KING CITY — King City Mayor Mike LeBarre delivered a state of the city address during last Tuesday’s luncheon meeting for the Southern Monterey County Republican Women Federated.
LeBarre reflected on the recent developments he has been a part of in his time on the city council, as well as the significant changes that await King City in the near future.
“For King City, one of the things I felt was very important for our future, is to maintain our small town feel,” LeBarre said at the Jan. 7 meeting. “I want us to have all the amenities of a big city, but I never want us to lose the community that has been here. Our strength is not in individuals, our strength is in those volunteer groups and the nonprofit groups.” He added, “All the progress that we’ve made in this town has been based on the community.”
LeBarre said of what he has learned while in office, “It is hard to say no, but when you say yes, you have more input and more ability to represent the people that you stand for and to bring back those things that are important to you.”
He then commented on the teamwork within the city’s government.
“I am very appreciative of your city administration, your law enforcement department, your fire department and your council,” LeBarre said. “Because when you gave us that ability to solve the problems, we all came together as a team working with our community members and community partners to make significant changes here in our city.”
Crime and the restructuring of the police department has been one of the recent developments for the City of King.
“One of those significant changes has been having a police department that has been kicking a– when it comes to gang crime and gang shootings,” LeBarre said. “We are now a month and a few weeks away from two years since our last gang shooting or homicide. That is a record I will put against any city in the state of California for that kind of a turnaround in such a short time.”
He added the change required working side-by-side with the community.
Overall, LeBarre said, “The state of our city, I believe, is very good. It is tight. Our budget is razor thin. But we are a balanced budget and the last budget cycle, we had achieved one of our goals, which was becoming a structurally balanced budget. Meaning that we have consistent revenues matched to those basic needs of our city.”
The situation has allowed the city to pay down debts.
“When I came into office, we had $5 million in debts,” LeBarre said. “We are down to just under $2 million now. Within the next three years, we plan to have that all paid off. Those are good things for our city because that means interest is not going somewhere else.”
He went on to say, “Your staff at the city has taken ownership of each one of their department’s budgets and they’re making sure they’re not wasting dollars and not buying things they don’t need. When we do spend money, it is absolutely crucial it is going to what benefits our city and our community.”
Economic development of the city was the next area LeBarre addressed.
“The downtown has been one of our focuses. Making that nicer. Making that better,” he said. “We have just recently passed our second iteration of our downtown plaza concept.”
In place of a former gas station, LeBarre said, would be a “nice, open downtown plaza for all to enjoy and to really highlight the character of King City.”
Also in the works is bringing a new hotel to King City, as well as new housing projects. Infrastructure improvements needed to make new buildings and neighborhoods work are also underway.
The city is also working on identifying businesses that would be good for King City and easing the process of development.
“What we’ve done at the city level is try to reduce those regulations that make it hard to develop,” LeBarre said.
Streamlining the development process, he noted, would make the city enticing to potential businesses.
“Our philosophy is, you want to develop in our town, tell us what you want and we’ll work with you to make that happen,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is be more business friendly. And I believe we’re going to start seeing the fruit of that.”
In the longer range, LeBarre said a multi-model transportation center is planned, which was kicked off by a $1.5 million grant for a rail station.
“That will be a long process, but the fact we got the state to commit those dollars, it’s going to happen,” he said. “The same train that built this city is coming back to help expand our city and to help expand opportunities.”
In discussing what King City and South Monterey County have to offer the world, LeBarre said, “This is Steinbeck Country. We have the best grapes in the world that make the best wine. If you want to go boar hunting, we have some of the best places for hunting.”
He added, “We have a hospital. We have a community college that’s getting ready to double in size. We have great community nonprofits. We have a golf course. We have multiple federal and state agencies that have their substations and locations within here, and we have an airport.”
Reflecting on his own time as mayor, LeBarre said, “Good and bad, I’ve enjoyed everybody’s input and feedback, because that’s the only way I can do my job for you.”
LeBarre sees elected officials not as leaders, but as representatives of the people.
“I firmly believe as we go on into the future and as cities get bigger and more congested, families and individuals will want to come to places like King City to raise their families, build their lives and have a great experience in such a strong community,” he said.
The official state of the city address, hosted by the King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, will take place Wednesday, Jan. 22, at noon at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds. LeBarre said he plans to discuss the city’s budget and financial challenges at that speech.