KING CITY — It’s been nearly a full year without a shooting in King City, and local officials recently praised the city’s overall reduction in violent crime and other achievements in 2018 at the annual State of the City Address.
The Jan. 30 event, co-sponsored by the King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture and the King City Rotary Club, featured presentations from City Manager Steve Adams, Police Chief Robert Masterson and Mayor Mike LeBarre, who all spoke about the progress the city has made over the past year — from reducing gang violence to paying down debt to spurring economic development.
“We’re two weeks away from having a full year since the last shooting,” said Adams, who kicked off the hour-long address inside the Orradre Building at Salinas Valley Fairgrounds. “We’re a little reluctant to tap this too much because we don’t want to create a false expectation that shootings are gone forever in King City. We fully anticipate that we will have more ups and downs in the future at times, but we do believe we’ve implemented some permanent change in the community, and we also are very confident that we’re not going to return to the level of violence that has plagued King City in the past.”
Total shootings in King City have dropped from 32 in 2017 to only one in 2018, the fewest number of shootings in at least five years. The decrease is largely due to a new citywide security camera system implemented last year by the King City Police Department, potentially deterring criminal or gang activity from happening inside the city.
The system’s first phase consisted of 96 cameras placed strategically around the city at a cost of $450,000. A second phase, with an additional 13 cameras for $130,000, was recently approved by the city council for implementation this year.
“The good news is that the results have been positive,” Adams said.
Last month the city’s cameras captured the vehicles of five gang members who were involved with a murder in Greenfield, ultimately leading to their arrests in King City.
In addition, assaults were down 30 percent, burglaries decreased 27 percent and vehicle thefts dropped 26 percent in King City over the previous year, reported Chief Masterson. Petty thefts, however, increased by 21 percent, but that number is “right along with national and state averages,” he said.
Homicide rates were also down by 66 percent — from three deaths in 2017 to one victim in 2018.
“That would be something to celebrate, except we still lost a human life, and that means a lot to us,” Masterson said. “We’re working diligently on that one case, making progress every day.”
The city’s last shooting on Feb. 16, 2018, resulted in the death of 22-year-old resident Juan Manuel Ceja, who was found dead from a gunshot wound that morning inside a parked vehicle on Jayne Street. No arrests have been made yet in that investigation.
Masterson attributed the crime reduction to the community’s support of local law enforcement.
“It’s really a collaborative effort. I can’t express that enough,” he said. “It’s the fact that we have almost a brand new police department and the fact that community members are supporting us. That’s in large part because our officers are reaching out to community members and they’re responding.”
For the first time in years, the City of King is operating with a true balanced budget. Adams said the city’s revenues are currently matching its expenditures, thanks to the passing of Measure K, which increased the local sales tax by an additional half-cent. Voters approved the measure in last November’s election.
“We really want to express our appreciation to everybody that supported Measure K, which increased our local sales tax. Because of that measure, King City now for the first time in many, many years has what we would define as a true balanced budget, which means our ongoing revenues are sufficient to fund the cost of at least a minimal level of ongoing services,” Adams said. “We’ve been able to accomplish that so far with almost no cannabis tax revenues coming in, which means that hopefully when those revenues start coming in, we’ll be able to dedicate a major portion of those revenues toward some much-needed capital improvement project needs in the community.”
The city’s debt also continues to decrease each year. The general fund’s negative balance has been reduced from $5 million in 2016 to $2 million in 2018. Adams said the City hopes to drop that number further to $1.5 million by the end of the fiscal year.
Adams moved on to discuss economic development and the need for more growth in King City.
“The City’s been doing a lot to try to get the local economy going in the right direction,” he said. “We believe one of the keys is enhancing our downtown area. I think we’ve had some pretty good success so far with the Façade Enhancement Program.”
Downtown improvements continued to be made in 2018, with some businesses revamping the outside of their buildings as part of the city’s Façade Enhancement Program that provides funding. Adams said the city is beginning to implement portions of its streetscape plan as well to improve city streets, sidewalks and parking.
“Now we need to get more new businesses into the city. That’s where we are focused now,” he said.
To spur new development, the city council recently passed a significant reduction in development impact fees for new businesses.
The City of King also has partnered with King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture for an ambassador program, which meets monthly to develop strategies and outreach efforts to prospective businesses, and has entered into an agreement with the other South County cities to create a joint tourism program.
Mayor LeBarre said the city is also working on re-establishing the train station in town.
“Our future looks very, very good,” LeBarre said. “I’m excited with where the city administration, law enforcement, our volunteer fire department, all of our partners, our schools, have all been making improvements to better our community and create an environment so that our kids can have a nice, happy life as they grow up here.”
New seasonal employee housing for agricultural workers is also on the horizon, along with the cannabis industry. According to Adams, the City of King has already issued 71 provisional cannabis permits.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we’re making a lot of progress in getting things going in the right direction,” Adams said.
A special bilingual presentation of the State of the City Address is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 17, at 1:30 p.m. at the King City Recreation Center, 401 Division St.