Optimism for 2013

Staff ReportJanuary 2, 2013 

A number of Madera County and Oakhurst leaders feel 2013 will bring improvement to a number of areas including education, the area economy and business growth in the new year. Those who chimed in with their views include 5th District Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler, Bass Lake Unified School District Superintendent Glen Reid, Madera County Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming, Pastor David Sebastian, businessman Alan Bryant, president of the Yosemite Association of Realtors Lori Humphries, Madera County Planner Norman Allinder and Dannion Cunning, chief executive officer of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau.

Eric Fleming - Madera County Chief executive officer

As I head into my third year as county administrator, I have optimism for Madera County in 2013. My optimism doesn't necessarily come from knowing that the economy is going to improve suddenly but rather knowing that county government can continue to improve.

Reflecting back on 2012, I'm very thankful for a supportive and engaged board of supervisors. We've set course on a three-year Cost Reduction & Containment Plan which should restore fiscal health by 2014-15, regardless if there is significant improvement in the economy or not. Key elements of that plan will need to be considered throughout 2013, including some difficult cost cutting measures, reorganizations, and ultimately more layoffs. This year there will be a big emphasis on analyzing and improving the business model.

Another goal for 2013 is to continue to become a more customer-centered organization. Good customer service is a high priority for the board of supervisors and myself. We react quickly when we get reports of a bad service experiences but I often worry about poor service that may not get reported.

There is still a perception out there that county employees don't know how to provide good service. I know our employees can provide good service because I see it everyday. We just need to do a better job of creating a culture where it is a higher and more constant priority. Through a customer service training program, we hope to start changing the perception this year.

This economic downturn has been beyond our control but there are still things we will continue to do at the local level to ensure that we rebound as a leaner, more efficient and customer-centered county government.

David Sebastian - Pastor Oakhurst Lutheran Church

What will 2013 bring us? Well I have bad news and I have good news.

The bad news is that man will continue to be man, complete with, his and her, sinful condition. There will be more fiscal cliffs declared to obscure the fact that we probably went over the real one years ago. Politicians, red or blue, will continue to lie to us, and we will continue to believe them.

Unfortunately, the Mayans weren't the only ones to have calendars, so there will be more dire predictions of the end of the world.

We will have more legislation created which protects us from the people who already obey the current legislation, and it will do nothing to protect us from the people who already break the current legislation and will break the new legislation.

As a society we will declare there is no such thing as evil and evil people, but will be shocked and horrified when evil manifests itself and be reassured that more money and education will make the disadvantaged and uneducated not appear as what we thought was evil. We will regain whatever we lost or had less of, and still not be happy.

Now for the good news.

The sun will rise and set everyday and we will marvel at its beauty. The snow will turn our world into a winter (or spring) wonderland. The flowers will bloom in the spring.

We will experience cool breezes after hot summer days. Mother nature will get her color palette out in the fall and show us she can still impress us with her artistry. We will delight to see wobbly-legged fawns. We will marvel at the miracles called newborns.

We will say good-bye to friends, but never regret having known them, even though it hurts to lose them. The value of our homes will go up and down, and if we chose to we'd never know it, because it's still home.

And while man is still man, the good news is "God is still God." And because he is, A.D. 2013 will be a year full of blessings, if only we look for them.

That's what I intend to do and I highly recommend it.

Glenn Reid - Bass Lake Unified School District Superintendent

2013 in the education world looks somewhat optimistic. Compared to the gloom and doom we have experienced over that past several years, we are looking, if not rosy, at least better than we have been in recent years.

The passage of Proposition 30 has at least stopped the "bleeding" experienced by schools since the 2008 school year. While there is no new money coming to us (and there hasn't been new money since 2008), at least we are not being cut further or to the level predicted if the proposition had not passed.

The California economy is starting to show signs of life, which could help schools even further. There are definitely reasons to show some cautious optimism -- though discussions in Washington D.C. regarding the fiscal cliff could change our economic outlook significantly if no deal is reached.

Schools across the State are bracing for a change in the way we teach our students due to the adoption of Common Core Standards. These standards have been adopted by a majority of the states across our nation and should help us compare "apples to apples" when we look at what other states are doing.

Also changing is the type and nature of the yearly assessments we will be administering to our students. No longer will they be asked to complete simple calculations or fill in the blanks on the annual spring tests. The new exams will ask students to think and apply knowledge in ways that will truly assess their performance levels. These new tests will be administered electronically, with students being required to respond in "real time" to questions and tasks. This type of exam will require school district to train teachers to change the way they approach teaching and students to change the way they approach learning.

Alan Bryant - Bryant Homecenters, Inc.

It's no secret that things have been difficult for the last six-plus years in our local business community. With the arrival of 2013, there is much uncertainty in the air. Although it has been slow, retail businesses on a national level have shown positive growth over the last two years. We are climbing out of the hole, but nobody is quite sure how long this climb is going to take.

Specific to the home improvement industry, many signs are pointing to a positive 2013. Employment numbers are on the rise, home builders are beginning to bid on new construction projects again, the balance between housing starts, and homes for sale are slowly starting to inch closer to level.

Possibly the most positive factor, is our growing consumer confidence. It seems that the jitters are starting to ease, and most analysts project growth through 2013 and beyond, although I anticipate future growth to look much different than it looked during the boom years our communities experienced during the late 80s and 90s.

Things aren't as good as they once were -- and possibly may never be -- but judging by previous years, things could definitely be worse.

Overall, it looks to be a promising future as we head into 2013. Local consumers are seeing the value of shopping with local businesses and contributing to the economic vitality of the communities that we all live in. Mountain Area building contractors are getting busy again, and low interest rates are helping homeowners to refinance, providing them funds to remodel, or add on to their existing residences.

This in turn, helped H&L Lumber Co. in 2012, post the highest sales totals we have seen since 2007, and have helped to recoup previous years losses. Following a complete remodel of our True Value store in Yosemite Lakes Park, we are seeing double digit increases over 2011 sales, and True Value Homecenter in Oakhurst, is still meeting anticipated sales goals and showing increases in key departments, such as lawn and garden and paint.

Residents of Eastern Madera County have shown a desire to "take care of their own." The current movement to save the Met Cinema is a great example of this, and that kind of home town support, will continue to drive our local economy in a positive direction.

Tom Wheeler - District 5 Madera County supervisor

As we say farewell to 2012, I look back and am very proud of the work our county has accomplished. Projects that were years in the making were finally initiated and many were completed.

A wonderfully-wide and less treacherous Road 200 was only a dream a few years ago, but today we enjoy a smooth and far less dangerous drive. A new volunteer fire station in North Fork was also only a dream, but today the much-needed project is nearing completion.

However, there is still much to be done. Heading into 2013, we will see some big and exciting changes in the county. We will welcome two new members to the board of supervisors.

We will also see various big development projects coming our way such as Tesoro Viejo, the 1,600-acre, 5,000-unit community planned near the San Joaquin River which will bring thousands of jobs to our county. Also, the North Fork Rancheria's casino project is moving steadily forward, which too will bring thousands of jobs to Madera County.

In District 5, we will see the new Eastern Madera County SPCA facility moving forward as well as Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park.

It is my goal to ensure these projects, which will bring an economic boost to our county, reach fruition. However, smaller individual projects are equally important for our economy so I will continue to work with our county staff to make it easier and less burdensome for small-scale projects to make it through the approval process.

There is no doubt 2013 is going to be an exciting year, but it will not be without its challenges. As your supervisor, I look forward to your input and suggestions on how to make District 5 and Madera County as a whole a better place to live, work and play.

Dannion Cunning - Chief Executive Officer, Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau

The end of 2012 and the early addition to the Sierra snow pack should greatly increase the potential for a banner tourism season. With international and domestic visitation predicted to be strong for 2013, an early spring and the glorious displays of Yosemite icon waterfalls should make a visit to Madera County and Yosemite all the more appealing.

Local lodging, restaurants and tourism related businesses are looking forward to a tourism season that provides high occupancy and positive sales.

The Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau has formed a partnership with the Visalia Convention Bureau and The Fresno Yosemite International Airport in the development of a unique offering for visitors -- The Majestic Mountain Loop will offer our guests a opportunity to experience Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Visitors will be provided special incentives to package the tourism products being offered. The package will be featured at many airports that serve as gateways to our areas, airports that are serviced by Alaska Air.

Not only do our visitors come to the area to experience Yosemite, but also take advantage of the many offerings of Madera County. Bass Lake and the Scenic Byway are always popular destinations. With the completion of the Bass Lake dam retrofit, the lake is predicted to be the location of choice for families seeking that special camping, fishing and water-sports experience.

To assure that visitation is strong the YSVB will once again take to the road to share all of the special offerings of our area. Our sales staff will be taking our message to the International Pow Wow in Las Vegas, one of the largest tour operator events in the world, as well as the Los Angeles Travel Extravaganza, the Bay Area Travel Show and the National Travel Association meeting.

To assure that we achieve our share of tourism visitation, the bureau maintains a high profile with our participation in social marketing. We are dedicated to keeping our Facebook, Twitter and You Tube accounts current with the latest offering and special promotions of all our Partners in Tourism.

We are looking forward to a banner year for tourism visitation in 2013.

Lori Humphries - President, Yosemite Association of Realtors

What's in store for the California housing market in 2013? The California Association of Realtors recently reported that the real estate market is showing that housing has finally turned the corner. Nationally, home sales are up 11% percent over last year, the sales of new homes are up 25% from the year before and the median sales price is up 11.7%.

New residential construction is soaring -- since September 2011, single-family housing starts have increased 43% and apartment construction has increased 19%.

Existing home sales in California are up 5.9% for the year, while prices posted a 19.5% jump. Non-distressed sales continue trending higher, currently at 63% of all sales, as compared to 30% in early 2009. Distressed sales, on the other hand, dropped from 60 percent in 2009 to 37 percent.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $180,600 in November, up 10.1% from November 2011. This is the ninth consecutive monthly year-over-year price gain, which last occurred from September 2005 to May 2006.

In our Mountain Area, we normally experience a slower rate of growth than California as a whole. In 2011 our area showed 359 residential sales, with an average selling price of $199,321 and 134 days on market.

For 2012, sales we are showing 396 residential sales with an average selling price of $211,816 and 129 days on market.

Norman L. Allinder - Madera County Planning Director

In 2013, the Madera County Planning Department is optimistic that the economic progress our county is making will continue. We have proposed and our board of supervisors has adopted many changes to the county code that reduce regulations and encourage new business.

Also, the planning commission agenda has seen an increase in activity of requests for conditional use permits and commercial/industrial rezones. Each time one of these items are approved by the county, much needed jobs are created. That is the good news -- unfortunately we still suffer from the effect of litigious groups that utilize environmental laws to advance their own agenda, halting some projects and interfering with job creation.

Hopefully in the coming year the legislature will consider reform to this unfortunate situation with our environmental laws, as it is only providing jobs for attorneys.

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