State of City talk draws crowd in Solvang

By Raiza Giorgi

Solvang City Manager Brad Vidro demonstrated that he knows how to keep the attention of an audience as he intertwined jokes and funny photos during his annual State of the City address on March 29 in Solvang.

More than 150 people packed the Root 246 ballroom to listen a report of events in the Danish town over the course of the last year, which included a description of construction projects, water reserves, tourism updates and more.

Noozhawk Publisher William MacFadyen gave a presentation about the state of news-gathering along the Central Coast.

To begin the program organized by the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, William MacFadyen, founder and publisher of the online news site Noozhawk in Santa Barbara, gave a presentation about the current state of news-gathering along the Central Coast. The former news editor at the Santa Barbara News-Press said he saw his profession in print take a steep decline during the first decade of the 2000s and figured his niche market was taking news to the internet.

“Our startup is one of the most relevant news outlets in the area because of our reporters’ dedication to getting accurate news out quickly,” he said.

After a long question and answer session from the crowd, ranging from topics of “fake news” to local news, Macfadyen ended with an assertion that the most important thing people can do is support local news organizations that cover their communities.

Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson then gave a history about how Vidro was hired as he introduced the city manager.

Vidro started his presentation with a list of city priorities, which he said he would show backwards to create more suspense, which drew laughter.

Topics he highlighted included water, noting that the city escaped state penalties for water use because city residents and businesses had done an excellent job of conservation through the drought. City officials are also eager to repair a well at Hans Christian Andersen Park to get more water stored away.

Quality of life is a big topic in Solvang, Vidro said, and he noted that the city had distributed $268,750 to local nonprofits and charities in 2016.

Tourism is also a big topic, and “we were excited to be listed on as one of the 12 best cities to visit for Christmas,” he said.

Vidro also got chuckles when he noted that Solvang has the most bakeries per capita, equaling 1 to every 1,000 people.

He also discussed inter- agency and government relations, which are important to Solvang because, for example, solid waste collection, law enforcement and fire protection are provided on a contract basis.

Solvang Parks and Recreation had a great year by opening the beach volleyball courts at Sunny Fields Park, operating a plethora of kids camps, and adding a tennis backboard donated by Bent Olsen.

A part of another important topic, traffic circulation, Vidro said a new crosswalk will be added across Mission Drive from the Subway restaurant and the bus stop at Solvang Park to minimize jay walking and accidents.

The city also plans to make $31 million worth of capital improvements in the near future in wastewater, storm water, transportation and more.

Also in 2016, lead paint abatement was completed in the Solvang Veteran’s Memorial Building, and seismic retrofitting was completed on the Alisal Road bridge over the Santa Ynez River. The city matching funds so that it paid just $18,000 for the $1.1 million project.

He noted that 21 new businesses, including K’Syrah Catering and Events, Leonardo’s Ristorante and others, opened in 2016, and that there are 232 building permits in the works and 73 projects in the Board of Architectural Review’s pipeline.

Forty-five apartments for senior housing were also added on Maple Avenue behind the Solvang Senior Center, and the Chamber of Commerce is adding new programs to stimulate local shopping, he noted.

Tourism is still growing with popular events such as Danish Days, Julefest, many parades and family activities. Average occupancy rates at local hotels have risen to 74 percent from the 60 percent reported 10 years ago.

For a small city with expenses of $14.1 million, Solvang was able to add to its reserves with revenues of more than $16 million.

The businesses in Solvang that generated the most sales tax revenue for the city in 2016 included Alisal Guest Ranch, Buellflat Rock, Nielsen’s Building Materials, Nielsen’s Market, Paula’s Pancake House, Solvang Brew and Valley Hardware.

The Solvang City Council is also updating the city’s General Plan, continuing to live-stream their meetings, coming up with a sidewalk master plan, updating building codes, banning recreational marijuana, and will be looking at the city’s sphere of influence and annexation possibilities.

He joked that the big project to come would be creating a zip-line from Solvang to Buellton, and gave a  list of Top 10 things never to do in Solvang. They included:

n Never pose for a selfie in the middle of Alisal Road

n Never pay for parking

n Never eat pastries from all the shops at once

n Never Segway in the riverbed

n And never say, “I thought this was a German town!”

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