By: Dan Oney
Julio Fuentes, Alhambra's City Manager, as a Superstar
In one conversation, it becomes easy to see why Alhambra's City Manager was nominated for the PublicCEO Local Government Award for City Official of the Year.
Julio Fuentes is a superstar. For the last 18 years, Fuentes has been the city manager of Alhambra. During that time, he's been active in the San Gabriel City Managers Association, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, and the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership.
While that sounds impressive on paper, it's what he's done with those experiences that makes him so deserving of recognition. And that's what made Julio Fuentes, City Manager of the City of Alhambra, a natural choice for PublicCEO's Local Government Award Winner for City Official of the Year.
Alhambra has twice been nominated as one of the most business friendly cities in Los Angeles County. That's not just because of the time he puts into recruiting new businesses to the community, but because of a culture that has developed in the city government itself.
"It starts at the city council and goes all the way to the last person on the line," said Fuentes during a phone interview. "And I can tell you without a doubt that we will certainly bend over backwards to make a deal work."
That's because the city recognizes that there's a value in bringing even a few new jobs to the community.
"We take the approach to not dictate what we want, but we sit down with the developer or end user and we try to assess what their needs are," Fuentes continued. "From there, we try to devise a plan that gets them where they need to be."
In one such case last year, the Los Angeles Community Development Corporation approached the city about moving into a new 150,000 sq ft, LEED certified office building. During their first conversation, which took place in September, the County's people told Fuentes that they needed to have everything wrapped by December of 2010.
"It was a monumental task," said Fuentes.
With less than three months, the city worked with the County, community groups, and commissions and committees. By the end of December, the project had been approved. Now, the project is nearly ready to begin construction, and the last of the permits are being pulled. The county hopes to be in the new building by the end of next year.
"It's easy to go in and dictate the requirements as the entity that's issuing the entitlements, but a lot of times its better to sit down with the group and craft your needs around what theirs are."
The city has benefitted from this pliable approach, and so have its employees. Each time the city brings in a new company, or someone builds a new project, or revitalizes an area, the revenues that flow into the city increase.
"The old ways of raising money like increasing taxes and fees are gone," said Fuentes. "If you want to succeed and provide services, you have to generate new revenues and the only way to generate revenues is with new economic opportunities. That what were good at doing. Whether it's a good time or a bad time, we are always looking for a deal and bringing in new investment."
Because the city has been able to bring in new investment, they've managed to maintain a balanced budget without any layoffs, furloughs, or pay cuts.
"When it's all said and done, (economic development) is what pays for the bills here."
Those new revenues, combined with an active redevelopment agency, have allowed the city to revitalize itself, transforming from what Fuentes described as a "sleepy, bedroom town" into a "community that is a cool and fun place to live."
Their new, 45-seat community theatre brought the arts to Alhambra, and city art and streetscaping have beautified the city.
We're really proactive, and we try to do things that could benefit the city," said Fuentes. "We want our community to be as safe and beautiful as possible, so when someone comes home at the end of the day, they come home to a really nice community."