Paso Robles is ready for economic growth, officials say

kleslie@thetribunenews.comMarch 25, 2014 

About 120 business and community leaders attended Paso Robles' State of the City breakfast event Tuesday at the Paso Robles Inn.

KAYTLYN LESLIE — kleslie@thetribunenews.com

Thanks in part to business license renewals, higher hotel bed and sales taxes and industrial and commercial growth, Paso Robles City Manager Jim App said Tuesday that the city is well positioned for economic recovery and growth.

The city’s diverse interests and good planning have helped, he noted in his remarks before about 120 business and community leaders at the city’s State of the City breakfast event at the Paso Robles Inn.

Despite signs of an economic recovery, Mayor Duane Picanco said the city still can’t replace all the city services it had to reduce during the recession.

When asked to identify the city’s major challenges, App said they were water issues and poverty. About 15 percent of city residents live in poverty and need jobs, he said. And the Paso Robles groundwater basin has faced severe declines.

“As well as we plan, we don’t control nature,” App said. “Our main challenge here is to keep our heads and as we try to do all the time, try to work together on solutions; not just talk … but work on policy solutions.”

With its close ties to the wine industry, and location within the groundwater basin, the city has been at the center of the region’s water debate, as many question how to balance the area’s projected growth with a depleting water supply.

After a brief history of the community’s water usage and the basin, water and utility consultant Christine Halley concluded that though the city is expected to grow its population to about 40,000 by 2020, with the planned improvements to water supply systems, as well as concerted water conservation efforts, the city should have an adequate water supply to support that growth.

“The city system is geared for a population of 44,000,” Halley said. “So yes, the plan is that projects that are aligned with the general plan are supported with the city’s current water planning.”

The city has several major capital projects in the works, including a wastewater treatment facility set to open this summer and a water treatment plant that’s expected to be completed in 2015. In addition, major road repairs are underway.

Paso Robles halted its city-operated transit system in favor of contracting with the Regional Transit Authority, the city manager said. This will free up about $1.8 million from the city’s nearly $72 million total budget, he said.

Besides the investments in local road, sewer and water improvements, Assistant City Manager Meg Williamson said the city has been promoting visitor experiences, noting the expansion in hotel rooms and restaurants.

“The really cool thing is that people are noticing what is happening in Paso Robles,” Williamson said. “Folks are not just saying that we are a good place to visit: They are also saying that we are a nice place to live, we are a city that is well-run, and we are a city that is financially stable. Those are the type of accolades that bolster (and) show that we are really doing well.”

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