Part of the Chamber’s “Content & Coffee” event series for its members, the forum, held at La Ginestra restaurant, featured Mill Valley Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters and City Manager Jim McCann chronicling the major issues facing City Hall, while Marin Economic Forum CEO Robert Eyler highlighted the far-reaching global trends impacting us here in the 94941.
Moulton-Peters and McCann kicked things off with a run through the City’s myriad infrastructure projects, from upgrades to LED streetlights and a plan to install solar arrays at the Community Center to dedicating $2.2 million to repair streets over the next year and, the biggest of all: the Miller Avenue Streetscape project, which is expected to begin construction in October 2015 and run through late 2017.
Moulton-Peters noted that “the state of the City is very good,” citing “a robust economy that is coming back” and the City Council’s approval of a 2014-2016 budget that addresses the City’s pension and medical benefits obligations for its employees and hones in on a number of the aforementioned infrastructure projects.
“We’re updating virtually every system that we have in this town,” Moulton-Peters said.
But the economic recovery and the sharp increase in construction projects in town has come with a cost, one that is evident to everyone who drives into, out of and around the City, McCann noted. He cited three major factors driving the traffic:
- A high volume of drivers on the City’s two main arteries that were not built to accommodate that volume.
- The lack of properly synchronized timing of the traffic lights Caltrans owns and manages at the Highway 101/East Blithedale Avenue interchange.
- The traffic light that was installed in October 2013 at the Shoreline Highway/Tennessee Valley Road intersection, which caused significant enough delays through that area that traffic counts have shown that it has caused 10-15 percent of drivers who used to take Miller/Almonte south to Hwy. 101 to now re-route to Camino Alto to East Blithedale to get to Hwy 101, overwhelming that corridor.
“There’s no magic wand or silver bullet to fix this problem, and there has been tremendous pressure on the Council to fix it,” McCann said. “But we’ve worked very hard with the County and Caltrans to get them to make improvements that have helped the situation, and we’ll keep at it.”
McCann also noted that new Planning Director Vin Smith has made strides toward making the City more business friendly, shifting his department to be more “nimble and responsive” and maintaining the City’s Commitment to economic vitality.
Eyler then built on those local themes and took the audience on jaunt across the globe before bringing them back to the 94941. He spoke about the impact of geopolitics, particularly in the Middle East, on the financial markets, as well as the economies of countries like Germany and China and their impact on global markets.
The major driver of our economic outlook, Eyler said, will continue to be the suppression of interest rates through quantitative easing. With interest rates suppressed and inflation growing at a lower rate than expected, business investment in the U.S. will continue to grow slowly, he said.
Despite that, Eyler said that U.S. has re-emerged from the economic downtown as “the engine for worldwide economic growth,” and that the Bay Area in particular “has become the job stimulus engine for most of the U.S., either directly or indirectly,” because of the explosion of innovation and growth in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
“As a macroeconomist, it’s bizarre to me that a decision being made somewhere in the Midwest would be affected by the state of the Bay Area economy, but that’s where we are right now,” Eyler said.
Because of a limited young labor force, distance from Silicon Valley and mild nightlife in comparison with San Francisco, Marin doesn’t stand a great chance to directly capitalize on that trend, he said. But life sciences, particularly biotechnology, offers Marin an alternative that is a better match with the industry’s older workforce and longer growth cycle.
The local economy in Marin remains diverse, unlike Napa County, which got through the recession more quickly than most because they “bet that their best shot was to be a tourism and hospitality hub – an Adult Disneyland wrapped in wine and food – and that they were going to punt on everything else,” Eyler said. “Marin County does not want to become a monoculture, and should not become entirely residential services driven.”
Eyler said that Mill Valley could potentially become attractive to life sciences startups looking for limited office space, a great residential area and proximity to San Francisco.
But Eyler’s biggest point was that if Mill Valley and Marin want economic growth, they must be ready to deal with all of its impacts, including those mentioned earlier by McCann and Moulton-Peters.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” he said. “Residential development and traffic – that’s the cost of growth in Marin. Those are irreconcilable consequences – you’ve got to pick a fate and recognize that there’s a cost to that fate.”
The Content & Coffee series continues on Nov. 5 at 8:30am at La Ginestra for “Getting Results from Social Media,” a fun, engaging workshop featuring local online marketing expert Hilary Andersen, who has run her own design and marketing business for more than 20 years. Andersen will provide an overview of the ever-changing social media landscape and focus on how to make social media work for your business, with plenty of time for Q&A. Please RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org – we have a survey for you to fill to gauge your social media efforts so far.