Gregg Hart, Randy Murphy hold court at Solvang’s State of the City address
By Mike Chaldu
A roomful of public servants, business owners, and other pillars of the community were on hand to hear about the City of Solvang’s challenges and successes over the past year during the latest annual Solvang State of the City address.
The event was held Wednesday, July 9, at the Craft House on Corque in Solvang.
Gregg Hart, the State Assemblyman for the 37th District and a former Santa Barbara County Supervisor, was the keynote speaker, while Solvang City Manager Randy Murphy gave his first public address in his role. Other speakers included Solvang Chamber of Commerce CEO Tracy Beard, Solvang Mayor (and emcee) Mark Infanti, Montecito Bank & Trust President and CEO George Leis, and Solvang Chamber of Commerce President Rene Martinez. Before the address, VFW Post 7139 Commander Alvin Salge led the Pledge of Allegiance, and Pastor Chris Brown of the Bethania Lutheran Church gave the invocation.
After introducing the Solvang City Council and several city officials — as well as the just-arriving District 24 Congressman Salud Carbajal — Infanti brought Hart, whom he described as “the individual who goes to Sacramento and fights for the people in this area,” on stage for the keynote address.
Hart began by praising Beard for all she does with the Chamber and describing his feelings when Beard approached him about speaking at the State of the City.
“I was thrilled beyond belief, because Solvang is so special,” Hart said. “You have the architecture, you have the history of this community, you have the commitment of the residents to protect and preserve the heritage you have. It’s something that’s very unique.”
Hart pointed out the small businesses that comprise Solvang and give the city that “special” small-town atmosphere.
“There are so many places that look the same as I travel across the country — a real homogenization of cultures, the same stores, the same malls, that makes it a little less interesting,” he said. “And yet here in Solvang, you’ve been able to maintain, support, and foster unique businesses, that make the experience of coming to Solvang special, and interesting.”
After speaking of Solvang’s uniqueness, Hart then moved on to problems facing the state overall, and how the unique and different communities must work together to solve them.
“There are always differences of opinion, as Mayor Infanti mentions to me, through local, county, state and federal governments,” Hart said. “We have challenges that affect every community, and we need to work together to solve them.”
According to Hart, one of the major challenges facing the state is the housing crisis, which he called “profound,” and relayed an experience of his that showed how it’s affecting Santa Barbara County.
“I was at a grocery store in Santa Barbara recently,” Hart said. “One of the checkers helping out mentioned that she lived in the San Fernando Valley, and would be called occasionally to cover shifts at the store.
“She said they couldn’t get anyone from Santa Barbara to fill the shifts because people couldn’t afford to live and work there. So, they would bring her up, put her up in a hotel across the street, and pay her time and a half just to keep that store open.”
To further support his point, Hart said that 30 years ago, the average salary was $60,000 a year, and the average cost for a house was $200,000. Today, he said, the average salary is $85,000, but the average cost for a house has gone up to $800,000.
“That’s why we have a housing crisis,” he concluded. “The price disparity is dramatic, and that’s because our population increased greatly and we haven’t built the housing to meet that demand.”
Hart mentioned another big topic, locally and statewide, is water.
“We’re seeing water differently this year than last year,” he said. “We’ve had one of the most devastating periods of drought in history, and we’ve seen the most explosive increase in water supply this year than we’ve ever seen.”
What it means, according to Hart, is that residents can expect more swings from one extreme to another as far as weather, and established methods of storing water are no longer relevant.
“We have to redesign infrastructure that we have for storing and keeping water,” he said. “And Santa Barbara County is doing a good job with that.”
In summary, Hart said things haven’t changed all that much as far as what issues people in the state are concerned about.
“If you look back at the headlines from 100 years ago,” he said. “They would be talking about housing, water, and transportation. Basic infrastructure issues.
“Mainly, we’re not going to be able to solve the issues, we’ll just have to manage them.”
Later, City Manager Randy Murphy, who was hired earlier this year and was taking part in his first State of the City, came up to give his address.
Murphy began his speech by reminding the audience that then went to say how he was learning about Solvang bit-by-bit, he wasn’t that unfamiliar with the town.
“When I was a kid, my uncle worked at Vandenberg, so we would come up to visit him and his family quite a bit,” Murphy said. “My mother spent her teen years in post-war Germany, so she liked to go to Solvang because it reminded her of the town in Germany where she lived.”
Murphy gave his address, bolsterd by a powerpoint presentation focused on developments just in Solvang over the year.
In explaining his management style, Murphy told a story about a young married couple and how the husband noticed when the wife cooked the roast, she cut the ends off it before putting it into the oven.
“So the husband asks ‘why did you cut the ends off'” Murphy recounted. “She answered ‘because my Mom always did it that way. I’ll ask her why. So when she asked her mom, the mom said ‘because my mom always did it that way, I’ll ask her.’
“Then, when the first mom asked her mom why she cut off the ends of the roast, the answer was ‘I had to do that so it would fit in the pan.'”
Murphy’s point to the story was that there should be a reason why something is done the way it is — not just because “that’s always how we’ve done it” — and that’s the mindset he always wants his staff to have.
Murphy went over the events that happened in Solvang during the year 2023: The early-year rainstorms (praising city staff and workers for their work in fixing the damage), the Memorial Day ceremony, the hiring of a city manager and marketing firm, and the 4th of July parade.
Murphy also mentioned current projects in Solvang, including a new Solvang Senior Center, a Lucca Italian Market at the corner of Mission and Alisal Road, and multiple hotel projects.
Financially, Murphy pointed out some plusses at the moment: No debt for the city currently, the city recruting for new positions, an expected increase of tourism with the hiring of new marketing partners, and new agreements being negotiated with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department and its labor union.
So the State of the City: “We’re doing very well,” Murphy concluded.