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Our View: 2010: Let’s get back to basics on money, water, jobs

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If 2009 was the year of the great recession, is 2010 the year of the great recovery? While few economists see the new year bringing robust growth, there are enough positive signs in housing, retail sales and corporate investment to believe the worst might be over. If employment improves, especially in the first quarter, we all could be breathing a little easier at this time next year. But even a hearty economic recovery won’t fix all of Auburn’s and Placer County’s money woes. That issue — government operations and funding — likely will lead the list of critical issues facing the region in 2010. With strong leadership and strategic action, the Auburn Journal editorial board sees the following agenda as a blueprint for community success over the next 12 months. Local government Auburn and Placer County face ongoing contractual issues with employees and law enforcement. It will take a deft hand in negotiations to balance public safety, efficient operations and long-term staff morale. Both sides must be willing to sacrifice, realizing taxpayers expect transparency and accountability at the local level, now more than ever. At the ballot box, voters will decide the fate of three Auburn City Council positions currently held by Mayor Bridget Powers, Kevin Hanley and Mike Holmes, while county supervisor seats held by Rocky Rockholm and Robert Weygandt will be up for grabs. It would serve this region to have spirited, vigorous, competitive races that result in the best decision-makers possible. Will candidates step up to the challenge? Economic development “Think Auburn First” is a catchy slogan that must transition to bona fide movement in 2010. Meanwhile, city officials must get more aggressive with commercial real estate leaders on finding a strong tenant for the vacant Gottschalks store. The space is a key cog in local retail growth, and dozens of jobs would boost the hopes of local job seekers. Speaking of employment, 2010 would be a great year to see some of the vacant space filled at the Auburn Airport Industrial Park. Work is under way to organize the airport businesses into a business association, a move that would help build momentum and marketing for general aviation and the 285-acre complex. Tourism, especially with growth in local winery visibility and wine quality, must be fully tapped. And a resurgent Downtown — with Streetscape construction behind it — should make this spring and summer exciting. Fire safety The horrific 49 Fire reminded us what can happen when fire, wind and drought conditions mix. As families rebuild from the ashes, a larger and more powerful wildfire menace lies dormant in the American River Canyon. Stunningly beautiful, the canyon also is a tinderbox at Auburn’s back door. Action is needed this year to remove brush, trees and wood fuel from the canyon that could erupt this summer and destroy not dozens, but hundreds of homes. Auburn continues to ask for more state and federal resources, but with those funding wells running dry, why not a public-private partnership to get the job done. A Project Auburn of epic scale could assure the safety of thousands of area residents. Education Shrinking budgets and declining enrollment will continue to frustrate education leaders in 2010. This should be the year the Placer County Office of Education takes the lead on school consolidation in the greater Auburn area. Every available dollar should be focused on students, not redundant administrative structures. PCOE must take the lead on this issue, rather than waiting for individual districts to pair up and consolidate on their own. Cultural arts The Auburn Area Performing Arts Center made giant strides in 2009, and a series of music, dance and film performances in 2010 will only raise the visibility of the work needed to make this the centerpiece of Auburn redevelopment. Two of Auburn’s largest and most beloved summer events — BBQ & Blues and the Black & White Ball — are not on the calendar for the first time in about 20 years. Both events will be dearly missed, but will their exits open the door for a new signature event? Water Last, but certainly not least, is the fluid we all need. As legislators attempt to solve the Delta’s quality and quantity issues by sucking water from the foothills and other parts of the state, the Placer County Water Agency will need local support to maintain the supply that sustains us all. At home, we need to step up conservation efforts to save every drop possible.