State of the City program for 2023 held at Vega Vinyard & Farm off Santa Rosa Road
At the end of Dave King’s Buellton State of the City Address April 19, his first since being elected mayor of the city, two words showed up on the accompanying slideshow screen on how he thinks the future looks for the town.
They were: “Damn good.”
It was the topper on King’s talk about the city during the event held in the Barrell Room at Vega Vineyard and Farm in the southern part of Buellton.
The program began with Kathy Vreeland, executive director of the Buellton Chamber of Commerce, welcoming everyone and then leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Pastor Sam Kiser from Crossroads Church gave the invocation.
After the audience had brunch, it was time for the city to present two of its annual awards: the Buellton Beautification Award and the Vincent B. Evans Award.
The Beautification Award was given to the Hotel Hygge, the remodeled hotel on the Avenue of Flags that opened last August.
The hotel’s general manager, Carlos Sanchez, accepted the award and thanked the city for the honor. He also explained how the hotel remodeled it business in a Danish minimalist style and how the word “hygge,” was a Danish term for a mood of contentment and coziness, a feeling he and his staff hoped to instill in every guest.
After that, the Vincent B. Evans Award was handed out to a familiar name to Buellton residents: Kyle Abello, who retired as the Buellton Rec director at the end of last year.
Abello accepted the award and thanked the city and all the people who supported Buellton Rec since its inception. During his 20 years, his department oversaw the creation of the PAWS off-leash dog park, the local Rec Center and the establishment of special city events like the Haunted House, Easter Eggs-travaganza and the BBQ Bonanza.
After the awards, it was time for Mayor King to take the podium. King, who was elected the second mayor ever since Buellton’s incorporation after Holly Sierra, made light of that to begin.
“As anybody knows, second is always the first loser,” he said jokingly. “Of course, Holly Sierra was the mayor for six years, three terms, and then we passed term limits. So I had to wait for Holly to term out and then I beat her fair and square.”
King went on to introduce and thank several city leaders, including Vice Mayor John Sanchez, and then explained that while Buellton differs in size and manpower from many other cities, in many ways there isn’t a lot of difference.
“LA has a thousand employees, and we have 20. We don’t have as many as Santa Barbara,” he said. “However, we basically run our city just like anyone else; we just don’t have as many people … thank God!”
The mayor talked about some of the improvements and incoming structures and businesses possibly coming into town, including a new wine storage facility on Industrial Way, new apartment behind the Albertson’s building, and a new coffee place supposedly opening in the long-dormant former Burger King.
“If anybody hears from them [the potential coffee shop], could you ask them what’s taking so long?” King said.
King pivoted away from business for a second to highlight the community outreach and events the city has conducted, including winning the Putnam Award for its arts and culture programs, and expanding its roster of community events like Cowboy Christmas, Enchanted Garden, and the City in Schools program, which had Buellton staff going into classrooms to teach how city business is conducted.
From there, the slideshow accompanying King’s speech flashed to “Show Me the Money” as the mayor talked about the city finances. He put up a chart showing that the Buellton had $5.4 million in capital projects, $9.6 million in General Fund, $5.3 million in Enterprise and $394,000 in special funds.
Showing another chart, King said that the city’s tax revenue has been increasing exponentially over the past few years.
“So that is good news for the City of Buellton,” he said. “I think since the pandemic is over everyone wants to get out and they’re all coming up here to the Valley.”
King showed a list of the 25 highest local tax producers and praised the Vreeland brothers, owners of Jim Vreeland Ford and Rio Vista Chevrolet dealerships, as examples of local businessmen who serve and enrich the city.
King said Buellton’s tax per capita is higher than Santa Barbara’s “so we’re doing pretty good.”
“Our chart here shows revenues exceeding expenditures, which is always a good thing because if it’s the other way around you’re going bankrupt,” he continued.
King then pointed out that Buellton is not without its challenges, chief among them are unfunded pension liabilities, a concern common among U.S. cities.
However, King said the situation isn’t as bad as it could be, as the mayor said Buellton was able to take a big chunk of that money and pay it down to get interest rates reduced.
“We actually rank among the best cities in California for overall pension risk — 431 out of 467 cities,” he said. “People misunderstand that rank because it looks like we’re not doing good there, but the No. 1 position is the city in the worst situation as far as unfunded liabilities, so for us 431st out of 467 cities is really good.”
Another challenge for the city, according to King, has been infringement on local control — mainly state and federal government preventing cities from governing how they want.
“The feds and state have been pre-empting actions by municipalities for some time,” he said. “Wireless communication, solar energy, and outdoor food vending.
“We see people on the street selling food or flowers, and the state says ‘you can’t enforce it, you can’t run them off,” King continued. “You can’t tell them ‘you don’t have a business license, you have to go somewhere else. The state says they have the right to be out there and sell those products on your sidewalk. And most of them aren’t even local, they come up from LA.”
King suggested residents talk to their state legislator for issues like that.
The mayor continued to have a positive attitude about economic development in the area, as city leaders are trying to encourage people to develop on Avenue of Flags and beyond, and are working to increase tourism.
“Buellton is no longer focusing on just basic services,” King said. “We’re developing on McMurray Road, looking at putting ballfields down on the Wilson property , putting in disc golf.
“People are asking about the bowling alley, and that land has been purchased, but we don’t know what the plans are. Keep your fingers crossed.”
King, of course, wrapped it up by asking “What is the status of Buellton?” for the slide that said “Damn Good.”
“This is a good place to live in,” the mayor said.
After King’s speech, City Manager Scott Wolfe took the podium to answer a few questions to the audience.
First someone asked what the status of the proposed In-N-Out was, and Wolfe explained that the Chumash tribal leaders had exercised their state-mandated right to request a consultation with the prospective owners.
The next question was about the water situation, and Wolfe said it was better for Buellton than it was for most cities in the area, because of recent storms and because there an aquifer that Buellton sits on top of and is the only city to use it.
The final question was one that King asked earlier: When is a proposed traffic light going to be added on Ballard Canyon Road?
Wolfe said right now it’s a budget issue, but he would like to see a light there also, as well as extra traffic lights for Highway 246. However, he said, 246 is the domain of Caltrans, so any complaints or suggestions about the road should go to that agency.