In January, I gave the State of the City address and now it’s time for the six-month progress report.
I’m happy to say things are looking better than ever. Good things are happening in Merced, and we have momentum on our side.
The housing market and unemployment have both turned around and are earning us recognition for our recovery. We still have improvements to make, but the trajectory is good. We have eight major housing subdivisions under construction and have more than doubled the number of building permits we’ve issued compared to last year.
There are also 750 apartment units being readied over the next three years. Those will help handle the influx of students expected to arrive with UC Merced’s expansion to 10,000 students by 2020.
All of that construction means lots of jobs for residents. Our unemployment rate is dropping to lows we haven’t seen since before the recession. In May, our unemployment rate was 8.5 percent. That figure was the lowest for May unemployment since the 1980s.
Further, Governing Magazine found that personal income growth increased more in Merced than anywhere else in the nation over the last four years, up 13.7 percent since 2012.
The movement of people and goods are a key to economic development and Merced will be a regional leader in both.
We are making investments in local transportation using a variety of funding sources. We will soon receive our first payment of voter-approved Measure V proceeds and will put the money to work fixing local roads and improving travel for pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, the state recently announced the Altamont Commuter Express train will be extended to Merced by 2023, which will allow our workforce to more easily access jobs and services all the way up to Santa Clara County.
The last stop on the ACE train, it will share Merced’s High Speed Rail station in downtown.
Another major focus continues to be improving downtown. The El Capitan Hotel and Mainzer Theatre on Main Street will undergo transformations beginning this fall. UC Merced recently raised the final steel beam on its Downtown Center and nearly 400 university employees will occupy it by early 2018.
Empty storefronts on Main Street are filling up faster than at any time in the recent past.
We are committed to reducing homelessness. Through various city partnerships, homelessness in our city has decreased 18 percent compared to last year. Still a persistent challenge, homelessness is an issue we will continually need to address. At the beginning of this year, I shared my commitment to end veteran homelessness in Merced within one year. I am happy to report we are on track to reaching that goal.
We are working to give drivers on Highway 99 a more visible reason to stop and spend their money in Merced, creating more job opportunities. The environmental clearance for a new shopping center at the Mission Avenue interchange will be on the City Council’s agenda in August.
Ground is scheduled to break next year on the completion of Campus Parkway from Highway 99 to Yosemite Avenue, creating a direct route from the proposed retail development to UC Merced and the surrounding area.
We have weathered the financial firestorm and are adding back services our residents expect and deserve. Among other things, we are investing in public safety, economic development, at-risk youth engagement, parks and city beautification. Our budget is balanced and we are putting money away for the next rainy day. Investments take time to pay dividends and we are making those critical investments today.
I am proud to say, “Merced is a city on the Rise.”
Mike Murphy is mayor of Merced; he wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.