Norwalk city manager Mike Egan delivered a message of cautious optimism Friday, saying that despite California's elimination of redevelopment funds last year -- which cost Norwalk more than $4 million -- the city's finances continue to improve thanks to conservative spending habits. Egan made the remarks as keynote speaker at Norwalk's annual State of the City luncheon, held in the DoubleTree Hotel ballroom.
On the job now for about a year and a half, Egan said sales tax projections are holding steady. The city's unemployment rate dipped slightly from 2011 but is still high at 10.8 percent -- higher than the L.A. County average of 10.2 percent but lower than the 11.5 percent unemployment rate reported by surrounding Gateway cities.
Egan lamented the loss of redevelopment funds, a tool used by local communities to improve blighted areas and encourage development. As a result, Egan said, "we need innovative ways to work together and involve community organizations."
As expected, public safety was also heavily discussed Friday. Eleven homicides rattled the Norwalk community last year, though most of the shootings were gang-related and detectives had suspects in most of the cases, said Capt. Pat Maxwell of the Norwalk Sheriff's Station, who also spoke at the event.
Norwalk's close proximity to a variety of freeways makes the city popular with out-of-town gang members, who are increasingly breaking into cars and homes here, Maxwell said. Thefts and burglaries are popular with criminals, he said, due to light prison sentences.
Maxwell also criticized local city council candidates and media (Los Cerritos Community Newspaper) for spreading incorrect crime statistics.
Auto thefts in Norwalk continued their downward trend last year. The most popular vehicles targeted by thieves include (in order) Honda Accords, Honda Civics, Toyota Camrys, Acura Integras and Chevy Silverados. Thieves especially gravitate to older models because they are easier to steal using shaved keys, Maxwell said.
But much of Friday's program was also spent on positive news, including reflections on Norwalk's many programs and services, such as the Social Services Department that operates a food pantry and organizes the annual Angel Tree program for underprivileged kids.
Egan also spoke about the 5 Freeway widening, which will cause traffic inconveniences in the short-term but "long-term is going to be a great project."
He added that plans are progressing for high-speed rail in California, which will likely include a stop in Norwalk. Construction won't begin until 2030 at the earliest but city officials are already doing preliminary infrastructure work.
Due to a good credit score, Norwalk was also able to refinance its bond obligations, saving the city about $1.3 million.
Egan closed by thanking the generosity of city employees, particularly for their work in last year's Relay for Life, in which they raised more than $13,000 for the American Cancer Society.