public to envision a mixed-use residential and commercial district that will include not just single-family homes, but properties designed to serve what has come to be known nationally as the “missing middle” – housing affordable to buyers and renters of more modest incomes, many of whom are the same people who have served us so selflessly over last twelve months.

We believe private developers and builders will find increasing value in serving this market, but for the time being we can make sure that developments that occur on land owned by public entities, like the City or the State Land Office, or that are subsidized in some way by taxpayers, include plenty of well-designed, attractive, energy-efficient homes affordable to a wider range of our residents.

One area of particular opportunity for mixed income housing lies in infill areas where we already have infrastructure in place, including good access to parks, schools and existing commercial areas.  Last year, when I talked about the El Paseo Corridor, I don’t think I yet appreciated the key role that housing could play in its development; through leveraging public/private partnerships to develop vacant land and large, under-used parking lots into the wide variety of housing types so highly in demand by millennials, students and workers; as well as individuals and families of all types who are increasingly attracted to smaller properties in a walkable and transit-friendly environment.

Commercial development will follow people back into these urban centers; frequent transit service will become more cost-effective; and we will find ourselves with the vibrant corridor we have long imagined, connecting our great state university with a vibrant downtown.

The broader value of infill development has not escaped the El Paseo/Solano Corridors Task Force, chaired by Councilor Vasquez. They have recently expanded their focus beyond Solano to include surrounding neighborhoods, stretching south to University and east to Triviz. 

This area represents a tremendous resource for the City of Las Cruces.  It has been cultivated by the Council for well over a decade, as we have continued to invest in the health, safety, and attractiveness of traditional neighborhoods.  From our ambitious street maintenance program, to improvements for local parks, to our support of Community Schools as educational and community centers for neighborhood residents, we want to make sure these areas remain safe, healthy, and prosperous. 

In the process, we are acting as responsible stewards for a vast reserve of middle-income housing that already exists, within established neighborhoods already served by public infrastructure.  Additionally, these neighborhoods provide abundant opportunities for infill housing, especially for smaller units and the variety of wealth-building housing types that we referred to earlier – the duplexes, townhouses and in-law type accessory housing that a generation ago were widely available to moderate income residents.

As we move forward, the City may want to be more proactive in public-private partnerships securing these infill properties, both large and small, as they become available, in order to work with private and non-profit builders and developers to create real home affordability, quality, and choice for the people of our community.

A revitalized downtown, vibrant city corridors, healthy and steadily renewing existing neighborhoods – these are the ways we will avoid a problem that so many growing cities have experienced: a doughnut-like growth pattern that features a circle of newer, well-appointed neighborhoods around a hollowed-out core. 

We are not going to let that happen here.

With that shared resolution and commitment, there are a few other things I would like to touch on today.

Last year, in the State of the City address, I talked about the creation of a Behavioral Health District for our area. Though slowed somewhat by COVID and the many pressing needs it created in our community, we are still fully committed to better coordinating the behavioral health efforts of the county, city, public schools, and area municipalities.  In addition to her leadership on a wide variety of behavioral health issues, Mayor Pro Tem Gandara has continued to move this initiative forward, and hopefully this year we will get it done. 

Notable too, in the past year, are events that have brought about a deep reconsideration of our nation’s troubled racial history, a long-delayed acknowledgement of the personal and systematic mistreatment suffered by many of our neighbors.  I, like all people of good will, welcome this conversation, as a necessary part of our journey to ever deeper ties of community and mutual respect.

Much of the discussion nationally has focused on policing.  Naturally, I feel we’re a little ahead on this issue as well, since our police force has long reflected the makeup of the larger community, and our public safety officers live among us as neighbors and friends.  Still, we can benefit greatly from a wide-ranging consideration of best practices for modern public safety.

We welcome the opportunity to participate in what is evolving into a thorough examination of how we can best serve the public.  This will likely include the development of specialized roles and procedures better able to address behavioral health, addiction-related crises, domestic violence and our homeless and transient population.

We have already begun these conversations internally, and we have every confidence that our new police chief will engage with council, city staff and the rest of the community to make our Las Cruces Police Department one of the best-trained and most professional forces in the country, with a strong culture of respect for all. Chief Dominguez, for our part we pledge to work closely with you and your department to secure the resources you need to get this done.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the progress we have made as a city in terms of sustainability and resilience, especially as we, along with the rest of the world, become ever more aware of the serious challenge posed by a changing climate.

In some ways, the climate crisis presents an opportunity similar to what we encounter in public safety: a thorough re-thinking of the way we have been accustomed to doing things.  In both cases, it’s easy to see how quickly a society can be humbled by sudden awakenings, and the clear importance of proactivity and sustainable practices going forward. 

In the area of climate, I’d like to think we’re a little ahead in the game, with our early hiring of a Sustainability Officer, but the rest of our society and economy are catching up.  It’s hard to even imagine the changes in energy generation and usage we will be a part of in coming years.  I would like to keep our advantage if we can, and that’s why I’m hopeful that our Sustainability Officer can use her experience and extended knowledge base to help our departments move forward with all due speed toward a low carbon, less costly future for the city and its residents.

So, in spite of the COVID crisis – and in some respects because of it – we continue to move forward with resolve and a growing sense of confidence.  Over the past year we have stabilized ourselves administratively: of special significance is the hiring of our new city manager, Ifo Pili.  We lost our previous city manager just before the pandemic began, and all levels of city management performed admirably in the interim.  I especially want to thank retired interim city manager, David Maestas for a job well done.  It’s good now to have Ifo here at the helm.  He has been consistently insightful and responsive to council, his calm voice of reason helping ground the decisions we make. 

For all of these reasons and many others, the state of our city is strong.  In the face of adversity, we have come together powerfully as a community, with renewed purpose and eagerness for the future.  We understand even more clearly our deep dependence on one another; we are as committed as ever to making this the best place possible for all of us to live.

I commend our hard-working city councilors, among the most dedicated public servants I have ever known.  They join me in our appreciation of staff for their dedication to our mission, creative thinking, and daily service. We are thankful for every one of you in this special community.  Personally, I am especially grateful to share this precious life with you, and for the opportunity to serve as your mayor.

Thank you."

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